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HCAC: Soprano Rebecca Hargrove

It's May. Which always means two things for me: dealing with heavy allergies and beginning my next batch of portraits for the Howard County Arts Council.

The drudgery of allergies is offset by the pure pleasure that is getting to work with a group of insanely talented young people. Doing the portraiture for the Rising Stars program is one of my favorite projects of the year.

One of the first this year was soprano Rebecca Hargrove, who we photographed in the venerable Garaj Mahal Studios…


I love shooting sopranos. They are obviously talented, but also contain a (very necessary) component of diva. Simply put, you just can't pull this music off without a little extra measure of confidence.

So my job is to find an interesting—and local—location in which to shoot them. I have worked in the woods and in the middle of a field in the past. Both at night, mind you, which at least gives you an ambient level that you can easily control for adding flash.

I have even worked in the shower—with it running. Which, suffice to say, was the best concert I have ever attended. Certainly with respect to audio acoustics. (You think you sound good singing the shower? You don't.)

For each we try to do a head shot (or several) and a more conceptual location shoot. Rebecca's concept shoot is later this month. And she already had a good standard "head shot on white" if you will. So for her head shots we tried to produce a series of different looks and show a little range.

It's very appropriate, actually, as for her opera is always a possibility. Opera is just as theatrical as a play. You just have to sing your lines, which obviously amps the degree of difficulty a bit.

It helps that Rebecca is gorgeous. As McNally says, you could shine a car headlight at her and she'd look great. With her caramel skin, she could pass for being from any of a number of places. So in addition to photographing her in a cocktail dress and an evening gown, we also did a few with her covered in a semi-transparent black scarf.

Of the four looks we did, this turned out to be my favorite. It has a Scheherazade from Thousand and One Nights kind of vibe to it, which belies the actual environment in which it is shot:

The Garaj Mahal Studios (always pluralize studios—it's classier that way!) are about half as Mahal-ish, given that the garage is presently full of construction supplies as we remodel two bathrooms.

The bad news: space is cut by at least half. The good news: I used the box for one of the new cabinets as a fill card. MacGuyver for the win.

But that fill card was for another frame. Above is the setup for the photo at top. In it, you can see I am using two of my four favorite light mods: a 60" Photek, deployed like a ceiling of light, and a gridded white dish. The third mod is, um, my garage floor.

Given how Rebecca's skin is glowing, maybe I should bottle that floor up somehow. But that bottom glow is what gives her face it's luminance. The gridded dish is very subtle, just defining the black scarf and keeping it from transitioning into full shadow.

The background is, to me, a very important component to the photo. It completely changes the location of the photo as compared to a piece of seamless paper. It's there but it's very nondescript creates a vague location without being limiting. Kind of exotic without being specific.

It's a piece of fabric I picked up at the local JoAnne's that I really love. But it was a little too specific for this shoot. (It had an India vibe.) so I turned it over and used the back. Bingo.

Light sources were all Einsteins, as I was shooting at ISO 100 for the photos in this set that were shot on the PhaseOne.

The white paper you see in the back of the BTS frame was not used for this shot. It, however, was used for two of the looks, but not as pure white paper.

Here's one of the other frames, using the white seamless and both of the same light mods (Photek and grid/dish, not garage floor). But we swapped the Photek out as a key and instead used the gridded dish this time. That did several things.

One, it defined Rebecca's cheekbones a little better as compared to the giant Photek. You can really see a difference in the shape of her face, which tells you a lot about how those different soft sources act.

The fill in this case was the Photek 60", placed right on the ground and allowed to fire up at a slight angle towards Rebecca. So that's the only thing lighting the "white" background paper, too. Which is why it is not really white. Remember, the key is gridded so you are getting no BG help there. And the fill is a stop and a half or so down, so the paper is not going to be white any more.

It's also coming from below, so there is a wrap shadow being projected onto the background that is not unlike a ring light, only way softer.

First time I have used it that way, but won't be the last. I love how that soft glow wraps and fills. Which is the whole point of having an ongoing project where the freedom to experiment is baked in.

Next: Concert Pianists


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