I am working on a new series of environmental portraits and this past Friday I made one of the first images for the series. I selected a good friend and artist, Chaz Guest as my first subject. Not many living painters can say they have one of their pieces in the White House but a painting by Chaz of Thurgood Marshall hangs in the White House today.
I told Chaz I wanted to photograph him about a month ago and he got very excited and started pulling images to show me what he wanted. I smiled and gently told him I would create my vision and not to worry. Chaz is an amazing artist and has a curiosity for photography as well. About a year ago he purchased his first camera,.......a Leica. Later he asked me why he wasn't getting the kind of shots with his camera that looked like mine. I smiled and asked him if I purchased the best brushes ever made, the best quality canvas, all the best materials needed for painting would I then be able to paint like him? He paused and said, I never thought of it that way. The camera is the tool, but the person behind the camera, or brush, is the artist. Every artist wants the best tools because they know how important it is to have the best and they have the knowledge to take advantage of the best tools. In learning or growing as a photographer or artist it is important to have all the right tools but you must also learn how to use them.
In preparing my tools for this portrait session I thought about the lenses I wanted to take and decided on using three lenses. A 35mm, a 50mm and an 85mm. The 85mm is the perfect lens for portraits but my new series of portraits I want to show more of the environment so I'm doing things a little different. I also though heavily about the lighting. For the last two months I have been testing ideas on lighting portraits with my interns and finally come up with a solution I like. I will go more into the lighting in a future post but today I want to talk about the lens selection.
Using wide lenses requires that you stay aware of distortion, but if used wisely the images can be really beautiful. One of my favorite lenses for my Mamiya RZ 67 medium format film body was an old 65mm RB lens. It was perfect for portraits. With my Sony A900 body I love using the Carl Zeiss 85mm lens and the Sony 100mm macro lens a lot in my work, but for the portraits I want a different feel.
The image I have selected from Fridays shoot was shot with the 50mm. To make it work I had to back up and keep not shoot at too high or too low of an angle. If I went to low or high the angles in the image looked distorted and my subject also became slightly distorted. I did use the 35mm a lot on this shoot but I had to be careful in using it. To see the image I selected for my website click the following link, www.MatthewJordanSmith.com, and go to the portrait section.
The images below are taken with the Sony 35mm lens, and they are not bad, but the 50mm lens works best to give the effect I am looking for in this series. In the future when I go out to shoot more of this series I will continue to take these same lenses. I even had the Sony 20mm lens on me, but that lens is not meant for this type of work. I love the 20mm when I am shooting landscapes but again you must be careful with it and always aware of lines and angles. In photography we learn rules of engagement for creating great shots but once you learn the rules it is sometimes great to break them and see for yourself what you like. You may discover that you like something that breaks the rules! Remember photography is a CREATIVE art form.
Don't forget, there are a few days left to be a part of the CreativeLIVE class on Fashion and Beauty taking place in Seattle this November. This is the perfect opportunity to learn how to take advantage of all the new camera that are coming out and make your photography better. One camera I am dying to get my hands on is the new Sony A77. It will be the worlds fastest DSLR shooting at 12 frames per second. Now that is FAST! Now that I have the knowledge I hope to be able to show you how to take advantage of that speed very soon.
Always Dream Big!