For those of you that don’t know, Alien Skin isn’t a huge place. There are less than a dozen of us on the team. With the fast approaching release of Exposure 6, all of us are strapped for time. It would be horrible planning for someone to start a fun side project. All of us have our heads-down working as fast as we can.
Hate to break it to you, but that irresponsible someone is me. Suprise! My inner child was throwing a temper tantrum. I really wanted to get this project going. The only idea I could think of was to work outside of office hours. Oh well, let’s get to it.
You may have quickly scanned over one of my fav articles from this year, Matt’s introduction. So here’s a one-line summary in case you missed some details: Matt is responsible for testing our products and he’s the author of a forthcoming superhero novel.
In the article, Matt shared a few significant things that he’s been involved with in the last few years, such as Eye Candy’s release, completing the writing of his first book, a day in the life of a QA guru, and his now retired Iron Man figurine.* All of which we wanted to incorporate into his portrait. The goal for the image was to tell the complete story of Matt. The photos are especially important for article skimmers. Honest moment–I do the same thing unless photos catch my eye.
Here’s a timelapse of the setup. We grabbed as many programming books and spare computers as we could lay our hands on. QA is performed on many supported system configurations for our products, so Matt’s office is riddled with computers. His portrait is surprisingly accurate, minus the pipe, of course.
Who’s my helper? Well, she’s not a helper–that was my job. I played the role of the clueless, untalented weiner. Jenn Aan, a local photographer with Halftone Studios and a good friend, helped and advised. She wasn’t there to take over the shoot or to make it hers. She wanted to see what I could come up with on my own. If I had a question, she’d do a great job explaining, but it was my shoot. She insisted. Thank you, Jenn.
We used Jenn’s gear. She is a Nikon shooter. Her D3S was paired up with an 85mm f1.8 lens. We shot at F4.0 at 1/125 with 640 ISO.
We shot tethered to a laptop using Tether Tools’ Starter Kit. For those who haven’t used their Jerkstoppers before, they get the job done. Clumsy me yanked the cable out of the camera a few times before the cord was properly connected. Which, by the way, earned disapproving looks from Jenn–sorry Jenn! Tethering, aside from the larger viewing screen, allowed us to import directly into Lightroom.
The plan was to get the shot right in the camera and do as little post work as possible. For me, this was harder than I would have expected. I rely heavily on my retouching skills. Jenn, who mostly shoots weddings and events, doesn’t have the time to edit a single shot for hours like me, so she makes the magic happen in-camera. It was an eye-opening experience for me.
We used a Westcott SkyLux for the main light, set around 1/2 power. It was placed approximately 8’ from the subject, aimed down from 6′. Barn doors kept the light from hitting the backdrop and from overlighting the stacks of books on the left. An Ice Light on a stand was used for the key light, it sat about 3’ from the subject. They’re brighter than I expected, especially for a hand-held battery powered light, so it was set at low power. Behind the chair, another SkyLux was used to separate Matt from the backdrop. This light was on it’s lowest possible setting. Because one of his outfits was black, lighting his shoulder was pretty important. Iron Man was lit by one more handy Ice Light set at low power. We didn’t have the fancy brand new barndoors for it, so we made one with some fancy grip taping. #GetErDone There were 4 lights total. Couldn’t of done it without you, JerryG.
The bulbs were left bare. The harsher light was meant to suggest a vintage portrait. Most of the shots studied before the shoot used harsh lighting. We were going for a Hemingway meets Hefner feel.
Jenn and I took turns shooting. Her camera was foreign to me, so I fiddled a lot. Matt and I share a common thread–sarcasm–which helped put things at ease. The banter we exchange isn’t something that one would ever put on paper at risk of litigation. Oh yes, it’s that good.
The shoot ran long, so it was decided that I would handle processing the images. I was happy with the images at first, but there were a few things I wish were better. I consulted my portrait photographer friend Hernan Rodriguez for his opinions and advice on the shoot. He’s a Westcott Top Pro and a big fan of Exposure. You may recognize his name and work from past articles or from our Photo Bundle ad with Evander Holyfield. He said:
I like the concept, pose, and feel. Very Alfred Hitchcock. There are a number of things that need addressing.
The accent light is crossing over the face, conflicting with the key light. See how the shadow under the chin is dark? It’s too dark. It’s the accent light’s fault. Either power it down or feather it off behind him more.
Keep the depth of field specific. Make his face the main focus and let everything else be softer. Your lights will direct the falloff for you. Less light means less focus. Use that to your advantage and shift the lights around. Build some hierarchy into the shot. Tell my eyes where to look.
When I heard Hernan’s advice, I knew we could do better. That meant reshoot. It was a painful realization. Would love to tell you about it now, but you’ll have to come back for another article on the second shoot. There was an uphill battle to fight to rally the troops for another extra long day. The saga continues, soon.
*Matt’s Iron Man figurine project began as a fun series of shots which started to gain a following online. Next thing you know, he (Iron Man) ended up going to multiple US cities, Uganda, the Bahamas, and Australia before he retired. Interested? Check out an article about it, here.