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In the Douglas Kirkland on Photography series, well-known photographer Douglas Kirkland explores a variety of real-world photographic scenarios, sharing technique insights and critiquing the results.
This installment follows Douglas as he creates a portrait for Kodak's On Film series, which features portraits of directors, cinematographers, and other major players in the film industry. Douglas has shot nearly 250 portraits for this series over the past 20 years.
The course begins with a discussion of the unique qualities of film—its clarity, definition, and tonal range—and of film's enduring importance in today's digital world. Next, Douglas tours the Mamiya RZ67 medium-format camera, demonstrating its components and comparing its format to 35mm film. He then demonstrates a variety of lighting, posing, and styling techniques while photographing Owen Roizman, an award-winning cinematographer, in the Kirkland studio in Los Angeles, California.
The course concludes with a critique of the resulting photographs. Douglas also shows how he resized and cropped the image to fit a print advertisement.
Another of the looks I created with Owen was what I call a classic profile look, done with direct light. Here's one of our Polaroids, and I did this first with his glasses off, and there's just a very kind look on his face. I love this man, and that's the kind of a guy he is, but that's what we want to get. So here's another version, for example. But ultimately, I decided it was probably better without the glasses on. But I tried them both ways, so here it is, and the Polaroid is our last look before we take pictures. Unlike the digital camera, there is nothing looking in the back. So let's go and look at what the contact sheet looked like when it came through.
But at a certain point I thought, "Let's try his glasses on, because maybe it looks more natural with his glasses," and I looked with a loop, or magnifying glass, and ultimately, I look carefully obviously and always focus and everything, and I selected this one. And what I loved about it was there is a warmth and a naturalness about his face. And when I was shooting I remember vividly bringing this back spotlight in so it just got the light into his eyes. There is a sense of twinkle, and that's-- you know, often when you're at the camera, you can sense just one little millimeter one way or number makes a difference, and that's what I felt in the camera. And that's also what I felt this image brought is that warmth that this man really has.
So from this point, we did a scan on it, we used an Imacon scanner. And this is basically image, but I want to share with you is now something special, as a photographer, photogrative photographer, that I looked at Owen, whom I have a great affection for, and as I have mentioned also, I always want everybody to look as good as possible. So I want to mention a couple of things that I did, why I did them, and you know another thing is I will never normally tell anybody that I've done these things. So I look critically with a critical eye, as I do through the camera often, and I saw that Owen's ear there looked a little big.
Now when I was shooting it maybe I would have, could have put that in a little more shadow or something. I can still do it here. And the another thing I had to think about was, will it fit the format, because the image space that I have available is comparatively narrow, but more importantly than anything, anybody who is over 40, which I am kind of over 40, little of this happens. So the ear is made small. Now again, I don't talk about these things; I just do them. If somebody says to me, "Did you do any work with my picture?" I always deny it.
I say, "No, no, no. That's just you, you're wonderful," because truthfully they don't want to see the unretouched version. Don't show it to them. I had to bring his hand in, again, to fit the format, and again you get this wonderful warmth again that you can get with film. You can't quite match that any other way. And then it goes on to the final image. I feel it all works. I unfortunately had to cut off the fingers a little to fit into this shape, and that's one of the things we as professionals really realize when you are working sometimes for publications, and certainly advertising: you do have to conform to a specific format, and we've done, we added some black to the bottom so we could expand it. And then of course I always get a signature to put in, and I was able to put that in quite easily after the fact. And I feel this works.
This is my friend Owen, and this picture, this ad will be seen worldwide and I feel it's successful. It's the look of the direct light on Owen, and it's a really a profile. And again, I just watch the light come into his eyes, and I feel that, for me, is the success of this image. I love working with the medium format camera on an image like this, a great picture like this, and it really always works. That's the beauty of film and the medium format.
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