My portfolio is still lacking some particular – I call them – looks. Therefore, I set up a special shoot every now and then, just to work on my portfolio in a very purposeful way. I feel the need to expand my imagery which is ultimately reflected in my book. The nature of this is urge is probably more based on a personal concern than a commercial need but I simply have to get this done.
So what am I lacking?
- First: Some kind of b/w artsy style series
- Second: Conducting photo shoots without a high amount of pressure, based on no (elaborated) concept, no team, no direct business goals to achieve – shootings just for fun and feel.
Flying Blind: Minimal Concept
If you have already been following me for a while, you know that working without concept isn’t one of my favorite things to do. I feel uncomfortable, I am really not used to do that (must be a twisted Swiss attitude kind of thing…).
I always plan ahead (and often way too much): light settings, posing, looks and much more.
Based on my experience, the models usually also want to know what the shoot will be about (no, not just the degree of nudity but also the styling, concept etc.). They need a kind of idea/instruction upfront (as explained in the Call sheet post) which simply provides them with a feeling of security and that everything will be alright.
But as said, this particular time I had prepared none of that…
And Then Came Hanna…
Just one thing was set for this series from the beginning: Hanna (+ the date).
Hanna: A wonderful inspirational Canadian art nude model, living in Portugal, traveling Europe. I worked with her last year in Berlin for a tutorial, so I already got to experience her personality, expression and intense charisma. She’s an absolute fluke for this small, personal project.
For this shoot, Hanna’s just the perfect fit regarding my sought-after-yet-to-find-look: B/W-artsy-nudes-appearing-out-of-focus-thing.
The other pieces for finishing my small concept-puzzle were found by chance and put together on a quite short note…
Bad Glass On Purpose
I love black & white photography since the earliest days of my career (yepp, I shot analogue back then.) Further, I very much like to work with shallow depth of field or even out-of-focus concepts as well. Yet both techniques are hard to employ in commercial glam-work.
Plus: My digital equipment comes with quite decent glass (lenses) and a perfect, high-res fullframe sensor that simply delivers “too good to be true” results, even when I’m playing around with shallow depth of field. Today’s fancy gear is in “bad condition” when it comes to creating random (!), imperfect shots.
Random imperfection is the key here. Using Photoshop after the shoot is one way to get this done but it’s simply dishonest and contradicts the creation I hoped to achieve. Sure, the b/w-conversion will take place in post, but not the blurring and distortion I was specifically looking for. (I use Alien Skin Exposure for the b/w-film look/conversion work, btw).
By a total coincidence I came across a Facebook post written by Ales Bravnicar (Slovenian fashion and commercial photographer, also shoots for Playboy). Ales talked about that he recently purchased a cheap lens, famous for its horrible critics and specs: manual focused (push-pull zoom) Nikkor AI Zoom 3.5/43-86mm. Heck, even the zoom range is out of any norm 🙂
Yes, I am a Nikon shooter (see my camera bag here) and I have the possibility to flange the oldest/weirdest lenses onto the newest sweet digital body (and working manually).
Getting aware of that glass, the image and composition idea was born: Using an absolutely imperfect lens, shooting along with f-stop 3.5 (widest open aperture possible) and forcing the most terrible degradation of sharpness, undesired stray light to the edge. Perfect!
I bought the lens on eBay two weeks prior to the shoot for $50 (EUR42).
Light Setting Plans: None. But High ISO Speed Used.
OK, not a “no clue about light setting” event but certainly no specific plans either. I just relied on the existing natural light and a weak ambient source that was available at the chosen location.
Here, too: As minimal efforts as possible. I avoided bringing along any flashes, any own electronic lighting. The window light and the supporting tungsten had to be enough.
The only tool I used in this set was a five-in-one reflector (silver side) to bounce back a modest amount of the window volume light to Hanna’s body and face.
Of course I had to dial up the ISO speed but that’s not really an issue with a fullframe cam. The possible emerging noise/grain/distortion even supports the overall look when converting to b/w.
BTW: I always use Alien Skin to finish my final photos – color & b/w. And I always add some grain into the mix! Just to break this clean, sharp digital feeling. So, for years all of my released pictures come with a (modified) film look touchup.
Specs & Plan
- ISO 1200-1600 (balancing the shifting intensity of the sunlight due to moving clouds)
- f-stop 3.5 (permanent)
- Shutter 1/100 (permanent)
- White Balance 4050K
Serendipitous Combination With A Beautiful Outcome
I am simply in love with the results. The approach of using a bad lens (well, it’s not quite that bad after all), only to work with ambient light and to collaborate with Hanna for this style, was a complete success.
I am besotted with this series. And I finally took the first step to overcome my planning-mania when shooting personal projects in small scale…
Featured Series on NIF Magazin
This portfolio work series got featured on NIF Magazine. Yippee!