This week I took advantage of the beautiful late afternoon light and warm Tampa weather to do some portraits of a new friend.
Back when I spent a lot of time hauling location cases for another photographer, the beauty dish was never my favorite piece of gear. The effect was great, but it was basically a giant aluminum salad bowl. It didn’t fit into the standard location cases and had to be carried separately. I recently picked up a collapsible beauty dish by Chimera. It fits easily into my existing case system and creates a very nice kind of light.
I called up my friend Katie whom I hadn’t seen much of since returning from Korea to see if she would sit for me. She mentioned feeling a little apprehensive as she’d worked with some less experienced photographers in the past, so I was sure to allow plenty of time in the beginning to relax and get caught up. Plus, it took some time to go through the mountain of wardrobe options she brought.
In addition to the new dish, I decided to use a warm gray seamless paper backdrop and a reflector panel on the right to provide just a bit of fill light. In the end, Katie was great to work with, and we were able to create a fun set of beautiful images showing her character and personality.
It was easily the windiest day of the season, and definitely the windiest outdoor portrait session I’ve ever had.
The leaves outside were zipping past the window as we sipped coffee and discussed our shot list on that Sunday afternoon. Her eyes kept going to the window, coming back with questions. Was this really going to work? How many shots could we get in this gale before the inevitable downpour?
Katelyn Beaty had contacted me a few days before about getting an updated headshot to coincide with her recent promotion at Christianity Today. Founded by Billy Graham in 1956, Christianity Today is a leading voice of the evangelical movement and seeks to address real world issues from a biblical perspective. In her new role as Managing Editor, Katelyn is called to comment on Biblical issues in print, online and in speaking engagements. She’s excited about this opportunity to be more involved with their eponymous magazine as well as oversee aspects of their web presence including the women’s site Her.meneutics and the This Is Our City project. Katelyn as been applying her writing and editing talents to Christianity Today since shortly after graduating from Calvin College in 2006.
As we finished talking over a shot list, I told her that I thought we could get some good shots before the rain. I hoped that I was right. We ended up in a brick alley that I’d walked past for years thinking it would make a good portrait location. I set up a flash 10ft. high pointed at one wall as she posed on the opposite wall. This gave me a large diffuse light source that picked up a slightly warm cast as it bounced off the bricks. The alley was only 4ft wide and allowed just enough wind through to give a slightly windblown look…until the rain started. Fortunately we had agreed beforehand on an alternate indoor location, which we made it into just as the deluge began.
As the rain pelted against the windows and I set up the lights, we had a brief conversation about trust. A great portrait requires mutual trust. One of the things I enjoy most about photographing people is creating connections and capturing real, honest moments. It can be intimidating to put the responsibility for creating ones distributable visual identity into the hands of someone else. Sometimes you can see in the eyes, or the pose if the model and photographer haven’t made a connection, if they don’t trust each other. The model needs to trust me to portray them in the desired fashion.
Eye contact is vital to communicating and connecting with others. Often in a portrait session, that connection is broken when one end is replaced with a cold, unblinking lens. If there isn’t a good connection they won’t open up and put their true character and personality into the images. Fortunately this wasn’t the case and we had a successful session in spite of wind, rain and alternate locations.
I decided to use a large softbox as main light source, and translucent umbrella as fill. We tried several different poses and had fun arranging a few pieces of vintage furniture to use as props.
We ended up not only dry, but with a series of images that both of us are happy with.