Wednesday, May 13, 2015

fashion photography :: the exploitation of minimality

You may have watched him along side Billy Zane in this year's (2015) Zombie Killers: Elephant's Graveyard. Right? I mean if I'm not mistaken, the entire planet has been, at some point or another, obsessed with the whole zombie thing.

Not a groupie of the undead?

No worries, you probably caught him in the network series, Do No Harm  or Sarah Megan Thomas' Backwards, a story about a young woman striving to become a member of the Olympic rowing team.

Ok, ok, so Backwards is more of a chick flick and there's mostly dudes hanging around here who probably haven't seen this film but guess what? You're in luck. Ellis Walding, today's photographic subject, not only has been on the big screen on many an occasion but he also has made his way HERE to the blog today and a handful of other days.

Let's get on with the show . . .


Shit, Ellis and I go way back. I was about 18 when I met Ellis. Together we were slinging drinks at the now sadly defunct Roosevelt's Pub on 23rd and Walnut streets in Philadelphia. When I wasn't behind the bar I was hitting the books full time as a student at Rowan University. Ellis, a few years older, graduated from Temple University and when he wasn't studying Tom Cruise's bottle flipping technique, he was very busy in front of the lens working as a model for romance novel covers and commercial advertisements.

Damn, back then if you'd asked me at what f-stop, I'd probably think you were referring to a train stop up on the Frankford El.

The years passed and lives changed, big time. . . For the best of course.

But this post isn't about a trip down memory lane. Nobody wants to hear that shit. We'll make it into a movie. I promise, that will deliver more impact that a short blog post.

So we meet here again.

Prior days on the blog, and wow how my work has matured, were as follow ::

Headshots 101  (2011)

Headshots 102 :: Run and Gun With Ellis Walding :: All Hallows' Eve  (2012)

Anatomy of a Headshot :: With Ellis Walding  (2014)

. . . and a few more in between somewhere or other.

Needless to say, Ellis and I have a level of comfort when working together.

The Concept?

Fashion photography of course. Ellis came by to the studio for a new series of headshots and prior to working, we discussed some ideas for some high fashion shots.

Ellis showed me an old school pocket watch that we both knew, without any hesitation, what an amazing prop this would make. Fuck. Who wears a pocket watch. This guy does, I'll tell ya that. Damn, and I thought I had balls to pimp a real bow tie.

You one upped me Ellis! Bastard!

We banged out the headshot session in under two hours and rocked out the fashion stuff in another hour or so. We were on fire!

Let's just say the strobes had a bit of a hard time to keep up with my itchy trigger finger.

As a celebratory and now ritualistic wrap to the successful shoot, it was time to break out some aged spirits.

Yupper, lately I've been documenting "Dudes Drinking in the Studio" post photo shoot. I've even created a portfolio of this debauchery over at the main website MICHAEL ANTHONY MURPHY :: PHOTOGRAPHER.

Why the drinking and why dudes?

I'm not really sure how the tradition began with the booze but I think it's attributed to Ed Sinitsa. He's over at the website wearing the Wu Tang T-shirt and throwing up the gang signs. It was a moment of serendipity. The new portfolio was born.

And the dudes? Just seemed to work out that way but I'm slowly trying to put together the female version. Maybe it will be a variation, chicks smokin' weed. I don't know how that will play out with child protective services as now I'm a new dad but hey, no risk no reward right?

Shit, I totally went off track there. Way off. Where the hell was I?

Digression would be an understatement.

Think McFly, think!

Um, so the shoot went well. Let's talk about that for a minute . . .


Notice in the post's title, I label, with such brilliant vernacular, minimality. 

Ignoring the booze triptych for a moment, let us focus on the lead photo, the fashion photo. Too lazy to scroll up again? Here it is again ::

Minimality :: the state or quality of being minimal.

It sure isn't an SAT word but you never know who's reading out there.

What do you immediately notice when looking at this photograph? We aren't talking about Ellis anymore although he is the primary subject of the image.


But now it's about photography. The technical stuff. The  real geeky shit that will cause half of the readers, at this very second, to drop their tablets, slam their laptop lids, in furious animus (there's your SAT word).

Is the coast clear? Is it just us, my fellow nerds?

Great. Let's get our geeks on.

Now, take a look and reverse engineer the photograph.

First you notice more than light, there is dark. Sweet. Ok, so we can't take Ellis out of the reverse engineering. I admit, that would be a challenge. Having said that, we notice a beautifully lit face with spectacular catchlights and super soft highlight to shadow transition. Next, notice, although a 1-2 stop drop in the exposure value as we reach Ellis' right hand and pimp daddy pocket watch. Tracking downward and to his left hand we see a tad bit of skin that drops EV yet again, maybe 1-2 stops. Hitting the bottom of the frame he hits the jackpot, 0,0,0 on the RGB scale; black.

What does that mean to you and me? If I had to guess, I'd say there aren't too many light sources happening here. And you know what? I'd be right. How do I know that? Dummy, I shot the freaking photo, remember?!

Moreover, reverse engineering the photograph can help us surmise some other variables. Well, you can hypothesize, I will just tell you. But go ahead, take your time, I'll wait.

All finished?


Words can really be a drag sometimes. Lemme create a diagram real quick. So quick that BAM! Here it is ::

I already know what you're going to say. I know, I know. Look, If this photography thing doesn't work out, my career as a model for Vogue, W or GQ  are already lock. No worries. In fact, Michael Kors will not leave me alone. It's almost to the point of stalking me. Kinda creepy. But hey, with genes like these, it's bound to happen.

I digress.

Once you get control of your sexual appetite, take a look at the diagram.

The one and only light I used was a single  430ex ii, modified by the 28 inch Westcott Apollo softbox. Holy moly, I love that mod. such gorgeous light. Such control.

Anyhow, that was the one and only light source. Could I have lit him up like a Hanukkah bush? Sure. Why didn't I?

When people mention, from time to time, that there are dark periods in my work, I often go back to a phrase that the king once said (and I'm paraphrasing) ::
"It's not only what you light, but what you DON'T light.-Joe McNally"
Joe said those words about, oh, I don't know, five years ago. Ever since then, I held and still hold an immense respect for darkness.

So I went with a single strobe. More than than I positioned this light in two distinct manners. You can only see half of this in the diagram as height couldn't be demonstrated. I'll have to use my words for that.

The Westcott was/is feathered on, or rather off of, two planes; the x and z axes. Simplified, I had the box riding up quite high and to the rear. What was achieved from this was the falloff from Ellis' right cheek and down frame, while still, and just barely, catching his right hand and pocket watch.

If you are sitting on the other end of this Ethernet and scratching your head as you are not getting similar results, I'll get down and deep dork on ya' (alliteration, my fav). Quickly though. I'm feeling it's almost time to wrap this one up.

  • Physics. The Inverse Square Law. My subject to light distance was super close which required much less wattage to properly light Ellis' face. With the close distance, the light will fall off rather quickly. Think of the sun. It's a super duper powerful light source and it's really far away but it lights earth evenly. If I simply cranked the juice on the strobe it would nuke Ellis' face. If I put a big distance between he and the light while increasing the light's power, the time/distance to fall off would be increased, lighting more of the scene, more evenly. Get it? Got it? Good.
  • The Westcott Apollo. Not even needing an egg crate, the Apollo's recessed front helps kills the spill to insane levels. Hey, I love a brolly like anyone else but those fuckers bounce and spill like a fat kid drinking a 64 oz. Slurpee on a trampoline. Just Saying. Think of a flashlight and the controlled circular beam you get when you shine it on a wall. Like a laser right? The recessed front of the Apollo does the same thing. Like a laser baby. Control. 
  • Vignette. Hey. A little bit of processing never killed anyone did it? I'm a big fan of vignette as long ass it isn't so intense that it immediately calls attention to itself as being bullshit. Like the light, I feather the balls off of my vignettes. Less is more. 

Um, is that it? Do you still need the metadata? Really?! Fuck me!

Here you go ::

  • Shutter :: 1/160 (I didn't sync 1/250!? OMG, call the pixel peeper police!)
  • ISO :: 200
  • Aperture :: f/6.3
  • WB :: 4800°K 
  • Power ratio :: 1/2 -ish ;)

Ok, I just got really excited to bullet point . . . EVERYTHING!

It must be time to call it quits.


Until next time . . .