Thursday, August 11, 2011

44/52 Samuel Evans

Normally the bulk of this blog would be focused on the shooting aspect of the portrait. This one, however, will be just a little different...

Samuel Evans and his brother Jesse are the masterminds behind the New Chicago Brewing Company. Already having established the successful Lucky Hand Brewing company in California, the two brothers returned to the midwest to work on a truly unique venture. Along with several other businesses, they plan on opening up shop in the old Peer Foods building on the south side of Chicago. The businesses will all work together to share both resources and waste, creating interdependence and a truly green business community, all in one building. They will share the facility with businesses as diverse as aquaponic farming and a kombucha brewery, but the brother's share of the output will be in the form of delicious beer.

I had the opportunity to meet up with these gentlemen during a volunteering session aimed at cleaning and organizing their facility. We toured the entire factory, and I did some filming for my friend Mike's documentary effort, A Sustainable Reality. I offered to Sam and Jesse to take some portraits for my project, that they could then use for whatever purposes they liked in starting up their business. I did two separate shoots, capturing Sam in front of their re-purposed "Peer" sign, and Jesse on the floor where soon large brewing tanks will occupy a bulk of the space. Here's the portrait of Jesse:

I like both portraits very well, and it was a tough call which to make "the one." Even tougher considering the post-processing that was involved...

For Sam's portrait, the lighting setup was as follows: the key was an SB-800 high camera left into a silver-over-white umbrella with 1/2 CTO. I used a rayflash on camera with 1/2 CTO as well, and the background is lit by an SB-600 with 1/4 CTO in a Lumiquest SB III from back camera right.  I used the sun through the window as an edge. For Jesse's, I used the same key, but added an edge of an SB-600 in the Lumiquest without a gel. The other edge is provided by the sun, entering through the first window in front of which I took Sam's portrait. The color temperature of the edge matches the temperature of the window on the left as well, and the setting sun gives this portrait some dynamism and a bit of warmth as well. 

Often I am presented with the unenviable opportunity to blog to you, my dear reader, about what I've done wrong on a given shoot. This is unfortunately one of those times. In my shoot with Sam, I made a few mistakes. The sun was coming directly through the window, and while it added a really cool edge to the subject, it also added a massive flare. In addition, it's always risky business when using a ringflash as a fill when your subject has glasses. As in the case of the shoot with my grandmother, sometimes it turns out exceptionally well. But if the subject looks directly towards you even the slightest bit too much, you have a very nasty specular to deal with. 

Finally, I should have positioned my background light a bit further away from the background, allowing for a more even exposure. All of these demons had to be dealt with in post, and in spirit of openness and honesty, I've chosen to air those demons in a very public way. I present to you: a completely un-retouched photo:

This catastrophe, dear reader, is the same image as the one you have seen above. You see, there's this thing called Photoshop, and it lets photographers get away with a lot of bad technique and sloppy work.

This is the very sort of thing I try to avoid at all costs.

I loved the frame and the composition enough to spend about six hours of my life working on every little detail of it in order to bring the frame to where I would have liked it to have been from the very moment that I shot it. My ethos is to do as much work in camera as I possibly can. For comparison, let's look at the other portrait before retouching as well.

This is what I'm normally dealing with in post. If you look at the two frames side by side, you'll see very little difference. Some spot retouching. A bit of color correction. Reduction of reds from the skin tone. Maybe a tiny bit of dodging and burning. But certainly nothing like the portrait of Sam. Mercifully, for times when we end up with less stellar results than we'd like, Photoshop can serve the function of a safety net, allowing us to fix and adjust difficult situations and mistakes we've made. But I find it a bit too scarey (and time consuming) to rely so heavily on post, perhaps akin to walking a tightrope without a net.

Strobist Info:
SB-800 high camera left through silver-over-white umbrella with 1/2 CTO gel
SB-800 on camera in rayflash ring adapter with 1/2 CTO gel
SB-600 back camera right with 1/4 CTO gel through Lumiquest SB-III

Camera Settings:
1/250 f/7.1 at ISO 100
Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 @ 17mm

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