Anatomy of a Portrait

One of my New Years resolutions is to do more portraiture.  My preference is to create environmental portraits when possible.  During the last week of December I asked my friend, Danny Ovalle, to let me create some portraits of him.  I had two specific goals in mind and, thankfully, he graciously accepted my request.

Danny Ovalle is the pastor at First Church of Christ in Bradford.  The job title says part-time but, sharing the gospel is a full-time calling for Danny.  He is a man of deep and unwavering faith.  That faith is the cornerstone for all that he does.  Danny is a husband, a father, and a full-time employee of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.  He is also a friend, in the truest sense of the word, as well as, brother, uncle, and comforting voice to many.  Most impressive is that he is fully present in all of his endeavors.  I have never met anyone like him before.  A bit more than average height, Danny, to me, is larger than life.

I had two specific images in mind when I met Danny at the church.  This was the first one.  I used two lights in the making of this image.  One Nikon SB910 was to the right of the camera mounted in a 24 x 24 softbox.  This flash was set to TTL mode.  TTL means that the flash, lens, and camera all work together to meter the necessary amount of light to make a proper exposure.  The softbox does nothing but soften the light and control its spread.  I set the light and softbox about 4 feet from Danny who was standing in one of the aisles.  I wanted one side of his face clearly lit with some shadowing on the other side.  Shadows create depth and depth creates interest.  The second light was mounted about 40 feet behind Danny and to the camera’s left.  I put a snoot on this Nikon SB910 and aimed it directly at the red velvet wall tapestry.  My goal was to illuminate only the large Christian cross on the tapestry.  A snoot is, in essence, a tube that shapes the pattern of light into more of a beam.  This second light was set to Manual mode and set to 1/16th power.  I needed more of a poof of light than a blast of light.  I wanted the cross to be clearly visible but, lit subtly.

I chose to use my 70-200 f2.8 lens to compact the scene and make the tapestry cross look closer than it really is.  I also chose a point of view lower than Danny’s eyes.  By looking up at him, I am trying to give viewers the sense of how he is larger than life.  The large Christian cross just over his shoulder, his left shoulder near his heart, was done very much on purpose.   On my camera I had mounted my Pocketwizard TT1 control unit and my AC3 TTL control unit.  Both flashes were equipped with PW TT5’s.  The TT1 is a transmitter and the TT5’s are receivers.  The AC3 allows me power output control to each flash from the top of my camera.  Using the radio signal and TTL control of the Pocketwizards is powerful, creative, and reliable.  Once I had the lighting the way I wanted it, I made about a dozen images.  This was my favorite from this set up.  I processed the image in Lightroom 4 and then made my conversion to black and white using Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2.  During the processing, I chose to put a vignette around each edge of the image to slightly darken the edges and keep the viewer “in” the scene.

Nothing in this image is spontaneous.  Everything you see was very carefully planned from the composition, to the lighting, to the final processed photo.  I wanted more than just a portrait.  My goal was a story telling image that would convey the warmth, the light, and the magnitude of my friend.  I photographed what I felt.

Don

“Photograph What You Feel”Danny Ovalle_DT8_1096-1

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Facing My Creative Beast

Creativity is my photographic Achilles Heel.  I feel confident with my equipment, I feel confident composing a scene, and I feel confident photographing a variety of subjects.  Despite all of that, creativity remains a personal beast that I struggle to tame.  Creativity is what separates good images from spectacular images.  I routinely encourage other photographers to think out of the box and push their vision but, it is me that needs to heed this advice more than anyone.  I, Donald Edward Toothaker, struggle to be creative.

So often I read about photographers envisioning an image before shooting it.  Ansel Adams did it.  Lou Jones does it. Joe McNally exemplifies it. These photographers cultivate their vision by paying attention to light and subject throughout the day.  They have the ability to see beyond the moment to another day, or another season.  Some of that is experience that comes with time, but, most of that is raw instinct.  Their planning is a pre-visualized path to spectacular images.   I understand exactly what these visionaries are saying but, too often my own creative voice eludes me.  I want to be better; I need to be better.

Creativity comes from within but, inspiration to be creative is provided by events, and people, that surround us every day.  Within every photographer is a visual voice that craves inspiration.  The trick, I think, is to welcome inspiration whenever possible but, act upon it with patience and clarity.  Inspiration does not come in a neat, packaged box; it comes from connecting to your subject.  The more you invest of yourself  in your photographic process the more rewarding your images will become.  Take the time to understand your subject and explore your creative voice.  Emotion is part of the photographic process:   Photograph What You Feel.  In general, I am not very well spoken, my edges are rougher than most, and my inner voice is too often a mere whimper but, I DYING to be creative.  I have potential. We all have potential.

This weekend I had, for me, a great success.  I photographed my beautiful daughter posing in a stand of familiar Red Pine trees but, it was so much more than that.  The success is not so much in the image itself but, in my vision of the image weeks before I pressed the shutter.  I had vision.  One night this spring while sitting next to my campfire I watched night creep through the woods just as it does in the city:  a slow parade of twilight blue giving way to total darkness brought inspiration.  Immediately, I envisioned “blue” Red Pine trees.   I was excited to make that image right then but, I knew that summer-time would yield an image with green vegetation growing around the base of the trees for added color and interest.  I waited.  Then, this past Saturday I was picking blueberries with my daughter among the Red Pines when inspiration struck again:  watching my daughter move among the trees I now wanted a red headed Fairy Princess in “blue” Red Pines for scale, impact, and visual interest.  I could hardly wait for twilight.


At twilight I set up my camera and lighting, posed my daughter, and pressed the shutter on images that I had envisioned weeks before.  I saw, I felt, and I planned.  Due to my inspiration, I made a quick series of beautiful images that I will treasure forever.  No, I am not Ansel Adams, Lou Jones, or Joe McNally, but for a single, beautiful twilight I had vision just like them.  I, Donald Edward Toothaker, was creative.  You can be too.

 

Photograph What You Feel

Don

 

Image information

“Soft Blue Fairy Princess”

Nikon D800

Nikon 24-70 lens

ISO:  100

APT: f6.3

EXP:  1/4 second with White Balance set to Tungsten

SB900 gelled with color correcting filter and triggered using PocketWizard TT1, TT5, and AC3

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