Sunday, February 19, 2012

the 4 minute headshot featuring the rogue grid

Have you ever seen the movie, "There's Something About Mary"? I'm guessing if you are a typical movie watcher, you must have. If not, well then my friend, you are missing out on a truly awesome American comedy. The film stars Ben Stiller, a hilarious man that my uncle Kevin says I resemble. I'm not sure if he has had one too many Miller Genuine Draft ice cold beers, over the years but I cannot find one visual similarity between the star and myself. Mentally, maybe but physically not one characteristic.

Regardless of my uncle's claims, I have recently been recalling one key [scene] in that movie. It takes place in a car where Stiller picks up a hitchhiker. The strange passenger shares his genius, yet borderline insane idea with Stiller. Famous of that era was an exercise video called "8 Minute Abs." The hitchhiker explains that he wants to invent "7 Minute Abs." How could it fail? Right? I've linked to that [scene]. I'm sure I cannot do it proper justice. I recommend checking it out before reading any further, if you haven't viewed the soon to be classic comedy.

The reason I speak of this film has to do with what I've been seeing in the world of photography today. As photographers it is our job to market our work in a way that will draw attention and furthermore, increase business. One of the primary ways photographers market themselves is via the internet and social networks. Blogging plays a large role in getting the work of various artists to been noticed publicly. Sure, print and portfolios still hold their place in the business world but the internet has given new channels in which photogs can promote their business. Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress, just to name a few have aided tremendously in the growth of photography today.

Speaking of blogs, there are many tricks and tips that people may or may not use in order to make their site more visible or searchable by others. The biggest of these tricks are increasing your sites SEO or Search Engine Optimization. For lack of an in depth explanation of SEO, good SEO is what makes your site more searchable by Google and other search engines. Huh?! Ok, let's say you Google "8 minute abs." There may be a million websites that are selling or talking about this product. What is the decider that your site will be on page one of that Google search? SEO. Now, I'm not going to get into how I have personally tweaked my blog for better SEO, no, that would take a few posts to explain. Rather, I will explain how the world of photography is battling out for the number one spot on that oh so prestigious Google page one. This is not, by any means, a scientific explanation of what is going on out there but an observation I've made over some time recently. We all know my opinion can be a bit skewed due to my random acts of insanity but hear me out. Today, I have taken all proper meds. The mind is tack sharp. Kidding of course, about the meds.

More after the [jump]

It seems that the very popular blog title or YouTube title for portrait or headshot photographers is these days sounds much like the videos made for super fast abs. Common is "The 5 minute portrait" or "the 5 minute headshot." I've watched many greats title their posts or videos with those keywords. I too, have been guilty of this. You can see when I fell victim to the temptation [here]. I'm not sure who gets the credit for coining the phrase but like many others, I jumped on the bandwagon. I even went as far as to share the timeline of the actual shoot.

Without further ado, photographers and artists, filmmakers and creatives, family and friends, I have jumped off of that proverbial bandwagon and brought you a new and never seen before lesson, FOUR MINUTE HEADSHOTS! Think about it. You want to get your shoot done in a fast and efficient manner. Who will the client choose when searching online for such a photographer, the five minute shooter or yours truly, with the evolutionary, 4 MINUTE HEADSHOT?! Of course, it's a no brainer, four minutes is going to take the trophy every time. SEO, look out. This post alone will be taking me to the top, blowing the roof off of Google's headquarters. Yes, it is mind boggling, I know.

The Rogue Grid

Besides taking the lead in record time of shooting a headshot, in the world of photographers, I do have a lesson for the day. The photo above is the lovely Stefanie Murphy. Besides being my wife, she also works as my business manager, agent, ad exec and VAL. As an added bonus, she even stands in as a model/muse.

Besides shooting the headshot with mind numbing speed, I have introduced some interesting modifiers into the mix. The grid or gridspot is one of my newer and coolest modifiers for shooting headshots. First things first, for those not aware of what a grid or gridspot is or does, I will give you the short and sweet definition. A grid, gridspot or honeycomb grid is very similar to a snoot as it will channel the light, from a strobe, into a very controlled and narrow beam. It can be used to added different lighting effects or mood to a photograph.

I have, not long ago, purchased the Rogue Grid, by Expoimaging.  At first glance, I wasn't too enthusiastic about how this product would hold up. I'm not a huge fan of Velcro and the Rogue Grid is secured via Velcro. Hey, I just don't like Velcro. I'm not saying it is not an excellent invention. Something about the noise it makes really bothers me. I digress. After my initial unsavory judgement of the product, I decided to strap it onto a speedlight, specifically a Canon 430 EX ii speedlite. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it stayed on. Aside from my initial doubts, everything else was pretty solid. The honeycomb grids were built tough. I bounced them (strobe not attached of course) across the hardwood floor and didn't even scratch them.

As for its light modifying abilities, the Rogue worked flawlessly. You can add or remove the grid inserts to vary your beam of light anywhere from 16, 25 and 45 degrees. I have decided to gaffer the rim of the grid, where it connects to the Velcro thingy, to avoid any unwanted light spillage.

The Rogue Stars In The 4 Minute Headshot

Now that you have an understanding of what a grid does to light, let's get down to brass tacks.

Take a look at the image to the left (not sure where the image is on a mobile device). It's a diagram of how I lit the subject of today's post, Stefanie. In actuality, I did not use a seamless white backdrop, as you may have already deduced by reverse engineering the photograph above. Rather than the seamless white, I opted for the 3x3 piece of sheet metal. This creative backdrop has served me well in the past but for this particular shot, did not give me the exact effect that I was shooting for.

Working back to the front, next is the background strobe. This one played a two part role. First was to illuminate the background while the second was to kick back a little light on the model's hair. To do this, I simply aimed the strobe almost parallel to the subject's rear while pulling back on the flash head, keeping it firing at its widest possible spread of light.

Next in the lineup, working forward from the rear, is the subject. I had Stefanie seated in a barstool. The back to the stool was facing the camera. This gave the model a place to rest her arms and evoke a more natural look while posing. I then turned the subject and the chair on a 45 towards camera right. The subject's head then turned towards camera left and angled down a bit. A "safe" pose but in the end, it worked just fine.

The next item and the star of the show is the gridded strobe. If you noticed in the diagram, there is a gel on the front. I don't recall exactly but it was either a 1/4 or 1/2 CTO. As of lately, I always add a CTO for portraiture. The gel gives a warmth and life to any model's face. The Rogue grid was strapped with the 45 degree honeycomb. This would ensure that with its distance, the face would be illuminated just enough to cover the entire area. This would be the key light.

Last but not least is the final item in the diagram, the 45 inch Calumet shoot through umbrella. This was placed high, over my head and angled towards the subjects face. This was used to modify the fill light.


Two of the three lights were set to the same power. Those being the brollied and gridded lights. You may be wondering how the brolly light would be fill and the gridded would be key if both were set to the same power. The answer lies in the Inverse Square Law. Basically, the gridded strobe was closer to the subject, yielding more power than the fill light. The flash to subject distance of the fill was much further and that will produce light much less powerful. Complicated? Only if you let it be.

The backdrop and rim light was set to one stop below the other two strobes. The settings looked something like this:

Fill: 1/2 power
Key: 1/2 power
Back: 1/4 power

RAW Results

Right out of camera I was super duper pleased with the results. The subject's pose was "safe" but the lighting setup was anything but. It was instant love at first sight. I had discovered a new and unique way to light for a headshot. I'm sure I have not discovered Utopia but when shooting such portraits I never went out of my comfort zone. Shooting someone you know allows you to get a little more creative. This creative venture has lead me straight to a wonderful result. Besides the great light, check out her catchlights. Although small, the double catchlights really make the photo, and her eyes,  pop.


Although you may not be able to visualize it by viewing the photo, the post processing here has been a giant pain in my you-know-what. To avoid entering an endless abyss of editing, these days, once I save and convert to .jpg, I'm finished. That is my way of committing to the final image and calling it quits. It is a technique that I stumbled upon accidentally. If I keep the file in a working .psd or RAW format, I tend to obsessively return to tweak, tweak and more tweaking until hours upon hours of progress go right down the drain. Nowadays, I give some of my time per image, convert, save and that's it. As a result, my editing skills have improved and the amount of post I add has been reduced tremendously.

As for this photo, I broke my own rules a bit, editing this one much longer than was necessary. The first problem I ran into was that the image had an ever so slight blur do to my super caffeinated hands syndrome. It is said that strobe freezes motion and never to worry about camera shake in a flash environment. I am living proof that that law can be broken.

I threw every trick I could at this one, trying to get rid of that blur that most probably wouldn't even have noticed. I began in the RAW editor, bumping up Clarity and Sharpness. From there I jumped over to Photoshop, really laying it on thick. I threw in some High Pass filtering, Unsharp Mask (which I haven't used in ages) and even some Tonal Contrasting. As a result, I may have went a bit overboard.

Another problem I encountered was that I may have gelled a bit too much in camera. The subject's face looked fine on the itty bitty LCD but on the MacBook Pro, the truth was told. Stefanie's face looked as if she spent a month on a deserted island without any sunblock. I decided to bring down that warmth, a lot! I do this my simply adding an Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, grabbing the Reds and pulling them down until her face looked closer to normal.

It's A Wrap

All in all, I felt the shoot was a success.

And, if you were wondering, no this was not shot with my new Nikon system. I'm still waiting. It's now been close to a month of waiting. I emailed Calumet, asking if there were any new updates about the arrival of the D4 but I have not yet obtained a response.

February 16th came and went. Looks like the Nikon rumors may have been true after all.

Until next time...