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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.
I feel the shoot with Owen went really well. He is a great subject, and I want to really just show you some of the things that we did, and go through the process. We shot with a Polaroid to begin with, because that's the only way you can really see what you are getting with a film camera. Let can't look in the back of the camera. It's not there. So we do Polaroids like this, and when we do Polaroids, we look at a number of things--first the lighting. Here I'm using two soft boxes. There is one, the key soft box, that's really just above the lens, and that's the overall light. And then there is another one that's very weak down below, and you can just see a little twinkle in his eye from that one. But in the background, about two or three yards back, we have a spotlight on the background, just to give this slightly bright glow and darken the edges slightly.
But there is one remaining element that I want to talk about because I felt it very much as I was looking through the camera, and I had to make choices. Right here you'll see a shine on his glasses. Now 20 or 30 years ago, before we had Photoshop, like we have it today, or maybe a little more than that, I would've had to make a choice: can I accept that or would I try it and get him to wiggle the glasses around or take the glasses off? I wanted to keep the shoot going smoothly because I knew that later with Photoshop, I can remove that shine on his glasses.
So that's an elected choice, and it keeps the continuity going. So that was what I got on a Polaroid. So there is the lighting, and then we had the film processed, and we made what we call--or had the lab make at least--what they call a contact sheet. What is a contact sheet? Basically it's when they lay all the negatives on photographic paper, put it in a printer, and make a group shot like this of all the pictures you took. And you get these back and you have a loop, or magnifying glass, and you look at them carefully.
I like these very much, and my choices were these three. And the interesting thing, I like the tightness of these, but some are them, when I was looking through the loop, I saw that there was slightly more warmth coming in that picture here, so that was my choice. It wasn't quite as close an image as I would've liked that I had in some of the others that I'd shot. Those didn't have quite the same feel. But again since it was medium format, I knew I could safely crop in without a problem, and that's exactly what I did.
And this is our scan here, and now we've digitized it. We are into the digital world, and this is where we can do our tweaks and refinements. So the first thing I knew I needed to do was fix this little shine in the glasses because that gave me this wonderful image. Now what I wanted to do is lighten all these lines, not take them away, but keep it real. Just make them, diminish them and make them more gentle, because we don't want people to look like an egg. We want them to look real, but we don't-- The interesting thing is the human eye tends to see fewer wrinkles than the camera, so that's where we delicately use retouching to soften them.
At this point, the most major change I thought I should make was to add vignetting because it directs the eye in the center. That is the final refinement, or elevation, of an image. This gives it a very special professional artistic feeling. It gives me this solid black down here, and you see that little shine is removed from the watch. This is the final image. I am giving Owen a print that he'll probably have on his coffee table for, or piano, for many years, because I know he'll like it. This is my favorite image, but let's look at what it looked like in the ad.
It looks really cool because we've got the shape, we have the space here to put his signature in, and there is the ad. That's what I care about, and this is the wonderful thing. I'm so delighted to be a work with medium format and make pictures like this of Owen.
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