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Posts from the ‘Portraits’ Category

Many (different) portraits in a nice (dark) room… quickly, please.

One thing I really enjoy about making portraits for a living, is that I am often asked to go to a place I’ve never been, and photograph people I’ve never met. I know… sounds like it should be trouble. But for me it’s like being told “I don’t look good in pictures”. It kinda makes my day.

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This time, it was especially fun because they were all visually sophisticated and pleasant people, as was my client, Karin Pendley-Koser at KPK and Co.

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While none of these folks were used to being photographed so deliberately, they were not hostile to the process, which is surprisingly common and always adds a Thin Layer of Interesting to the day.

But here, everyone was totally on board, and patient, too.

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Plus, we were at Chip Cheatham’s showroom in Atlanta, which was comfortable, and lush with environmental flavor. The context of deliberate interior space needed to be an important element in these portraits, but it needed to be the second element. Or third.
Finding an appropriate background can be more challenging than connecting with the person being photographed, but this place had the opposite problem. Plenty of opportunity, and often, too much. And then there was that black ceiling. And those black walls.

 

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I didn’t have the time to appreciate the Arnold Newman axiom of Talent<Moving Furniture @ 1/99 ratio.
I had to find existing tableau that lent themselves to the demeanor, palette and structure of each person.

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What could be forward, and what must recede.
Who would stand where. Where do these lights go. Quickly.

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I arranged 13 different set ups resulting in 11 final portraits of 6 different people and 3 groupings, in under two hours.

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Then we went to the next location.

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What is it about “dog”?

Wendy

Wendy

There’s all that standard and understood stuff about food and shelter, obedience and companionship.
Books are filled with instruction on how to get it, and how great it is when you have it…

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But once all those things have been studied, adopted and imposed, there seems to be
something more important and perhaps unknowable between humans and a dog.

TWMeyer-20130822-8969It’s a connection that is symbiotic, dynamic and mysterious.

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I feel more attuned to life with a somewhat unruly animal in the house.

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TWMeyer-20110919-8802I take on some of her wildness

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while she accepts some of my domesticity.

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Hunting a Rat in the LariopeShe’s caught five squirrels while walking on a leash…

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and does not know how to share a bed.

Why make portraits at a wedding?

The role of today’s wedding photographer is a complex and focused one. Current expectations are of a documentary, observational approach, much different from the previous era’s tradition: an enforced, formulaic recording of arranged scenarios. Deliberate portraits at a wedding have become a vestigial concession, primarily made to appease the elders.

But given the overarching self-awareness that weddings bestow on any family, it is hard to imagine a better time to have a deliberate portrait made of these rare groupings. People assemble at weddings from all contexts of the couple’s life; from different generations, geographic distributions and social networks. They are brought together by this singular event, and may never all be together again in the same place, at the same time. A portrait made in this context, in a classic, enduring style, would be treasured for years and generations to come.

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Mother and son at a wedding, Kimball House, Roswell Georgia

At weddings, these people (who are, or will be extremely important to each other) are gathered in rare concentration. Happily, they tend to dress in the best clothes they have, their hair is “fixed” to the degree that it can be, and collectively they share a feeling of camaraderie, good will and optimism…

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Groom with groomsmen (he was fine), Kimball House, Roswell Georgia

In collaboration with the modern photo-journalist wedding photographer, a good portrait photographer can produce deliberate yet unscripted images that provide a valid and complimentary window into the family’s history and their experience of that day. In sudden, brief and almost spontaneous portrait sessions, surprisingly candid and insightful moments can be found that give tremendous insight into how these people came to be who they are, and how they arrived at this moment.

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Family at a wedding, Four Season’s Hotel, Atlanta Georgia

Such portraits provide a contrasting compliment to the artful spontaneity of a photo-journalist’s images.
They are more suitable to a wedding than those from the trendy photo booth. With their random timing, static compositions, feather boas and goofy hats, photo booth pictures too often mask the expression of close personal connection with clownish behavior. The photo booth has its place in a more casual context.
Plus, these more deliberate portraits endure, present in professional resolution and format within the archives and galleries of the primary photo-journalist, available for a printed album, and stored with the portrait photographer.

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8 friends, Decatur Georgia

The first wedding I ever photographed in this manner was that of an ex-girlfriend, in 1999. She knew what skills I had with a camera, light and people, and she asked me to make portraits of anyone who came to her wedding, without regard to any hierarchical order… to treat them all with the same attention she had seen me apply at other gatherings.

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Polaroid 600SE camera

At that time, I was using this Polaroid 600SE medium format camera and Polaroid’s Type 665 pack film that produced monochromatic images of great clarity, and a negative of substantial size (6x8cm).
I set up a small studio in the lobby of the reception hall, lighting people with soft light and a gentle fill, setting them against a deeply toned, understated backdrop.

I made portraits of the bride with her father and brother, with her 83 year old aunt, with her brother and his future wife. I photographed families who were unrelated to her… I photographed her ex-boyfriends with their new girlfriends. I photographed  anyone who even hesitated near me. I gave everyone small folios containing their 3×4 inch prints.

Several years later, I was contacted by one of the bride’s guests. His brother in-law had just died. His sister still had the Polaroid I had made of her family that day.
She showed it to him saying “this is the best picture we have of all of us together”.

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Family at a wedding, 1999 Huntsville Alabama

They called the bride of that wedding day, and asked for some way to contact me. I found the negative and sent them three 8x10s.

It was a lesson I have never forgotten; treat everyone with seriousness when they are in front of your camera. Never underestimate the value of a simple portrait.
Back up your work.

I’m still doing this, but the Polaroid 600SE is now a full frame dSLR, and the prints are 4×6 inches. It’s how I have fun with a camera. It’s art with meaning.

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To see more of my recent work in this fashion, visit btapb.com.
Better Than A Photo Booth, in so many ways.

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Atlanta Celebrates Photography – Auction Portraits – October 2014

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Last Friday I set up a small portrait studio at the fundraising auction that Atlanta Celebrates Photography produces every year in October.
I was soon reminded of the tendency in artists to wear black… I wonder why that is?

These guys bucked that trend, nicely:
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One thing that I really enjoy about making portraits at an event like this is the level of immediate intimacy that is available, and it’s concurrent brevity.
I try to get something about who each person is, adjust the lighting quickly to their relationships, appearance and/or character (within the necessary limits) and then get them back to the gathering efficiently.

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It became apparent early on that another thing I would have to do was dispel the seemingly ubiquitous and corrosive influence of the photo booth craze. A light-hearted attitude was most welcome, but no feather boas, no goofy hats or cliche’d signage were provided. I was there to make portraits, not blackmail material. These were people who had assembled to celebrate photography, and they immediately got the idea.

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Of course it was a really good crowd, and everyone that was photographed left with a small print… or two. Or three. I even got some great pictures of the catering staff. Being a veteran of the professional kitchen, I am keenly aware of their contributions to a successful gala such as this one. I wanted to also give them a token of my appreciation and awareness.
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The overall results, I think, are way Better Than A Photo Booth might have produced (and that’s your link to the gallery of portraits).

Corporate portraits, with creative license

You might think engineers… architectural engineers, would want a fairly conventional portrait for their business website. Well I did. Fortunately for me, they didn’t. Well they did, but they also let me do whatever I wanted, as long as I could get it done during the same day as making the group portrait of eight and a formal portrait of each of the other seven partners. And we did, under five hours from first test pop to packing the gear out the door.

Here are the 7 “casual” portraits, made extemporaneously using a couple of SB’s and various modifiers as Russell Kaye assisted me with the gear and critical/helpful/objective commentary.

Working fast and light in a small factory

I have been photographing for this client for so many years, they are now way into the good friend category.This winter they asked me to start making some portraits of a documentary nature, featuring their production staff and customer service.

Here’s what I did a couple of days into the new year of 2012. This is their fabrication crew. They didn’t slow down a bit for me.

I was working two little lights with color correcting gels on them. Sometimes I had the D700 on a tripod, sometimes not… all were made with my old 28-70 2.8 Nikon. The ambient light was pretty typical overhead warehouse lighting, and some high and very yellow translucent panels the length of one wall, about 20 feet off the ground. You can see some of that in a few of these out takes. I like this gritty duotone treatment, but they will probably want color, which is why I use the color correction on the flashes to get them as close as I could to the vague, rambling Kelvin of the insanely mixed temperature light sources.  Plus the sun was in and out all afternoon, pushing EVs, color temperatures and the relative lighting ratios all over the place.

Before and while I worked, no one came in to clean up the shop, no suits from corporate appeared to affect attitude, no art director stopped production to rearrange the work space, no make up was applied.  I moved a few trash cans and a broom, mostly to remove an errant highlight and keep the compositions as I wanted them. I loved it, and worked alone (without an assistant) for about three hours.

Here’s a sample… my quick edit.

Shop Forman

performance art

springs, ready for assembly

at the lathe

the lathe that is older yet more precise than me

sanding the edges of a plywood armature

an anthropomorphic plywood form, glued and clamped, dries overnight in the empty warehouse

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drill press

my kind of color palette, in the high window's light, end of day

Serendipity is such a nice word

When working as an “event photographer”, the tendency is to set a high-ish ISO (400 or 800), attach a competent and slightly diffuse flash to the camera and just document the scene as a dispassionate observer with an agenda.

I have no problem keeping such elemental guidelines prominent in my approach, but I also like to look for opportunities to break out of that static mode, turn off the flash and crank the ISO up. Especially when the ambient lighting reveals such surprises as I encountered a couple of days ago…

Last week, I was asked to photograph an event hosted by the management of the building where my studio is located, the Little Five Points Community Center. It’s a non-profit organization in an almost 100 year old building that offers reasonably priced studios to artists and arts organizations. As icing on that cake… it’s in Little Five Points, where there is never a dull moment or a shortage of interesting people.

The old cafeteria is right outside my studio (which is half of the original kitchen), and I use it when I need to build a large set. The ceiling is high, the room is large and the really ugly florescent lighting emanates from fixtures that are recessed into the ceiling (ie: out of the way).

The hallway off the cafeteria is several stops darker and that’s where the best photographic moment of the day presented itself to me.

I had been photographing the Manga African Dance troop in the cafeteria, and moved over to the exit to the hallway for a new point of view. In that hallway was this beautiful young woman. She was watching the same dance performance, and sort of subconsciously spinning an inflatable globe…

I saw her as I crossed the room, but rather than approach with the camera’s presence on her, I turned back to the room to check my point of view on the performance that was in progress. But while watching, I turned off the flash and knocked the shutter speed down by two stops. Then I turned, focused and exposed one frame of the globe spinning woman (she smiled!).

It wasn’t until downloading later that evening that I noticed the orientation of the globe, which was undoubtedly set for me by the rhythms that surrounded us at that moment.

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Young Woman, Spinning Globe. Little Five Points Community Center, Sept 17, 2011

28-70 f2.8 on D700 Nikon, ISO 800, 1/50th @ f2.8

portrait of a young man as a Young Man

I really can’t think of anything to say that this photograph doesn’t say better, all by itself

© TWMeyer 2011

ring bearer

Ring Bearer

portrait of a working artist in a really small room

Christina Kober is an enterprising jeweler who understands the value of self promotion and is working it from many angles. She asked me to make portraits of her at work.

Her studio is small, but quite efficiently laid out and easy for one person to use. Adding a photographer (even a thin one) and a light stand with a diffusing modifier (even a small one) quickly shrinks it to the point where everything is a bumping hazard. And some of her stuff, you don’t want to bump.

Christina Kober: Window light for main, strobe for back light

Christina Kober: Window light for main, strobe for back light

In the above image, a window is the main light on camera right. I used a favorite old 30 inch Westcott Halo for a back light. Unfortunately, the 30 inch Halo is now out of production and there’s nothing that replaces it. I love it because it’s small, provides a directional yet soft and shape revealing light, works really well with speedlights and it’s convex front diffusion panel can be placed very close to a subject. I prefer the enclosed construction of the Halo because it doesn’t create the contrast lowering spill that is a problem when a comparable shoot-through umbrella is used in a small room.The Halo kept the wall behind her a deeper blue, in contrast with the warm window light on her skin, hair and scarf.

Christina Kober: Bounced main light and daylight rim

Christina Kober: Bounced main light and daylight rim

This image shows the intensity of Christina’s concentration when she’s working with the torch on a very small piece. I wanted to light her from my left, where there was only room for an undiffused, small and flamable light source, all of which were just not good ideas.  I dodged those issues by putting my Lumedyne on a stand above and behind her (to the right), with a 5 degree grid on it. That light was pointed over her head toward the closed white blinds on the window to my left so that it bounced from those blinds onto her face as a softer light, while the window light from across the room created an edge lighting on her right hand and the tools she was using. Grids do collimate the light somewhat, but not as tightly as a snoot or fresnel head would. This grid is held on with velcro… not exactly a light tight seal so maybe some of that rim light was leakage from the grid.  I’ve learned to exploit such weaknesses  idiosyncracies in my archaic vintage equipment… t

Portrait of an artist as a young mother

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Sarah with her family

After the huge fun that is found by impersonating a giant copy machine, I talked Sarah Emerson into letting me make a portrait of her. It was Memorial day weekend, and she brought her family along to pick up her beautiful paintings. I set up a light and made 18 frames in the big room at my studio… two were something I had hoped for without even knowing what they would be.

Lucky me.