As an editorial portrait photographer, I am borderline obsessed with interesting faces and the stories that go a long with them. I also believe that doing non-commissioned personal work is the only way to stay sharp and develop your own style. Often, while on the hunt for just the right individual to be a part of my personal work, I create my own stories for the faces I’m investigating.
For this collaboration with Tether Tools and their “How I Got the Shot” series, I knew I wanted to create a portrait of an interesting individual who was not a model and I didn’t know. Someone with what my friend Peter Hurley calls “lookability.” With all that in mind, I was on the hunt for just the right person. All this really involves is me staring for too long at people I don’t know in public places. I caution doing this without a proper and well-rehearsed answer to “Hey man, why are you looking at me?” Because it will happen. Remember, street casting is a skill. Don’t be creepy.
So, while at an art exhibition for a friend I spotted Joe. He had lookability.
Yousef Karsh’s portrait of Ernest Hemingway has long been a favorite of mine and I immediately thought Joe looked like what the iconic writer and adventure seeker might look like today. He was a tall, strongly built gentleman with a weathered face and striking curly white hair and beard. He seemed quiet but charismatic. One of those people that when you see them for the first time you think, “Where do I know that person from?” Though I had never met Joe, it turned out that I had photographed his son not that long ago for a project so he was open to sitting for me. Turns out, Joe owns a landscaping company and is also an accomplished sculptor. So, I was right. Joe was indeed a cool dude.
I knew I wanted to create a portrait of Joe that might give others the impression of him being a modern-day Hemingway as well. Something simple but strong. So, I opted to create a two-light in studio portrait.
Setup and Lighting
To achieve this portrait of Joe we used a two-light setup in studio. Joe was seated a table in front of black seamless paper from Savage. On either side of Joe was a black v-flat to help control our light and create contrast on the face. Our key light was a Profoto B1 with a gridded beauty dish. Our fill light was placed directly overhead and was a Profoto B1 with a 7’ Parabolic umbrella with diffusion from Westcott. Finally, for just a tiny bit of fill from underneath we used a Westcott Eyelighter with the white fabric.
Benefits of Shooting Tethered
I love shooting tethered and when working with a team I typically tether into my MacBook Pro or my iMac so that a digital tech can monitor the shoot as we go. But for this project I was working alone as I often do on small budget editorial projects or creative projects. So, I wanted something a little less involved but equally as effective. So, I used the Case Air Wireless Tethering System and tethered to an iPad Mini which was mounted directly on my Feisol tripod. I loved it. I could glance down and have instant feedback, viewing images on a larger screen than my camera’s small display. It was also very simple to pop the iPad out of the mount and use it to show Joe what we were doing and coach him on what I wanted.
For the final look of this image, I didn’t want a lot done but I wanted it done well. This, to me, is where a relationship with a great retoucher is important.
I turned the post-production reigns over to Damian Battinelli at In Tandem Productions. Because we have worked together many times, I trust him to pull off the look I want with a subtle accuracy that only a pro can.
When I told him that I wanted a slightly muted color tone and an overall feeling of elegant grit, he knew exactly what I meant and executed it perfectly. Beyond that, when reviewing and selecting final images, I noticed some wrinkles and lumps on the shoulders of Joe’s shirt that I wasn’t happy with. Damian was able to flawlessly repair them without making it noticeable that the shirt had been altered.
There are many photographers out there who in addition to being great photographers are great Photoshop artists as well. I, however, am not one of them. For those of you like me, a great relationship with a quality retoucher is paramount.
Logistics and Gear
This portrait was created in my studio so conditions were an ideal 72 degrees with no wind. Other gear included:
- Nikon D800
- Case Air Wireless Tethering System
- iPad Mounted to Tripod with AeroTab S2 and EasyGrip
- Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 lens
- Feisol Tripod
- 2 Profoto B1 Air lights
- Westcott 7’ Parabolic Umbrella with diffusion
- Westcott Eyelighter with white fabric
- Cheap knockoff beauty dish with grid bought late one night on a lark from Amazon Prime.
Collaboration and Team
All lighting, photography, and styling was done by me, John David Pittman.
Model was Joe Barnett.
Post production was done by Damian Battinelli of In Tandem Productions in Plattsburgh, New York.
BTS video was produced by Joe Lusby Media.
To download this, and 11 more How I Got the Shot guides, download version 2 of the How I Got the Shot Guide at TetherTools.com. Each educational article features a different image, behind-the-scenes video, as well as a detailed breakdown of how the shot was made.