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Portrait of the Artist

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

I wanted to play with my camera-toys this Saturday, so what better subject than the one that is always available to you – your own beautiful self.  By the way; I have observed that the vast majority of self-portraits are taken by women. Not making any snide comments or judgments here – just sayin’…  and you can go count them yourself if you don’t believe me. Anyway, like it or not I decided to even up the score a little.

One of my objectives was to work with “tethered shooting”, where you connect the camera to a laptop with a USB-cable and control everything on the camera via a software utility on the laptop screen. I have done this before, but not with my latest 5D camera with the latest software.  I also found and decided to use the “face detection” feature on my 5DmkIII. This is something that has existed for a long time in low-end cameras, and it may not have a whole lot of value in a high-end model, but in this case it allowed me to hold good focus on myself with a very narrow DoF even though I had to move so that I wasn’t caught staring down at the Liveview display on the laptop screen.

There is a long tradition in portrait photography of making the image a little soft and “dreamy” to try to suppress small physical “defects”. When I shoot actors formal headshots I do this in processing – lower the contrast and “structure” of the skin colors – while still retaining the sharp focus in the eyes.  This really is like applying makeup to the person after-the-fact. A lot of people like this result, but frankly I don’t. I want to see every hair and pore and line because to me that is what makes a face interesting. Otherwise you may as well be snapping a plastic mannequin in a store window. My favorite portrait lens is my Canon 85mm f1.2. This is one of the most incredibly sharp lenses available (IMHO) in addition to being an ideal focal-length for portraits. Of course it is also obscenely expensive too, but if you are a Cannon-person and have money to burn on toys, it is a wonderful piece of glass and I would immediately replace it if (God forbid) I ever had to.

Another part of this photo-exercise for me was to shoot at the widest aperture available on the lens of f1.2. I had the camera on a tripod (of course) and fairly close (there was no vertical cropping here) and this all adds up to a very narrow depth-of-field. The critical component of any portrait is the eyes because we all naturally look into the eyes of anything that has them. You can see that just behind my eyes the focus starts to go, and even the tip of my nose is out-of-focus too. I’m not sure how I feel about the nose being oof, and if this was for someone else I might reshoot it stopped down a notch, but I wanted to show off the f1.2 bokeh and so I decided to leave things this way. Another little “trick” that I was trying here was to have the camera high forcing the subject to look up. This stretches the neck and helps diminish and hide any wattle. I may want the character of lines and pores, but I still have some vanity.

I also fooled around with the processing on this too. I first thought that I would do this as B&W, so I shot it at +2/3-ev. This is because B&W tends to look better when the whites are white and not dirty-gray. I then brought the file into NIK Silver Efex Pro-2 and fiddled around with the B&W options until I found something that was “interesting” – a rather harsh and high-contrast thing that really emphasized all the flaws “character” in my face. I liked the result, but I thought that it might be a little too much, so I brought both the B&W and a super-saturated color version into Photoshop and blended them together. The color version is overlaid at about 30% on the B&W, so the slightly surreal look is from the harsh B&W processing, while the washed-out color softens that effect a bit.  By the way, there is no special lighting here either. This was a cloudy, rainy day and I am just sitting beside a large picture window on camera-right. So, the full-Monty is;

Canon 5DmkIII; Canon EF 85mm f1.2L; ISO-200; 1/125-sec; f1.2; +2/3-ev


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