Portraits of Sergio

I love meeting people with curly hair like mine so I can bombard them with questions on how they deal with it in the mornings and where they get it cut.

Sergio’s portrait session resulted in some great social media head shots and some full body shots that wouldn’t look out of place if he was interviewed for a magazine.

This was a hybrid film and digital session using a Hasselblad 500cm and a Canon 6D mark 2.

Using shadow barriers to anchor a viewer on your photograph

How can you hold someone's attention on a photograph? What about making barriers to stop them from leaving?

Photographs are not often studied for long periods of time by the casual viewer, but I think if you can hold someone's attention for 5 seconds rather than two, the image is somewhat victorious.

Many things can grab the viewer's attention - story, metaphor, gore, et-cetera - but in this post I'd like to talk about figuratively bouncing the viewer's eye back into the picture as it is trying to leave.

Lighting this portrait from the left, and having the sitter gaze to the left also, I’ve tried to prevent the viewer from prematurely exiting right, even if it is for a fraction of a second.

Lighting this portrait from the left, and having the sitter gaze to the left also, I’ve tried to prevent the viewer from prematurely exiting right, even if it is for a fraction of a second.

  • Light sources from camera left create shadows on the right so that the eye reads across the image and the shadow returns the eye to the left side.

  • If a person faces left, the viewer follows their gaze back across the picture. If they are facing right it is almost like the viewer can skim across the picture and has permission to exit the right side of the frame.

  • Bouncing the eye back into the picture is also the purpose of a matte in a frame - that is why wide mattes (relative to the picture) are desirable rather than simply filling the frame just with the picture. It provides a wasteland the viewer must cross to exit, and they may decide to return to the picture by force.

I find this theme interesting because it implies the direction a subject faces, and the position of the key light are not at the photographer's whim, but are best kept constant to capture the attention of a viewer. Of course, the converse is also useful - you may want a rapid flow of the viewer’s eye from the left and out over the right side of the frame.

There are plenty of examples dating back to renaissance paining. The lighting on the Mona Lisa is from the left and her eyes take you back left. Read across Caravaggio's “Calling of St Matthew” and you’ll find Jesus pointing you back left from the shadows. Those painters didn’t leave anything to chance - every minutia of the picture is intentional.

Portraits of a Houston makeup artist

Bobby Wells Houston Makeup Artist

Bobby Wells has worked in New York and LA, and now in Houston. He is a skilled makeup artist who knows each of his brushes like I know each of my lenses. His favorites are housed in a leather pouch that doesn’t leave his side. Like a photographer, his job involves putting a subject at ease so they can get the best out of his work.

This was a hybrid portrait session using a digital camera and a medium format film camera. Some of my favorite images were the low-key shots on a black background. They remind me of classic artist portraits from the 60s and 70s.

You can find Bobby’s Instagram feed @bobbywellsmakeup.

Using a stereo film camera for the Villain Collaboration

Omar, who has a line of Villain printed apparel, set up a photographer/model collaboration in Houston to promote his brand. I thought it would be a good opportunity to break out my stereo camera to get some gritty black and white 3D images. The camera takes two pictures at the same time, with the lenses as far apart as human eyes are. When the images are combined in the brain, the give the illusion of depth.

stereo realist model portraits

How to view the images

The simplest way to view the stereo pairs is to go cross-eyed until the two images appear to overlap and a third image seems to exist between them. If you are viewing this on a desktop/laptop, you want the images to be small or viewed with your screen further away from you. If you are on your phone, it should be only a few inches from your eyes for the effect to work. Many people cannot (or will not try to) use this technique. In this case, you can use an set of inexpensive 3d viewers which are easily found on eBay (I recommend these low cost viewers). If you get it to work, let me know about how you did it in the comments below!

stereo realist jumping portrait houston 2
Stereo realist jumping portrait houston 1

The people

We had a great group of people from around Houston who I’d previously only known through Instagram. Photographers: @filnenna @ashtxc @mptheephotographer. Models: @the_villain_lifestyle @kristen_wollenberg @miss_gemini_polefit @jono56_bjj @heyyyyyy_ms_hayes.

stereo realist portraits houston
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The camera

The Stereo Realist is as basic a camera as it gets. It is slow to operate because the shutter needs to be cocked independently of the winder, and the focusing has to be done through a rangefinder which is separate of the framing window. You can read an in-depth description of this camera in this overview Stereo Realist blog post. I left the digital camera at home for this session - I figured that because there were other photographers on this shoot, I could take the risk of shooting only film.

stereo realist film portrait houston
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None more black - The shadows of a Caravaggio painting

The usual vibrant reproduction of "The Calling of St Matthew".

The usual vibrant reproduction of "The Calling of St Matthew".

It is interesting that, if you think about it, a picture doesn't end at its frame. That is why looking at a picture on your computer, and the same picture in a museum can provoke different emotions. Your computer screen is surrounded my what ever is on your wall, but art in a museum is often purposefully lit, with the architecture of the room and surrounding artworks that frame the mind.

Caravaggio was a renaissance painter who used light and shadow as characters in his compositions. His style can be described as chiaroscuro - literally 'clear' and 'dark'. I might have underestimated how dark his pictures can be when seen in their intended setting as opposed to in a book or on a screen.

A simulation of the painting by natural church window light as it looks in Rome.

A simulation of the painting by natural church window light as it looks in Rome.

I recently had the opportunity to see a Caravaggio close-up. 'The calling of St Matthew' is one of three Caravaggios in San Luigi dei Francesi, a church in the center of Rome. An image ripe with metaphor and foreshadowing, the Christ figure points to call a reluctant disciple with a hand that closely resembles the hand of God in Michelangelo's 'creation of Adam' (physically located just across the river in the Vatican). The Caravaggian twist is to place this hand in a dark room with tax collectors in 17th century dress rather than a fantastical scene of clouds and cherubs.

What is interesting is that, though the picture is lit in the church with artificial lights on a coin-operated timer, when the light goes out the painting is only lit by a small window on a nearby wall. In this natural lighting, the painting is so dim, the mid-tones of the painting become part of the deep shadows. All that remains are the brightest parts of the image.

There is significantly more scuro than chiaro in the real world setting. The reproductions in books are trying to preserve the details of the picture at the expense of the shadowy reality of the physical space around the original.

The remaining highlights show the artist's focus in the painting - the had of Jesus, the perceptiveness of the youngest boy to the event, the cross-frame on the window. The bowed head of Matthew is so dark it can barely be seen. The light is not on him yet. Perhaps if the scene was painted a few seconds later...