Recently, I got bored and broke out a backdrop and light stand just to see what I could learn about shooting self-portraits. This is mostly because I don’t have many willing subjects. Also, the majority of my photo projects feature some kind of problem-solving aspect (that’s how I learn), and are typically seat-of-the-pants affairs – I don’t have any real idea of what I want. Inflicting my mental ramblings on a person in real time is not likely to be pleasant for either of us, so I tend towards inanimate objects that don’t complain when I constantly fiddle with lights, camera position, angles, etc.
However, I have LOTS of project ideas for people rolling around in my head. So I figured I should step in front of the camera and do some experimenting. The first session ended up being pretty cheesy as I can’t stand posing for ‘classic’ pictures. So I goofed around a lot, and… well… If you’ve ever seen the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where they’re trying to get Calvin to pose in front of a camera, you’ll get the idea.
Then I had the thought to do something dramatic but fun. The closest props I had were my Wacom styli, and I somehow got the notion of Marvel Comics’ ‘Wolverine’ stuck in my head. A tank-top, rubber band, and squirt bottle of water later, and I was set to go. As with most things, I learned a bit so I figured it would be good to share.
I used only a single off-camera Nikon SB-910 flash, set to camera right at about eye level. It’s slightly in front of the subject (me), and pretty close. I added a Rogue Flashbender with a softbox attachment on it. The flash was controlled with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System, which is an optical communication system built into their newer cameras and flashes.
I made the background from some simple black curtain panels.
For glass, I mounted a Nikkor 70-180 Macro Zoom onto my D800, and set it to about 160mm and f/5.7. This helps flatten out the perspective without forcing odd proportions. It also gave me enough working room to blur the backdrop and reduce post-processing time.
The shot was triggered with a Pixel TW-282 wireless shutter release, which also makes focusing much easier. To set up the camera position, I put a yellow stickie-note on the backdrop at about the height I expected my nose to be.
Most of the overall tone was done in Camera Raw, with some cleanup and sharpening done in Photoshop CS6, along with the compositing. I used a couple of techniques from my book, relying heavily on Calvin Hollywood’s ‘Freaky Amazing Details’ recipe for the stylized look.
A simple dodge and burn layer took care of the shading for depth around the skin where the pens come out, and another for the dirt and sundry details on my face. Finally, a couple of layers went into brightening the eyes and enhancing detail there.
I was pretty happy with the final result, and am putting together ideas for additional portraits based on movie posters and characters. This was a challenge because I couldn’t actually see through the camera, so I had a lot of misfires.
I think on the next attempt, I’ll find a cheap mirror to set up near the camera so I can better line up the angles and work the character a bit more. Perhaps a better idea would be to set up an iPad or my laptop so I can shoot tethered and get a live preview from the camera itself.
My hope is that after a few more of these I’ll figure out how to both visualize and communicate what I want from a model.