The Male Portrait:
Men Are Easy – Part II
By Gary Bernstein
Last year for Father’s Day I wrote a column called “Men Are Easy.” What follows is some of the text from that article, but I’ve added some different photographs. Make no mistake, guys…this column is liable to be stolen and printed by your women (because of their interest in photography no doubt). As my youngest daughter would say, “Wow, Dad…those guys sure are easy on the eyes!” and they truly are some of the classic male faces I’ve photographed through the years each captured a little differently…
About the title...
It sounds like reverse sexism. But it’s really a reference to lighting, posing, camera angles and attitude. Here is the reality: While men are every bit as egotistical, insecure, and absolutely as concerned about how they look on film (or digital) as the female of the species—and maybe more so—they are also significantly easier to photograph.
So the photography phrase of the day is “double standard”—based on the pictorial and physical differences between men and women. The idea of feminine beauty—particularly photographic beauty—is imprinted on our minds every day on television, in print and in the movies. Face it—we live in a world that sees a new Victoria's Secret catalog mystically appearing at our door every half hour (or so it seems)! It becomes increasingly difficult for women to "keep up" with the standard that is being set out there. And photographically, capturing beauty in our ladies—I refer not to the "real" inward beauty—but the surface beauty that is the basis for photography (to a great extent), requires a lot of know-how on the part of the photographer. We've talked about some of those things in past columns.
On the flip side—the counter to the pristine perfect female—is the rough, character-driven image of today’s male. Again, this rugged, sometimes elegant yet realistic look—now often showing a “goat” or beard stubble, weathered skin, lines, wrinkles and razor burn—is simply considered to be “character.” It is the double standard projected by Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the magazines and the public at large.
So when it comes to photography — believe me — guys are easy. With photographs of men, you can use overt camera angles, harsh, contrasty lighting — you name it. The choices are limitless when it comes to selection of lenses and lighting balances when shooting guys. There are no rules when photographing men. Does that mean you can’t mess up? Sure you can mess up—and your subject will let you know about it in no uncertain terms (remember the ego I spoke of). It just means that you have a harder time messing up photographs with men, and that your photographic options are more extensive.
Let’s look at the similarities and differences in the here:
Photo 1 of Steve Runnals was made with an electronic flash (in an umbrella) in a studio against a white background. Because the light and the subject are equally far from the background, the white turns to a medium gray (meaning it falls off about 2 stops). Notice that the extreme side-lighting, and it’s height, gets light into only one eye. You can do that with men…The image (in fact all these images) was made on a Nikon (www.nikonusa.com). I used Kodachrome (that’s called “film” J) for Photos 1,2,3,4 and 6 (www.kodak.com).
Photo 2 of Uva Harden was made in Malibu late afternoon on Kodak High Speed Ektachrome film creating a bit of grain. Lighting was simple…only the sun striking Uva directly from the side, but with men…you can get away with this kind of extreme lighting. Compare this use of sunlight with the last photograph made of Kay. The shot of Uva was taken with a 300mm lens compressing the space and throwing the background out of focus. I shot it on a tripod. My current tripod? A Sunpak (www.tocad.com).
Photo 3 of Dennis LaMarsh was made with an extremely low light placed to camera right. It was a small strobe accounting for the high contrast in the image and dark shadow on the background. Because Dennis was so close to the white background, the background records an accurate white tone. My theory on background shadows: A slight shadow looks like a mistake. A hard, distinct shadow becomes part of the composition. For each of these photographs (except the shot of Uva in Photo 2) I used a lens that was about twice the length of a “normal” lens meaning a short telephoto. I’ve found that short teles give the best perspective for rendering facial features accurately while compressing the length of the nose slightly; and it provides a good working distance between you and subject.
Photo 4 of Matt Collins is another example of using two small spotlights for a dramatic effect. The mainlight is coming low from camera left, creating that weird shadow (that looks so good) on the side of his face. The other light was placed behind Matt, to edge his hair.
I made Photo 5 of young leading man Charles Agron last week. The image was made digitally on a Nikon D-50 and recorded on a Lexar SD card (www.lexar.com). The photo was made with Charles standing under a porch and I kicked in a small hot light from camera left in a 25-inch shoot-thru umbrella. The highlight on his hair is from the sun behind hind him; and a small reflector was used under Charles’ chin to pop some extra light into his eyes (www.chimeralighting.com). More on the Charles Agron shoot next month.
I am putting together a number of traveling shows, one of which will be on the greatest men’s faces I’ve photographed. The images will all be 19 inches prints, and I am currently in the process of printing them on an HP Photosmart 8750 printer. For any of you wanting to create gallery quality prints, this unit is awesome—especially for under $500 (www.hp.com).
Now as for me…
Here’s a Father’s Day “look” that I remember very well. Oh yeah…
…A photograph of Mrs. Bernstein, Kay Sutton York AKA Lena Harris taken with the simplest of all light sources…the sun, late after. And what a happy father she has made me.
See you next column. Happy Shooting. And check me out at www.garybernsteinstudio.com.