Category Archives: Portraits

Portrait Day – Intro to Large Format class

Having a little fun with the panoramic function on my iPhone in class today. Took this picture of two of my Large Format students doing studio portraits with a 4×5. I dug into the vaults and found some of my remaining stash of Polaroid Type 55 and let the students burn a couple sheets. I was more than pleasantly surprised with how well it worked- my Type 55 has to be a decade out of date by now, but the pods still processed nicely. I’d post some results but my students ran off with the negatives before I could copy any of them.

This was also my first test of my PocketWizard wireless flash sync setup on large format, and it worked very well. I got a little clamp from B&H photo that locks onto the front standard of my camera, and attached a hot shoe to PC adapter to the clamp. The PC cord connected the shoe to the sync on the shutter, and the PocketWizard sat in the shoe.

The other PW unit was connected to my Calumet Travelite monolight. This setup let me use my Sekonic L358 meter which has a PocketWizard trigger module, so I could meter wirelessly. That’s a big boon even when doing still life, and an even bigger one when shooting portraits, because that’s one less wire for you OR your sitter to trip over. If you look carefully at the front standard of the camera, you can see the PocketWizard module sticking out of the side in the photo.

Victor – Portraits

Part of the reason for my trip to Mexico City was to see Victor. It’s a developing thing – we haven’t placed a label on it but whatever it is, it’s good. And he’s a willing subject for the camera, which is a nice change of pace from my ex.

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It was also an opportunity to test out the portrait lens on my Mamiya RZ67 (the camera is new to me, but the lens’ quality is known far and wide – I just needed to see for myself what it would do and if I liked it. I do).

We spent an afternoon wandering around the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) campus when I shot these.

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This last one was taken with the 110mm f2.8 lens. It’s an equally good lens for portraits when you need something that gives a bit more background and/or a closer working distance, like this shot.

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All images made on Kodak Tri-X 400. I really like Tri-X for the tonality it has, and the just-a-little-bit of tooth.

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This very last image was made with the 50mm lens as an example of environmental portraiture. The film was Kodak Ektar 100, which I love for the color saturation and sharpness.

Publication – Hallowed Ground, the Journal of the Civil War Trust

I just had an image of mine published in Hallowed Ground, the journal of the Civil War Trust. It’s a photo I took of Ed Bearss on one of his battlefield tours through the Smithsonian. The theme of the issue is “30 years of battlefield preservation”, and Ed is, rightfully, the star, as he has been one of the greatest champions of historic preservation over the last sixty years.

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Reading the article clipping below, along with my image (see credit at the bottom), you can get a sense of Ed’s larger-than-life personality. I’m very happy that my image is the one being used to depict and honor Ed.

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The photo of Ed was taken at the Balls’ Bluff battlefield site, which he was involved in helping secure and preserve against development. Were it not for his work, all that remained would have been the smallest military cemetery in the United States surrounded by townhouses. Instead, thanks to his work and the efforts of a local/state public/private partnership, we have an exceptionally authentic battlefield to walk and understand how the events of the day played out.

You can find out more about the Civil War Trust on their website: CivilWar.org

For those who care about such things, the image was made with Kodak Tri-X in my Rolleiflex.

More Ed Bearss

If you’ve been following along and paying attention to my blog, you know I’m a huge history fan, especially with regards to the US Civil War. I have had the great opportunity and privilege to attend perhaps a dozen tours through the Smithsonian Associates program led by Ed Bearss. Ed is the Chief Historian Emeritus of the United States Park Service, a combat-wounded World War 2 veteran, and even today at 93 he is still leading history tours over 160 days a year. He has an inimitable speaking style, a beyond encyclopedic knowledge of US history (especially military history), and a boundless energy rarely found in people less than half his age.

 

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The trip where I took these photos was in the early spring of this year, to visit a lesser-known early battle of the Civil War, known as Kelly’s Ford. The battlefield is just down the road from Brandy Station, where JEB Stuart faced off against a now-competitive Union cavalry, and Robert E. Lee’s son Rooney was injured in the leg.

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Kelly’s Ford was a smaller engagement and marked the beginning of the rise of Union cavalry, where previously Confederate cavalry had utterly dominated the field. Despite the relative minor character of the engagement, Ed, with his signature presentation and his admonition “if you want to understand the battle, you have to walk the battlefield”, manages to make such minor events and historical footnotes compelling.

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I love this last photo of Ed as it really captures his spirit and personality.

Very Special Portraits

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take some portraits for a friend. I consider it quite the honor to have had the opportunity to take these portraits. It’s not often that you get to take pictures that really make a difference for someone, and aren’t just a vanity project. My friend, Arnel, needed some new photos for work, and for his blog. Arnel has ALS, and while not in Stephen Hawking’s condition, he is confined to a wheelchair, and has side-effects from the medication he takes. Despite it all, he keeps on working, and maintains an upbeat attitude. These two portraits are my favorites of the bunch.

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I particularly like the one that shows his wheelchair because it’s there, it reminds you that he’s not ordinary, but it also doesn’t pull you away from his essential dignity and presence. It presents his disability as just a small part of who he is, rather than defining him by it.

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We did these last two photos for his blog – he writes about his experience as someone with a disability, and what he does to overcome it. Here he’s demonstrating how to use a head mouse – there’s a sensor that mounts to the top of his laptop screen and looks at his head, and it reads the movement of the little silver square and translates that into clicks on the screen. He can type with it, too.

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We did these shots in his living room which he has set up as an office. I brought along some portable battery-powered studio lights and used them to illuminate him working because unlike the portraits, which were taken outdoors (we were extremely lucky that we had high overcast clouds providing a beautiful natural softbox effect), the work area was quite dim and lit with overhead recessed lights which would have been terribly unflattering in addition to being too dim to get good exposures.

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Portraits of Alexander

These are some portraits I took of my friend Alexander last weekend out in Georgetown. We went out to create some work for a fundraiser benefit in Toronto for Sprott House, a youth shelter run by the YMCA specifically aimed at providing housing for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and two-spirit (the native American term for LGBTQ) teens and young adults. Alexander is a Latino trans man and open and proud, and I thought some portraits of someone living an out, proud life as transgender would be inspiring for kids struggling to deal with their own identities and the impact of being “other” on their futures.

The first couple images are pretty serious and straight images (pardon the pun).

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A little bit of humor – this is Alexander’s club-hopping t-shirt. I teased him about the mixed message of serious literature on a clubbing shirt. But it is Lolita, so I guess it qualifies 🙂

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Just because a photo has a serious purpose and carries with it a political statement doesn’t mean it has to be serious. While I was posing Alexander in front of the wall of graffiti, he spotted the duck with its tongue sticking out and imitated it. It was a great spontaneous moment and shows his personality.

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Alexander wanted to do some shots to show off his growing muscle definition, so he went and climbed the stone pier for the ramp over the canal…

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And then jumped off of it…

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His script tattoo says “it is better to have kisses than wisdom”. I haven’t made up my mind about whether I agree with the sentiment, but it definitely suits his personality.

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Under the ramp to the freeway that passes over the C&O Canal there’s always some interesting graffiti, and right now it’s tagged with this beautiful silver metallic paint that really complemented Alexander’s red and purple outfit.

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The last image I feel makes for a great closer for the series – Alexander’s gesture seems to be saying “come with me and we’ll have a fun time!”.

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Model Shoot with the Fuji X-T1: Part 3

In this set I’m including some black-and-white shots along with the color ones to show what the Fuji can do. I used the b/w+R setting (the equivalent of using a red filter when shooting black and white film). I don’t know that this is as extreme as actually shooting black-and-white film with a red filter in terms of the contrast and look, but I like it.

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Mustafa showed up to the shoot in a tux, which is hard to work around if that’s not what you’re aiming for. It’s a good look, and a very elegant one, but not necessarily fitting a pool hall. I tried to shake things up a bit with the kaleidoscope glasses, the steampunk welder’s goggles and my own vintage leather jacket. Tip to models – unless you are told wardrobe will be provided, always bring at least two different looks to a test shoot with you so you don’t get stuck looking out-of-place on the shoot.

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Mustafa has a great face – he looks good from lots of angles. When posing a model or a portrait subject, you want to make sure that you’re not doing anything un-flattering. If you’re turning the head away from front-on, you want the nose to either obviously stand back from or break the contour of the cheek so you don’t inadvertently flatten it by having it by having the tip of the nose meet the outline of the cheek. At the same time, pay attention to the eyes – you want to see whites on both sides of the iris. If you turn someone’s head in part profile and then have them look back at the camera with their eyes, the irises in the corner of the eye make them look like a psycho-killer. In these shots it works because he’s looking the same direction with his eyes as his face is pointing.

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