Capturing the Essence
I wanted to take a couple portraits of my parents while visiting them for Thanksgiving in 2010. The stuff I got from the “official” session was representative, but my favorite image came from a lighting test I did with my mom:
Before our vacation I’d been chewing on an idea from David Hobby: whatever you use as a key light, fill with a large soft source directly on the lens axis, placed as close as possible behind the camera. My mom is sitting in a chair in the library/stereo room; on her right is a table with a standard lamp. I attached a speedlight with a diffuser dome to the shaft of the lamp, keeping all light-emitting surfaces under the shade; in essence, I just gave the light bulb more power. (Cue Tim Allen grunts.)
The fill behind the camera is a plain ol’ shoot-through umbrella. The results looked so-so in color but gorgeous and dramatic in black and white. To get the pose, I think I just asked my mom to do something silly, and she obliged. She more than obliged, actually; it’s not modest of me to say so, but this is the truest portrait of my mother I have ever seen.
Gear is helpful and cool lighting is fun, but if the final picture is dull and lifeless you might as well have not taken it.