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B&W Portraits

This is certainly not my best work, but I haven’t posted for a little while, and this is what I have available. This is another “commission” from the theater. It seems that someone is writing a book on local Movers-and-Shakers in our area, and the author wanted to feature the two leaders of our theater company; Marta, the Executive Director and Deb, the Artistic Director, and author wanted a photo of them for illustration.

Things were pretty rushed here. These are Important People and they have places-to-go and things-to-do. Furthermore, few people actually enjoy having their picture taken – even exhibitionists like theater people and so they were not anxious for this. I have never been able to figure that out actually – what is the difference between being on-stage in front of a hundred people and being in front of a camera? It does seem to make a difference to them though. In addition to the general discomfort folks feel at having their picture taken, there was also a show due to start within an hour of our available window, so we had to Do It and get out so the public could be seated. On the other hand, the show’s set gave us a nice background to work with.


Although the marketing-guy asking for these wanted “informal”, I did one “formal” shot just to have it. This is in the theater’s upstairs loft where they put on smaller, more intimate shows. The main black-box stage was completely torn up and ugly and being used for auditions anyway, so we were upstairs. The loft has skylights above the back wall so I had nice built-in background light from this angle in addition to tungsten spot lights.  Because all I needed here was “fill”, I used a Canon 580 flash on-camera (I rarely shoot flash on-camera) and set for ETTL (I rarely use automatic ETTL either). I also didn’t want the hassle of setting up and tearing down light-stands and umbrellas. The request was for B&W, so I knew I didn’t have to worry about light source color-balance. I used a Canon 24-105 f4 L IS lens for this, which tends to be my go-to lens for informal (mobile) flash portraits.

I find that there is a real difference in shooting for color versus shooting for B&W and I need to be aware of the ultimate intention from the start of the picture-taking process. The color shots need to be a little more subdued in exposure to keep the colors saturated and avoid hot highlights that tend to be distracting. If you simply convert a good-looking color exposure to B&W however, the result can look dingy and “dirty” and gray. I often need to boost the exposure to insure that there is just a touch of clipping at both ends of the curve to get a decent looking B&W exposure.


In addition to the formal shot, we also did a number of informal ones too. It can be difficult to get people to act and look natural when pointing a camera at them and flashing a flash in their face. Getting subjects to feel comfortable with the process  is probably one of THE most important skills a professional photographer can have, and I’m just not there yet. A true professional needs to be a people-person, and I am not. This particular shot also has some unfortunately harsh shadows that I don’t like, but I just didn’t have the time for the Full-Monty setup, so this was still (obviously) a single on-camera flash. All of my shots were processed through Lightroom for cropping and straightening, and then the B&W was done in NIK Silver Efex Pro-2. In this particular case I used NIK SEP to suppress some bright reflections in the bottom chairs that were distracting, and brighten the faces a bit. In spite of the shadows, I think that this is my favorite of the shoot. We’ll see if anything actually gets used in the final publication.


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