Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

 

Lesson Info

Image Selection: Stylized Portrait

How I go about editing is... I have to even think about it for a minute. It's kind of a, it's kind of an emotional process for me. I kind of, I feel... And try to respond to how an image makes me feel. It's about balance. It goes back to my seven descriptive words. It's about, you know, needing things to be simple and bold and great, and it's also kind of me wanting a sense of control. So I can talk about it in kind of these general terms, but I am gonna go through and show you guys how I do it and hopefully try to talk through some of the decisions and things that I'm feeling, and hopefully that might be the best way to go about it. Before we get to the shoots that we just did, I wanted to share a couple things with you. This is the first time I've ever showed this to anybody, so I thought this could be a fun place to do this. This is a portrait shoot I did with Annie Leibovitz in about, I think it was 2008, 2009. And this is every image from the shoot. There was 40 images, and it was...

very quick. I think maybe we had, like, seven or eight minutes total to do the shoot. We spent a couple minutes talking and then we started shooting. And hopefully this also kinda paints a picture. I've told the story about this many times in my career, but it was really fascinating even for me to go back and look at it with fresh eyes, 'cause it's been a while since I've really looked at this. But you can see in the top left, again, I went in with just this very simple idea, and it's, I mean, I could say I just wanted to start simple, but really, if I'm being honest, my idea simply was having her sit still and looking off. And again, this is in the phase of my career where light was the subject. Like, the human was the vessel to get the light, you know, in the right place, kinda thing. And thankfully that's not how it ended up. This was a huge kind of learning opportunity for me. But you can see as we started, I was kind of going in that direction, but she was kind of looking around and moving and kept leaning, and it was... It wasn't that she was, she wasn't being difficult or anything at all like that. But she was bringing something to it, and I think obviously a lot of this comes from her being an incredible photographer, knowing what it takes to make an interesting picture. And so there was a while where I kept trying to put her back to the first place, and quickly I had this feeling of, you know, maybe I shouldn't fight this, you know? Which was very scary, because for someone who needs control and wants control, that was very much out of my element, especially in the moment. And now that I'm a little bit older and have a little bit more experience, I understand that having control does not mean that you can't still explore and experiment. And we haven't really got to do any of this. We've talked a little about bit about it the last couple days, but I didn't really get to do much of this in the shoots that we did. A lot of it just boiled down to the fact that I had a very specific idea that I wanted and some of the lighting was technical, and also, you know, some of it was situational. Like in the rowboat, there was only so much you can do. I mean, we could've done all kinds of things, but I wanted to keep it in the realm of feeling serious. I didn't want it to get too goofy of her, like, looking over or peering and stuff like that. That felt a little heavy-handed to me. And so, anyway, basically you see here how we were progressing, and then she started using her hands. That was just kind of her idea. And I wasn't really set up for that. You know, there's creating heavy shadows and things like that. But I really did like, you know, this idea, and I was like, oh, that's interesting. I just haven't even thought about, you know, hands or something. And so I did say, I like this idea of hands, but I feel like the light, it's casting kinda some hard shadows. And she just got, I just got that look, that hand, and it happened one time, and these were, like, pretty rapid-fire. The next one, you know, happened so quickly that, you know, my fill light didn't even go off, so I got the one image, which is the one that I ended up using primarily, and then it kinda moved on from there. If you're not familiar, sorry, this is the image that I, that is my final selected I've been, that I have in my portfolio. It's one of my favorite portraits that I've done to date. Also, this is an image that I love. I haven't really shown it much, and I was just thinking about it even going through here, I should maybe kind of release that, actually. But it's one that I've always appreciated. And even looking at these now again for me, I think there's something very interesting about this one, and I do like this one, and there's a couple others towards the bottom that I like, as well. And I think some of that is just, you know, your taste changes as you get older, and your confidence maybe changes, or you're able to look at things differently. I certainly have no regrets that the one that I picked is still my favorite, but even going back here now makes me kinda think, gosh, maybe I should re-explore some of these and, like, and work on some of them. But anyway, hopefully that's interesting to just kind of see all of the images of what happens in a quick shoot that we've talked about. Like, this is an editorial celebrity shoot where timing is very limited, and so you've gotta have lights ready and be ready for whatever happens. And I did get this idea, too, from, I mentioned I was at this gallery in LA and they had this show called Contact, and this was kinda how they presented an image within the whole shoot, and I thought the context of it was really cool. Again, so going back to shooting, it, there's nothing wrong with shooting whatever you want. Like, shoot everything. But when it comes down to your editing, you've gotta be true to yourself. You've gotta think about what you're responding to. But you also do, in order to do that, you wanna reference those words that we discussed, like, those words that hopefully, it's not just a rule, it's not having a rule or following rules for rules' sake. If those words truly are reflected, a reflection of who you are, then that should be an exciting thing. There should be no, you know, there should be no pain in aligning your selects with those words, because that should mean that it's an image that makes sense for who you are. And then finally just, you know, when I'm... The kind of intangible element of what I'm looking for when I'm editing photos is just, it's just kind of an internal reaction. It's gotta make me excited. There's gotta be something about the image that just kind of, like, lights me up and, you know, that's something that's hard for any of us, I think, to describe, but most of us, I think, know what that is when we're looking at images. So with that, I'm gonna switch over to my computer, if we can do that, and then I will walk you guys through the four shoots that we have done. And I have not actually looked at any of these at all, so, not that you haven't seen 'em already. You've been through every minute of it. But I haven't done any, I haven't done any pre-selection or anything like that. There, we did mark some of 'em as we were shooting, so if there's any stars or anything like that, that's just from when we were shooting. I don't think, unfortunately, I'm gonna be able to, like, fully edit these, you know, right now, and I'm probably not gonna pick the select, but we'll just kinda go through and I'll talk about my process for now. So depending on what viewer you use, I'm using Focus 'cause you have to use that for Hasselblad. But basically I just like to get a grid going, whether it's vertical, horizontal, whatever it takes for me to be able to see multiple images in some place next to each other, and then I just want something to be able to view images larger. So I do a lot of this kinda thing sometimes when I boil it down and go back and forth, so I just need something that's gonna load fairly quickly, otherwise you kind of lose the ability to compare. So these are the first few shots. I do remember it felt like we kind of took a while to get rolling. A lot of it was just exploration. Some of that, this wasn't the case, but sometimes you can just tell that either you're not warmed up or your model or your subject isn't warmed up. Sometimes I will just fire away for, like, 60 frames with no thought to, like, what's actually going on just to kind of get a rhythm going and to just get them into it. That doesn't mean you couldn't accidentally catch something there. I mean, at least you probably should keep it focused. But I'm, you know, sometimes I'll just try to get rhythm going and just kinda see how things are moving. In this particular one, and again, it wasn't anything that anyone was doing wrong, but I just felt like the balance was off and I wasn't quite sure of the mood. I also felt like, for this model, we were kinda setting the tone for the whole series. We were trying to create, we were trying to create these characters. And for this one in particular, I really was unsure. I had this idea in my head, and I really wasn't sure if it was gonna translate when everything, the lights came up and the makeup was on and all that kinda stuff. And so my big concern was wanting to make sure it doesn't just feel like a beautiful face trying to act a little gritty, but really, like, no one's buying it. So I, there was a little bit of nervousness, and just, I needed to explore also and kind of find what that was, 'cause I think it's a fine line. We'll see here in a second if we got there. I felt like we did. But, like this one just kinda caught my eye, so I'll mark it. So I go through, basically, and in this system, and I think most image viewers, you have the ability to star or something like that. I prefer to start off with stars or ones through fives, however it is. So I'll go through and anything that catches my eye or I connect with just emotionally or something like that, I'll put a one on it. And also, you know, I mentioned I will sometimes mark images while shooting. That's almost more for reference in shooting than anything else. I've kinda finally understood or come to the place where I've realized rarely do the images I mark while shooting ever make it into play on my final edit, no matter how strongly I feel about 'em, when I'm quiet and away and sitting in front of them and not, you know, feeling everything that's going on around me, like, 95% of the time I don't pick one of the ones that I starred on set. So I don't rely heavily on that or put to much stock in it when I'm going through. I try to just blindly go through a first time and just give 'em ones. So this one, this one jumped out at me, and I thought there was something about that. I'll mark this one, as well. And then sometimes, like here, I like this, and the next one I'm like, oh, I like that, but it's really the same expression except for she's a little higher in frame. So sometimes then I'll just kinda go back and forth and decide which of these two do I prefer. I think I'm gonna stick with the first one. I like people, I like a little more headspace, so... And I'm not trying to be too picky here. Like, even if I know, like, well, it's probably not gonna be the best one, I'll mark it just 'cause I wanna be able to have everything to look at when I come back. And this one, like, to me, it just feels like her head's just a little too... And this is, again, it's just a feeling. It just feels like she's leaning a little too much to me. The expression's interesting, I like the light, but... Here she seems a little too happy. Like, it just feels, even though not much has changed, like, her eyes feel a little more open and it feels, like, just a nice, you know, nice expression, which isn't really what we're going for. There's something I like about this. I was really curious about kind of having shoulders turned and everything, but... And I don't always go this way, but there's something about, for me, again, going back to what my words are, it's bold, it's genuine, it's greatness, and I think for me there's something about, I just wanna see someone coming right at me and I want, there's something intentional about it, there's something direct, and there's something kind of commanding about seeing someone squared up looking confident. Again, that's a big way how I like to see people and portray people, and I think that's more a reflection of who I am than the person, you know? A lotta times people will say about portrait photographers, oh, you just captured that person so perfectly, and I don't know, maybe you can do that. I always laugh when people say that, 'cause I feel like, what does that even mean, you know? I mean, I've been with Michelle for probably about 12 years now, and it's like, I don't know that I have a picture that, like, says, that says anything about her. I know I have pictures of her that I love, but it's like, what does that really mean? You know, what I think, at least for me again, when I'm taking pictures, it's more about me than the person I'm photographing, 'cause I'm dictating so much, you know? It's maybe hopefully different for someone if you're more documentary and stuff like that, but even documentary, you're still, you still have a point of view. You're still picking your perspective and, you know, there's timing and things like that, and, you know, I know that for journalists, you strive for, to be unbiased and all that kinda stuff. But anyway, for me, I am very much trying to affect things, and so I have abandoned this idea of trying to capture anything about a person. It's more about really me expressing my voice through the people that I'm photographing. So in that sense, whether this person is confident and bold or not, that's how I wanna see them for the most part. So here you can tell, like, this picture's nice, but here she's just, like, slightly leaning towards you, and there's just something about, like, about that for me that... Whoops. That draws you in, where here it almost feels like there, she's retreating a little bit, like she's not as confident. So those are little things that stand out to me as I'm going through. I like this. It's just very subtle. Her lips are open. It's, like, an intriguing expression. The next one, her mouth is open just, like, a millimeter more, but it feels too pose-y, to me, at least, if that's noticeable, but... I like this one. That one's interesting. And then here it just feels like she's just, it feels like there's... The emotion's kind of gone there. It's just more of a, like, out of the moment kinda shot. See, here, even just, like, that subtle movement where her head is just slightly coming out more, you can see, well, it feels like there's a little more shadow on her neck, which I think, you know, indicates that she is, in fact, like, coming at you a little bit more. I also love balance, but I don't let that totally get in the way of, like, an image like this. Let's say I pick this one. Not to say I wouldn't leave it like this, but I also potentially would crop into, like, I would probably come in on camera right, maybe, and balance so that her shoulder cuts off at both points. Or more importantly for me, I think that her head is more centered in frame than her shoulders. Or here, see, I like that, and I like this one, too, and that one's also composed a little bit more. Yes. Just thinking about your perspective changing when it comes to, like, being in the shoot and thinking about the photos there versus, like, in the edit, and I was wondering just why you thought that your perspective does change, basically. Like, why do photos stick out to you now that didn't in the shoot? Oh, that's a good question. I think just because you can't, or at least I can't fully process everything that's happening. I'm not looking at every picture as I'm shooting it, so sometimes I'll glance over and something's really cool and I'll mark it, but it doesn't mean that was the best image that came through. And at least for, I'm not, it's been so, I don't know, actually, I think they work the same, but for my Hasselblad, that shutter, at least what I'm seeing, is closed for a long time. It's closed a lot longer than a second. So it's, there's a lot that happens in that moment that I don't see, so there's a lot of, like, anticipation when I'm taking the picture. So, you know, if I'm having people hold pretty still, I have a pretty good idea of what's going on, but, you know, when I'm, if I'm catching action or something, and this may be the case for all cameras. I'm trying to think. But if I'm shooting with a medium format, I have to shoot it, like, maybe even a second, or push the button, like, a bit earlier than you normally, or feel like you should. So there's probably a lotta reasons like that. But I also, I think, you know, on set when I'm shooting, there's a lot of, like, excitement for me. I'm not, maybe, I don't know, maybe these sets were boring for everyone, but for me, I'm, like, jacked up, you know? I'm, like, super excited. My adrenaline's going and I'm having a great time, and there's just, like, a lot of emotion and energy, and again, it's kind of, I equate it to, like, an infatuation period, like, that energy or those endorphins can kind of blind you sometimes, and so it's stepping back and calming your mind and responding to it from a place of just stillness, I think, where you're able to take in more than just excitement. Excitement's great. It's great to be excited. But, you know, again, like, to compare image editing to relationships, maybe it's a shallow comparison, but, you know, you need more than excitement, right? You need depth and you need, you know, connection and you need thought and conversation and all that kinda stuff. So I just think there needs to be more than just sheer excitement when connecting with an image, and that's probably the disconnect, if I had to guess, so... That's a good question. Coming back to this, I really like this picture a lot. So I really do like this picture. You might say, like, oh, well, mark it a two, but I actually will just leave it as a one, because I don't wanna, I don't wanna give, again, in the same way I don't wanna give something more importance than maybe it deserves at the shoot, right now my only goal is to just say, do I like it or not? 'Cause I will come back and I'll make another pass. So I like that one, too. I like that one, too. They're all very similar. But I like the, I like the expression, the kind of, like, emotion that she's putting off. This one's a little calmer. She kinda came back out of the moment. This one I like a lot. This one I like. This one I like. This one's a little overexposed, so it's hard to tell, but I'll mark it anyway. This one again, kind of you see, like, we've lost that emotion. I'll mark that one. It's interesting. Let's see. This is kind of interesting. Kinda let me know. I mean, this, there's a lot of images here, so let me know if, I wanna make sure I give each one the same amount of time. I know obviously that it, everything in the scenario and environment makes a difference, but people are wondering what your settings are in this scenario. Like, camera settings? Um-hum. Well, you should be able to see, actually... Yeah, it's kinda hard to see for them at home. Okay, so this, I'm always shooting at ISO 100. I mean, almost always, hopefully, is the goal. I shot this at one 350th of a second at f8, and the lens was a 80, which again, in 35 millimeter, is more like a 50, so... Thank you. Yeah. So I'm kinda, I'm flying through a little bit, 'cause I, and I wouldn't do that normally. I would take my time with all these. But I do remember feeling like the ones towards the end were where I started to get really excited, so I wanna make sure we get some time on those. I, there's something interesting about this. I really love her expression. I also love the light and the depth that it creates. That one's interesting, too. I think our camera op is peeking in there, but we, that's an easy fix. And then for here, like, for me, if she's gonna turn, I really like, I think, when she's coming camera left. I don't know if I fully made this realization while we were shooting. But when she goes camera right, she's opening her shoulders up to the light, and so they're exposed fine and everything, but it just becomes a lot flatter, like, that's just, it's evenly lit. I really like the depth here, and I think the way that the light kinda falls off slowly is really beautiful, and that tends to draw me in a little bit. So these ones where she's facing that way become a little less interesting to me, unless she were to come up, unless we came up with some, you know, expression that changed my mind, but... Let's see. That one's interesting. I like that. I like that. She's leaning forward. Some of these are good. Oh, a lot of these are good. I'm rushing a little bit. That one's interesting. I took a lot, huh? All right, let's see here. We have a question. If you're thinking about the other images as you're, in the series as you're going through it, this first one. I am not. Especially now because I haven't picked any of them yet. Yeah. So right now I'm just thinking about this. Okay. And it, the series becomes interesting because you do have to consider everything and how it works together. For me, first and foremost, I wanna pick what I consider to be a great image on its own. I'm really hopeful that I don't ever have to pick an image that's not great simply for context. So I wanna give myself an opportunity to pick the best images first and then go back. An example of that when I did have to edit uniform for my series of painted green army men, that was one where maybe I did have a couple images that I preferred for a certain person more, but in the context of the series, they didn't make a lotta sense. And so I did make that decision to go with something that fit the whole series as opposed to, 'cause the series is the point, not just a bunch of really interesting images on their own, so... And I didn't feel like I picked ones that were bad, it's just in a vacuum, maybe I would've picked something different. So mark that one. This feels just, like, a little too goofy for me, at least for how I want these characters to be. I'm not opposed to goofy. So here we get the scar, so I know we're kinda coming to the end, but... And also, because we did it at the end and we didn't have a lotta time, like, I ended up shooting the scar at different angles so, like, if I ended up picking one of the first pictures as my favorites, but I really felt like it needs the scar, we would put that scar on her in post most likely. Which is why you saw me shooting a lot of plates of things, like, 'cause we will definitely put things together like a puzzle at the end depending on whatever feels best. And these were actually just captures for the scar, so, but if one of 'em was good, I'll take it. That one's good, too. So let's just, you know, I'm rushing through some of these, but, and this is an example of we were just doing light tests of what the key looks like without anything else, and we did background plates. So now what I've done is I've gone through and I've made selects with one stars on the pictures that I like. So now I'll filter down to just the ones. And so now it says we have 51 images here. So I'll go back through again, and now it's just, it's, like, focusing down, and sometimes I'll get up to five rounds, sometimes it only takes two. It just totally depends on the image. But basically my goal for this one is I'm narrowing it down, I want one image. I'm not looking for any more than that. Sometimes, you know, if your goal is four, then obviously you stop when you get to four. But for this series, we're looking for one image. So now we'll go back through again and you don't have the distraction of the images that you didn't really respond to. You're just looking at 'em with fresh eyes. And a lot of 'em, again, will feel, in this context, a lot of the ones that I already said I liked will feel pretty quickly like ones I don't like in comparison to one. And so it's just, the more you do it, it becomes a pretty easy way to weed things out. This maybe, maybe this is how everyone does it. I'm not sure, but this is how I do it. I like that. I like that a lot. (mumbles) So clearly I'm, like, gravitating towards, like, her looking kind of confused and frustrated for some reason. And there's not really a specific reason for that. It's not like she, it's not like I, I didn't write out a character and what she needs to feel, but I just like the emotion of that. I do like this one, though, too, a lot, the quietness of this. This one is pretty cool. Her expre-, even without the scar, I think this is pretty cool, but the scar just adds, like, a whole new level. This one's cool. Those are both cool. And that's cool, too. So now we did that pass, so I'll put on two and I'll take off one. So we went from 51 images to 20 images. And I just keep doing that. I may not do all these rounds for the rest of the shoots, but I'll try to go as far as I can to kinda give you guys an idea. That one's interesting. So this feels like a little too much. This is kind of, like, you know, pushing a little too far. This one I can still buy. That one's pretty awesome. That one. And that's pushing it a little bit, but I kinda still like it, so I'll just put it in there anyway. So now we're down to five, and... Those feel like a little too heavy-handed. This one's pretty cool. This one's kinda cool. So... I'm down to this or this. And again, I'm not actually picking now, so, I'm cur-, out of curiosity, what is everyone feeling? [Woman In Audience] I think two. Number two with the scar? That's the one? All right, we'll see. We'll see if the people... (audience laughs) If the people have been heard when I come back. I do like that one, too, a lot. So anyway, that's it. And then I would go, winner winner, and that's the one. And that's how you do it. So depending on the shoot, sometimes it's very fast turnaround and it's, like, gotta get these to the client. Time to go. For a personal project, you know, if I have time, I'll come back to it multiple times, and sometimes it's out of, you know, self-doubt or lack of confidence or just nerves or whatever it is. But I'll go through and make several rounds and double-check and make sure I come back tomorrow and still feel the same that I did today. Sometimes I'll do that three or four times. But, you know, sometimes also after looking at images over and over and over again, you start to go a little numb, and so you lose that feeling. So I find if I can come back to something multiple times and have the same feeling and response, then I'm like, okay, I mean, I know I've done my due diligence and I'm ready to send this off to the retouchers. So even if I had gone through all of them slowly right now and said, that's the one, oh my gosh, I'd probably come back tomorrow and just double-check and make sure I'm on the right path, so... I did have a question about this, when you were talking about your shooting with the medium format, and Andrew's question is for a tighter portrait like this, is the perspective distortion of the 80 millimeter lens on the medium format, is that similar to a 50 millimeter lens, wondering that if on a 35 millimeter sensor, I guess, probably a full frame, is what they're saying. I know that the distance is similar, but wondering if the perspective distortion of the model's features is closer to that of an 85. Okay, so long question. 85 or 50 similarity to what you were using. Well, I'm, so hopefully I'm understanding the question. But, I mean, there's a couple things to keep in mind. You know, when I say the 80 on the Hasselblad is similar to the 50 on the, you know, SLR, it's also a different aspect ratio. So, you know, SLR is gonna also get you this much more real estate. You know, if the width's the same, it's gonna be just taller. So it's probably close to a that you crop in post to a 645, if that makes sense. So SLRs are two by three or four by six. So if you turn it vertically, it would be six inches long by four inches wide. The medium format is four and a half wide by six inches long. So it's just more stout. Which is, again, why I love it, 'cause I don't really care to see anything more down here and I don't need any more headspace than that. But I like that this still has, like, a slightly wide feel to it. It's not telephoto. It's not compressing anything. I wanna feel that person coming out at me. I wanna kind of sense that depth, you know, I wanna see and feel the depth between, you know, their chin and their neck, and feel like they're kinda coming outwards. A longer lens would start to compress them, and you lose that a little bit. So, and then if you go any wider, for me, at least, it starts to warp too much and it just becomes... So I don't know if that answers the question, but when I say an 80 is like a 50, it really is, an 80 is like a 50, but you would have to crop, you know, the top and bottom or the sides to achieve that same field.

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  • What an amazing show. I'm so happy that I could be a part of it. It was so great to see John at work and in his element. I learned so much from watching his process from beginning to ending. So many questions have been answered. I feel more confident, to get myself out there and create and make work that comes out from my imagination. I will definitely be keeping a journal/notebook with me at all times. I would also like to suggest that we have another course for John Cornicello, home studio. I'm curious to see what John is working on in his studio.
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  • Wow! There's just so much great information in this class. If you've ever wondered what it takes to produce an environmental portrait, this is the class for you! John did a superb job of taking us step-by-step through his process. From model casting to set building, lighting setups to culling; it's all here. He even wraps up the class with next steps and how to put it all together. He gives the knowledge so you can take it to a place you can create your own magic!