Posts Tagged ‘Depth of Field’

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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.

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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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Posted in Equipment, Field Notes, Gear, Projects | No Comments »

Doggy!

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

My girlfriend Wendy has wanted a Dachshund forever, and after a long application and approval process, she was approved to adopt a rescued puppy from a Dachshund rescue/shelter organization in Tennessee this past week. Last night we went to go meet the volunteer who was transporting the puppy and take him home for the first time. Of course, I brought along a camera. His name is Oliver, and he’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever met.

(By the way, if you’re getting a dog and you possibly can, please adopt a rescue dog instead of buying from a breeder! There are thousands and thousands of sweet, sweet dogs out there that need homes!)

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The image above was shot with at 24mm at f/2.8 to achieve a shallow depth of field, to make my little buddy’s face really pop.

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Posted in News | 3 Comments »

The Photograph That Almost Got Me Arrested

Friday, January 8th, 2010

I think I’m a pretty normal person. A law-abiding citizen. Aside from the occasional speeding ticket here and there, I’ve never had any serious brushes with the law. But a couple of days ago, I almost got arrested. Why? For trying to take a picture.

You see, my father has worked in health care for his entire career. For the last fifteen years or so before he retired last summer, he served as the president of a hospital in Portland, Maine called Maine Medical Center, and for those fifteen or so years, he poured his heart and soul into that hospital. So as a sort of retirement present, I’ve wanted for a while to shoot a landscape shot of the hospital (it is a sprawling complex with many buildings, and sits very dramatically on top of the highest hill in Portland) for him to remember the place that was such a big part of his life.

For a few months I’ve been casually scouting out the area, trying to find the best angle from which to shoot the photo. I think I’ve found the best spot, a highway bridge that crosses part of Portland harbor offering an unobstructed view of the hospital buildings on the hilltop. This angle faces east, shooting from the west, meaning that at sunset, the buildings are lit up by a wonderful warm glow. So, a few days ago I set out with some gear a little while before sunset to take the shot.

I pulled over to the side of the highway on the bridge and began to set up. I pulled out my tripod, Nikon body and 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens. At the distance I was shooting from, I could fill the frame at 200mm, flattening the image and giving it sharp depth of field throughout the image. The sun was getting low and the light was wonderful. Everything was great.

Unfortunately what I had failed to consider is that the location from which I was shooting also happened to be nearly precisely in line with the runway of the nearby Portland Jetport, and was directly beneath the landing path of approaching airplanes. And in our post-9/11 world, somebody with a tripod and a big long black thing mounted on it right next to an airport runway can be cause for concern. So just as I was finishing setting up, reading the light for my exposure, I hear a voice behind me say, “What are you doing?” I turned around to see a Maine State Police trooper staring at me with his hand on his sidearm.

After I explained that I was a photographer and was merely trying to photograph the hospital, the officer very politely but sternly explained that because I was under the flight path of the airplanes, my presence had alerted the security people at the airport, and that since as a result of the proximity to the airport this particular section of road was designated “emergency stopping only,” I would have to leave or I could be arrested.

So I packed up my equipment, apologized to the officer and left, without having shot a single exposure. I searched for another appropriate place from which to shoot the image, but the best I could find was another point much closer to the hospital from which I shot the image below.

As you can see, the light is unattractive, the angle is bad (shooting up from below) and there are obstructions, including light poles, trees, chimneys and ugly distractions in the foreground. The image is worthless.

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So I’ll have to keep looking for a way to get this shot. Moral of the story? In the post-9/11 world, photographers need to stay away from airports.

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Posted in Field Notes, Projects | 1 Comment »

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