Friday, January 6, 2012

"Je ne regrette"

Some photo shoots require a tremendous amount of planning, plus hours (sometimes days) to execute. One recent fashion editorial I shot was the result of weeks of prep work with the wardrobe stylist, makeup and hair. I had a detailed, descriptive shot sheet with a dozen different setups, two locations, a vintage revolver and an even more vintage typewriter, as well as two models with several outfit changes apiece. This was a relatively simple shoot, and it still took ten hours.

In other cases, you just show up and see what happens. One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I got a text from an actress friend (Teri) about getting coffee after a shoot where she had been made up and dressed 1940s-style. When I saw how she looked I said, "This is too good to waste, let's go do something before the sun sets." She agreed, I grabbed my camera and we headed downtown.

By the time we got to our location, we had about 15 minutes of good light left. There was no time to experiment, but I already knew how I wanted to shoot this: long lens with a wide aperture to compress the background, slow shutter speed to portray a sense of movement. I put Teri where I wanted her in the light and instructed her to move in different ways. I had her turn her head side to side repeatedly, she fixed her hat, she put on lace gloves. I tried some shots with a faster shutter speed as well as some in another spot at the same location, but by that point I knew we already had the keeper, even if I hadn't picked the exact shot just yet.

When I got home and surveyed what we shot (about 75 images) I settled on five that I liked, but I kept coming back to this one because of the feeling it evoked combined with the quality of the blurred motion (more on this in a bit). It still wasn't quite right, however. The full frame shot (below), though effective, wasn't as strong as I believed the image could be, so I played around with some different crops to make it more intimate while still retaining a sense of location.

Now, back to that blur. To achieve the specific effect I was after -- preserve detail while rendering motion -- I knew I had to shoot handheld at under 1/100 of a second. I started down at 1/50, which was useful when Teri was standing still, but once she started moving, that (and even 1/60) allowed for too much blur. Ultimately, 1/80 hit the right balance: we see her face clearly enough so her features are soft but still reasonably distinct, while her hair and the flowers on her hat have a painted, impressionistic quality.

technical info:
camera: Canon 5DmkII
lens: 70-200 (at 200mm)
aperture: f4
iso: 1600
shutter speed: 1/80 sec.