Emilie – portraits

Say hello to Emilie. We did this photoshoot in my garage with a 3x3m white backdrop attached to the garage door by neodymium magnets. A what? It’s a magnet, but super strong. Don’t get your fingers caught between them. The ones I have are 15mm x 5mm, and 4 of them will hold this huge piece of material to a garage door for all eternity. They’re much easier to deal with than blutack or tape or whatever.





These are all shot with the 135mm f/2 at around f/4. It’s such an incredibly beautiful lens that I hardly get to use unless I’m in the studio for a specific look. More often than not I’ll grab a 100mm macro for product and a 70-200mm for whatever else, just for sheer versatility. But, there’s only one king of portraits and it’s the 135mm. They also happen to be (comparatively) cheap on the used market as I think people buy them, then realise they’re pretty specialist and their workload might not be the right suit for a long lens with a really slim depth of field. But then again, I shot sports with the 135mm back in the day because it was the longest focal length I had for a while.

I’m talking a lot about the lens… suffice to say it’s very nice albeit clunky.

The lighting here isn’t especially revolutionary. We’ve got 2 gridded strip boxes around the front and a socked beauty dish up top. 3 x Godox AD600. It’s a versatile, tried-and-tested 3 point lighting system you can use for just about anything.

When I shot product for a living this was all we used (not Godox though) for product shots you’ve probably seen on TV ads, catalogues, everywhere since we were shooting for basically every FMCG company there is. It’s also the lighting style we used for talking head interviews (but with a softbox for a hair light). The lights up front are both at a 45 degree angle to the subject which would normally be really flat and kinda passporty. But by using the grids and a stripbox (which are pretty narrow) you get light coming out sort of in a vertical letterbox shape, not wide enough to be flat so you get some nice falloff and shadows around the edge of the face. Good stuff.


Then if you move the strip lights to the back and use the beauty dish as the key light, you get something like this:

The exact same setup, I just moved the strip lights behind Emilie and adjusted the ratios a little to make the beauty dish fire a bit stronger since it now has to do more work covering the whole side facing the camera. Here we’re just using the strips as separation lights to make her look more 3d. Easy peasy.

I wanted to keep the shots natural looking but muted a little bit. So in terms of editing there was a bit of split toning going on, some editing in curves layers to minimise the contrast but adding some density to the midtones. I also didn’t want to airbrush the skin. Emilie doesn’t need it. She’s a beautiful woman and there’s an honest tenderness to these photographs that I personally felt wouldn’t benefit from smothering the crap out of it, if anything that would be disrespectful. Respect your subjects, folks. Talk to them about the look you’re going for. They might want to be smoothed out and look like a fashion campaign. 100% cool, as long as you’re all on the same page.

Anecdote start:

I posted one of these images on Facebook and some people chimed in saying I should have “removed the imperfections”. I asked what they meant (although I had a hunch) and they mentioned the freckles, the ‘blemishes’, the rings they think they see under the eyes… basically saying they think I should have turned this into another shoot with another model who’s airbrushed to crap to add to the already too-big mountain of overly-processed garbage that’s rammed down our throats. Not taking into account about my work, my style, Emilie’s look, Emilie’s style, Emilie’s brand (she’s a successful musician performing a thousand times a week), anything remotely linked to actual people present here. Nope. Just dumb it down to “if you’re shooting a girl then it should look like xyz”. Nope. Fuck that. Respect your subjects, folks. Respect yourselves and your vision.

Then again, people also applauded the honesty present in the image and the strength demonstrated by not walking the line so I apparently have no idea what I’m talking about.

Anecdote ends.

My ‘direction’ was pretty much “stand there and look at me, please”. Understand we’re not shooting corporate headshots here, we’re not shooting a beauty shot for a makeup campaign which needs something different because they’re presenting a different image and for that, you direct accordingly to get that story across. I shoot corporate headshots all the time, shoots like this are like fennel, a palate cleanser.

With a shoot like this, I want honesty, I want the connection of a real live person looking right down the barrel and showing who they are… and from that perspective it sometimes feels like any direction needs to take a back seat because it gets to the point where you put your own projections on someone else by telling them to stand a certain way, look a certain direction, move that arm, move that shoulder, whatever. No. Stand there and look at me, please. Nothing else really matters. It’s a portrait right, guys? Although in all honesty I did ask Emilie to turn to one side because that’s where the light is. I have found that being able to see the subject is rather helpful.

All that for 5 images. That’s like 200 words an image.

Take home facts:

  1. 135mm is cool.
  2. Emilie is awesome.
  3. Make the photos you want to look at.
  4. Trust yourself.