“With my camera, I capture your IMMORTAL SOUL!”

February 11, 2013

ChuntElvisC1_pp copy

Ha Ha! My former colleague and uber-funny friend Mandi actually made this commented when she saw this photo. Well, that and it was a candidate for a MAD magazine caricature of a semi-sleazy south of the border photographer Mandi pinned on me yet to be named. Definitely NOT the original idea I had when I created this self-portrait image, but hey, go with what works, eh? I have to say the visual idea had been rattling around in my brain since the early 1980’s and was strongly influenced to the Elvis Costello album cover for his 1978 release This Years Model (no he didn’t use a comma in it) and childhood memories of my photographer father, David T Hunt III. What I’d wanted to portray was a 1970’s era photographer in his mid to late 50’s, a little past his prime hard working guy, the guy who’d come home exhausted late at night driving his heavy photo gear laden Oldsmobile 88, smelling a little of wedding candle wax, photo chemicals , sweat, Vitalis and Tiparillo Cigars. Channeling Elvis and my dad into this guy just sort of worked visually and I had the time and props to experiment so why not. I was also really anxious to use a lighting modifier I’d recently purchased. The image was so very well received on my Facebook page by friends and colleagues and I couldn’t have been happier.

Now the prop and techno bits … The props were a a Mamiya C22 medium format twin lens reflex film camera (actually the very same camera I used to shoot my very first studio photos and the same one my studio owner father gave me to ignite my interest in shooting), the tripod was a well used (note the hose clamp on the leg) salvaged one from my dad’s garage, most likely used to hold large long-roll 70mm school portrait cameras like Beaties, again era specific with an applicable beloved backstory. These were the days when things were built to last, were heavy and certainly pre-dated carbon fiber and modern collapsable accessories. My glasses are my dad’s original American Optical late 1950’s browlines with my RX in them, I also call these my “shooting glasses” and I believe the posses some strong family mojo, oh and that’s also dad’s tie.

Shooting bits … The image took a little while to get the lighting right and with all self-portraits, there’s a ton of running back and forth from the subject to the camera back, making sure you’ve got things looking just right. To make things somewhat easier, I was able to tether the camera, a Nikon D300s via a USB cord to my iMac computer situated behind the camera, for a bit quicker large screen preview so I wouldn’t be simply relying on a small 3″ LCD camera screen and a histogram for my test shots. I was shooting Nikon .NEF (RAW) files though, so exact exposure wasn’t a huge deal, but I wanted to get as close as I could, again channeling a virtual film critical environment, when failure and exposure adjustment wasn’t an option. After getting all the preview stuff ironed out, I worked on the lighting right. Looking at me, to the left (my right) the lighting is a 22″ beauty dish (Cowboy Studio version) on a Manfrotto Stand and illuminated with a vintage (yep another thing resurrected from dad’s garage) Vivitar 283 from the early 1970’s and a VP-1 Power dial (thank you eBay). Okay, I’m cheating a little and using a Strobist technique here with the strobes on stands with modifiers, because everything would’ve been either hot (continuous) lights, or large and powerful power pack based strobe units by Speedotron or Novatron.  There’s another Vivitar 283 on the floor behind me with a dark yellow gel shining on a large Savage white collapsable background and another 283 powered down to illuminate the camera, tripod and reduce some glasses shadows under my eyes. I also had a gold reflector on the right to bounce some nice warm light in. All the Vivitars were fired remotely using a Cowboy Studio hot shoe mounted popper system hanging just behind the prop Mamiya on a two second delay for “posing” time. Granted, I could have used my modern and totally capable fully remote Nikon SB-800’s and Nikon SU-800 system here, but I was really going for some vintage lighting accuracy and feel here, even if I was the only one who was aware of it!

Post production … The image was imported via Adobe Photoshop CS4 into my iMac using the Adobe plug-in for the Nikon D300s .nef (RAW) files, cropped in PS4, then opened in Portrait Professional retouching software, which I adore for light retouching, especially for people like me who are definitely NOT models. In PP I was able to render some of the changes I’d envisioned in the conceptual image from the very start, things that I would’ve performed with an airbrush, matte spray and Prismacolor pencils on a color print, when I’d originally conjured the image in my head in the 1980’s. I was also able to add some detailing and render a dark vignette using the RENDER LENS CORRECTION filters in PS4, I was also able to remove my dirty blonde look and darken my hair and beard to a bit more serious persona, remove some “distinction lines”, smooth and sharpen some other features – like the eyes, which I wanted to mimic the camera piercingly looking at you. Part of my illustrative approach to photography. In the end it’s very much the way I wanted it to look and very close (if not better) than I’d imagined it from 1981.

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