On Assignment: Newspaper Man

Sometimes I miss working at a newspaper.

And when I say "I miss," I mean that I miss it in the rose-colored glasses sense. Because some of the most fun I have had in the last 20+ years has been while shooting for small, community newspapers. So a few months ago I started stringing for a local business monthly as a way to keep touch with what I used to enjoy so much.

It was in that capacity that I was assigned to shoot a full-page portrait of Stan "The Fan" Charles, pictured above. Stan was to be the cover for the Maryland Entrepreneur Quarterly section. Which is pretty impressive, considering his entrepreneur chops are being earned running a successful newspaper in 2010.

During a time when most papers' circulation charts look like black diamond ski slopes, Stan is going great guns at Press Box Magazine. (They call it a magazine, but it is really a tabloid-format newspaper.)

Press Box succeeds by serving a strong niche better than anyone else. Their motto is "Baltimore Sports. Period." And any guy who is succeeding in newspapers is by default a hero of mine. So many papers -- and so many former colleagues -- are taking it on the chin these days, it is great to see a newspaper guy killing it.

Stan is a character with a long and rich history familiar to any true Baltimore sports fan. And I wanted to give him a kind of superhero look, with a palette normally reserved for a comic book.

Believe it or not, the fedora -- complete with a "Press Box" card in the band -- was on the shelf. I could not make this stuff up. It took me about 5 seconds to convince Stan to don the hat, and we were good to go.

But the wide-brimmed hat starts to restrict your lighting style options pretty quickly. So I decided to use what is normally a ring fill at almost a full exposure -- maybe one stop down. (I used an SB-800 in an Orbis.) That gives me detail everywhere under the hat no matter what. And the ring goes darker as it wraps around the edges, for a cool look. The catchlight dead center on the eyes is a nice bonus.

The key is a bare, gridded SB-800 with a 1/4 CTO -- a very hard light source at only about two square inches of surface area. It is coming from hard camera right. You can see the super-hard nose shadow very clearly. But the ring (at only one stop down) carries lots of detail in the shadows, which somehow makes it okay. And it is aimed out in front of Stan's face a little bit, so the grid kills the beam on the back camera right part of Stan's head.

I love the hard key / ring fill combo. You can light for character and still retain plenty of legibility. Umbrellas are safe light sources in part because they tend to mold peoples' faces more towards the mean. Safe, but sacrificing personality, shape and character.

People look different, and I want to celebrate those differences more than try to minimize them. I mean, take a good look at this guy's face. It's got some character. Would you get into a poker game with him? I wouldn't.

The way I use umbrellas has changed drastically since the Lighting 101 days in 2006, and I am planning on going back and updating that post and several others.

Back to Stan, the separation light is a 3rd SB-800 with a grid being raked at a hard angle across that wall from back camera left. The color scheme was just pulled from his shirt and the surroundings.

To finish off the comic book/hero look, I used high pass filtration and cranked it up way past where I normally go. Somewhere around 85% opacity, if I remember correctly. Plus, it was going full page in the paper, so I wanted it to pop even after the newspaper repro process tried to kill it.

Rose-Colored Glasses

It was shot to spec for the full page layout (an inside section front in a multi-section tab) with space left on the side for refer text and room for a boxed headline at bottom.

When the paper came out, they promo'd it in the ear (upper right box) off of the front page, and I started flipping through the issue to see it big. When I found it, it was in black and white and not much bigger than a business card. The issue didn't did't have the space -- the full-page layout was killed.

Then I remembered why I like shooting for the web better than papers. I can run my photos any damn size I want and good repro is a piece of cake.

Next: David Tejada


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Blogger Bob Walters said...

In reference to your proposed update on umbrella use, please don't simply re-write the information; i.e don't revise history. I would like to see the original stuff left essentially intact with a vector to the "way I do it now" write-up so that we can see the evolution of your style.

October 10, 2010 11:17 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I just learned this week how high-pass filters work (as in, how to write the code for them). It's cool and involves Fourier transforms.

October 11, 2010 12:02 AM  
Blogger Reed said...

I feel your pain regarding the size your work was eventually repro'ed in print - Unfortunately the web sometimes ain't much better.

I have web publishers who still think space is limited online and continue to run small images almost as an aside to the story instead of letting them help tell it.

Sometimes you can't win...

October 11, 2010 12:07 AM  
Blogger Bernhard A S said...

I really like the shot, the nose shadow is a bold choice butone gets used to it.

I tend to prefer at the moment high pass with very low radius like 5 to 10 and apply it 100%for a smore subtle effect.

On a side note: I think poker games are boooring if your pals do not like like Sam.

October 11, 2010 1:47 AM  
Blogger John K said...

+1 on Bob's comment about leaving Lighting 101 untouched.

October 11, 2010 1:58 AM  
Blogger TV said...

I agree with Bob, don't scrap the old 101 section because it is still valid to obtain a certain look. But please do update it with your evolving techniques.

October 11, 2010 2:20 AM  
Blogger Imran Ali Dina said...

Yes I agree with "Bob Walters". I would also love to see the evolution of your experiences. I also think that "way I do it now" write-up would be more helpful for us.

October 11, 2010 2:24 AM  
Blogger dls said...

I agree with Bob. Don't touch the original article. You got it right the first time. Newbies have a hard enough time getting it right as it is. Your umbrella post gives them/us the techniques to get it right, safely and easily.
Linking a new post to the original would be a better idea. Adding it to lighting 102 would be an even better idea.

October 11, 2010 2:35 AM  
Blogger Adam Hourigan Photography said...

I get the concept, and the intent I think is good - but I think it's a little lax technically. Whatever that black gaping hole is at the back - it's drawing my eye totally away from him - especially as the back light is tending to become blown right next to it. I'd almost be inclined to crop it out.

That being said - the highlight across his face just seems - messy. I get you want it to be hard - but even hard light needs to be nice. Its shape doesn't suit where the rest of the light seems to be coming from.

I like the character in the shot - but I'm distracted by all the lights - and it just doesn't work for me.

October 11, 2010 5:45 AM  
Blogger Eric Duminil said...

Looking forward to reading your updated version of umbrella 101.

I suppose you'd use it as a ring light, with you and your camera between umbrella and subject?

October 11, 2010 7:29 AM  
Blogger Alex Gowers said...

nice shot. I just want to suggest perhaps adopting bigger pictures and a wider blog layout?

I know you have a layout that was fine when you first started the blog but now most people have a 720p monitor some twice the resolution of HD. I for one would like the blog to fill the screen more, I like many hate scrolling down and seeing images that are so so small like this.

Give it a thought and keep up the good wrk.

October 11, 2010 8:25 AM  
Blogger Heipel said...

Alex G, click on the photo which will take you to flickr where you can again click on the photo and choose the large size...

David, you nailed what you were after -- before I read the blog my first reaction upon seeing the shot was to hear in my head crusty editor J. Jonah Jameson screaming "Parker! Where's Parker!" (And I do mean the early 60s comic version, not the movie version).

Nice job and nice tutorial, as usual.


October 11, 2010 1:02 PM  
OpenID kaeframes said...

This is perfect! Great work, David!

October 11, 2010 1:25 PM  
Blogger RocketRick said...

I agree with Bob and the others, and I'll go one further: post the update as the first installment in "Lighting 103".

It's time to get school back in session!


October 11, 2010 3:39 PM  
Blogger 60/40 said...

Lighting 103? Can't wait to start reading over and over and over again. You are such a good teacher, keep sharing all the wonderful knowledge you have.

October 11, 2010 6:11 PM  
Blogger DAvid said...

Like other posters I like the idea but the highlight is distracting.

October 11, 2010 10:09 PM  
Blogger Kevin Housen said...

I really like the lighting in this image. I don't find the "black hole" distracting. In fact, w/o it the background would have been too nice for the hard lighting effect David was going for.

Another vote to preserve the L101 section as is. Very useful to see the contrasting styles.

October 11, 2010 10:23 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Actually I think lighting 101 could do with a rewrite. It begins with an instance that speedlights should have PC sockets for starters. PC sockets are horrible, unreliable bits of technology IMHO.

There is now a new breed of cheap, reliable triggers that have built in hotshoes. These were not available when 101 was written. The Yongnuo RF602 is the current hero, and there are other contenders like the Cactus V4 and several options from Pixel. Any of these is much nicer to use than any cobbled together cable based system.

Even Pocketwizard now have some models with hotshoes.

Same applies to the info on umbrellas etc, the current link advising using shoot thru instead of reflective is clunky.

Strobist 101 is a great resource, and should remain available online for those that are interested, but its time for Strobist 101a to replace it...

October 12, 2010 1:24 AM  
Blogger MG said...

Good timing you mention this about PC sockets. I just re-thunk one of my flash setups. And it involves PC sockets. I can mount my SB-600 on my D700 and take the camera's pc out to my cactus trigger. Now I get the benefit of the infrared focus beam, and the radio trigger gets fired- and it would work in TTL or manual (the external flash of course being manual). If the flash was one of my SB-800s, I could choose to take the pc out from the flash instead.
Yes you are correct that it is old tech, but it's better to have it than nothing. And you might have noticed Señor Hobby's tirade against the new SB700 flash without ANY plug whatsoever.
That can give you a hint on how he might answer.
Guy Moscoso

October 12, 2010 1:31 PM  
Blogger Dominik said...

I can't wait to read the 101 update on the usage of umbrellas!!!

October 12, 2010 4:12 PM  
Blogger Addison Geary Photography said...

I like the black line. It takes the brick wall cliche up a notch. It is a nice rectangular graphic element.Its a leading line from where our eye enters the frame (upper left,how we are conditioned to read) to the subject. It puts visual weight to the left of the subject allowing David to compose his subject slightly to the right. My eye is drawn to highlights (subjects face) Dark elements recede.

October 13, 2010 10:34 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

@MG - sure, PC sockets have their uses, for unusual setups like the one you are describing. However it could be more reliably set up with a TTL extension cable with pass through connector at the camera end...

If there is a choice I will always use hotshoe mounted devices if possible as they are so much more reliable. The idea of connecting a reliable Pocketwizard via an unreliable PC cable always sounded wrong to me. The newer Pocketwizards have hotshoes, a much better idea IMHO.

David has the right idea about these connectors, but this is not reflected in Strobist 101. If you use cables 3.5mm sockets are far superior. These are one standard size and have a mechanism to stop the cable falling out of the socket. This is the opposite of PC cables - there are at least 2 incompatible sizes of PC connectors and no locking mechanism, a recipe for unreliability. However I don't see any signs of camera manufacturers fitting them to SLR or flash bodies...

October 18, 2010 3:22 AM  
Blogger Dashney said...

Hopefully it's still up on his site. After seeing the "technical" skewering you received at the hands of Adam Hourigan Photography, I took a peek at his blog so witness his obvious technical perfection in every way. I didn't have to go far to find what I was looking for. (umbrella shot). There might be some similarities to some words he had for you.

October 18, 2010 5:25 PM  
Blogger David said...


I used to backtrack and check out the work of the people who leave those "I am bothered by the ... blah blah blah" type of comments. Almost invariably, it was a waste of time.

I don't bother any more.

October 18, 2010 7:42 PM  

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