Mu43 for studio portraits

ionian

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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:

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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.

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O12-40 @ 40mm | f/11 | 1/250
crosslight with a grid and absorb reflector on the other side

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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.

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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:

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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:

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O12-40 @ 23mm | f/10 | 1/200

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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:

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O12-40 @ 26mm | f/10 | 1/200

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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.

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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.

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O45 | f/9 | 1/200


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O45 | f/9 | 1/200

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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:

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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.
 
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I can't believe there aren't any comments yet. Personally, I think these are some of the best portrait shots I've seen in this forum. You show what this system really can do and the detail and feeling you evoke in each image is stellar. I definitely have a little crush on Mr. G. Is he traveling to Denver anytime soon? :rolleyes:
 

ionian

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Simon
I can't believe there aren't any comments yet. Personally, I think these are some of the best portrait shots I've seen in this forum. You show what this system really can do and the detail and feeling you evoke in each image is stellar. I definitely have a little crush on Mr. G. Is he traveling to Denver anytime soon? :rolleyes:
Wow, what a lovely comment! Thanks.

I'll ask Mr.G if he's aware that his fan club stretches as far as Denver - I'm sure he'll be delighted! You can follow his work on social media if you're interested:

Instagram: Graham Long (@misterg68) • Instagram photos and videos

Facebook: MrG - Acting & Modelling
 

Speedliner

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Great images. Funny that we focus on narrow DOF and expensive, never fast enough lenses, these are shot at f9, f11.
 

ionian

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Great images. Funny that we focus on narrow DOF and expensive, never fast enough lenses, these are shot at f9, f11.
Thanks. I couldn't agree more - working in a confined space I need to shoot above the best aperture for the lens, but there comes a point when sharp is sharp enough, and the rest just sells cameras and lenses to us poor suckers! It's why I personally don't look at numbers when picking a lens, I look at sample pictures and check reviews for issues such as aberrations, flare etc. These will be the things I deal with on a day to day basis.

A great set of images. I wish I understood more about studio lighting and dealing with models - it's a genre I've never tried.
Thanks. The lighting is not difficult, only a handful of these pictures used multiple strobes. I learnt the theory from YouTube, believe it or not. It's having the opportunity to practice that's difficult.

As for working with models - hey, they're people, there's no secret to it. Talk to them, encourage them, motivate them, and remember they are working too. I've only been shooting professional models for a matter of months - but my experience has been that they make the pictures easier to get, because they know what works for them and they have an interest in getting the best photos, just as you do.
 

G3user

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Awesome shots! Very inspiring, especially knowing that such professional shots can be achieved with a relatively inexpensive lens (O45mm).
 

Repp

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@ionian thats a great collection of portraits! My personal favorite is the bowler hat and jacket... it's just really nicely done. Though the first tattoo shot is also great. Bah, this really makes me want to do some more portraiture when I get home from this trip.
 

jrsilva

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Well done!
The ones with the suit are my favorite.
I have some modest studio lightning that I must put to use.
This series of your encourage me to try studio portraits again.
 

magIBIS

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Great work! Involving portraits, text down to the point in fresh style giving highly appreciated insight to the working proces and rewarding connection to Mr G.

Let me ask you, what was the reason to use the O45 for the half-body shot instead of the S30 from the last shot? Was it down to shooting rhythm or the lens?
 
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wolfie

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Very informative post and great shots. I particularly enjoyed the steam-punk portraits and applaud your great choice in a model with such a character face!
 

ionian

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Thanks for the comments everyone, really generous.

@magIBIS - I'd love to tell you there was some big artistic rationale for the change to the olympus 45mm, but the truth is I wanted to use it because it's one of my favourites. With the f2.8 zooms and the sigma, I don't use it nearly as much as I used to when I first got into the system, and I kinda feel bad about that!

@G3user - cheap it may be, and on paper the Panasonics may be better, but the O45 is still tiny with fabulous smooth bokeh (not in these shots of course!) and sharp as anything when stopped down a little.
 

Cerita

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I am awe stuck by your portraits of Mr. G. The first once is my absolute favourite.!!! Brilliant work!!! It also makes me so happy I bought into the right camera system, when I see your pictures.
 
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Brilliant work!!! It also makes me so happy I bought into the right camera system, when I see your pictures.

I'm not at all disputing the "Brilliant Work" portion of your statement.

But 90% of what went into these pictures were the photographer, lighting, and model.

And just about any kind of camera could have been used.

Nearly every camera on the planet manufactured in the last 10 years will do a fine job stopped down to f8 at base ISO and could trigger a strobe.
 

Cerita

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I'm not at all disputing the "Brilliant Work" portion of your statement.

But 90% of what went into these pictures were the photographer, lighting, and model.

And just about any kind of camera could have been used.

Nearly every camera on the planet manufactured in the last 10 years will do a fine job stopped down to f8 at base ISO and could trigger a strobe.


I agree with you, I am a novice but even I know it's not the camera or the system. However, when one is researching as a novice, there is a lot of "advice" out there about NOT buying MFTs, and that nothing but a DSLR will do. This is what I meant.
 

ionian

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It's true that the camera wasn't key in creating these images - but the glass was central, although good glass is available for all systems if you have deep enough pockets. Still, it's having the confidence in the system for this sort of work that's important.

I hope he won't mind, but I'm always reminded of @MichaelSewell's post about the importance of light, where he uses an old compact in the studio, when we talk about what a camera can do. You can read it here:
The Importance of Light
 

svassh

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WOW, phenomenal results and an interesting model. You definately made the most of what you had at hand.
 
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