Archive for July, 2009


Shooting in a Museum


Shooting artwork in a museum has many challenges. Generally, you cannot use a flash, so you are stuck with whatever available light is hitting the art. As the light is often pretty weak,  you’ll generally want to use a tripod. In many museums, you need to get a permit ahead of time to use a tripod. Then there are distracting things like people in the background. And on and on.

But I really enjoy shooting sculpture. It’s great practice for studying form and lighting and is helpful for my portrait work. I had the opportunity to shoot in the spectacular new Greek and Roman Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum in New York on a Monday when the museum is closed. So, at least the distracting people were absent.

In the picture above, there is natural light coming down from above through skylights. It was an overcast day, so this light was soft, and had a bit of a blue/gray cast to it. In addition, the head has artificial (tungsten) light hitting it, coming in from the left.  Are the two light sources distracting or strange looking?  To my eye, no, but everyone will have a different perspective. What I like about this image is the colors in the background contrasted with the monochrome sculpture. I purposely shot with a very narrow depth of field, so the background objects were fuzzy and therefore did not take away from the impact of the main subject. What I wish had been different – I wanted to shoot the head straight on, but noticed the base was crooked. With several guards watching me carefully, I decided not to try to straighten things up! I had to choose between a squared up head or a squared up base, and chose the head.

 Here are three more pictures from my shoot at the museum. The first is the side of a massive sarcophagus, with incredibly detailed bas relief figures. The image on the bottom right is a detailed view of just one figure from the sarcophagus.







Say Cheese!


Melissa has a wonderful, natural smile.

It’s difficult to get a subject to smile in a way that leads to a good photograph. “Say Cheese!” doesn’t do it.  For one thing, it takes more facial muscles to smile that to make any other expression. So if the photographer asks for a smile or even if the subject tries tro make a smile on their own, it often leads to something that looks forced and uncomfortable. Think clenched teeth.

I’ve learned not to ask for a smile. Melissa has an naturally sunny disposition and so she is predisposed to smile. For this image, I said something silly and off the wall, and she just broke into a big open grin. I was ready and snapped the picture.  In any successful image of someone smiling, the smile is really in the eyes, not the mouth. We can’t force our eyes to smile.

It’s not always so easy. There’s often some level of discomfort, especially when the subject is straining for a certain look and feels she can’t achieve it. This is when I will suggest the person close their eyes and take a deep breath. Or several deep breaths. often, when they come back, there is a relaxed and easy pose.

And, some people do not smile much at all.  For these subjects, it’s fine to take a serious pose. Even if you can get a good smile, it may not be a successful picture, as it is not representative of their personality. In these cases, it’s fine to take a serious pose or one that just mildly suggests a smile, such as The Mona Lisa. I wonder how da Vinci got her to hold that expression for the many hours it took to paint her!


Closeup Black and White Portraits


It’s often helpful to go back and look at a series of images that were shot some time ago. Perhaps there’s one you missed that’s worth editing in a different way. The image above was part of a shoot earlier this year with a model whose nom de plume is Mayhem Muse.  The picture was originally a color shot of head and shoulders. Muse recently asked if I would make a black and white conversion of this image.  Although I had done some black and white versions of a few pictures from our shoot,  this one did not originally jump out at me as a candidate for black and white.

After converting the image to black and white, I studied it a bit, and imagined that the image would work well cropped in close, so I created the image above.  I used a special add-on software to Photoshop called Silver Efex Pro, that does an excellent job of black and white conversions. In the program, I brightened the image and added a lot of contrast. Muse’s complexion is absolutely lovely, but I needed to do a fair amount of touch-up on the skin because the closeup accentuated every tiny speck. But her skin is so good that no blurring was needed, something that is often done on portraits of women. I did sharpen the eyes, lips and hair.

I like this image a lot – the expression , the catchlight in her eye, the overall composition.Muse_0060rev  The original color image is presented at the left. I thought the colors went well together and the composition worked here too when I look at this first version. So I didn’t think about going further with it. I’m so glad Muse asked me to look at the picture again.  The lesson here is to save all your images, to go back and look at them later, think about black and white, and think about other ways to crop an image.

You can see more pictures from my shoot with Muse here.


Seamless Paper


I get spoiled working in the studio. For example, I can control the light in predictable ways – not just the direction, but the intensity, softness/hardness, color, and distance from the subject. I can use one, two, three or more lights. I can use “flags” to block the light from going where I don’t want it and reflectors to bounce light back into shadow areas.  When shooting outside, you can do some of these things, but you are dependent to a large degree on weather, time of day, and such things as clouds passing  overhead just as you set up a shot.

Another thing I like about shooting in the studio is seamless paper. I like clean, simple photographs, without unnecessary distractions.  Using seamless paper helps tremendously. In this image of the model Carra, she is lying down on the paper. The paper comes in large rolls – over 9 feet wide. I hang it on a stand as close to the ceiling as possible,  pull it down and then across the floor and then tape it in place. Many if not most fashion magazine images are shot with seamless paper. The whole focus is on the model.

When working with seamless, you want to have some shadow on the paper, so the person does not appear to be floating in air. In this picture, it’s sublte, but you can see some shadow under her arm and dress, and especially behind her hand.

_DSC0252Here are a couple more images from the same shoot with Carra. In each one, you can see the shadow, so she is “grounded,” that is not floating in space.

There are lots of ways to use seamless. You can shine a light with a colored gel on it to instill some color. You can position the lights such that the “floor” is dark but the “wall” is bright, or vice versa.

If you remember the 1966 movie “Blowup,” there is a scene where the photographer, played by David Hemmings, and two models pull tons of seamless down, crinkle it up, makes a mess,  and just laugh and play.  When I saw the movie again recently, all I could think of was the expense – seamless paper is quite costly.  I must be getting old…

 For more pictures from my shoot with Carra, click here.