Capturing Soul

Making portraits of people is the hardest work a photographer faces. While each genre of photography has its challenge, the personal portrait is toughest, because you need to both capture a reflection of her soul and make a person look like she sees herself in her imagination.It is not about dressing people up in fairy wings and dancing around styrofoam mushrooms, unless that is what they really want. Rather, portraiture is about making a simple image that reflects the light inside him. Oh…and you need to do it in an hour.

JC Smith

This week I was lucky enough to get a call from my good friend, JC Smith, to do a promo shot for the LA-based record company he writes for. Like most people, JC, hates having his photo taken. Maybe it was the years of having school photographers ask you to say “whisky” because they think it is cool or maybe it was the family snapshots where Uncle Louis counted down from three so that everybody smiles, but I think most people hate getting pictures done. In JC’s case, it was critical to have a solid promotional photo that he could use for marketing and branding. I think people get it that the image they put out there is key to how they are perceived, and no matter how hard you try the cell phone portrait will not compare to a well-crafted  portrait.

JC was great to work with, as he knew what he wanted and was not afraid to tell me what was not working for him. In my own mind’s eye, I saw him as the great producer I know him to be and wanted to translate that into a Hip-Hop style shot with cool color tones, sharpened edges and a bleach processing. This particular image speaks to me and shouts control, masculine strength and zen-like clarity.

The shoot began at 9pm and wrapped up by 1am. I took about 200 images, kept 85 and did four styles [hi-key, lo-key, semi-natural light and a prop pose]. The one we both really loved was the very last shot I took, and maybe that is why I stopped: I knew I had it with that one. JC is relaxed by this point, it is against a cool wall and I have totally dialed in the lights to match his style. I ended up using the Profoto D1 Air lights, the Canon EOS 1DmkIII, and my new Hasselblad 80mm CFE 2.8 lens. I was wary about the lens because it was giving me flare before I figured out how to disengage the leaf shutter and it is fully manual.

My normal fees for a shoot range from $300-500 for a headshot session, depending on usage. Yes, Uncle Louis can use his special camera to do it for free, but there is a lot that he can’t do. He can’t colour correct the image and make sure the white balance is accurate, which is critical, but most people have no idea why until you show them. He can’t retouch anything beyond playing with some special effects, and most people need some retouching to clean up skin tones and textures. He may be using a top prosumer camera, but the equipment I used for JC’s simple shoot cost me $20,000, and god love him, but Louis ain’t got that game. There is also the years of Fine Arts History classes I took exploring how people like Carravaggio and Rembrandt used light. Hmmm, $500 seems cheap now, eh.

rembrandt-self-portrait-1660More on the portraiture front…I am receiving a LOT of interest in some family portraiture gigs this week, and am strangely interested in the possibilities. Now I don’t do the “let’s stand in a park” formal stuff, but I am open to some fun work. I will keep people posted on this new development, if any of it comes to fruition. Until then, I am still processing Japan photos and hoping to pitch the My Nightmares Are in Japanese exhibition to some galleries soon.


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