This is part three and the last of my Drink and Click portraits from last month. Out of the three portrait sessions, which all happened on the same night, this was the most challenging. And it was difficult on a number of levels, which I’ll explain.
As with the first two portraits, I used the Olympus PEN-F with the 50mm equivalent prime lens. I set the camera to the usual monochrome JPEG plus RAW, which was valuable since the in-camera JPEGS didn’t look very good, for this session.
As much as like the built-in “MonoProfile 2” setting, the highly contrasty look is baked into the JPEG. It’s really hard to alter the look of it, after the fact. I’ve gotten fantastic straight out of camera shots with this setting, like Sissi’s portrait session, and I’ve gotten decent looks as with Sarah’s session. But, Salina’s didn’t work very well.
I’ve studied the differences and it comes down to light, like it often does in photography. The contrasty black and white JPEGs work better in directional light. I shot Salina in fading and flat natural light, which was a problem. Also, adding to the complication, her face was darker, and the background was lighter.
Next, I struggled with the background. Here the faux brick wall is too distracting and it draws attention away from the subject.
Salina was my first session that night and I clearly didn’t have everything dialed in. In addition to the 50mm equivalent, I used the 150mm equivalent f1.8 on my other camera. The Olympus 75mm f1.8, which gives a 150mm point of view, is a fantastic lens and potentially outstanding for portraits, but I find it challenging. The working distance is so long, that I lose the intimacy with the subject. It wasn’t until I switched to the 25mm f1.4, that I started connecting with Salina.
Here, I sat at a small table, directly across from Salina. I got to work with her one on one so that we could both feel comfortable. I don’t know Salina. This is the first time we met. However, I felt like with some quiet time, we started to build a connection. We both loosened up which made the photography easier.
There’s still a lot problems with these images, however. The background is still very busy and it took a fair amount of post processing to create decent exposures.
What I’ve realized is the need for good directional lighting, especially when creating the high contrast black and whites. The light was rapidly falling and I needed to pull out the tricks to make acceptable exposures. Shooting a ISO 2000, at f1.4 and I still had to drop down to 1/30 of a second.
Whether using an umbrella for softer lighting, or a harsher direct LED panel, that extra touch of light on the subject really helps. Nothing surprising for experience portrait photographers. You don’t change the rules of physics or rules of portraiture just because you shoot high ISO, large apertures and black and white.
But I’m holding out hope that I can bend the rules slightly and in the process, come up with a look that might differ somewhat from the usual portraits. But, beyond creating technically proficient exposures, building the connection with the subject is the most important. I’ll certainly need to work on that too.
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