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Photography DiscussionThe Language of Lighting

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Charles Haacker
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Re: The Language of Lighting

Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:17 am

St3v3M wrote:Shealah Craighead is credited with his photo and named a White House Photographer.

Personally, I think Annie Leibovitz is overrated in the same way I feel about Andy Warhol, but I'm uncouth that way.
And, I thought Pete Souza's official rendition of President Obama was well taken and reflected his personality.

Portraits of Presidents of the United States
The White House Historical Association Presidential Portraits
Steven G Webb wrote:But is the photographer responsible for the look? In a commercial product shot the photographer is not the artistic talent, that's the job of the art director. So who picked out the look. Was the result a grand success or a grand failure? I can't imagine Mr Trump wanting to look the way he's portrayed in this image.

I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here but I did shoot portraits professionally, 16 years in my own studio. Absolutely the photographer is responsible for "the look." Every photographer develops a certain style. Mine was very, very stodgy. I knew how to produce the Pence and Murphy portraits, could churn 'em out all day, cookie-cutter style. It's what people expected and what I delivered. It quite literally paid the rent.

That said, I also remark often (my late wife would tell me "Too often!") that I lack imagination. Steven, you are 100% right about commercial shoots (that I also did being a Jack of All Master of None guy who would utterly flounder without a good art director). I just don't have an art bone so all I could do was the cookie cutter portraits, but it was what people came for. I used a pair of soffboxes at around a 3:1 ratio, keylight in closer usually around 45/45, shadow fill near the camera about level with the axis. Most of the time it was straight-up Rembrandt, short position, unless I had a very thin face when I would light "broad." I'd almost always use a hairlight and a backlight or separation light, a small reflector on a short stand directly behind the subject. I only varied this when getting "fancy" or "artsy," doing, say, Donald Jack style full profiles with the chin on the knuckles &c.

I LIKE Trump's new portrait!

I do think his first, candidate portrait was grim death. It's truly awful, and it's not the lighting. I disagree with the analysis. Indeed, the only visible catchlights are in the "wrong" position in both portraits, low in the eye. I too was trained to analyze the position of a keylight from the position of the catchlight, but I think the analysis misses some other indicators, particularly in that first godawful atrocity. Just look at the shadow of his chin on his collar and tie knot. The analysis misses this entirely but it is literally key: there is a mainlight high and directly over the camera axis. The catchlight you see is from a fill at camera left but in very close to the camera. Trump has deeply hooded eyes and he tucks his chin, possibly because he knows he has a short nose and seeks to lengthen it in pictures. With a high mainlight his eyes don't reflect it, only the shadow fill. The "mainlight shadow" on the nose is just --- nose. The portrait was unretouched.

The new portrait is day from night. I'll be honest: I do not care for DJT, but for me there is a not a thing wrong with the portrait. He looks engaged, personable. His smile is completely genuine and disarming. The light is extremely soft, directionless, coming from everywhere and nowhere, like an overcast day. I find it very flattering. He still has his chin tucked to lengthen the nose and his eyes are crinkled and hooded. The sole catchlight is indeed in the "wrong" position, and it does seem to be from a light rather than a reflector, but it's hard to tell. I utterly reject the notion that "...there simply isn’t enough light hitting the subject." Nonsense! The scale is long but the white shirt is not blown. The skin looks good and for once not orange. The portrait has been beautifully retouched by an expert since the only way you can tell is to compare it with the earlier atrocity.

Trump is a man who controls every! Single! Thing! in his life! He likes the portrait! So do I! :lalala:
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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:29 am

Charles Haacker wrote:...
Trump is a man who controls every! Single! Thing! in his life! He likes the portrait! So do I! :lalala:

I was hoping you might join in and appreciate the detailed analysis. It's evident what I don't know but I'm learning and this helps!

I agree the first was a disaster, the second much better, the pose, a much better smile, a more inviting image, but I have to ask aren't we taught to watch our backgrounds? A photo frame? Do I blame the photographer for the flat lighting or messy background or the man in front of the camera directing everything? S-
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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:42 am

St3v3M wrote:I was hoping you might join in and appreciate the detailed analysis. It's evident what I don't know but I'm learning and this helps!

I agree the first was a disaster, the second much better, the pose, a much better smile, a more inviting image, but I have to ask aren't we taught to watch our backgrounds? A photo frame? Do I blame the photographer for the flat lighting or messy background or the man in front of the camera directing everything? S-

Background is just background. Official portraits always feature the flag, but the flag is always over one shoulder rather than directly behind. I'm not sure where they took this but somewhere in the White House no doubt, and that frame probably has another presidential portrait in it (probably Jackson :angel: ). Both the flag and the frame are soft, although they could maybe be softer. I don't find the background messy, and for me the lighting is not flat but rather omnidirectional. The guy is 70-something but still has his blond mane and clearly thinks of himself as a stud ( :angel: ) so he is gonna insist on looking studly and far younger than his actual years. I'm 75. I get it. My portrait avatar has been, um, somewhat enhanced shall we say? I seriously do not think it is a bad portrait at all, certainly not from a technical standpoint. Had I made it I would be perfectly proud of it, and as we all agree, that portrait would never see the light of day (much less hundreds of thousands of copies displayed everywhere) if The Man didn't like it. He loves it. :yay:
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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:46 am

Charles Haacker wrote:Background is just background. Official portraits always feature the flag, but the flag is always over one shoulder rather than directly behind. I'm not sure where they took this but somewhere in the White House no doubt, and that frame probably has another presidential portrait in it (probably Jackson :angel: ). Both the flag and the frame are soft, although they could maybe be softer. I don't find the background messy, and for me the lighting is not flat but rather omnidirectional. The guy is 70-something but still has his blond mane and clearly thinks of himself as a stud ( :angel: ) so he is gonna insist on looking studly and far younger than his actual years. I'm 75. I get it. My portrait avatar has been, um, somewhat enhanced shall we say? I seriously do not think it is a bad portrait at all, certainly not from a technical standpoint. Had I made it I would be perfectly proud of it, and as we all agree, that portrait would never see the light of day (much less hundreds of thousands of copies displayed everywhere) if The Man didn't like it. He loves it. :yay:

I appreciate this! S-
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Post by Steven G Webb » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:58 am

St3v3M wrote:
Steven G Webb wrote:Kick the can down the road. The options are limitless as is the hilarity factor.

I like you, did I ever mention that? My thought is if this were your portrait and you didn't like it would you let it out in the wild? S-


I make everyone happy; part when I arrive the rest when I leave.

Given the subject likes the portrait now we got to ask "why" does he like B grade horror flicks? (We used to call the lighting Frankenstein Lighting). Did an over-paid under qualified (also government employee) image consultant sell the "look" and now that the money has been spent it MUST be good? Or is this a huge example of money not being able to buy good taste?
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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 3:00 am

Steven G Webb wrote:I make everyone happy; part when I arrive the rest when I leave.
...

Too funny! S-
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Post by minniev » Wed Nov 08, 2017 4:40 am

St3v3M wrote:I've always been fascinated by the way lighting affects us and thought this would make for an interesting discussion.
- Trump’s Official Portrait and the Language of Lighting

Please feel free to add your opinion, other articles, and images that support your side of the discussion, all I ask is to keep politics out of it. S-


Super interesting post.

I had some similar thoughts as others: perhaps the subject prefers a sinister look, perhaps the photographer just wasn't very good, perhaps the subject wouldn't be still for more than a moment. I also wondered if the angle of the lighting may have been an effort to reduce the signs of age. I suspect from what I've read that the subject is somewhat vain, and wants to look younger.

It is interesting to compare these portraits to the one of the same subject as Time's Man Of The Year http://time.com/4591211/time-person-of-the-year-2016-behind-the-cover/. In my view, the photographer for Time was much more skilled. However, the sinister look is even more pronounced. Maybe that is part of the character of the subject.
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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:01 am

minniev wrote:Super interesting post.
...

Another valuable and interesting perspective. Thank you for this and more to think on! S-
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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Nov 08, 2017 3:51 pm

minniev wrote:Super interesting post.

I had some similar thoughts as others: perhaps the subject prefers a sinister look, perhaps the photographer just wasn't very good, perhaps the subject wouldn't be still for more than a moment. I also wondered if the angle of the lighting may have been an effort to reduce the signs of age. I suspect from what I've read that the subject is somewhat vain, and wants to look younger.

It is interesting to compare these portraits to the one of the same subject as Time's Man Of The Year http://time.com/4591211/time-person-of-the-year-2016-behind-the-cover/. In my view, the photographer for Time was much more skilled. However, the sinister look is even more pronounced. Maybe that is part of the character of the subject.

Thanks for adding that link, Min. I have closely* studied Nadav Kander's portrait for Time. Look at how Trump's chin is tucked, looking "down his nose," eyes hooded. It is arguably a very sinister look, and Kander's lighting exacerbates it, a very high ratio, split, with the shadow side so deep as to be almost detail-less. The position of the catchlight is above the pupil, barely, and from its position I suspect it's once again the very low shadow fill, not the key which is so far to camera left that it leaves no catchlight at all. If you look at the picture of the setup you can see the shadow cast by that weak fill from the object on the carpet and from the chair legs. Trump habitually tucks his chin and his eyes are naturally hooded. Comparing Trump's pictures with Pence's and Congresswoman Murphy's is, in my opinion, spurious. Any of you who have ever shot portraits know that every human face is different and for some getting those life-giving catchlights can be difficult. I am absolutely defending the photographers who are doing their best. I still like Trump's new official portrait. It humanizes him. I thoroughly dislike the Time portrait. It (IMHO) DE-humanizes him. It's more sinister than the portrait they were using before the new one was released. I have to think, if I am Trump, I like the new one precisely because it is the first one that doesn't make me look as if I am about to shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

*(By the way, interesting observation about Trump's chair in Kander's portrait: the back of the chair is damaged! There is a long abrasion in the fabric at the top and stuffing is coming out! Just sayin'...)
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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 3:59 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:...
*(By the way, interesting observation about Trump's chair in Kander's portrait: the back of the chair is damaged! There is a long abrasion in the fabric at the top and stuffing is coming out! Just sayin'...)

A keen observation! S-
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