Sunday, October 23, 2005

How I Work

I'm often asked about what kind of equipment I use in my work, whether it's the fashion and celebrity portraiture, or now, this body of documentary work I've been thrust into with Operation Eden. My answer is always the same: I use the least amount of gear possible to achieve the look I want. I'm agnostic when it comes to camera brands, and I'm equally comfortable with either film or digital capture.

But, for those that are curious, I'll list what I used to shoot most of what you've seen here... My camera of choice was the Canon 1Ds. I use it because it's rugged, well-sealed against the elements, and, most importantly, has a huge full-frame sensor. This is important to me for the best image quality, and because I often use very shallow depth-of-focus, which is much harder to achieve with the smaller sensors used in most digital cameras.

I most often couple it with a 24-70mm f2.8L lens, usually shot on the wide end, seldom past 50mm. Most of the portraits you've seen here where shot with this lens at about 50mm, usually wide open at f2.8. The only other two lenses I used in these shots were fixed focal-length, a 50mm f1.4, and a 35mm f1.4, used when I wanted something lighter and smaller, or when I needed even shallower depth of focus.

The only flash I used was the Canon 550EX, portable strobe. In these pictures I have it attached directly to the camera, but I most often use it with an off-camera cord. I need an assistant when I use it with the off-camera cord (most often my girlfriend, sometimes my little brother.) For the candids shot in the field, competing with the sun, I have my assistant hold the flash upside down, as close to the lens as possible, pointing straight forward, the flash head zoomed in so that light falls off somewhat at the edges, creating a hotter area in the middle. In this case the flash is set to sync at high speeds, which enables me to shoot wide open in blazing bright sun and sill sync a flash at 1/8000 of a second shutter speed (normally, you can't sync a flash higher than 1/250th or so), so I can get that bright "lit" look, and make the background dark enough and blurry enough to not distract from the subjects eyes, which are the most important thing for me.

For the "studio" portraits I use the same flash, this time attached to a small portable softbox, to diffuse the light. A second flash is placed behind the subject and fired into the backdrop by wireless when the first goes off. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. In practice, the second flash didn't fire half the time, and fired too brightly the other half. Nikon has a much better wireless flash system. But they don't make a full-sensor camera body to go with it.

These pictures of me and my little brother were taken, unbeknownst to me, by a national guardsmen I had met a few minutes earlier, who also happens to be an excellent photojournalist. Or more accurately, maybe he's best described as an excellent photojournalist who just happens to be a national guardsman. His name is Edouard HR Gluck, and we had met when he came up to me to talk about gear (it's the equivalent amongst photographers of dogs sniffing butts). He had assumed I was a photojourno down covering the destruction, but I told him, no, I normally shoot fashion, these are just unfortunate family snapshots.

He emailed me these shots later, of me and my little brother walking by the destroyed volunteer firehouse, which at the time housed the relief efforts in Pearlington, which were soon moved to Charles Murphy Elementary. The road we're walking on was a paved two-lane highway before Katrina turned everything in the area into dirt roads.

See also: Process and Intent


The Creative Death said...

He captured some amazing pictures of you two. Definately ones to save.

Sue S. Cydel said...

Incredible work you're doing here. Great imagery and thought. Thank you for sharing.

mercury said...

Priceless. It's good that you have each other. There's nothing like the bond between brother.

The Big Kahuna said...


You must be the most generous professional photographer around and I thank you for sharing your knowledge as to how your powerful portraits were captured.


Chuck said...

Thanks for the information. I was kind of curious about your methods, but mainly your eye and your relationship with these people I think, is what makes your work lately, so great and compelling.

I set your site as my "home" starting browser page several weeks ago. I've never done that before.


Anonymous said...

Good Work, I like the stormtrooper T-shirt.