The Quest for an "Iconic" Portrait: Editorial and Raw

In this tutorial, I'll continue my work to shoot an iconic portrait. When I began, I wanted two distinct yet consistent styles or outcomes from each session. In the first session, I created a look that was intimate, yet polished. In this final session, I wanted to have more editorial distance, and a more raw and real feeling.

Instrument Time

You may be wondering why I decided to shoot the bassist aspect of Brad as an entire separate session.
Honestly, I have a tendency to think that musician-with-instrument pictures tend to be a little cheesy and overdone, more along the lines of local editorial than portraiture. As far as I'm aware, the commercial music industry tends to think along these lines as well.

Speaking of mediocre shots
Speaking of mediocre photography...
However, there are always exceptions. I've seen beautiful portraits of iconic musicians with their instruments, like Clarence Clemons with his sax and Carlos Santana with his guitar. In some instances, the instrument itself might be iconic, if it's unusual, custom or vintage model.
So while there may be an overall aim, don't be closed to the possibility of subverting cliché or running with random ideas. Given the possibility of these exceptions, I wanted to at least give it a try, and hence a second session.


Since I'd already attempted the iconic portrait in the first session, but wanted that same iconic feeling to permeate the entire project, I had to determine how I was going to approach this second session to create a consistent outcome.
Initially my plan was to do the same general idea as the first session, but simply include the instrument this time. However, in my head, the slick, "lit" feel of the first go round didn't necessarily jive so much with my perception of live music. I needed something more raw, but with a degree of professional polish, since my style really isn't scenester polaroids.

I never saved the original just used it during the session but it looked something like this
I never saved the original, just used it during the session, but it looked something like this.
With this in mind, I decided a more editorial style of photography would make sense. I came up with three poses that I thought I could hang the session around. I asked Brad to bring a practice amp too. I also asked if he could bring a stack-and-head rig, just on the off-chance, but he'd just sold all his big heavy gear.
With the general thematic intent more or less solidified and a rough plan outlined, I could now start to figure out how I was going to do the lighting.


What was different this time around? Actually, very little. The lighting itself was technically almost the same, if you look at the results of each session, but because I was now shooting more of Brad than just his head and shoulders, my gear had to change accordingly. My subject now covered a much larger area, so I need a larger light source.
In the first session, I had a 22" beauty dish a couple of feet away from Brad's face. I was relatively close, maybe two or three feet away, shooting mainly at around 50mm. This session, however, to get the framing I was looking for, I had to move back to anywhere from four feet to around maybe nine feet. If I left the beauty dish in there at a couple feet from Brad, not only would it be in the middle of the shot, but it would only be lighting part of the scene.

Trignometry says the light quality of a 2ft at 2ft  5ft at 5ft
Trignometry says the light quality of a two-foot source located two feet from the subject is the same as a five-foot source located five feet from the subject.
To get the same lighting look, I need the same size light source relative to Brad's position, but I need it at least five feet away from him so I can see around it. If I used a two-foot modifier at two feet away, then I now need five-foot light source to place it five feet away. Handily, I have a five-foot octa that did the trick.
For the rim light, I replaced the edgy spots with something a little softer to the left, a 1x4 strip that could be a seamless light, rim and fill all at once. I now had a more naturalistic setup, but still with just a hint of style.

Nice simple lighting setup Tileboard floor to kill shadows
Nice simple lighting setup with a tileboard floor to kill full-body shadows.
This was the studio setup, at least. When we ventured outside for me to get my "garage musician" shots, I primarily used natural light, sometimes with a bare speedlight mixed in at camera right for a little pop.


If the person you're shooting is creative, then collaborate! Even if they aren't a visual artist, it's unlikely that they have zero sense of aesthetic. I've usually found that any form of creativity has a tendency to bleed into non-related media. Even if it's simply images they've seen and liked the look of, they may have any ideas about the overall presentation, or even particular styles of visual art that inspire them.
In other words, don't let ego waste opportunities. Harnessing your combined abilities may lead to places neither one of you might have come up with alone. The same goes for chaperones with children or makeup and hair stylists on a fashion shoot. You never know who might have a good idea.
Keeping the atmosphere positive and experimental as much as possible has made a night and day difference on the end results every time I've made a conscious effort to ensure it.

The Shoot

I decided to start with some basic editorial portraiture to form a natural bridge from the second session. This was visually simple "man and guitar" type stuff. We had some fun here, then moved on to the wider shots that I'd been planning for this session on the same set. We weren't really feeling it quite so much here, until Brad decided to jump up on the amp for this fun shot:

A subject with an outgoing personality makes your job SO easy
A subject with an outgoing personality makes your job SO easy.
Next, we headed out to the garage, which I'd already brought up at the beginning of the session that I wanted to try. After doing a fun little "traveling man" type shot using the doorway and falling snow as a huge softbox, a nod to his nationwide bookings, Brad just got to jam out while I figured out my angle and lighting, which is usually predictably beautiful in the garage.
When I felt like I'd gotten what I needed here, we headed back inside where I had a sudden visual flash into my mind that I had to try, and it came out perfectly! I can't explain the visual or where it came from, it just popped into my head after the travelling themed outdoor shots. If I had to guess, it bubbled up from my much-travelled past where a lot of time was spent sitting against walls and pillars in bus stations, train stations and airports.

First shot of the sequence Definitely promising
First shot of the sequence. Definitely promising.
Then I went for the final image that I wanted of the session, which after lots of setup and messing about with optical slave sensors, just wasn't happening.
I think I'm happier with the shot that popped out of nowhere than the other attempts anyway, since it's less about cool-factor and more about telling some kind of story related to Brad's profession. Just like you should run with a good idea even if you didn't come up with it, you can't be afraid to kill an idea that isn't working.

Image Shortlist

This was Brads idea from somewhere hed found something similar I killed the colour and added the wide-angle cartooniness
This was Brad's idea, from somewhere he'd found something similar. I killed the colour and added the wide-angle cartooniness.
An unexpected squinch which Id been trying to pull out in the previous session
An unexpected squinch, which I'd been trying to pull out more in the previous session!
Travellin man
Travellin' man.
Jamming in the garage
Jamming in the garage
Post-RAW-adjustment version of final image
Post-RAW-adjustment version of final image



Final Image

Ok, that's it for this shoot from me. I hope this has been as interesting and enjoyable an experience for you as it has been for me. Any questions or thoughts? Hit up the comments below!


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