Occasional Moments of Brilliance

Photography that is always great, and occasionally brilliant.

Posts tagged ‘portrait’

A Voice Above the Storm

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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.

A Picture is Worth

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“The last time we had our pictures taken was maybe ten years ago” say the parents of two children aged 11 and 14. I pondered this as I arranged and posed them. Each year growing up, my parents would update the 8×10 school portrait of my brothers and me hanging on the wall in the family room. This family on the other hand had no recent portraits of their teenaged children. Last weekend I volunteered for a great event called Help-Portrait. It’s an organization founded by celebrity photographer Mark Cowart. Their first international event took place in 2009 and has now spread to 60 countries. Here’s a quote from their website “Help-Portrait is a community of photographers coming together across the world to use their photography skills to give back to their local community.”

This year’s event put on by the Carol Stream Illinois chapter was coordinated by Mark Lane, graphic designer at Tyndale House Publishers. On Friday evening there was an opportunity for Tyndale employees and their families to get some portraits done for a small donation that helped recoup costs for the event. The next day, over the course of six hours, 71 families showed up at the Wheaton Ministry center. That means 680 people were given professional portraits that they normally couldn’t afford. It was a busy day as I along with 3 other photographers captured memories for each of them. There was also a café set up so that they could relax as they waited for their appointment, and look for frames afterwards.

This was a fun event for a good cause. For more information, or to get involved yourself, check out the Help-Portrait website here: http://help-portrait.com/.

Charitable Century

A cold early September wind was already blowing at daybreak when hundreds of riders gathered at Hampshire High School for the Paul Ruby Sub-5 Century Challenge. The competitors were shivering, chatting and trying to avoid mud puddles that had gathered in the school lawn as they clacked around on cycling shoes. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a more dramatic looking sunrise, but quickly started capturing portraits of the riders as they talked, joked and discussed strategy. These teams turned out in the teeth chattering September chill in order to raise money for the Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Many of the riders were part of 16 member teams who were competing against the clock, and not against each other by completing a 100-mile ride in less than 5 hours. In addition there were several shorter recreational ride courses set up for all levels of riders.

Some of the interesting additions to this year’s event were a local BMW motorcycle club who volunteered to support the riders, and one of the riders used a recumbent bike with fairing. He mentioned that it has an electrical system that provides him with head and taillights. The trade-off is that it requires a 5 lbs motorcycle battery.

I was able to ride along with Steve Overton who was coordinating the support drivers this year. While I didn’t get to spend very much time at the start or finish line, I was able to capture moments of determination, teamwork and success with each of the teams all around the course. After a few hours of alternately hanging out of the support van window and setting up a stationary position at the roadside a call came over the radio that the last rider on the course was coming in alone. Steve sped over to his position, and as we came alongside two things were clear. First, this guy was exhausted, and second, that he was going to finish his century and not give up. We accompanied him over the last 15 miles with me snapping photos and Steve yelling encouragement.

On the day of the ride, the Paul Ruby Foundation was able to net at least $50,000, which like the more than 400,000 raised in the last five years will be used to directly fund Parkinson’s research. For more information about Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research or if you are interested in getting involved, please visit them online at http://www.paulrubyfoundation.org.

Two of the challenges with photographing an event like this are isolating the focus on the faces of the riders as they move towards the camera at speed, and giving the photos a consistent style without shooting them all from the same spot.

I wanted to maintain a somewhat narrow depth of field in order to separate the riders from the background. In order to do this, from each of my stationary positions, I chose two or three preset focus points, and then captured the riders as they rode through that point. In addition, I had Steve pull alongside the riders and match their speed. This allowed me to freeze the faces of individual riders and by using a slightly slower shutter speed and greater depth of field, provide the motion blur in the background. Steve’s white minivan provided fill light by acting as a reflector.

Fortunately, I was able to shoot from a variety of different positions over the course of the ride. In addition I found a few spots where the drainage ditch was a few feet below the road level and was a bit overgrown. From here I was able to shoot from nearly road level and the out of focus grasses in the foreground contributed to the overall sense of depth.