Noted editorial photographer Ian Spanier takes photos that tell a story. Whether he’s shooting images of celebrities, fitness models or doing a portrait, he crafts the shot so that we can learn something about the subject.
In this article for the Adorama Learning Center, Ian was asked to create a photograph of his colleague, Laura Dee Shelley, a well–known make-up artist. Much of Laura’s job is covering textures and smoothing details. In this lesson Ian shows how he conveys her job with a clean and simple portrait.
Written and photographed by Ian Spanier
Equipment Used (Available at Adorama)
• OctoDome® Grid : extra small (18 inch)
• OctoDome® nxt: extra small studio kit
Piggybacking onto a Model Shoot
Over the course of the last year, I've been working on a beauty book whenever one of my favorite makeup artists, Laura Dee Shelley, is in New York from her home base in London.
On the day of the shoot, as is normally the case, we both got pretty wrapped up in the process of photographing the models. And it wasn’t until we were both packing up that we simultaneously remembered that we had neglected to take her portrait!
The Quick Lighting Alternative
When I had packed up for the shoot, I brought along an easy-to-set up portable lighting kit, the Photoflex OctoDome® nxt: extra small studio kit. Among other components, this kit includes an extra small OctoDome® SoftBox, a StarFire™ ShoeMount flash unit, and a FlashFire wireless kit, which would allow me to use the StarFlash® off camera.
I wanted to keep the shot simple and thought it would be a fun challenge to see if I could make the portrait using just this equipment. If you read my previous lesson on how I used the extra small OctoDome® to create all the portraits for Epilepsy Advocate Magazine, then you know how useful a lighting tool I have found it to be. Here, I had a great opportunity to show off how versatile and easy to use this softbox is. A beauty portrait with the smallest softbox I own? WHY NOT?
I began by setting up the extra small OctoDome with both of the removable baffles attached in order to create soft, even light. Since I was using it as a singular main light, I left the optional Grid accessory off the face of the softbox, as it would have condensed the light somewhat and made it more directional than I wanted in this case. The wider spread of light would also open up the white wall I’d be shooting Laura against. The great thing about a setup like this is that it’s both simple and quick to set up and break down, which is ideal when it comes to creating a fast portrait, especially at a moment's notice.
The kit comes with a great mounting bracket, the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware, which connects the Basic Metal OctoConnector to the StarFire™/FlashFire™ setup (or any other type of shoe mount flash and wireless receiver). Before attaching the StarFire™/FlashFire™ setup to the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware, though, I taped a small piece of 1/4 CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel to the flash to warm it up. It was winter, and as with most Brits, Laura hadn’t been getting a whole lot of sun in London! I highly recommend carrying a variety of gels like this in your kit, as you can make your artificial light imitate much more natural (or unnatural) color temperatures. With the gel attached, I then mounted the StarFire™/FlashFire™ setup to the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware.
Lighting for beauty is often determined by aesthetic choices, and the main light can be positioned at various angles. In this case, I thought it would look good to light from the side — specifically the open side of Laura's face. How you light your subjects is an important consideration as a photographer. I believe that light tells a story just as much as the subject does, so I try to consider what story I am telling with the light as I am prepping for my shoots.
I positioned the OctoDome® up on the LiteStand and angled it down about 45 degrees. This allowed for a nice shadow to fall to Laura's left side. And with that, my lighting was complete. It was that simple. I was now ready to fire away.
Decision-Making in the Digital Medium
Often when I shoot, I think about how I will make adjustments to the images later in Photoshop. It's very easy these days to say, "Oh, we'll fix that later in Photoshop", but I don't recommend relying on it too heavily, unless you have no other choice. As photographers, we managed for years to get the shot right in camera, and I still strive for that. But I also recognize that the digital medium offers extended tools should I need them, and I keep these in mind.
In this case, I knew that by adding the CTO to the flash, the white wall would also take on the warm tone. However, I wanted the wall to read as white, so I knew I would correct this later in Photoshop for the color version.
Since Laura was wearing black and the wall was white, it was hard not to think of the image in black and white. So I decided to make a copy of the original and convert it to black and white. Another great extended tool in the digital medium! Comparing the two side by side, Laura and I both liked the black and white version even more.
As you can see, compelling portraits don’t have to be overly involved. With this simple lighting setup, you can create images that could have easily been made with much larger, elaborate and more expensive equipment. Makes you realize you can get by with less when you need to!
Web Photo School Editor’s Notes:
Ian’s choice of location and lighting may seem like it was chosen out of convenience, but it's clear he knows what he’s doing. He could have had his subject in a more cluttered studio setting or perhaps working on a model, but his result shows a good feel for what Laura does. When creating an editorial photo of someone, it’s important to place them in an environment that helps to tell their story. Texture and form describes the creations of a woodworker, so he may be shown at his work table amid tools and wood chips. Words that describe Laura’s job are clean, clear, smooth, radiant, etc. In addition, Laura’s workplace is often the photo studio.
In the final photo, Laura is portrayed as a person in control and the results of her efforts are to be seen in her clothing, posing, and background: clean, clear, smooth and radiant. There’s nothing extra or confusing in this photo. This is good editorial photography.
Written and photographed by Ian Spanier. To see more of Ian's work, visit: www.ianspanier.com
Setup shots by Jimmy Nicol.
Special thanks to Laura Dee Shelley for modeling for this lesson.