Portraits

Some Will, Some Won't, So What?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I teach is how do you photograph people on the street? I'm always surprised by this question because I find it an easy thing to do; but then again, I photograph strangers for a living!

If you're shooting on the sly, just grab your shot and go; no need to interact with the person at all. Whether you use a telephoto lens or a wide angle, there is no need to ask permission. But if you want to shoot a portrait that requires compliance from your subject, you have to talk to them. Most photographers are afraid to put themselves in a risky situation and approaching a stranger on the street is risky--they might say no to your request!

But there is definitely a secret to getting strangers to help you...you just ask!  That's right, you ask. Sure, some people will say no, but there will always be another person right behind them. Here's my mantra when shooting random strangers on the street--"Some will, some won't, so what, someone's waiting". Yep, it's that simple; you know some people will help you, others will say no but why care about the "no"s, there is always another person to ask.

I recently started a new project that speaks directly to this dilemma. I call this series "Corner Portraits" because they're shot on the corner near my apartment. I love the light and the background and it's fun to ask random strangers passing by on the sidewalk if they'll help with my project. So far I've shot 40 different portraits and I'd say 3 out of 5 people agree to pose for me, that means I get a good number of "no"s.  So what?

 For my  Corner Portraits  series, I shoot one frame on film using my Hasselblad and a 150mm lens, I then shoot 6 or 7 frames with a digital camera so I have immediate access to the images and can send a picture to my subjects.  85mm lens, 1/125 sec at f4.0, ISO 200.  You can see all of my  Corner Portraits  on my website and follow the series on Instagram, @jautzphoto.

For my Corner Portraits series, I shoot one frame on film using my Hasselblad and a 150mm lens, I then shoot 6 or 7 frames with a digital camera so I have immediate access to the images and can send a picture to my subjects.  85mm lens, 1/125 sec at f4.0, ISO 200.  You can see all of my Corner Portraits on my website and follow the series on Instagram, @jautzphoto.

Spring Time in New York

As a location photographer in New York City, I always have my eyes peeled for good subjects; Lord knows there is an endless number of great possibilities for images. This shot was what I call a "no-brainer".

How can you resist a shot of Big Bird in Central Park?

You know it's Spring when the birds return to Central Park.  185mm, f4 at 1/250th sec.

 

You'll Never Guess

As a corporate location photographer, I never know where I'll end up, and some of the places are surprising. Here's a portrait I shot recently of an executive with an alternative fuel company...but wait, before you read further, take a couple guesses where we're shooting; I'll continue below the image.

 Shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, 20mm lens at f16, 1/320, ISO 320.

Shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, 20mm lens at f16, 1/320, ISO 320.

Did you guess?  Looks like Kansas, right?  Actually, we're standing on top of the what was once the largest landfill in the world, Fresh Kills, on Staten Island in New York City.  If you've read my blog before you know I'm a believer in planning but staying open to those magical, serendipitous moments that seem to happen on every photo shoot. This shoot was to cover a new truck that runs on DME, an alternative fuel that is much better for the environment than diesel fuel. The Department of Sanitation in New York City is testing this truck for potential roll-out in its fleet. We were wrapping up the morning shoot when our contact at DSNY said, "want to see something cool?" What self-respecting photographer can resist that line? We weren't scheduled to go to the top of the landfill, long reclaimed, covered with dirt and planted with grass. There's a view of Manhattan from the top but it was raining over the harbor and we couldn't see the city so I selected a location to photograph the truck against the horizon. The portrait wasn't scheduled but I didn't want to waste a good opportunity; as I was positioning the truck for a beauty shot I had John stand on the road where the truck was to be placed; I took two shots, then the truck rolled in.

 Here's the beauty shot of the truck; the portrait of John was an added bonus!

Here's the beauty shot of the truck; the portrait of John was an added bonus!

Every Picture Tells a Story

It was Friday afternoon and I was editing images in my office, suddenly, an odd noise from outside the window startled my two cats who were sleeping on the filing cabinet next to my desk. When you live on the 5th floor of an apartment building in New York, you don't expect odd noises right outside your window, but a quick peek revealed a man painting the fire escape. I knew right away I had to take his picture.

  Fire Escape Painter.   28mm lens 1/50th sec at f6.3ISO 400

Fire Escape Painter.  28mm lens 1/50th sec at f6.3ISO 400

Obviously, his paint-covered clothes and the brick red color of the primer paint caught my eye, but the most compelling reason to photograph this hard working man was the story in his face. It was clear that he's been working all day and was tired, but who was this man, how did he become a fire escape painter? I asked if he needed anything and in a heavily accented voice he said, "water". While he gulped two glasses of water I asked if I could take his picture, "English no good", he said, shaking his head. I picked up my camera and pointed from it to him and he said, "sure". I climbed out the window. There was no posing, no direction; I only took 5 shots. The painter just stood there, naturally, with an air of both pride and exhaustion.

I was proud too, proud that I didn't let the moment pass without creating a memorable interaction; it would have been easy to ignore him outside my window. Instead, I got to meet one of the many every day working people who make this great city run and to create a beautiful portrait at the same time. I made a 5x7 print of this shot and will give it to him next week when he finished the job.

 

"I Promise Not To Get Your CEO Arrested"

It was the type of call I love to get, an assignment out of the blue to shoot a CEO for a magazine cover; but there were two challenges. The first challenge was the deadline, one week; the second challenge, the shoot was to be in the subway. We had hoped to piggy back with a construction crew using products developed by the company being featured in the magazine, a construction services company, but that option didn't pan out. My fall-back plan was to shoot on a subway platform; of course, that also has it's challenges.

With no time to get proper permits we agreed to shoot "guerilla style", late at night; I scouted numerous platforms around the city and decided to shoot at the Times Square Station and the 5th Avenue Station, two of the busiest platforms in the city.  The VP of Marketing for the company had his doubts, but I promised him I wouldn't get his CEO arrested.

We started the shoot at 10pm, but the platform was still crowded. We kept lighting gear to a minimum; my assistant held the strobe so we didn't need to use a light stand. I fully expected the police to kick us out after the first train passed but we were able to shoot for 30 minutes, trying different shots and different angles. No one bothered us except for a few tourists asking who the celebrity was or who we were shooting for.

 True to my word, we managed to shoot this magazine cover at one of NYC's buisiest subway stations and not get arrested!   24mm lens, 1/20 sec at f5.6,  400 ISO

True to my word, we managed to shoot this magazine cover at one of NYC's buisiest subway stations and not get arrested!   24mm lens, 1/20 sec at f5.6,  400 ISO

Because I like to give editors choices, we planned on shooting at the 5th Avenue stop as well.  The late July temperatures, even at 11:00 at night, were stifling and being in the subway was worse. We had hand-held fans to keep our subject cool. The 5th Avenue shoot went off without interruption and we wrapped before midnight. The setup wasn't particularly difficult or time consuming, we kept it simple on purpose; most of the time was spent waiting for trains to come by so we could have movement in the background.

All in all, a successful, challenging and fun assignment with great results.

 Also avoided arrest at the 5th Avenue Station!  24mm lens, 1/20 at f5.6, 500 ISO

Also avoided arrest at the 5th Avenue Station!  24mm lens, 1/20 at f5.6, 500 ISO

 The CEO keeping cool with two hand-held fans. It was the hottest shoot I've ever been on but he managed to stay dry through the whole thing!

The CEO keeping cool with two hand-held fans. It was the hottest shoot I've ever been on but he managed to stay dry through the whole thing!

A Love of Locations

Part of what I love about being a location photographer is not knowing what you might have to work with when you first step into a new space. It's a unique skill to look at the space and immediately assess what might work and what to avoid when creating the images you need to take. As I am a portrait artist, it's an even bigger challenge to combine the person, what they do and the particular location into a cohesive image that both shows the person and communicates the client's message--all while creating a great looking image.

 Location portrait of an architect in a SoHo loft building.  46mm lens, 1/30 sec. at f3.5. ISO 100

Location portrait of an architect in a SoHo loft building.  46mm lens, 1/30 sec. at f3.5. ISO 100

Keep Trying New Things

It's Thanksgiving time and I must say, I am very thankful and grateful to be busy with my work and to have clients that trust me to handle their important assignments. But when I get a few free moments, I like to try new things. Lately I've had some ideas for shooting portraits but needed to work out possible lighting scenarios; it's not practical to get businessmen to help me test set ups (and my wife is tired of helping), so I use models and exchange images for their patience and professionalism. This set up, combining a softbox and a beauty dish, produces a pure white background and a crisp, flattering light on the face; I like the tight crop and the negative space on the side. I may have to substitute an umbrella or softbox for the beauty dish when photographing non-models as the light might be a bit strong for "regular faces". It's sometimes tough to get clients to accept lighting setups like this,  but I keep trying new things because it generates new ideas, new knowledge and new possibilities for creative problem-solving on behalf of my clients.

 Canon5D Mark III, 85mm lens, 1/200 sec at f11, ISO 100

Canon5D Mark III, 85mm lens, 1/200 sec at f11, ISO 100

A Fickle Lover

I love available light. I love the way it illuminates, morphs and changes. You might think shooting in this light would be easy, but available light is like a fickle lover, caressing you and pleasing you in one moment, then frustrating the hell out of you the next.

As a location photographer, every shot I take starts with available light; I am constantly attuned to the quality of light, its direction and source. I watch how the light plays across a scene or a face, whether it's strong, soft or somewhere in between. Oftentimes, in fact, most of the time, the available light is only the beginning and I use my own lighting equipment to supplement or strengthen the light that is there, careful to preserve the natural feeling of the existing light.  But when the available light is just right, it's magical. This photo, taken for an architectural firm in downtown New York, is a perfect example; the windows in the SoHo loft space were at least 9 feet tall and covered the entire east wall of the loft; the sky was milky-white overcast but still directional and wrapped around the subjects face beautifully. Nothing else was needed to make a beautiful portrait; the fickle lover was good to me.

 Available light photograph of James, shot for a NYC architectural firm. 70mm lens, f2.81/125th sec, ISO 640

Available light photograph of James, shot for a NYC architectural firm. 70mm lens, f2.81/125th sec, ISO 640

Big Guy, Small Space

As a corporate location photographer in New York City, I shoot a lot of portraits in offices all over town; I've worked in some of the biggest penthouse offices you can imagine and then last week, I worked in the smallest space I've ever had to use for shooting portraits. No joke, the tiny conference room was probably 6'x10'. And you know what? I still shot some nice images.

The big downtown financial firm needed some new portraits of key advisers to update the company website and use as LinkedIn profiles but they forgot to book a space for me; luckily, this tiny conference room had a window facing the hallway, which gave me 4 more feet to use as a background. I knew no one would believe me about the size of the space so I took a shot from the hallway looking in the door.

 There was so little room in this space that it limited my options for setting up the shot. I pushed the desk to one side, which left 18 inches for me to squeeze into and shoot; you can see my umbrella and tripod are back as far as they can go.

There was so little room in this space that it limited my options for setting up the shot. I pushed the desk to one side, which left 18 inches for me to squeeze into and shoot; you can see my umbrella and tripod are back as far as they can go.

 85mm, f2.8 at 1/80 sec. ISO 100

85mm, f2.8 at 1/80 sec. ISO 100

In the end, it doesn't matter how cramped or uncomfortable you are taking the picture, even if it means squeezing a 6'4", 225 lbs man into a tiny corner; all that matters is the results.

Key Light and a Kicker

Creating images can be done in many different ways, but in the end, it's all about the light. Some people go to create lengths to control every inch of light in their compositions, using a dozen lights or more to shoot a still life. Many more photographers shoot available light only and also produce beautiful work. I fall somewhere in the middle. I like to let the natural or ambient light be the star, even if I have to use strobes to recreate and enhance that natural light. In this photo of Olga, the bartender at Amata Restaurant on East 56th Street, I wanted to capture her warm friendliness, which, not surprisingly, was also the feel of the bar and the feel of the light coming from the front windows. But there wasn't quite enough light for taking a good image and the shadows built rapidly behind her into darkness at the other end of the bar. I solved the problem with a simple two light set up, a key light and a kicker.  The key light, off camera to the left and slightly raised, created a beautiful light for Olga and added some spark to the bottles behind her. The other end of the bar was lit by bouncing a strobe into the white ceiling, but powered down enough so as not to over-light the scene. A somewhat slow shutter speed let enough ambient light in to keep the shot feeling warm and real. We were done in about 10 minutes and Olga was back to serving her customers.

 The lovely Olga, bartender at Amata Restaurant.  28mm lens, f4 at 1/20th sec., ISO 800.

The lovely Olga, bartender at Amata Restaurant.  28mm lens, f4 at 1/20th sec., ISO 800.

Light Wall

You can find great light anywhere, you just need to be observant, aware and willing to see things differently. This portrait is a case in point.

I was at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) today to see a contemporary art installation by artist Alfredo Jaar. Jaar constructed a path of total darkness which wound around corners and through black walled hallways; turning the last corner, the viewer is struck by a dazzlingly bright 10'x18' wall of light. After so much darkness, the wall seemed even bigger than it was and the light was so bright you had to squint. That was it. The artwork is not terribly remarkable, although I'm sure I missed the symbolism as I usually do with contemporary art. But there was something about that light. While looking directly at the light wall was bothersome, the light it emitted was incredibly beautiful.  I stood for 5 minutes just watching peoples faces as they turned the corner. The corners and the walls created an abstract set of lines and shades of gray depending on how the light spilled over the wall. I knew I had to photograph this set up and found a willing young man from Portugal to pose for me.

  While everyone else saw only the harshness of the bright light and turned away, covering their eyes, I saw the beauty such a big light source created.  35mm lens, f4.5 at 1/40th sec. ISO 500


While everyone else saw only the harshness of the bright light and turned away, covering their eyes, I saw the beauty such a big light source created.  35mm lens, f4.5 at 1/40th sec. ISO 500

Simplicity

Sometimes--most times--simplicity is key.  This portrait was shot in the side courtyard between two buildings; it was an overcast day and I thought the light was even enough for a nice shot.  But the sun came out and created bothersome shadows and highlights.  Geez, it was supposed to be a quick and easy shot.

 Final image, 85mm lens, f2.8 at 1/100th sec. ISO 400

Final image, 85mm lens, f2.8 at 1/100th sec. ISO 400

I could have pulled out a strobe and popped a nice soft umbrella light in this gentleman's face, but that would diminish the natural feel of the shot and location.  As simplicity is my first go-to in most situations, I opted for a simple white diffuser panel placed just out of frame over his head. The light is natural, believable and soft enough to even out the shadows and remove the hot spot on his forehead.  This simple fix helped me keep the shoot on schedule with a quick, easy, and beautiful image.

Location Basics

Shooting people on location is my joy, but it's not without its challenges.  I like to keep it real, as well as simple, when faced with location shots because I want to maintain the "feeling" of the light that is already there.  This image, of a Duke University graduate working with elementary school children, was shot to a very specific dimension to fit the layout designed by the art director.  By strategically adding light to the existing light, I could control the overall look inside the frame while letting the subjects interact and forget that I was even shooting, my favorite way of capturing "real" moments, even if they are set up and controlled.

 Canon 5D Mark II, ISO 125, f5.6 at 1/100 sec. 24mm lens.

Canon 5D Mark II, ISO 125, f5.6 at 1/100 sec. 24mm lens.

Snapshot, Headshot, Portrait

To most people, a snapshot, headshot or portrait are all pretty much the same, but to a portrait photographer, there is a vast difference; understanding that difference is critical to getting the best image for its intended use.  I've written before about how we all need a good headshot, but depending on your needs, you may actually need more, or less, than a good headshot.   Let me explain.  In some way we are all promoting ourselves, in fact, we are each our own "Brand" and we are constantly promoting our Brand. Whether looking for a new friend, new job, or new customers, we need to be promoting ourselves, our Brand. Make no mistake, even the profile picture you post on Facebook is a way of communicating your Brand and for many people, a simple snapshot picture will suffice for this use.  An example of a corporate use for a snapshot would be from a shoot I worked on a few years ago where, for security purposes, 3,000 attendees of a corporate conference needed to be photographed for security badges. We had a team of 5 photographers tethered to workstations that spit out badges; each person stood in a pre-marked spot in one of five sets and had one snapshot photo taken--it was like herding cattle through a gate in order to get everyone cleared and secure to enter the meeting hall.   

Headshots are another level up the ladder of people photography.  Most often associated with actors, whose headshot is in front of some random casting director for 3 seconds and needs to capture their attention immediately, headshots are also necessary in the corporate world where they are used for any number of purposes. In the past, business headshots were kept as "file photos" for PR use or to accompany bios for speaking engagements. Today, headshots are a must for corporate web use and for social media. Because corporations are so Brand-conscious, it's wise to create a Brand strategy for producing corporate headshots, even for simple uses like LinkedIn.  I believe it's wise for any Brand-conscious person to think seriously about the type and quality of headshots they have out in public. Where snapshots are snapping a quick picture, headshots take a bit more time and effort, making sure the light is appropriate for each person while staying within the bounds of the Brand look. The limitations of headshots are that they reveal little more than the façade of a person; the serious look of a lawyer, the confidence of a physician, the friendliness of a salesperson, the headshot is where you show the world what you want them to see.

A portrait, on the other hand, is much more revealing and strives to break through the façade to capture who a person really is, often telling a complete story in a single frame. Portraits are much more involved, sometimes requiring research into the person, precisely crafted lighting and time to get the subject comfortable, relaxed and real. A true portrait is not necessarily flattering but, when done well, can be powerful. In my work, I've identified a hybrid type of portrait called the corporate portrait.  This hybrid combines a simple headshot with a classic portrait and is most often created for the CEO and Executive Team.  The same care is taken in crafting the image and lighting the scene, the only difference is you rarely pierce the façade of what the executive wants to show the world on behalf of and representing the company.

 A series of headshots created for a Wall Street firm for use as LinkedIn profile pictures.

A series of headshots created for a Wall Street firm for use as LinkedIn profile pictures.

 A good example of a "Corporate Portrait", a Wall Street executive photographed for a marketing brochure.

A good example of a "Corporate Portrait", a Wall Street executive photographed for a marketing brochure.

Glorified Selfie

On a recent portrait shoot for a University client in New Jersey, I found myself with no one around to help me shoot test shots.  It was a small editorial job with a simple one light setup in a gorgeous atrium setting and instead of having my assistant along, I was flying solo.  Usually I'll ask some passer-by to pose for me for a lighting test--it only takes a few seconds--and then I'm ready to shoot when the subject shows up. With no one around, I had to improvise.  Yep, I put the camera on my tripod and used the self-timer!  While not ideal, it got the job done and I was ready to roll when the first subject showed up.

 Not an ideal test "model", but he'll do in a pinch.  LOL.       ISO 125, 1/40th sec. f4, 24mm lens.

Not an ideal test "model", but he'll do in a pinch.  LOL.       ISO 125, 1/40th sec. f4, 24mm lens.

Everyone Needs One

Portraits are as important today as ever, whether it's a selfie for Facebook, a casual shot for Match.com, a business portrait for LinkedIn or something more formal for your company's Annual Report, a good portrait helps show the world who you are.  My key to a great portrait--after getting the lighting just right, of course--is  to help the person relax and be natural in front of the camera.  Sometimes it's easier to do than others but it's always worth the effort.

CEO Executive headshot portrait on location.jpg

Keep It Simple

Ahhh, the old K.I.S.S. rule; we all know it and we all forget it.  But simple is one of the secrets to powerful photos.  Keep simplicity in mind when you're shooting, have a simple subject, simple lighting and simple composition. By keeping your images simple you leave little to distract your viewer and your images will stand out from the rest.

 In this shot, actress/dancer Laura Volpaccio takes a simple, relaxed pose near a big row of windows, a 4'x8' white foam core reflector bounces light back onto the shadow side of her body.  ISO 320, 1/125 sec. at f5.6, 50mm lens.

In this shot, actress/dancer Laura Volpaccio takes a simple, relaxed pose near a big row of windows, a 4'x8' white foam core reflector bounces light back onto the shadow side of her body.  ISO 320, 1/125 sec. at f5.6, 50mm lens.

Inspiration is Everywhere

One of the great things about living in New York is that there is so much here that serves as inspiration.  I live in Chelsea and there are literally hundreds of art galleries within a three block radius of my home; great museums are nearby and the streets themselves constantly inspire me.  Some of the greatest creative talent in the world live and work here and if that doesn't inspire you to be on top of your game, nothing will!  When I first moved to the city 15 years ago, Annie Leibovitz lived across the street from me and I'd see her all the time; just having her so close inspired me to push harder and shoot the best work I've ever done and since you're only as good as your latest work, I continue to push hard.

So what's my latest work, you ask?  Well, two weeks ago I shot some fantastic portraits, images I'm really proud of, but because I always let clients publish the images first, I won't show them just yet (don't worry, you'll see them in the future).  But I can share a photo I did just yesterday of actor Andy Mizerek.  I like this shot and I'm sure he'll be pleased when I send it to him tonight.

 This photo of actor Andy Mizerek is exactly what I like, simple and beautiful. I have Andy standing near a window with sheer white curtains; the light was amazing and his expression is timeless.  Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 3200, 1/30th sec at f4.0, 50mm lens.

This photo of actor Andy Mizerek is exactly what I like, simple and beautiful. I have Andy standing near a window with sheer white curtains; the light was amazing and his expression is timeless.  Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 3200, 1/30th sec at f4.0, 50mm lens.

Street Portraits

Street portraits differ from street photography; in one you are capturing a "decisive moment" and in the other you stop the moment, take charge and get the shot you want.  As a portrait photographer I like to take control; I want the light a certain way, the pose a certain way, the look a certain way.  To keep things natural and realistic, I will often leave things pretty much as they are, especially with street portraits, but I always like the light to be nice.  Whether using natural light only or adding a reflector or fill flash, the light has to be nice.

 These tourists from Germany were taking a pedi-cab ride near Bethesda Plaza in Central Park and I asked to take their picture; this was for an assignment to capture "typical" tourist things to do in New York City.  Filtered sunlight was coming through the trees and I popped an off-camera flash into their faces to clean up any shadows.      ISO 125, 1/160 sec. at f6.3. 18mm lens.

These tourists from Germany were taking a pedi-cab ride near Bethesda Plaza in Central Park and I asked to take their picture; this was for an assignment to capture "typical" tourist things to do in New York City.  Filtered sunlight was coming through the trees and I popped an off-camera flash into their faces to clean up any shadows.      ISO 125, 1/160 sec. at f6.3. 18mm lens.

Homage to Irving Penn

We find inspiration in many places, not only from within ourselves, but also from those who have gone before us.  I think it's important to know the history of our craft and be familiar with the masters; Irving Penn is one of the masters I admire and his famous "Corner Portrait" series was the inspiration for a shoot I did last year.  The client has an amazing building with beautiful architectural details, including great use of lines and angles; in one of the particularly acute corners, I found my inspiration for a series of portraits.

 A simple one light set up with simple instructions for each subject:  use the corner to express yourself, be yourself.  No further direction was given.

A simple one light set up with simple instructions for each subject:  use the corner to express yourself, be yourself.  No further direction was given.