Posts Tagged ‘50mm’

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Harvard Yard Portrait

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Yesterday I did a fun, quick portrait shoot for a young entrepreneur and businessman who wanted a professional portrait for his resumé and his personal website. Since earning his master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School, the subject has founded a number of consulting services doing business both in the United States and abroad. The client is young, dynamic and technology-savvy, so we wanted a portrait that conveyed these concepts. As such, a traditional head-and-shoulders corporate headshot was too old-fashioned for this application.

Since his experience with Harvard was a substantial part of his background, the client decided he wanted to use Harvard Yard as the setting for his portrait. This presented somewhat of a challenge because while we wanted to capture the overall aesthetic of the school, I very much wanted to avoid being boxed into the stereotypes that come along with many people’s perceptions of Harvard. So, we had to use the setting subtly, so that the image didn’t scream “Harvard!!”

I went down to Harvard Square the day before the shoot scout out a couple of locations and see what might work well. The architecture of the buildings in the yard is quite unmistakably Ivy League, and many of Harvard’s buildings, perhaps most notably its Widener Library, are iconic. Even so, the campus offered plenty of quiet, tucked away corners that could serve very well for my purpose.

The day of the shoot I arrived with a minimum complement of gear, because I wanted to be portable and I knew we would have only a short period of time for set-up. I brought my Nikon camera body, a number of lenses, a small external light unit and a translucent disc light softener with stand. As it turned out, the sky was very overcast that day, diffusing the natural light and making the softening disc unnecessary.

I had spoken extensively with the client before the shoot (something I always like to do, so that photographer and subject can begin to get comfortable with each other, a process that is so important in shooting a good portrait!) so I had a good idea of the concepts he wanted the portrait to convey, so we were able to get started very quickly. I knew that to prevent the image from associating too closely with Harvard I would want to achieve a very shallow depth of field and blow the background way out of focus, so I initially chose a 70mm f/2.8 lens.

We moved around the campus trying different compositions and chatting about the client’s business. I always enjoy talking with people I meet about their backgrounds and what they do. Everyone has got a unique story and I’ve found that if you listen you can learn something from just about everyone. We were on a very tightly limited schedule and as time was running short I wanted to try one last composition. This time I selected my 50mm f/1.4 lens (this is my favorite lens. It yields very sharp images, and has such a wide aperture that it allows extremely shallow depth of field). Usually for a portrait I like a lens longer than 50mm (in the 70-120mm range), but in the location we were working there wasn’t sufficient room to back up (besides, I liked the very shallow depth of field). By now both the subject and I were getting cold and starting to shiver, but we had established a good dynamic and we were comfortable with each other, so I wanted to stick it out a bit longer and see what results I’d get. Sure enough, it was these last few minutes when I captured what turned out to be the best images of the day.

semil

Chris Conti Photography Portrait Photography #4

If I had had more time I would have liked to set up a bit of lighting gear (a bounce reflector to fill in the subject’s eyes, etc.), but alas we were out of time. The client had wanted a head-and-shoulders portrait that portrayed him as competent and capable, but that also was a little bit edgy, and I think we accomplished that; both the client and I were happy with the results.

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