Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Experimenting with Portraits

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Note: This started out being a post about shooting portraits, but I have to take time to vent over the frustration of translating skin tones to a jpeg for the web. (The sound you hear is made by the steam coming out of my ears.) I have printed this picture and it looks terrific. In the web version, however, the skin tones are something far less than wonderful. Every color correction method I have tried fails to solve the problem. (At least, the one at the main gallery is somewhat better.) Ultimately, I gave up hope and decided to just put up the post and complain. Now, on to the original reason for this post.

For some time, I have been flirting with the notion of taking portraits, but I never seem to follow through. I have had plenty of urging from fellow-bloggers to give it a try and I know that I will have to take a run at it—if only to get it out of my system. There are a number of reasons for my resistance, some of which I have talked about in earlier entries here; but some of the resistance comes from a source that I have never mentioned. I spent over thirty years of my life in Los Angeles living and breathing that particular air of Tinsel Town where “headshots” are central part of the actor’s life. Having experienced both personally and vicariously all the angst surrounding the selection of photographers, the disappointments, and frustrations from those photo shoots, I have some residual feelings about portraits that I have yet to fully resolve. As I’ve said before, I prefer subjects that won’t complain endlessly about “the way my eyes look” or “I don’t think I really have that many wrinkles”; “my nose looks funny”, or “my hair looks fuller than that, don’t you think?”

As I said a few posts ago, I am not anxious when shooting people with their horses. In those cases, the person knows that she (more often than not it is a female horse-owner) is not the star of the shot, and I can help her to focus all her attention on her horse. Of course, there is the need to have two subjects focused when the owner is in the shot, but the horse is the leading character. Even when viewing the pictures, the horse-owner is more apt to be concerned with how the horse looks, than her own hair or nose.

All my angst aside, I recently got an idea to take some shots of that handsome devil, The Husband. By the time the urge struck, it was late evening and we were “losing the light” (that old saw from the location shoot). In a rush, I grabbed the closest camera and realized that I wouldn’t have time to change lenses. It was the 100mm macro or nothing. Both The Husband and I decided “what the heck” and found a spot in the backyard to shoot a few frames. The one above is my favorite and, by the way, The Husband likes it as well. I ended up thinking the macro lens is not a bad choice. Normally, I would have chosen the 70-200mm. Both lenses are f2.8 (a lovely advantage); but I am just not accustomed to the need to zoom with my feet.

Of course, this outing was easy. Because it’s difficult to get a really bad picture of The Husband, I avoided many of the typical problems of portrait shooting. Moreover, I was totally relaxed when shooting since the entire thing was a last-minute whim and there was nothing on it. Still, I may yet do more experimenting with putting people (who don’t have their horses with them) in my photos.


  1. Nice light, handsome devil, nice bokeh, nice framing.

    When I first learned photography, I shot LOTS of actor's headshots. I know whereof you speak. One thing I'd love to do again is to shoot theater publicity photos. That would be fun.

  2. Darn. I can only take credit for one out of three! :)

    You would be sensational at shooting theater publicity photos, but I think shooting actors' photos would be a nightmare. Now, The Husband knows he had better not give me too much grief, so he's an exception.

  3. 100mm is a great potential lens for portraits, and the macro lenses are always very crisp.

    I find my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens bad for portraits for two reasons:
    It is _too_ sharp. Not so bad for handsome men, not so popular with women.
    It is too slow - (or it gets confused) and hunts quite a bit.

    Nothing wrong with zooming with your feet, particularly for portraits though - good to get one less thing to fiddle with, out of the way.

  4. What a handsome lad! Great portrait, Anita. I like the light on the right side of his face. He looks like a real, rough and tumble, he-man kind of guy not to be intimidated by the likes of you (yeah! Right!!!). :-)

    I think that there is a distinct difference in the Tinsel Town crowd and the salf of the earth crowd that you are now dealing with. Your new crowd is not nearly so interested in the stray line on the face, etc. They are probably more interested in their natural look. I'm sure that if you start spending large amounts of time doing portraits, you'll do extremely well. You'll get those personalities to shine through.

    Again, excellent photograph!

  5. Gordon - Oh, yes, that lens is sharp. Even for the handsome devil, I cranked the clarity down a wee bit in ACR. Funny, I think I blamed myself for any slowness.

    I did enjoy the "manual zoom". It was a different feel, and I was in a place where it was practical.

  6. Paul - "Handsome lad" or not he doesn't scare me.—Hah! Rest assured I only talk big.

    I know you are right about the difference between "real" people and Hollywood. Goodness knows I understand the causes behind the obsession with looks. For an actor every time you turn around it's what your life is all about. Still, it's weird stuff.

    You can see, can't you, that I am creeping toward this portrait thing? Moving at glacier speed, but still....

  7. Anita, what I most like about this portrait is he doesn't look posed. The portraits I find most appealing are those which seem to have been shot in the moment--those seem to portray the truer character of a subject.

    Well done and I look forward to seeing more.

  8. Earl - You are a man after my own heart. My favorite portraits are always the ones that show the subject is no longer thinking about the camera. We'll see how long it takes for me to get on with this.

  9. @Anita: Yes. I can see you moving towards the portraits and I think that you are going to surprise yourself, to be sure.

    Regarding those in Hollywood, I really feel for them. They simply cannot be who they are because they are judged so much by their outside appearances. No one really cares to get to know the real person and they are all living in that same nightmare. I sincerely feel for them.

  10. Hey, that was not a bad shoot at all, on the contrary, really good, with very subtle blue and yellow tones that makes good harmony. The lens you choose was ideal for the purpose, so were your handsome husband. :)
    (I had a Nikkor 105/2,5 long time ago, and I still have the evidence of what a remarkable portrait lens that was).

  11. Btw, shooting actors can't be that much different than wifes and girlfriends, but the former must be more complicated since you don't know their weaknesses that well. This reasoning doesn't apply to husbands. :)

  12. Paul - Let's hope the surprise is a pleasant one.

    Being an actor is a hard life—especially for women. It's a shame that so many think it's glamorous. Your feelings are well-founded for all but that tiny handful of sucessful people who manage to be grounded enough to withstand all the crazy-making stuff.

    Still, if you gotta do it, you just gotta do it.

  13. Ove - Thanks for the encouragement. I won't tell the husband about your comment on him. Don't want to swell his head, after all. :)

    Shooting actors is wives and girlfriends times ten. And, you are so right regarding not knowing about those "sensitive areas". You are also right, darn it, that men aren't as hung up on how they look. Lucky for all of you.

  14. This is one nice portrait of a nice looking person. With the light is on the "other side" of the face, makes it really a great portrait.

  15. Anil - Thanks a million for the kind words. Don't you sometimes wish you could "bank" some of the special light we are often treated to?


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