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REFLECTING ON PHOTOGRAPHY - PART II
By Gary Bernstein © December 2005
www.ZugaPhoto.TV
www.GaryBernsteinStudio.com

Last week I shot a session with a living, breathing legend..

The one and only Diahann Carroll.  I also shot a session with a new recording artist.  In this column we’ll cover my shoot with the one and only Ms. Carroll and address the other session in my next column.

But first…

It is with sadness that I heard this week of the passing of Pat Morita—the star of “Happy Days” and of the “The Karate Kid” movies and so many other performances through his exceptional career.  I had the opportunity to work with Pat in 1987 when I was hired by DEG (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group) to create and shoot the advertising for the film “Collision Course” starring Pat and Jay Leno.  Here are a couple of the shots from that session:

 

The images were made with a Nikon (www.NikonUSA.com) and a 105mm lens on Kodachrome 25 (www.kodak.com).  The guys were great to work with.  Leno  is/was a long time client.  Yes, it’s his bike.  No, it’s not his ‘vette.  As I recall, we did about 6 changes in my L.A. studio in about 2 hours—no hair—no makeup—no styling (save my own).  My kind of shoot.  To Pat…RIP.  He was a good guy.

Now down to the most recent shoot:

Prior to this week, the last images I made of Diahann Carroll—an icon of music, film and TV—were in 1992 as a cover session for BE Magazine.  Here are some of those images:

 

So here’s the question…how come she hasn’t aged (as evidenced by the pictures below), and I’ve got all this grey hair (and wrinkles to boot)?  I guess that’s why I’m on the back end of the camera.

Below are some of the new photographs I just made of Diahann.  I’ll take you through the three hour session and how I made them:

The images were all made on location in a friend’s spacious, beautifully-decorated apartment about 15 floors about the Sunset Strip in Beverly Hills.  There is a balcony that faces due north; and nothing is prettier than northlight for portrait photography.  We started shooting about 1PM and wrapped the session at about 4PM.  I started with the series in the white top by sitting Diahann on the balcony with a window and a plant behind her. 

The shot is made solely with available light.  I stood a Bernstein-Chimera reflector (from the kit http://chimeralighting.com/reflectorkit) below and to the right of Diahann’s face to fill in shadows, give a glow to the skin, and create the secondary catchlights you see in her eyes.

I used two cameras for the entire shoot that gave me automatic exposures and a shutter override at 1/160th of a second.  One camera I had set on “bracket,” the other I shot at the indicated exposure values.  For this shot I also added a B+W KR 1.5 (1A) filter to each lens to clean up the blue cast that comes from open shade lighting (www.schneideroptics.com).   Most of the images are shot on a tripod (a Sunpak from www.tocad.com).

Once you know the techniques, the art and science of making strong portraits (including but not limited to camera angles, lens lengths, lighting, and the other elements that automatic digital cameras don’t do for you), then it comes down to capturing good expressions.  In the case of my pretty subject, anytime we talked about her grandchildren…it brought that warm smile and sparkle to her eyes.  The smiles and the energy was real and genuine—which is always imperative.

For the second image…

…we went back inside the apartment.  I setup two Lowel lights from the Lowel Go All Pro Kit (www.lowel.com).  This image is a combination of the Lowel hotlights (see the setup picture) and the eastern midday daylight coming in from the window to camera left (see the other setup picture)…

 

Although I didn’t record specific lens length…you always (I don’t like that word “always”…let’s say “usually”) shoot portraits with a short tele…

I had zooms on each of my cameras…an 18 to 55 on one, and a 14 to 54 on the other.  You double that and it’s about the equivalent of a 110mm lens (if it were on a 35mm camera).  That’s a sweet length that throws out the background a bit (if you’re working at a wide aperture).  Additionally, you’re not too close to your subject—a good working distance.  The lens length compresses the subject’s features a bit (which is usually a good thing).  There’s that word “usually” again.

Put in my GB-Chimera reflector slightly below the subject, and there you have it.  By the way…when I pose somebody…I start by trying the position myself.  If I can’t get comfortable in that position, it’s for sure my subject can’t.  Then I ask the subject to try it.  If she likes it…we shoot.  I talk as I shoot…In fact I tell my subjects, that if I stop talking and am just shooting…it’s because I absolutely love what I’m getting.

If you look at the prior setup shot, you can see the framed print on the back wall that became the background and location for the next shot below.  Again, the image was lit with a combination of daylight and the Lowel lights—all shot on digital cameras of about 6 megs.

I placed one light slightly to right of my camera position, and the other behind Diahann to camera left.  The light behind her does two things: It accents the hair, and it eliminates the shadow on the wall behind her created by the main light next to my camera.  Remember, there is a second mainlight as well—and that’s the large window providing the soft daylight.  Whenever you can blend daylight with artificial—go for it.

Again, if you refer to the earlier setup shot…you can see the location of the piano—the site of this last photograph.

How cool is this picture?  Diahann didn’t want to do anything dressy.  So I begged and pleaded.  Glad I did.  This image is produced with just the two Lowell hotlights.  One peeking over the top of the screen…and the other right next to my camera.  The body is turned slightly in the composition; the arms are away from the body to show her shape; the spot focuses our attention on the subject allowing the edges of the frame to go dark.  And surprisingly (and against every rule in the book), the face is almost dead center in the composition.  “You can’t do that!”  Apparently rules are meant to be broken.

Now because it is that special (expensive) time of the year, I feel compelled to give some photography gift suggestions.  Certainly first and foremost is to buy as much equipment as your credit cards will allow here at RitzCamera.com.

In second place is this thought:

I think that every one of you guys should hire me to photograph your significant other.  No we don’t take credit cards…

OK…how about a Gary Bernstein Limited Edition Print from www.GaryBernsteinStudio.com?  Let’s see…I already plugged the reflector kit (which EVERY dedicated photographer needs by the way (it’s true))…what’s left?

How about a dynamite DVD from photographer Rolando Gomez?  It’s the top-selling glamour DVD in the country…and it’s great…go to Amazon.com and search his name.  The DVD is great…and Rolando has a great new book that’s just come out as well.  He also appears in the ZugaPhoto.TV DVD How to Take Great Pictures along with a bunch of other top professional photographers.

What do I personally buy as gifts?

Well, for my photographer friends, I get them leather gift boxes to put their images in.  These are just beautiful—and come from the company that I get all my albums from: Art Leather, just check out www.artleather.com – truly beautiful quality.

OK, that’s it for now…

Next issue we’ll look at a PR session I just shot of a young, blond recording artist, and we’ll talk about Marathon Press—the company I count on for cutting edge PR (www.marathonpress.com).   

 

Happy shooting.  Happy Holidays!
See you next issue and at my homes away from home www.ZugaPhoto.TV
www.GaryBernsteinStudio.com