Q: How and why did this series/work come into existence?
After I had been only working with artificial light and inside of the studio for almost 2 years, I was craving for a change about 10 months ago. Even though I have already been working on a series away from the usual “backdrop shots” in the studio, I yet wanted to set my work apart from the “typical” studio feel and the working method connected to it.
The frequently recited statement “you have to step out of your comfort zone in order to develop” seemed plausible to me back then and still does today. However, at that point of time, the direction into which I wanted to change my working method was not quite clear yet.
The only sure thing was that I wanted to simplify and reduce tech and style. For this purpose, there were three possibilities:
- Simply go out more and take outdoor pictures (not always easy due to the unsettled weather in Germany).
- The second option was to search for a completely different studio that is “somehow” unlike others which would force me to rethink my approach.
- The third possibility: To shoot more on location (whatever this actually means…)
Today, I have got to say: Somehow all of these three options arose for me. I am much more outgoing and always looking for interesting locations for outdoor shots.
By now, connecting on location shots with natural light has turned into a true passion for me. Today, finding suitable locations is easier than ever thanks to Airbnb, for example (the landlord’s permission presumed!). Also, if the model has a beautiful apartment and puts it at your disposal – fantastic!
Finding a new studio happened faster than expected, even though it was only for the very limited time frame of 9 months (meanwhile I am searching again). The space was located in a previous machine factory and served as daylight studio that was spread out over two levels and a stage. This setup forced me to radically rethink – exactly what I wanted.
The natural light (really a lot of light) was provided by two almost room-high glass fronts on the north side. Other than that, white walls, a bright floor and a rear wall plastered in gray.
But only when I was there to really work for the first time, I had the idea of using all that beautiful light from the back to photograph portraits. I took a few test shots with Julie and the gray plastered wall turned out to be an excellent background.
Bam! From this time on, I wanted more of that.
Q: What is the aesthetic motivation that drives you to implement the portraits in the way they are presented here?
The main goal is to create an honest ergo simple, straight forward portrait and then apply similar conditions in order to achieve a consistent result with each new series. It is not my goal to receive a 1:1 copy of the previous portrait situation with another woman. The viewer should feel appealed by the image. Therefore, I let the subject have eye contact with the camera in 99% of the cases.
Q: Does this series have a reference/or deliberate demarcation to your other works?
There is a demarcation in the sense of me wanting to photograph something truly simple but yet expressive. “Simple” in terms of a reduction to the essentials. I love portraits more than anything. Therefore, it seems to be the perfect means for me since it lets me portray humans – or rather women in my case – in an emotional and very personal way.
(Editors note: See Tobias’ other work showcased on SWP here.)
Q: Why natural light? Is this a crucial element for the aesthetics presented here?
In my opinion, natural light has two advantages:
- What you see is what you get – at least with regards to lighting effect, shadow fall and intensity.
- The second advantage is related to the wide and very homogenous illumination that allows me to apply this working method. In order to achieve comparable results with an artificial light source, a very big light former would have to be placed very close by.
The disadvantages of daylight should of course not be ignored: changing conditions and color temperature are just two of those. However, having a window to the north side is already an enormous help since some negative factors are balanced by the absence of direct sunlight (Note: In the Northern Hemisphere, windows to the north side never have direct incident sunlight).
Q: Which part does the open aperture play? How does it help you in conveying your message?
85mm on a small or full format sensor and a relatively wide aperture (I mainly work in a range between 1.8 -2.5) result in a DOF of just a few centimeters. On the one hand, I achieve a strong blurry quality (= bokeh) of the background and on the other hand, it allows me to use the focus on either one or both eyes in order to emphasize this area as a central element of an image. The aperture is just small enough to allow me to also capture other facial elements within this range of focus.
Basically it really is a portrayal of the essential; another stylistic element that works as a part of the reduction – and of course the wide aperture supports this.
Q: The captured moments of women emanate extreme charisma, closeness and appeal. How much of this is contributed by the women themselves? How much is accounted for by the specific capturing style (= catalyzer)?
The models contribute the main part themselves. I can only make sure that everything is as comfortable as possible for them and that I don’t bore them. During a portrait shoot, I talk significantly more with the models than on any other sets (and I already talk rather much).
Now without blowing my own horn, I think that empathy is an important skill to have when working with other human beings, including people photography. If a person feels well in my presence and trusts me to a certain degree, then I am able to elicit a lot of expression from him/her.
Q: What’s the reason behind your choice of finalizing the series in B&W?
Once again, the reduction to the “essential” continues here within the chosen color space and the other possible design bases (golden ration, light-dark-contrast etc.). Further, B&W images convey an additional level of complexity to the viewer that can hardly be achieved with colored pictures.
Q: Were those pictures created in connection with work for clients or is this personal work for your (future service) portfolio?
All images presented are personal works for my portfolio. There is also some select contract work to be seen on my website. Of course personal works always serve the acquisition of customers as well.
Q: When you do this as contract work: How much does such a session cost? Is this portrait style an addition to other services offered by you?
I am currently offering a single portrait session for EUR 159 ($ 180) plus fees for make-up artist. Thanks to a photographer friend of mine, I have access to a studio with a setup very similar to my previous one.
So I am not totally screwed at the moment as I can continue my series and also keep accepting orders.
Q: When it comes to creating personal work: Do you pay model fees or rather rely on TFP? How do you regulate the legal side of it?
The images shown here were all created within the scope of a TFP photo shoot. I have a standard contract for such a case. It ensures that the model and the make-up artist, if applicable, have a say regarding the image selection as well as the right to a fixed amount of edited images. We usually agree quite fast on the image selection
On certain photo shoots, I negotiate with the models and make-up artist, if applicable, regarding a share – for example, when it’s concerning images or series that are of interest for commercialization.
Q: All the models we see are young, attractive women. Are they professional models, newcomers or even your friends?
I am actually very good friends with two of the models and we’ve worked together quite often. Both of them have lots of experience and it’s simply fun to work with them.
Yaiza, Rebecca, Janine, Ann-Kathrin, and Lilith are models that belong to the semi-pro area. All others are really new faces.
Q: During which period of time were these 18 different series created?
The images were created between September 2015 and April 2016, so within 8 months.
Q: Figures in Process (per Set/Series):
- How many photos per series did you shoot (average)?
Approx. 300 (due to different outfits, jewelry, etc.)
- How many made it into the final selection after your initial screening?
Approx. 20 per session from which I then picked my final top 5 selection.
These top 5 images were also edited thereafter.
- Which criteria were used to choose the particular selection that we see here now?
This is an absolutely subjective decision. If an image immediately appeals to me, if it literally grabs my attention and I look at it for more than 5 seconds – then it’s definitely selected. And this simply applies to these images here.
Lighting Design & Quality
Q: The series were created on different days. You work with natural light. I am certain that you had to deal with various lighting situations since the weather (meaning light quality and intensity) changes rather often (sun & blue sky = “harsh” light, overcast = scattered/soft/etc.). A special feature of this series is the very shallow depth of field (= open aperture). So how did you counter the unbalanced lighting situations?
ISO, ND Filter, Shutter Speed (apparently, a smaller aperture is not an option…)?
The window front to the north side is of great advantage here. Thanks to it, the possible problem of direct sunlight was already eliminated from the start. In order to get a grip on the given conditions, I actually only revert to the shutter speed. Parts of the windows are darkened with black molleton in order to shade the background some. Due to the distance between subject <> light source – meaning model to window – the problem of a too slow shutter speed (below 1/80) does not occur anyway. In the opposite direction I can compensate with a higher ISO-value.
In the beginning, a white reflector was applied as fill-in. But by now I rather use a silver bouncer simply because it also intensifies the catchlights among others. To simplify matters, I use the arm of a chair as “mount”.
Q: What kind of background did you use? Do you have a BTS image of it?
Sure! Here you can get a good impression of that ominous gray background:
Styling / HMUA
Q: Hair Styling: Why sometimes wild & wet? Or tamed & natural? Is this previously discussed with the model/client? Or is this your or the MUHA’s idea? Which criteria are applied?
The styling should do the model’s type and personality justice and is always discussed upfront. The wet look, for example, was the model’s wish and it simply was a great match. Small things are important to me: fingernails should not be too prominent because I like to display at least one hand in 99% of the cases. An intricate nail design would then appear very dominant in such a picture.
Q: The model’s camera interplay (direct eye contact) seems to be quite important in this series. – Why? What do you (or the client) want to achieve?
In my humble opinion, direct eye contact is a very personal and strengthening element: it creates a clear message. It establishes a connection between viewer and the person on the picture. The actual expression and look captured within a split second is the magic that supports the emotional effect of an image in an excellent way.
The hearts of old school portrait photographers are bleeding when they encounter a subject’s direct eye contact with the camera. It is actually considered a professional error. However, it is nowadays more than legit to do so. Just take a look at the portfolio of photographer Andreas Jorns who is very well known in Germany or on an international level the portraits of Peter Coulson . By the way, I truly only noticed those two after I had already started my series.
Q: Why is this picture (↓) different in comparison to the other 17 images? And why did you include this image into the series (despite the “missing” eye contact)?
The model on the picture ↑ (Lilith) simply has a wonderful expressiveness. Originally, this picture was not planned to become part of in my selection. But as we were looking through the results of the photo shoot together, both of us realized: this image simply has to be included. There is so much power and expression in this photo – I surely would have regretted not choosing it.
Q: Focal length range used
Everything was shot with a 85mm prime lens. The AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 G is absolutely fantastic for portraits and unbelievably affordable considering its given performance and esp. its imaging performance.
Q: Aperture used
The spectrum ranges from f/1.8 to f/2.5.
- Shots that show more of the model’s profile have an aperture of f/2.5.
- For frontal shots I am sometimes even approaching f/1.8.
Q: ISO setting used
Since the Nikon D700 is more generous when it comes to forgiving mistakes than the Nikon D810 (and I honestly find the tonal value dynamic of the D700 more beautiful for black and white portraits), all pictures of this series were taken with the Nikon D700. The D700’s native ISO is a value of 200, and with less available light I respectively move up to ISO 500 (if necessary, even up to 800).
Q: Shutter speed range used
I am actually trying not to go lower than 1/160 and rather increase the ISO value if need be. Depending on the light quantity, the fastest shutter speed is not higher than 1/320 sec.
Post Production/Photo Editing
Q: How much of what we see on the final images is straight out of the cam with regards to depth of field (bokeh), vignetting (if any)?
The depth of field stays untouched in post production. Due to the aperture opening, focal length and distance to the model, it is equivalent to the out of cam result.
In full format and with open aperture, the AF-S 85m f/1.8G naturally shows a quite significant darkening around the edges. If it fits the image composition well, I turn off the lens correction in Lightroom and use this “natural vignetting”. However, I may even increase it in post processing if necessary.
Q: How much time do you spend in post production on average per final image for such a series?
Dani Diamond (https://goo.gl/HmttTy ) describes this very nicely in one sentence: “Make your images pop!”.
In the beginning, I have actually done way too much and sometimes spent up to 2 hours on one portrait. Meanwhile, I don’t spend more than one hour on this and I also invest much less time in steps like frequency separation and dodge & burn (even though I still use both techniques, just way more economically and relaxed 🙂 ).
Q: How time-consuming was skin retouching?
When I first started out, I liked to spend about 1.5 hours of time on this matter – meanwhile mainly just 30 to 45 minutes. I am working on a wide range of levels and try to keep the workflow non-destructive. Therefore, I am only applying frequency separation in the very beginning and mainly only to soften the transitions within skin areas. Other than that, I use standard tools such as the Healing Brush and the Spot Healing brush.
Q: Any D&B for hair structure, eye improvements or other details?
I use D&B in order to enhance catchlights as well as to highlight natural areas of light and shadow, for example, in the hair, jaw or temple areas as well as the bridge of the nose and lips.
Q: What tools did you use for…
- Selection Process?
Lightroom – because it is fast and easy.
- First steps for the optimization process in Lightroom (adjustment via the black/white/lights/shadows controllers). Since I have a tendency of slightly underexposing my subjects, I also use the luminance controller located under HSL in order to brighten the skin tones some. Due to the moderate underexposure, I achieve natural shadows on the cheeks, temples and along the jaw line. However, it is important that the eyes don’t become too dark.
- In Photoshop, I use the Retouching Toolkit Panel by Conny Walstrom (http://retouchingtools.com/ ) because it significantly simplifies the workflow.
Aside from the techniques already mentioned above, I also like to make use of the Gradient Map Maker (http://connywallstrom.com/toolkit/gradient-map-maker/ )in order to balance the color of certain skin areas (even if it is not that apparent with B&W images in the end).
- Final Photo Looks (NIK, LR Presets, Topaz, Exposure…)
My tool of choice for the conversion into B&W is Alien Skin Exposure (http://www.alienskin.com/exposure/ ) including an adjusted preset which I then further customize according to the image’s features (for instance, the color values for red and yellow).
Last but not least, I use the vignette created by exposure as well as an artificial grain that I can’t find on an equally convincing level in any other tool (IMHO). The white noise increases the image‘s impression of sharpness. And in addition, it reduces the risk of color bending (this is a reoccurring problem especially regarding Facebook compression).
Read more about emulating analog looks in article “The Charisma of Distortion or Why I Choose a Film Emulation Software”.
A Solid First Step
Q: When you are now looking at the final images: Do they reflect the intended aesthetic aspect and meet your conceptual thoughts? Have you reached your goal/self-imposed target?
Actually you never reach the final mark. You take pictures in order to keep evolving. Therefore, I certainly will continue with the series although it will be in a slightly different form. I am quite satisfied with the images shown here – and also with the feedback I have received from other people.
It’s a solid first step 🙂
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