Shoot the Bloggers: Gus Sentementes

Local tech blogger Gus Sentementes popped down to The Cave for a headshot recently. And that was a good excuse to play with some atypical (for me, anyway) light.

Keep reading for some thoughts on working with differently shaped faces -- and taking the final display size into account, too.

Take a Walk on the Wide Side

Facial shape is something you really do need to take into account when designing your light. To that end, there are a standard list of pat solutions for just about any variety of face.

Problem is, I hate standard, pat solutions.

What they are really doing if you stop to think about it, is using light to push us all toward some idealized ratio. And who wants that?

As far as I am concerned, any time someone give you the "if they have this kind of face, light them in this way" speech, you can be pretty sure they are trying to cram you into some standardized portrait box.

Seriously, what's the point in that? If the goal is to make everyone look the same, just use the liquify filter in Photoshop and be done with it. Everyone will come out looking like the Dove Lady.

That said, there are some lighting styles that will give you problems with some face types. I just like to try to find more interesting (and varied) solutions when practical.

Here is Gus, with beauty dish + ring lighting. It is similar to the AscendOne shots I blogged about a little while back, but without the rims. This lighting makes his face look pretty wide. And the effect would be enhanced if I added the rim lights.

Another thing you may be noticing is the reddish tones on Gus's face. This is (as far as I can tell) a byproduct of the combo of my D3, which tends toward warm/red, and my AB's -- which do the same, but in an inconsistent way.

Shooting in RAW, I still have not been able to tweak things to a tone I am happy with. But I am not exactly thrilled about it and I am doing some testing with other platforms to see how to best swap out to correct it. More on that soon.

Anyway, back to the lighting position. In the pic above I have a AB in a beauty dish top/front, and a ring (a couple of stops down) for fill. There is an SB-800 on the background, and another SB-800 up top in a scissor-clip for a top light.

And this light really does not do anything for me, to be honest. It's a headshot, but it really does not bring anything special to the party. But it is a start.

Lately, I am trying to approach each headshot as more of a unique experience. And that means working with the light as a variable to add interest or visual focus. And in this case I wanted to draw some interest to the center of Gus's face with some restricted light.

Normally, I'd head straight to the grid spots for this kind of thing. But I already had the strip boxes out from another shoot. And besides, they had egg crate -type grids on them anyway.

So I killed the dish and the ring and brought the strips in very close -- aimed at each other. They were right in front of his face. The falloff from each gridded strip light kept it from creeping around to the side of Gus's face, which created a neat focus in the front.

The lights, of course, fall off kinda gradually, which accounts for the fact that there is some detail going back around his head. You can vary this falloff from how you aim the lights. Point them more toward the camera for a faster falloff, and aim them further back for more light on the sides.

To me, this light has way more interest than does the beauty/ring light above. It's certainly not a pat response to a wide face, either -- nor is it ever to likely be one. But playing around with different solutions is what makes tight portraiture so interesting to me. For something that is very standard in general shape and scale, there are still lots of creative possibilities.

Here's a pullback so you can see just how tight those gridded strips were. His face is really just a few inches from the edges of the boxes, and that is the key to getting the control on the front of his face.

The SB up top is gobo'd with a strip of gaffer's tape, and the (unseen) background light (another SB) has a dome to make that little separating glow.

You can modify how fast the gradient occurs in the background with the dome (180-degree light) and varying the distance to the wall. In this case, it was about a foot away.

Size Matters

As I said, my strong preference is for the shot with the more interesting light. But when we saw it avatar-sized (~50 pixels) it kinda made Gus look like, um, The Devil.

See what I mean?

Having worked with Gus for the better part of 10 years, I am pretty sure he is not, in fact, the Dark Lord Mephistopheles. (Although, to be fair, I don't socialize with him that much at night.)

But for very small (i.e., avatar) usage, we both agreed it was better to go with the other pic. Interesting, as I think the more dramatic light kills the standard-lit stuff at any other size.

Valuing Experimentation

This was a collaborative shoot -- no money involved either way -- so there was plenty of room for trying new things. And next time out, I will have that extra lighting technique in my bag of tricks and will be comfortable using it.

And that's what makes those kinds of shoots both interesting and valuable. I get to experiment and Gus gets new photos for his various social media channels. It works for both of us.

For his part, Gus is in at an interesting intersection for a newspaper guy right now. He is working in traditional media, but his blog's subject matter means that he has strong visibility into both print and new media/tech.

Gus is a fairly young guy, and no doubt realizes that newspapers will not be a dominant information channel going forward. Fortunately, the people who work in newspapers are very well suited to transitioning to new media formats as individuals.

The printing presses, trucks, newspaper racks and dead trees -- not so much.

Next: Earth Treks Pt. 1


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Blogger John DM said...

"The printing presses, trucks, newspaper racks and dead trees -- not so much."

Hi David,
you might add publishers to that list

February 22, 2010 12:03 PM  
Blogger ckalback said...

Thanks for the info David! I'm a big fan of Paul C. Buff products, but I've heard very mixed reviews about their boxes, how do you like them vs. PhotoFlex stuff? Excellent site by the way too, thanks-

Chip Kalback (.com)

February 22, 2010 12:04 PM  
Blogger mj said...

The one with the striplights engaged is far better.

… But that shadow-thingy on bottom-top of the nose is turning me of.

February 22, 2010 12:41 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

I just picked up the AB-800's, and large softboxes... So far, awesome stuff... Paul makes some fantastic photo equip for very reasonably prices... we'll see how they stand the test of time.

February 22, 2010 2:36 PM  
Blogger Suman said...

Great LOve it.

February 22, 2010 4:12 PM  
Blogger Adrian Malloch said...

Nice post on a good lighting technique David.
In regard to your problems with colour balance between camera and lights: I recommend you use a raw camera profiler like Adobe's DNG profile maker or x-rite's ColorChecker Passport programme with the 24 patch Gretag Macbeth color checker. Both programmes are free and work with Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom. If you haven't used them before you'll be amazed at the improvement in all colours and tones through a decent profile. If a light source doesn't ever seem to colour balance properly, then making a profile with the above programmes simply fixes it for that light source and camera combo. I had all sorts of problems attempting to use some older bowens monolights. Profiling them and measuring the colour balance shift in Lightroom meant that I could use them without getting nasty colour surprises.When I had to mix them with other lights I could gel them to account for the WB difference and use them on the background seamless where I wasn't going to get a profile clash.
If you are fully aware of the beauty of these programmes then I apologise for my temerity!

February 22, 2010 4:30 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

@Adrian: While good profiles help to correct a lot of color problems in just about every aspect of what we do, I'm not sure it will totally solve his problem here.

The solutions you suggest assume that the conditions are remaining consistent from shot to shot with the camera/lighting combinations. David writes that part of problem is stemming from the fact that the Alienbees are not staying color consistent from one photograph to the next. As much as I love my Bees I've noticed similar problems with regards to consistent light color temperature.

Ben Kuhns

February 22, 2010 9:31 PM  
Blogger TheArtfulBurner said...

David these are the posts I love the most. To see your experiments and how they turn out and the thought process behind them is quite fascinating.

It also never ceases to amaze me how far I've come as a result of reading your blog and also how much I have to learn to see the light.

I agree that the restricted light shot is a much more interesting shot.

I like to make interesting shots with light, posing and composition. Quite often it happens that what looks exciting to me just isn't gotten by the client. And not because it isn't interesting as usually there are lots of other people that do get what I meant. It's just that many people are judging the results by a standard the shooter doesn't know about at the time of the shoot.

Case in point is an 83 year old friend of mine who I shot recently. I loved the results and his wife loved them too. But the man himself had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he is an old man of 83 and no longer looks like he did at 43!

February 22, 2010 10:00 PM  
Blogger Adrian Malloch said...

Re: Ben,
Shot to shot inconsistency is a real cause for concern. I've had WB differences with different power levels, especially with the Bowens monolights. That can easily be measured and accounted for but is still really annoying. Likewise, if you trip the shutter before the flash has completely recycled then you could be in trouble with exposure and WB.
But, shot to shot at the same power level must be rock solid for any brand of flash.

February 22, 2010 11:38 PM  
OpenID sFreund said...

For the to red skin tone, have you tried tweaking the hue in LR or ACR? At first glance I used to think camera processing and defaults in raw were maybe to saturated in the skin tones. That still might be true but I believe it is more of a hue change in Reds and Oranges sliders. Doesn't require much.

February 23, 2010 12:21 AM  
Blogger dominik.kruk said...

Hi David,
As I appreciate your approach to unique lighting I am a strong believer that one first has to know the rules to break them. Can you or anyone else point me to good source of information about “standard list of pat solutions for just about any variety of face”? I tried Sculpting with “Light: Techniques for Portrait Photographers” by Allison Earnest but maybe there is much better manual.


February 23, 2010 5:36 AM  
Blogger Wybe Pieter said...

Hi, I'm afraid I don't entirely agree with you on how the light shapes the face. What the face makes looking wider in the first shot is -I think- not so much the lighting but the pose. The head is slightly rotated away from the camera so you see more of the side. I must admit that the lighting in the second image makes the face look less wide but I also get the feeling that, by creating such a short fallof, you're cropping the face. I feel you lose a lot of detail this way. That's why I do like the lighting in the first shot better. Anyway, thanks for sharing! I love reading your blog.

February 23, 2010 9:26 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Hey David,

Fairly longtime reader here. First of all, I wanna say I appreciate everything you do for the readers for free. I realize you do not HAVE TO post anything. I do also realize what the blog has done for your business and your career in a positive way. Congratulations for that, assuming you see it the same way.

Anyway, my request is for a little more posting on the topic of subject interaction. Like you say, any monkey can put up lights, but that doesn't make a great photo. The more important part is the actual subject. What do you tell them? What do you talk about? What kind of direction do you give?

I know this is a lighting blog but you are clearly excellent in getting what you want from all types of human subjects and making people comfortable. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's interested in what you do to achieve this.

If you do, big thanks. If not, I'm still reading daily. Keep up the great work and thanks again.


February 23, 2010 1:18 PM  
Blogger Suman said...

can u send me sth in mail??

February 24, 2010 12:45 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...


Like the experiment. However, having two large gridded soft boxes that close to a persons head would make most any client uncomfortable. And, that's what he looks like....uncomfortable. That'd be "The Devil" since the cross. On your RAW color difficulties: Try Silkypix Pro 30 day eval for giggles and grins. I use it for Canon CR2 and the rendered colors are spot on. Discovered the converter when I use to shoot Pentax. The first time I shot with my AB 800's I noticed the same thing. Always shoot a gray card. I know you know that. Thanks David, I've been Strob'n for over two years now. Use that cross light room setup at a alot of family and church events.

Chuck Lee

February 25, 2010 12:06 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Heh Dave,
Don't post here regularly but me and my good mate Romain used this technique with two soft boxes on Wednesday and got some fab results.

Thx for the tip, it's genius !

February 26, 2010 10:58 AM  

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