I recently organised a portfolio session with Mr.G, a male alternative model with a special beard and a distinctive look. The great thing about Mr.G is his ability to suit a variety of picture styles, and with some forethought and creativity we were able to work through several costume changes and create three series. We had our successes and failures, but there was something to learn from both. This was a personal project and allowed me to work on my lighting and explore what works in my small studio space.
All of these images were taken with the Olympus EM1 and Godox SK studio strobes, with various glass (detailed in the thread). All shot at base ISO.
After a coffee and a chat, we moved to the studio to get started. I had high key pre-set but it soon became clear to me that this would not suit the mood I was aiming for:
P35-100 @ 41mm | f/9 | 1/320
I changed to a dark backdrop and simplified my lights, using a single SK-400 strobe through a 80cm Octobox in different positions. Mr.G changed to a black t-shirt and we experimented with low-key, which was much more successful. The first image below highlights one of the themes of the entire shoot - I was trying to show a vulnerable side to jar against the muscles and tattoos. This capture was, i feel, particularly successful.
O12-40 @ 40mm | f/11 | 1/250
crosslight with a grid and absorb reflector on the other side
O12-40 @ 28mm | f/11 | 1/250
Octobox off-camera right; low contrast processing to isolate subject from the background
Having found our rhythm we moved to the first of our styles - the modern viking. A combination of watching The Last Kingdom (Netflix, check it out) and studying Joel Grimes' sports portraits had left me wanting to try three-point lighting on a suitably burly subject. My studio proved to be a fraction too small to make it work as I wished, and I had to settle for placing the key light to a side. Note the distinctive rim lights on the shoulders, also framing the face with light.
O12-40 @ 19mm | f/10 | 1/320
Having run out of space I went back to a gridded cross light, which was much easier to manage:
O12-40 @ 25mm | f/11 | 1/200
We then moved to our next costume - the dinner jacket. The original plan had been tails and a monocle but it's not like everyone has these things lying around these days, (what is the word coming to!) so we had to settle for evening dress. We started with just the jacket - Mr.G's ink juxtaposed against the tailored look nicely, and then in post I took it further, melting the jacket into the background to show his skin and outline:
O12-40 @ 23mm | f/10 | 1/200
O12-40 @ 28mm | f/10 | 1/200
Processed using a high contrast template in Nik Silver FX
We tried an end of evening look; I wasn't interested in putting him in the full suit for the sake of it. I try to imagine a narrative for each shot, a motivation behind the action. I guess that may sound pretentious but it helps me visualise what I want from my model, and allows me to direct them better. I try to use direction, light and processing to convey a mood. I think it worked well here:
O12-40 @ 26mm | f/10 | 1/200
O45 | f/10 | 1/320
I was flat against the back wall of the bathroom behind my studio with this lens to get a half-body shot!
It was at this point that G pulled out his goggles and bowler hat, and my imagination leapt for joy! I asked him to step out of his comfort zone with facial expressions, really playing a character. I admit that we had more misses than hits with this as the camera picks up everything and requires subtlety of movement. Still, I think we got some special images in this series, and these were both the most fun to do and I think gave the most successful results. All were shot with a gridded cross light.
O45 | f/9 | 1/320
I really pushed the shadows in post on this one, compressing the contrast before dialling it back in with levels adjustments.
O45 | f/9 | 1/200
O45 | f/9 | 1/200
O45 | f/9 | 1/200
processed with a deep split tone, trying to give the effect of a mad Tesla experiment going on behind the camera!
We finished our session by leaving the studio and exploring the local countryside. I took a speedlight and 50cm shoot-through umbrella with us but disaster struck on our first attempt - the wind caught the brolly, the whole rig bowled over and created an unnatural bend that was terminal for that modifier. Relying on natural light I was unable to get the shots I wanted, at least not at the standard I hoped for. This is the best of the bunch thematically, but it suffers from some nasty blow-out on his face:
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 | f/2.5 | 1/400
So there ended our session, and gave me a chance to assess my Mu-43 set up and budget lighting rig for use in a studio setting. First, the strobes - they didn't miss a beat. The SK series is mains-powered so won't be for everyone but they performed flawlessly. The FT-16 trigger system works with both my Olympus and Panasonic cameras. Lastly, cheap modifiers break easily, and stage weights don't do any good if they are left in the car!
The camera system itself, both lenses and body, were fine for task. Some things to note - we often talk of diffraction and avoiding shooting past f/5.6. Whilst I was using some of the best glass in the system, I myself can't see any sharpness issues with the above images, despite most being at f/9 or higher. Portraiture doesn't require the same level of minute detail as landscape of course, and this is one of the reasons that I feel this style of shooting is particularly suited to the system.
The other point is to remember that the capture is but one part of the process, and the camera you use is but one ingredient in that recipe. If you are looking to step into this sort of photography, start with light. Look at every commercial picture you can and try to imagine where the lights were placed - it's great practice. Start your own work by being creative with a single light source, be it a flash or a window. You'll be shocked at the variety you have at your disposal from such a simple set up.