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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.
Douglas Kirkland: So what we are doing here is quite a different look than we have done with the soft boxes a few minutes ago. We have one soft box here on the bottom acting as a fill light, but fundamentally, we have this one sort of lighting, I'll call it coming-from-heaven-up-above lighting, which will become Owen's profile. One and a half there, and I want this much weaker. Douglas: Now, would you weaken this? Have you weakened this to a maximum? Miranda: Are they split? (inaudible speech) Douglas: Okay, then the next thing we will do is walk away with this. It's that simple.
You have all of these controls. Actually, as strange as it may seem, our key is really right there. It's 11 1/2 there, in the shadow here. Now, it's more like it, it's 8.3. That's what I want, a full stop less there. And now let's see what we have here in the background. It's going to be pretty bright. It is bright. It's 16.3, which will be just fine. Okay, I think we are ready for--first let's bring our subject in. Okay, this is, I like what you are doing very much, very much, yes.
Okay, now pull your glasses off and just keep them in your hand there. Yeah, that's great. That's nice, nice. I love what you are doing. You can even look down there, like you just did there. Owen Roizman: Do you have this in the shot? Douglas: Yeah, it is okay. It's fine. It's fine. It's okay, nothing is wrong. Okay, nice, wonderful. There is the Polaroid. I want you to see what we were doing. Douglas: It's a different look. Owen: Yeah. Mmhm. Douglas: It is going to be quite nice. Owen: Yeah, it is nice. It's a very different type of lighting. This key light up here gives us this back-light look, and of course, Owen sat down in an absolutely perfect way, and I love it. Guys, can you give me one grid wider on the background please, one click wider? I want to make this background spotlight bigger, which we can do.
But I love the way you are seated there, so it's a very elegant, very special look. I hope you are not uncomfortable without your glasses. I mean you can wear glasses too. Let's do a few both ways. Owen: Most of the time the only time I put them on when I am in front of a camera is just to hide the bags a little more, but I know you've got that well taken care of. Douglas: Great, nice! Look up a little higher Owen. Yes, yes, even higher. Yeah, yeah, even up on the wall, yes, yes, nice, nice, nice, yeah, yeah. Now you can look a little happier for me, yes, yes, nice, nice.
Now bring your glasses over and put them on actually, if you don't mind, since you--God! You look like you could be President of this company in a minute. Okay, now pull your glasses off and just hold them near your face, if you don't mind, and yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, a little happier, drop them a little there in front of your face, yes, yes, yes, nice, nice, nice, nice. I am going wide to the wide shot again. I am using that zoom lens, and I am going to see Owen's hand, even on the table.
I love it, so I am getting two pictures out of one, basically. Now I see on my left I am just running out of background, and I am electing to cut it as close as I can because I know either I can also fix it in the Photoshop if I have to. Okay, now let's put a Polaroid in right now. I want everybody to see what we're-- if you don't mind, stay there for just a second, Owen, please. I want to do a Polaroid immediately, so everybody can share what we've done and immediately see it. I wouldn't necessarily do that again if I had a nervous young man or lady there, but with you--yes, yes, yes, yes. Okay, great, 30 seconds please.
Okay, Owen there you are in the Polaroids. I am cropping this as it will be cropped, but I think it looks pretty cool. And then I get in, I zoomed in, again just to your head and shoulders, but these are the early ones, because I wanted to check the overall light. And this is, I mentioned that there was something on the edge. Douglas: When it's cropped vertically, you won't see that. Owen: Right. Douglas: But that's where we began. You know, the interesting thing is I've been doing this for 20 years--here, take that one home, Douglas: it isn't folded, if you like to. Owen: Thank you! Douglas: What's your impression of this overall campaign that Kodak has conducted? Owen: Yeah, I think it was wonderful! I mean especially in the light of the fact that we like to all see film stay in vogue.
It was such a great medium. It is such a great medium still, and you made it so comfortable for everybody. I wanted to ask you a question. Were you ever intimidated by the fact that you are photographing people like cinematographers, like us, who really know what you are doing? Douglas: Truly no. You know what I do if I feel a moment of intimidation? I think to myself, my gosh! I handled Dietrich when she was kind of wild, and I was certainly nervous as a very young man in 1961 when I photographed Marilyn Monroe. And then I've gone all over the world, and if I can manage those days, I can certainly get through today.
And so I do talk to myself that way in my head. Now what do you think? You've been on both ends of it, as cinematographer as well as stills. Do you have any philosophies like that? Owen: Well, I mean the main thing I am going for is I want to get the personalities. I want to get into their souls. To me, the way you do that is through the eyes. The eyes are the most important thing. So I always try to light in--when I am lighting, I try to have in mind how the eyes are going to look. Douglas: It's interesting! I was watching your eyes.
That's why I kept moving this light and everything, because I wanted to see the Douglas: sparkle in both eyes, not just in one, and I did. Owen: Right. Owen: Then of course, I think okay, what's going to be the best light for this face? Because every face is different, as you know. And so I start with the eyes, then I think about the face and the personality, and what kind of expression is going to bring out that personality that I know? If it's somebody whose personality I am not sure of, I'll start to play around with them and ask them to do silly things and things like that, to see how their expressions look.
Douglas: Did you find some of your subjects are nervous and stiff? Owen: Most of them are. It's amazing that cinematographers get in front of a camera and they don't know what to do. They are stiff, and it's a matter of loosening them up. Douglas: You've got a harder job than I have Owen. You really do. Douglas: You have head, and anyway-- Owen: It's all relative. Douglas: Anyway, it's On photography. We love it, and the On Film series that I've worked with Kodak on, and with friends such as Owen, has been very gratifying for me.
Anyway, so we want to make the most of the opportunities we have, and I want to say one other thing. You make the images. Just lighting Owen today, I feel really energized. I mean, the soft boxes were great, and that's a wonderful look. But again, there is a different type creativity in what we've just used. You have such possibilities. Use them, make the most of it, and keep enjoying photography.
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