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Annotated BTS: Dan Winters Shoots Jack Nicklaus

I remember seeing this Golf Digest cover in the grocery store two years ago. It jumped out at me from across the aisle as having Dan Winters' name written all over it.

The lighting, the moment, the quietness—the unmistakeable look of his Winters' 4x5, shot on film—a portrait of a master, by a master.

Now, two years later, the Golf Digest BTS pops up on Vimeo. And as it is our policy to pre-empt regular programming whenever an good Annie/Greg/Dan BTS surfaces, the fully annotated video follows below.

Time-Coded Annotations

It's only a minute twenty two, but there is always good info if you look:

[0:03] So here's Dan's usual 4x5 … Wait, what? A 35mm? And... a Canon? I'm feeling a little woozy… (* See note below.)

[0:06] And Jack arrives in shorts for the shoot. I'm liking this guy already.

[0:10] Here's your studio for the day. Windows everywhere, a low ceiling and a giant support column. So he is creating this portrait is an office environment, and a less-that-ideal one at that.

[0:15] Christian Iooss is the DoP at Golf Digest. That last name should ring a bell for any sports photographers...

[0:18] The table is built on sawhorses. Also, note Winters is killing the window light with a big flag on the left.

[0:20] Here are his photos, popping up right out of camera as he shoots tethered. Winters has long shot 4x5 on film for his portraits, so of course he gets it pretty freaking close in-camera.

[0:22] Nice big octa behind the camera, on-axis. Not totally surprised here. That big fill light has a painterly look as compared to bare ring.

[0:27] That flag/gobo on the right is there to cut the key from hitting the camera-right side of Nicklaus. Think of it as creating a shaft of light that Nicklaus is emerging into. Just the Nicklaus' face and the front of his body catch the key.

[0:30] Winters is directing Nicklaus to open his hand up when resting his face on it. Nicklaus responds that he usually rests his face on his hand differently. Winters smoothly rolls with what Nicklaus is giving him, just letting the pose develop naturally. This kind of rapport and easy approach, IMO, is even more important than light.

[0:40] Second big surprise of the BTS: An on-axis octa and a bare ring flash? (** See note below.)

[0:48] Still going with what Nicklaus is giving him, now coaxing a nice moment out of a formal, lit portrait. This sequence would end up yielding the cover image.

[0:56] So there's his backdrop. Notice it has physical as well as tonal texture. And while unseen in this BTS, it is definitely getting its own background light.

[0:58] Chistian Iooss: "Dan is really a master at lighting his subjects." Um, yeah.

[1:00 - 1:14] Blah, blah, blah, golf, yada, yada…

[1:22] Again, that's straight out of the camera. Would you be okay with that? I would.

Notes From the Above, From Dan Winters

[*] On shooting digital after having long been a 4x5 & film guys for portraits:

"It feels the same to me to shoot film or digital. I shoot both regularly depending on what it is I'm working on. I love using both of the technologies."

[**] On the use of octa and ring fill combo:

"I used the octabank on axis as a way to build up my base stop. It's a great way to get a good adirectional source to open things up before going about working out the rest of the lighting. Like anything the situation will often times dictate the approach," Winters said.

On adding a bare ring on top of that, he adds, "I like the specular highlight in the eyes that you get from a small source. I'm not crazy about the light quality of the ring light as a sole fill source. It has its place for sure but if I can avoid using it for fill I will."

More Resources

Full-frame (better, IMO) version, absent the magazine's crop: here

Related post: Golf Digest BTS Annika Sorenstam Shoot

Hat tip to ISO1200 for catching the video.


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