Featured: 'My portrait work with m43: can it hang with the big boys?' by spatulaboy

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by spatulaboy, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Hello friends, this is something I've been meaning to do for a while. Unfortunately I came down with a nasty case of the flu over the holidays and that set me back a bit. I'm back in action and sitting around being sick did give me time to think this subject over. lol.

    I started with Micro Four Thirds three years ago; got it as a fun, do everything camera. My photography has really grown over the years and the system itself has grown quite rapidly as well. In this past year I have gotten more serious with my work and most of that is portrait work. I love sharing my photography on this forum and seeing other people's stuff as well. However I have such a huge volume of photos I feel doing an individual thread might be more ideal. I will also use this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on portraiture and the Micro Four Thirds system.

    A few things first though. Although I will be showcasing what m4/3 can do, I don't want this to come off as some sort of m4/3 defense thread. It is not the perfect system by any means but it's strengths and capabilities suits my needs and I feel there is a lot of misconception out there that hopefully I can address. One thing is certain, I am never insecure about my equipment. Clients chose me over competitors that shoot Full Frame because of my work, and I think that speak volumes. Now I'm not saying m4/3 is better than FF, facts are facts. Full frame has many advantages over m4/3, but the fact that m4/3 is even being compared to FF at all (and so often!) really shows how capable m4/3 can be! Imagine four cylinder Hondas being compared to V8 Ferraris on a regular basis!

    I want to start things off with this portrait of a young actress.
    Sparkle in her eyes by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    That was taken with the Olympus 75mm f1.8 on my Panasonic G2 body. Lit by an assistant with reflector. I chose this because I feel this image really epitomizes my ideal portrait style and all the elements of a good portrait in general. Lighting, composition, subject matter, depth of field, processing. All these elements are essential for a good portrait, or a good photograph in general. Often times I find people focus on just one single element and ignore the rest. Depth of field is often the subject of this obsession.

    Depth of Field

    Whenever I read anything about Micro Four Thirds online, it is without fail, someone will mention DoF equivalent. Every. Single. Time. Often this is mentioned in a way to suggest the depth of field of m4/3 is somehow inadequate. I always wonder why this occurs. Because really, the only reason why someone would want more shallow DoF is for portrait work. I can't think of any other instance in photography where that one single element would be so important to prompt someone to bring it up incessantly. Are all these guys portrait photographers? They don't really sound like it, yet it seems like everyone is obsessed with it.

    Well I will share my opinions on depth of field. Fact: Full frame cameras have a shallower depth of field than Micro Four Thirds. Let's just get that out of the way. Everyone should know this by now. Why argue about it? If you value ultra thin depth of field, get full frame, problem solved. I myself love bokeh and depth of field just like everyone else. And DoF IS important in portraiture, which allows a proper separation of your subject from the background. So why am I using m4/3 then? Because in practical use, with the right lenses, I find the DoF perfectly suitable for my style. I do primarily head shots to half body shots. And at those distances most m4/3 lenses will give you plenty of background blur.

    Ashley - Museum by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Surrounded by bokeh by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Samantha: Model, Actress by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Laura pink sweater by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Now once you get to full body portraits, that's when you'll notice the big difference in DoF. There are some who really like that ultra separation look in full body portraits, I find this look popular with wedding photography. I'm not a wedding shooter and personally I find this look very unnatural. However if you are really into that look, FF is probably the better choice. My philosophy is, most full body shots become environmental portraits. And seeing some of the surroundings help put the portrait into context. This is a creative choice and honestly, with lenses like the Oly 75 and the upcoming Nocticron, I find they give my full body shots just the right amount of separation without looking unnatural. Of course choosing your backgrounds carefully and composing your frame properly is probably more important. But that applies no matter what camera you are shooting.

    Here's a couple of environmental portraits done with the Pana Leica 25mm f1.4. Can the background be blurred more? Of course. Would it make it a better picture? That's up to each individual artist and what they are trying to convey don't you think?
    Cobblestone Fashion by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Future by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    More cool chairs! by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Some more full body/ 3/4 body stuff:

    Heel clickin good time by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Alicia - Secret Garden by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    36/365 House Hunter by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Lena in the field by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    The sound of music by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Seeing the Light

    Now all this talk about depth of field brings me to something I find much more important in portraiture. Lighting. To distill "good portraiture" into a single element of depth of field is completely absurd. Yet like I mentioned earlier, I encounter this attitude constantly online. I see plenty of poorly lit, poorly composed portraits online (on this forum as well), but hey, there is plenty of bokeh right? I enjoy shooting on location in natural light, but I will employ reflectors or flash when needed. Even then I will try to make it look as natural as possible. I have developed a back lit portrait style over the years, it's difficult to pull off but I love the results I get. Being creative with lighting is definitely something that will set your portrait apart from your standard studio look.

    52/365 Contre-jour by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Bubbles! by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Catching fire by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    138/365 Here comes the sun by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Paige - Contre-jour by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    The Olympus 75mm f1.8

    I want to bring this lens up for a moment. Olympus did an amazing job with this lens and it really elevated m4/3 to a much more serious level in my opinion. This is a top notch high grade professional level lens and the results speak for itself. With the upcoming release of the Panasonic Leica Nocticron, m4/3 is really becoming a super capable portrait system. Exciting times ahead.

    Some Oly 75 shots:

    LG by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Amber by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    JDB by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Laura in woods by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Pillar by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Now the Oly 75 is not the only portrait option of course. The Oly 45 is an amazing little lens for a seriously good price. Everyone should have one in their bags really. Then there are adapted lenses. There is a whole world of possibilities with adapted lenses. I love shooting my Minolta primes and the 2x crop factor make them ideal portrait lenses. Even with my modern native glass I still find myself shooting the Minolta MD 50mm f1.4 all the time. There is something special about the rendering and shooting experience that I just love. Yes they are soft wide open, but in some ideal lighting conditions they will render beautiful portraits. Stopped down to f2 they sharpen up nicely. Here are some with my Minolta MD 50mm f1.4.

    2nd Edit Amber by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Bokeh Girl by Vincent-F-Tsai, on Flickr

    Well guys thanks for staying and allowing me to share my work and thoughts. I don't think I've ever been so wordy! Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree. Critique on my photos welcome as well! I am still developing my style and any feedback is definitely helpful!
    • Like Like x 138
  2. bobbywise

    bobbywise Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 23, 2011
    Nantes, France
    One word : absolutely amazing (oh, that's two words :biggrin:)
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Steven

    Steven Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 25, 2012
    Wow, those are really super. What camera/s do you use? Are there other adapted lenses you use ? Is it because a particular lens has a nice look to it?
    What do you think about the 0.95 lenses ? Do you ever use those ?
    • Like Like x 1
  4. euler_spiz

    euler_spiz Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 8, 2013
    Cantabria, Spain
    LP Hoyos
    Thanks for your opinions, very interesting post.
    Wonderful pictures (you only shoot beautiful people? :biggrin: ).
    It really shows what :43: can achieve in experienced hands.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Thank you. I shoot with a G2 and G5 body. One lens on each body.

    I have a bunch of Minolta lenses but I enjoy the 50mm f1.4 most. It just works for me. No I don't have any of the 0.95 lenses. If someone wants to send me one to "review" I'll gladly take one. :)
    • Like Like x 1
  6. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Oops made a mistake: "More cool chairs" is actually shot with the Oly 45, not PL25 as stated...
  7. nebulight

    nebulight Mu-43 Rookie

    Mar 12, 2013
    Great post!
    • Like Like x 1
  8. BigTam

    BigTam Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 19, 2012
    Dortmund, Germany
    Vin, you just penned a post that's as good as your portraits. Thanks for both.
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Darren Bonner

    Darren Bonner Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 1, 2013
    Poole UK
    I bet if you posted these pictures elsewhere and you said they were shot with a full frame camera, I bet most if not all would believe you.
    Great photo's by the way.
    • Like Like x 8
  10. LivingLoud

    LivingLoud Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 8, 2013
    Maxim Guselnikov
    Finally! ) Great portraits, Vince. I was surprised that you don`t post a lot of your admirable works here that I saw in your Flickr stream, but now they`re all here.)
    Great to know that there`s a lot of good photographers taking m43 seriously. Great to know that the clients are happy & satisfied with it. I really love that size factor when people see that such a SMALL camera provides BIG picture. )
    I think threads like this can serve as motivation for all other people who`s invested in m43 gear and sometimes doubt about the things like sensor size, DoF, resolution, high ISO performance etc to develop their skills instead of upgrading their gear.
    • Like Like x 6
  11. Everhandy

    Everhandy Guest

    Good work.

    There is just a hint of the gratuitous use of Bokeh and a much too strict implementation of the rule of thirds (rules are meant to be broken, especially in photography).
    I personally don't care for staged model shoots unless I'm selecting clothing from a catalog but, that's just me.

  12. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Thanks for the kind words Maxim. You are more experienced than I at this and I admire your work greatly, so your comments are greatly appreciated!

    Yes you are right, my compositions are usually very simple! I do need to be more creative with composition. Funny you mention the gratuitous use of bokeh since according to some m4/3 can't do enough in that area. Also funny you mentioned the clothing catalog, I am getting involved with some fashion folks in the industry so that is definitely the direction I plan on going. Well there you have it!
    • Like Like x 1
  13. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    Very nice work Vincent! These are some of the best portraits I've seen with m43 gear on this site. I appreciate you taking the time to break down your thoughts on using the m43 system for portrait work and comparing its advantages and disadvantages with FF gear in a measured and meaningful way. I've repeatedly considered moving from my FF Canon gear to m43 as I love shooting with an EVF that can show WYSIWYG exposure and focus peaking and I love the idea of more compact, lighter lenses. Unfortunately I also love shallow DOF at wider focal lengths as well as shooting sports like cycling that benefit from AF tracking so for now I'm sticking with my 5DII and will just continue to dabble with my E-PL1 on occasion. I'm curious - how much skin softening do you do on your portraits when shooting with the Oly 75 and 45? I had the Oly 45 briefly and found that even wide open it was just so sharp for female portraits that I was really working hard to smooth and soften the skin in a manner that didn't look too airbrushed. The skin tones and textures in your portraits are balanced very nicely (although admittedly my favorites tend to be the ones you shot with your legacy 50mm).
    • Like Like x 2
  14. Just Jim

    Just Jim Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 20, 2011
    One thing I am critical on in this selection is your overly flat lighting choices. Color on a few images appear greenish like Lara in Woods ( no doubt your light is coming through leaves and all, but the skin is way too green for my tastes). I also don't like the flare in that shot on lower right corner. 2nd Amber edit, I'd avoid a downward facing portrait, it makes her meek, and her needs a bit more posing, not so flat with hips and shoulders flat to camera, real submissive weak pose. Her face is a bit hot on the exposure. Lena in Field face is under exposed, which is tough as the background is stunning, but if we call it a portrait... In a lot of shots I see too much negative space without any compositional reason for it. Paige contre jour is great with just about the right amount of space, and catching fire's space is well utilized with the lines, however when we look at pillar it would be a better portrait tightened up closer to his face.

    That said, I generally like the pictures. Processing is all well done, I enjoy that the skin does not look like plastic. And you coax some great emotion and faces out of your subjects, which can never be underestimated. But I assume you want some nitty gritty critique. And imo, this is better than a lot of what I see out there. ALOT BETTER.
    • Like Like x 2
  15. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    I suspect I might be one of these... seeing the work from the likes of you and Maxim inspires me to do better.

    Great post Vincent, well illustrated with examples.
    • Like Like x 1
  16. Everhandy

    Everhandy Guest

    I think most m43 camears can achieve excellent results with Bokeh, I am not in the m43 doesn't do Bokeh well camp.

    I do think that we tend to over do the blurred background "thing". Rule #1 in photography (since I can remember, and I've been around); fill the frame. So, if the frame is 75% background, blurred or not, are you not violating the most basic of composition rules? I like your third shot "Surrounded by Bokeh" as it emphasizes the subject's surroundings by de-emphasizing them (does that make sense?). In that shot, the subject is sharing the observer's interest with the surroundings which implies the photographer's intent to place the subject in some context. I believe your goal was to show off your camera's ability more than address your subject's desire to have herself photographed, maybe not intentionally? I would have liked to have seen more of the subject in that image as she is quite beautiful and she should not have to share the observer's interest with a blurred background. It may have worked if she was a stewardess for example, with a slightly debluurred airport scene in the background. Does that make sense?

    But, I am no one to criticize. Just some thoughts.
  17. Everhandy

    Everhandy Guest

    Excellent points. I wanted to make them myself but was wondering if I hadn't already said too much.
    As good as m43 systems are, they still don't compete with "the big boys" in terms of portraiture (just my humble opinion). I for one would not be happy with a photographer at one of my shoots if all they brought was a m43 camera.

    Many of the images are poorly lit with uninteresting back-lighting and in some cases washed out subjects as a result. A couple of the shots have so much highlight clipping that it hurts my eyes a bit.

    I am also a fan of not-so-sharp portraits. In my career, I have found the sharper the portrait, the less the subject likes it which equates to less money. People do not want to see their flaws. They do not like to pay for pictures showing off their flaws. Sharp=bad for portraits.

    Here's one of mine with just enough softening to make it appealing without looking out of focus:

    <a href=http://year77.com/images/jjheadshotatthebeach.jpg>http://year77.com/images/jjheadshotatthebeach.jpg"></a>
    Note the subject is slightly off-center but not "on the line" of a rule of thirds grid. The frame is filled nicely with just enough background to place the subject in context with the surroundings. You know she is at the shoreline or beach.
    If this shot was sharp, it would not have the proper "feel" to it and would also distract the viewer with "details" or flaws.
  18. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Thank you. As this post is specific to portraiture I didn't mention much wide angle shooting. But for sports and fast action you will do better with the DSLR. The EM-1 might be a step in the right direction but I doubt it will reach that same level. I also did not mention much post processing but it is quite important for me. I do moderate to heavy processing on all my pictures. For softening and skin tones I do it with photo to photo basis but that Oly 75 is super sharp!

    Wow I'm impressed you picked up that greenish tone in that shot, very good. I did a split tone with the highlight tuned to a blueish green. It was a creative choice, I wanted an edgier more slide film look to it. Amber 2nd edit was another 'edgy' shot I did. We were definitely going for an unconventional stoic look. Often times with a shoot I would do some 'safe' shots and try some unconventional stuff thrown in. They won't please everyone and you clearly picked up on it! Very good eye sir and I appreciate your feedback.
  19. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    Very nice Vin, I always like your work a lot. This thread will also be a bit of inspiration for me, as I'm trying to move into doing more portraits in 2014 too :2thumbs:

    You can see a good sense of positioning, framing, and light in your shots, and they feel reasonably cohesive in style considering the wide range of types of photos you're working with here. Good stuff. If you happen to be in my area and need an assistant for a shoot sometime give me a shout!
    • Like Like x 2
  20. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    Some good feedback - agreed on the green tones in the Laura in the Woods shot. Though as with the exposure choices and posing that's an obvious stylistic choice so it's probably something that either works for you or doesn't.

    Looking through these a second time, I would tend to agree with you about the flat lighting. These are well done portraits IMO but a more directional light would probably benefit in several cases to add some more drama and contouring. Again, depends on the look you're going for and it's a stylistically driven choice at the end of the day.

    EDIT: I feel compelled to note, that's being super-finicky. I'd be more than happy if any of these were in my portfolio, nonetheless :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 1