Portrait Sure

July 1, 2011 

I've grown increasingly comfortable with my location lighting skills after more than six months of working with my portable light kit. The shiny-new-toy factor has worn, too, so I don't always feel like I need to use it, but when I do, my increasing understanding of its abilities and limitations means I spend less time fumbling with my strobe settings and setup, and more time making pictures.

There's still some sucking to overcome, though.

The good news is, when I keep things simple, I can generally produce the image I had in mind. Sounds easy, I'm sure, but there was a time not so long ago that making my vision a reality was a rarity. When Richland graduate Maddi Jacobs forgot her in-line skates at Howard Amon Park, I thought a photo of her splashing around in the river would make for a fun photo:

I shouldn't have tilted the frame so much, but I was happy enough with the shot to be damp for the next couple hours.

I knew I wanted to use a welding torch as both a background element and lighting source as soon as I saw I was meeting Kennewick graduate Jesus Larios Murillo at his Tri-Tech Skills Center welding class. Luckily, a free classmate was game:

I should have worked harder to close some of the space between Murillo and the background welder, but I like how it came together. It was funny to see the lumpy pile of metal that was left as classmates joked about how great a weld my helper had produced.

Marv Kinney was game to let me put a light in the conning tower once I saw that I could get a top-down view inside the USS Triton, and I guessed close enough on how strong I should set the strobe to balance it with the dim ambient light and bright outside highlights spilling in:

Looking back, I probably should have hit his face with a little extra light to get rid of that warm, jaundiced look on Marv's face, but I like the highlighted edge the outside lighting provides. Maybe better placement of my conning tower strobe would have fixed some of the hard-edged shadows down below, but it's not too bad.

I was also happy to find an existing space in the travel section of the Kennewick Branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries when photographing author Jeff Davis, who was in town promoting his new book, A Haunted Tour Guide to the Pacific Northwest:

Sure, I could have cleared my own hole, but I didn't have to worry about getting things in the right place this way. An extra bonus was the inclusion of a book about Vancouver, though this one was about the one in British Columbia, not Davis' native Washington. I tried to give it a moody aesthetic with some creepy green light in the back — an element lost in the photo's black-and-white reproduction in the paper.

This budding confidence does have its drawbacks, however. As soon as we met new Executive Chef Jonathan Gilbertson at the Pasco Red Lion's Bin 20 restaurant, he suggested we do the portrait in front of their winemakers wall. I wanted to check out the kitchen first, insisting that a sneak peek behind the scenes would tie in better with the story's theme of incorporating local ingredients. Controlling the light around all that stainless steel can be tricky, though, and my first portrait of him lacked the pizazz I wanted:

Stepping into the walk-in produce refrigerator yielded even lamer results — in both pose and lighting:

And the best shot by far was at his original suggestion, which tied into his upcoming first winemaker dinner just fine:

He was nice enough to not say the "I told you so" I so richly deserved after spending so much time trying to polish my two original turdly ideas.

I fell flat again while shooting Miss Tri-Cities Adrienne Bousquet, whom I had photographed after she was crowned last summer. Since we were meeting her at a rehearsal for her and this year's batch of contestants, my idea was to simulate some spot lights on her while she sang while the nine hopefuls flanked her to go with a story about her preparation for the Miss Washington Pageant.

I positioned a couple lights behind the group, imagining some starry lights creating a fun image, but I couldn't get everything to line up right. Either the light stands came poking out of her head,

or the effect was lost in alternate positions I used while trying to either hide or minimize the stands:

What I should have done was figure out a way to rig the lights up higher, you know, like actual spotlights. Also, I could have realized what the limits of my gear were while setting up. Instead, I scrambled mid-song to ditch the "spotlights" and shot a fallback option before moving on:

While fumbling through my failed idea, Adrienne joked about adoring fans and somebody else suggested we shoot something where everybody is cheering for her at a concert, so I changed up the lights, moved to the front of the stage and gathered the nine Miss contestants and nine teens in the running, encouraging them to actually scream:

It's a better fit for the story and a lot more fun to look at than my idea.

I briefly considered trying to set up a faux spotlight behind the crowd before remembering how terribly that had gone just minutes before. Plus, I was taking more rehearsal time than I had planned and was late for a Fever playoff game. Instead, I used the three lights I already had out, with a 60-inch umbrella lighting the crowd, a 42-inch umbrella on Adrienne to the left of the camera and a light to the right with a grid on it to give her hair a little punch. The effect is subtle and works for the scene.

Clearly, I still have a lot of room for improvement, but the more comfortable I become, the more effort I can expend in coming up with more creative ideas. I was so preoccupied with trying to make my terrible idea work that I was unwilling to abandon it and admit that it wasn't going to come together. This job is built on confidence, but sometimes overconfidence gets in the way of making the best picture I can.

Speaking of confidence...

My friend and college classmate, Conner Jay, wrote a succinct piece on his blog about driving carefully to spot news. He clearly doesn't like to blather as much as I do, and gets the point across. I also don't rush to these breaking news scenes with the same reckless urgency that I did a couple years ago.

This week was nearly book-ended by terrible Photoshop, starting with Newsweek's tastelessly horrifying cover featuring a fake-aged Princess Diana alongside Kate Middleton. It's amazing that a silly piece that smacks of lame online fan fiction made it onto the cover of a once-respected news magazine. Even more amazing is that The Daily Beast, founded by current dual Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown (who heads the beautiful monster now known as The Newsweek Daily Beast Company), ran a story about the five most hilarious reactions to the cover story. You can see Brown's defense here.

Further proof of China's increasing competitiveness with the U.S. came a few days later, when an astoundingly bad digital hack job was supposed to show officials inspecting a new road. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that Chinese scientists may have invented some sort of hovering device and released the image to throw us off the trail. If these only whetted your appetite for Photoshops of horrors, check out the ever-snarky Photoshop Disasters. For a more low-brow look, enjoy this collection of Russian wedding photo wizardry.

And finally, in non-photo-and-or-journalism news, I've been obsessed with the Stuff You Should Know podcast lately. Hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark have great banter, fun pop culture references and interesting talks on subjects ranging from Muppets to suicide bombers. You can get every episode for free, and while I won't discourage you from starting from the beginning, the early episodes don't always feature Chuck, are shorter and seem to have been made to promote the accompanying howstuffworks.com articles. The later podcasts are gold, though. I promise you.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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