Thinking about the proposal to produce a series of self-portraits, I have been trying out some ‘in the style’ of ideas. I was partly prompted by a Sky Arts documentary about the current David Bailey exhibition, ‘Stardust‘, at the National Portrait Gallery. Listening to Bailey and viewing many of his portraits – from back in the Sixties, right up to date, with some produced specially for the exhibition – I was inspired to try creating a Bailey-style self-portrait. It could be, for example, that one of the alter-egos has been photographed by him! I did a little bit of online research, too, to ascertain as far as I could what his typical lighting arrangement might be; and to soak up the grainy, high contrast black & white look. One of his own, recent self-portraits, featured in this article about the exhibition, provided a useful reference point.
In simple terms, there is a strong, raised light source from front left of camera, with a brightly lit white background to ensure strong contrast. Whilst that isn’t necessarily the universal pattern for his portraits, it is certainly typical. So that wasn’t too hard to replicate. I don’t have a pure white background but I illuminated it with a second light shining from behind be onto the off-white background, to ensure that much of it might blow-out in the portrait. (It was also creased, so there are a few marks that got through to the final version! Well spotted by Clive when I shared it on Flickr!) I worked with quite a shallow depth of field – F5.6 – to try and ensure that the background was out of focus (limited space available to create distance), which did mean that the portrait itself was less sharp at the edges than it might have been. I imagine Bailey using a fast shutter speed, from his fashion work, and I wanted to get some graininess in the final version, so I went for 1/250th at ISO1600, with a 50mm prime lens. I used one of Lightroom’s preset Black & White conversions as a starting point, and then tweaked further to get a little extra contrast, as well as cropping square, Bailey-style. This is what I ended up with. Bailey would be watching his subject, looking for the pose and expression he wanted. That is certainly one of the challenges of the self-portrait; and I did take a few, from which this was my preferred selection.
Feeling reasonably pleased with that first shot, I moved on to try the ‘style of’ another contemporary portrait photographer, Nadav Kander. He has taken portraits of some highly influential people, of course, and once again I did some internet research first. There is quite a selection on his website, here http://www.nadavkander.com/nadav_kander_main.html. I articularly noticed one of the Prince of Wales, using backlighting, and decided to have a go at recreating that one. He frequently has his subjects looking off camera, to the right of frame, often with a staring expression & sometimes open-mouthed. It’s an
odd, almost mystical look, which I’ve tried to replicate here.
There is a light low to my left and slightly behind me, creating the edge-lighting highlight; then a second, reflected light to my front right, and much further away, which is filling in to ensure some detail is visible in the front shaded area. I like that this is such a contrast with the Bailey-like image; a very different mood. If the Bailey image makes me a rock star, this might work for the bishop, for example! Imagine me in a dark jacket, purple bishop’s shirt front, vicar’s collar, maybe a cross around my neck – I could see that working!
There are certain generic portrait styles that crop up again and again in magazine articles. One that is a regular in the Times Magazine – maybe elsewhere, too – it to have the subject standing, facing to the right of camera, at a slight angle, shot full-length against a white background. The subject might be adopting a quirky attitude or giving the camera a defiant look. There is a hint of shadow somewhere, to give the image some depth, but it always looks to me as though it has been added later, in a kind of painterly fashion. So, that’s what I’ve done with this one. Simple front on lighting, though through a diffusing umbrella, then a hint of shadow added (not all that professionally!) in Photoshop. The background I used wasn’t that white, but I’ve selected my image and put it on a pure white background before brushing in that hint of shadow.
Finally, I’ve gone back to a portrait style that I used a few times myself, when completing the People & Place module – a deadpan portrait, in the style of the images of friends and fellow students taken by Thomas Ruff back in the Seventies. The style and the lighting is OK, but I’m a
hell of a lot older than the subjects in Ruff’s series !!
They were deliberately expressionless portraits, with very neutral lighting and a very plain background, always shot as head and shoulders and always in a 4:3 ratio.
It’s been an interesting exercise that, if nothing else, has got me into the process of photographing myself. The project will involve location work, too, of course, but there’s some useful groundwork on studio styles here.