Hey everyone, meet Annabel Lukins. I had to do photography of her for a profile piece that was going on the cover. She is an organizer of major music festivals around the country and her energy is contagious. I got to read the story about her before I called her to set up the photos which is always a good thing. The story focuses on her tenacity and positive attitude. She had a hard time being in the music industry since it's not only a man's world but it's often a mean world too. Well she hit her stride, even winning a major award for her work, and things are dandy in Annabel's world.

After reading the story I thought "She works in Colorado for a company in Florida that does big events around the country. What the heck am I going to photograph?" No location, no "product", can't show her at work, her family isn't a part of the story. Duh! Shoot her.

As I mentioned the other day, even in my portraiture I want the image to be about the subject and that as a photographer I'm not getting in the way with my techniques, tools, toys and big ideas. So with Annabel I didn't want to anything that would get in the way of her and her effervencence. Simple was the key. I decided to use one light for everything. Yeah, no grids, no multiple lighting setups sculpting the subject, no softboxes. I wanted it natural, open and free … just like her. Oh and everything ended up being shot with my 50mm. Yeah, no joke.

For the intended cover shots I set up a white seamless in her living room and a monolight going into my big 5 foot shoot
through umbrella. I saw a little beat up kids seat that had faded
bunnies as legs and had Annabel sit on it. I sat on the floor and we
talked about music and things and just let her be herself.
Annabell 1 small

Annabell 2 small

Annabell 3 small

The above shots were done with my Nikon D700, ISO 200, custom WB and a Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4 1/125th sec @ F/11. Alien Bee AB800 monolight into a Wescott 5 foot transparent umbrella and triggered via Pocket Wizard.

Next I got her outside for a change of pace. We had gotten a light snow fall the day before so we went to the local park and played around on the jungle gym.

Annabell 4 small 

 Here she's technically backlit but I used the wireless high speed sync of my Nikon SB-800 to let me shoot her @ f/2.0 with a shutter speed of 1/8000th to under expose the ambient light by about 1 1/2 stops. Again this is my Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4.

That done we headded back to her place. Her husband was finishing remodeling their kitchen and I loved the look of it. A rough but elegant work in progress. I saw it as a metaphor for Annabel. I'm serious here so stop giggling.

Annabell 5 small

Still only one light brought into the scene. The neat-o lights over the counter are giving her hair that red separartion and the rest is my SB-800 with the dome diffuser over on camera right high up near the ceiling. Still the 50mm lens. I had her just jump up and asked her to peel me a clementine as I was getting hungry. Everything else is just her.

Moral of my story: if you have a great subject you don't need to do much to bring them out. If anything you need to stay out of the way of the photographs that are in front of you. One light, one fixed lens and a spectacular gal with boundless energy.

What’s my motivation?

In the editorial world there is a pretty tight ethics boundary that just about every publication that has a reputation for being a news source adheres to. Basically, you don’t mess with reality. That often makes your job as a photographer easy because if it doesn’t happen you can’t be blamed for not photographing it. However it is also a tough thing when nothing is happening, the light is awful, the environment is worse and time is short. That’s when you start pining for your lights, a good wardrobe for the subject and maybe a gothic cathedral to shoot in. But that’s not reality. That’s portraiture.

Being both a personal and professional Gemini I have two sides to me: the documentarian who likes to show up with nothing more than a D700 body, my 24mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses with a flash that usually doesn’t leave the bag. Then there is the portrait photographer who shows with a backpack full of cameras, lenses, a big case of high powered strobes, a big bag or two of lighting modifiers and stands along with maybe a case of extra stuff so that I can put light in tough places or remove light if I so choose. Then there is the makeup artist and a concept that is often bounced around at a meeting with atleast one editor type and a pre-arrainged location that is deemed to convey the idea that we have for the photo. Oh and there is some person to be in front of my lens. 

But given all that extra junk used to switch from “reality” mode to “created reality” mode the guy behind the lens is still the same dude and I try to be the same ethical fellow regardless of how much artifice is brought in.

Since the lens points both ways how you photograph a subject is a indicitive of what kind of person you are. Portraits often say as much about the photographer as they do the subject – so many choices are made by the photographer about the image before the subject even wakes up that day. However to me the subject should not be the photographer. All the work that goes into making the photograph should, in my opinion, reveal something about the subject and not be about the wacky idea that the photographer convinced the subject to go along with. 

However many of the “top” editorial portrait photographers are about the idea behind the photo and not really about the subject. Well that may be ok for them but it’s not me. Even if I have a great idea for a portrait I still want you to look at it and see anything except the subject. I want to be a conduit for some aspect of the subject be it their strength, humor, prestige, frailty, sadness or whatever. I want to be drawn to them as a photographer so that my viewers will share that fascination.
I ran across a very thought provoking piece on NPR the other day that was talking about the ethics of portrait photography. Give it a listen and few thought cycles.