Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Portrait :: Ben Prestage At Blind Willie's & Making Any Environment Your Studio

Potential Clients. You often will ask me if I have a studio that I work out of and my reply to this is usually, "The World Is My Studio." This sounds like a gimmicky answer -- but it's the absolute truth when you're a location photographer as I am. One of my skills as a commercial photographer is making most any environment work for a good portrait. There are numerous ways of doing this -- and I've done most all of them at some point or another. 

--Sometimes it's as simple as throwing up some seamless paper in your office as a background.

--Sometimes it's rearranging some furniture temporarily to show or not show something.

--Sometimes it's lighting a room that is normally pretty plain in such a way to make it interesting.

--Sometimes it's shooting from unusual angles to show or not show certain things.

--Sometimes it's shooting with a wide angel lens to emphasize an environment.

--Sometimes it's shooting with a telephoto lens to compress and downplay an environment.

I've had my share of experience with walking into what you may think of as a boring environment and making it look cool from a photographic standpoint. I can turn any environment into my studio, sometimes in just a few minutes -- no matter how small it may be. And that's the challenge I had to overcome last night for the portrait I've posted above of musician, Ben Prestage, after his show at Blind Willie's here in Atlanta last night. I knew there was a dressing room / break area for the performing musicians there at the bar but had never been in it. I just knew it was small. Well, I got there and it was small. Long, but only six foot wide or so. The following test shot of my friend and assistant for the night, David, will give you somewhat of an idea of where I was working.

Notice the couch behind him and imagine where the back on it would be which is just out of the frame here. That was where the opposite wall of the one he was leaning against was. Also, notice the light colored curtain back behind him. I wanted it to pretty much go dark behind Ben when I got him backstage for the shot after the show, so I had to deal with that. Also, what you can't see here is all the musical equipment stacked against the opposite wall of the one David is leaning against. This gave me very little space to set up lighting or a background.

So, as you can see from the shot, space was cramped, meaning I had to work with minimal equipment. Just outside of the frame to the left I had a single light with a soft box that was maybe only three feet from him. This resulted in the light falling off quicker and restricted it to his general area, which downplayed what was behind and in front of him. I had a collapsible medium grey background that I brought as a back-up to shoot against if I didn't have anything better to shoot against. Well, I did end up using it by putting it just in front of the light colored curtain in the background which made the background end up going dark as I envisioned it, while still allowing me to show a bit of the environment he was in. I wanted it to look like he was backstage at a show and not just in a studio somewhere. Showing the artist promo posters on the wall he's leaning against hints at this. It gives it a sense of environment.

So, David and I got the lighting completely down so when Ben was ready after the show, all I had to do was fire up the light and my camera, tell him where and how to stand, and shoot. I spent maybe five minutes with Ben actually in front of my camera. That's it. I'm super pleased with how the portrait of him turned out.

This was the shot I initially had hoped to get last night. A telephoto lens to compress the background, shallow depth of field, and him looking dead on into my camera. I wanted to show his beard, eyes, and hat and give it this toned look that I've been doing for years now with a lot of my portraits. Once I saw the room I had to work with I decided to go with the more environmental approach. I think this turned out great, but I like the one at the top of this post the most.

Now, let me tell you about Ben Prestage. The dude got on stage and played for three hours straight last night without taking a break. He is an excellent guitarist. He's an excellent musician period. He's a one man band that plays guitar -- sometimes homemade cigar box guitars -- drums, harmonica, and sings all at the same time. He writes a lot of his own stuff, too. He sounds like, well check out this video:

I got his "One Crow Murder" album last night and have listened to it all the way through maybe six times today. It's one of those you can put on and just let play. Buy it. It gets two thumbs up from me.


cat said...

Beautiful work, Keith, as always! Thanks for the run down, because my first thought was "How did he light that?" :) I have to ask tho, what kind of light/s are you carrying around with you?

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks, Cat, and you're welcome. I shot this with a Einstein set at it's lowest power so I could shoot at f1.8 at ISO 100 to get the shallow depth of field. Had a soft box on it. Medium grey back ground several feet behind him that just went dark as I wanted it too. I don't usually carry around lights with me though, not unless I'm going to a job.


Gene Shearl said...

Beautiful environmental portraiture, Keith. I also see how the poster on the wall gave you just enough reflected fill to keep some of the subject's "dark" side features in play. Always enjoy seeing/reading about your work.

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks, Gene! And good for you for catching the poster thing. I actually deliberately had him stand right there because they did give me just a little bit of fill because those were darker Originally I had David leaning against a part of the wall further back with lighter colored posters and they were giving too much fill -- which made it not as dark as I wanted on the shadow side of his face. I actually started to post one of the test shots I did of David with more fill light from having him by the lighter posters and explain that I had him stand in a specific spot for a reason, but I was running low on time and figured that would likely just be too much information. Anyway, kudos to you for picking up on it -- most people wouldn't.