Photographers must stay on top of their game. To do that you must challenge yourself. You must step out of your comfort zone. Shoot something different or in a different way. Workshops are a good way to do that, and one of the best workshop instructors out there is Don Giannatti. When I heard that Don was putting together a new online workshop concept for portraits, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up.
The 8 Week Portrait Class with Don Giannatti is a fantastic way to work out those creative muscles while forcing you to really think in depth about your photography. Here is how it works:
Don will pick 8 photographers who are recognized as masters of portraiture. Then, over 8 weeks we look very closely at the work of each photographer in turn and make one or two portraits of our own inspired by the work of that photographer. The goal is not to copy, but take apart the elements of the photographer's style, find something you like and use it to make something new. It's actually quite difficult, and that is what makes this great!
Skrebneski's (some images in gallery NSFW) work is dominated by very contrasty black & white images and his lighting is mostly a single source at very high angle creating dark prominent shadows in the eyes, nose and under the chin. He is also a big fan of blur, either by intentionally making the image out of focus or using motion blur.
My first image borrows the lighting from Skrebneski.
for my second image, I played with the idea of motion blur. The image below was not made in Photoshop, but in camera by using a long exposure and 3 separate flash fires. There is also no smoke, the effect is a result of the particular light fixture providing the ambient exposure.
Don wrote a blog post on Lighting Essentials about this assignment which includes all the images from all the participants.
Karsh's work incorporates more elaborate lighting setups. He often uses rim lights to separate his subjects from the background and incorporates backgrounds to reveal a little more information about his subject. My two images tried to incorporate that aspect of his work.
Don wrote a blog post about the Karsh assignment on Lighting Essentials which includes a gallery of all the images from all the participants.
Sarah Moon (some images in gallery NSFW) is by far the most unusual photographer of the 8 we studied. Her photographs often looked more like paintings than photographs. A lot of her work is blurry which does not appeal to me much but I did like her use of primary colors and her use of shadow shapes in some of her work.
The image below was done mostly in camera. I shot through a screen door to get this glowing/painting look and used primary colors to really give it some punch.
This second image I used the shadows from the stairs railing to project the shadows of the bars on to my subject and give it this trapped feel. I added the blue and the concerned little sister watching in the mirror to add to the distress.
Don wrote a blog post on Lighting Essentials about the Sarah Moon assignment which includes a gallery of all the images from all the participants.
Peter Lindbergh does some fantastic work (some images in gallery NSFW). A great black & white shooter he often uses natural light and a black tent to really isolate his subjects. I did not use natural light, but I did use a large light source to simulate it.
Don wrote a blog post about this assignment on Lighting Essentials which includes a gallery of all the images from the participants.
Herb Ritts (some images in gallery NSFW) is another amazing black & white shooter. Simple backgrounds and graphic compositions are his trademark. His portraits are very creative and belong equally on the pages of a fashion magazine and the walls of an art gallery.
Don wrote a blog post on Lighting Essentials about this assignment which includes a gallery of all the images from the class participants.
Jeanloup Sieff (some images in gallery NSFW) is a master of the wide angle lens. His shots use the distortion caused by the lens to add to the backgrounds in his images. The wide angle lens is not usually the first choice for portraits but Jeanloup makes it work so well. Many of his images also incorporate shadows thrown into the background to add interest.
My first image uses one light through an etched glass door to create interesting patterns on my subject.
My second image plays with the distortion effects of the wide angle lens.
Dan Winters has a very recognizable style. His images are very tough to reproduce or emulate because his lighting is very precise. He often uses flags and very focused light sources to make the shadows and the light dance across his frame. Another trademark is a ring light for a fill.
This was by far the most difficult shoot to do. I really liked the way he casts shadows across the faces of his subjects and tried to reproduce something like it. It was a lot of trial & error. Lights and flags were moved fractions of inch trying to get the shadows placed in just the right spot.
After a lot of sweat, these were the outcomes.
Don wrote a blog post on Lighting Essestials with a gallery of photos from all the participants in the class.
The things that immediately jump out from looking at William Coupon's work (some images in gallery NSFW) are vey warm lighting and textured backgrounds. His work is deliberate and often uses just one light source to light both subject and background.
I was under a time crunch and did not have as much time as I would have liked to complete this assignment. I used a single light source on the background and let the edges of the light fall on my subject. I added an orange gel to the flash for added warmth. The wall in the background was textured, so I used a small lens aperture to throw it out of focus. I was only able to make one image for this assignment.
With the final assignment, the class was over and the experience gained was truly invaluable. All of us involved have gained several new tools to add to our portrait arsenal. We have also gained valuable insight into what makes some of the best portrait photographers tick and honed our analytical skills of looking at photographs and picking the elements that appeal to us.
The class was so well received, Don is running new sessions and created a follow up class Portrait 102 for those who have completed the 8 week portrait class. If you are a photographer looking to sharpen your portrait skills, I highly recommend these classes. They are not for the beginner though, as you will not get any basic lighting or proper exposure guidance. These courses are intended for those who are already passed that stage.
Here are a couple of extra images that were not submitted as assignments but are worth sharing:
My Sarah Moon lighting setup through the screen door.
Another worthy shot from the Jeanloup assignment