I recently made portraits of the incredibly talented and yet very humble Graham Hoete, a.k.a 'Mr G' - a New Zealand artist well known for his photorealistic street art made with spray paint.
Mr Gs work can be found here >> https://www.mrghoeteart.com
Here is a video of him on USA news, from when he self funded a trip to paint a mural of one of his musical idols, 'The Artist Formerly Known as Prince'
I've made alot of portraits of alot of people, and this was probably one of the most nerve wracking for me, I couldn't sleep for the two night before making his portrait - worrying about my process, my chemistry, my interaction, worrying that my representation of him wouldn't match up to the respect I have for him as an artist.
Normally, before I make a portrait, I spend a week or so looking through images and building a mood board, but for some reason I just couldn't with Mr G - every portrait that had been done of other people before, didn't seem to fit with my vision for his portraits, so I went with my gut instinct and fell back on my knowledge of studio lighting.
Graham is a very busy man and hot property at the moment, I was very lucky to have acquired 2 hours of his time at my home studio, which in my head equals about 3 to 4 portraits.
Usually when I make portrait, I start with 'the passport photo' - portrait 1 - a straight on, 'get to know you' image, it allows me to test the chemistry, get a shot in the bag, and allows a platform to build subsequent portraits from. With this portrait, I wanted an almost painterly light, soft, with a nice fall off, dropping a Rembrant light over the shadow side of his face, to do this I used my trusty old 4ft softbox, with a whopping 6,000 w/s of Bowens strobe powered through the inner baffle and outer diffuser. To lift him from the background, I put 3,000w/s of light onto a white seamless background through a gridded barndoor reflector, which gives a narrowish spread of light (note I had planned to drop a halo behind him with a Fresnel spotlight, but I changed my mind the night before). To give form to the shadow side of his face, I pushed the most tiniest sliver of light through his jaw from behind with a gridded barndoor reflector - the kicker light is so thin, it's very easy to miss it.
I knew with portrait 2, I wanted to express my respect for him as a artist and put him on my pedestal. This portrait needed to be dramatic, the camera angle and the lighting both needed to express the 'mana' of Mr G. I wanted him to 'emerge' from a black background, so to limit any fall off onto the white seamless behind him, I gridded 3000w/s with a large 2ft beauty dish to control light spill. If I had left it at this, his dark top would have blended into the background, I needed to give form to his face and torso, so two kicker lights were added from behind, gridded and flagged as to avoid spill into the lens causing lens flare and a soft image. The artificial light set-up is as far from the renaissance painters as you can get, and the angle from below (or the hero angle as I call it) gives a portrait of respect.
Portrait 3 had been in my head for a while, an image of him donning his personal protective equipment (PPE) a respirator, used to when spray painting. In my head, I had him up against a white background, with his trademark signature over each shoulder. As it turned out, on the day, this wasn't called for, and we left that element out to create a strong portrait of him in his PPE. The 2ft beauty dish had its grid removed to reveal a silver interior, which can be quite contrasty and give specularity to highlights, it also give a wide coverage. I wanted to blow out the background, but I also wanted to bounce some light off the background to wrap around him as highlights to the lateral aspects of his neck, while lifting his chin and mask to reveal his neck 'moko' (tattoo). To do this, I bounced two gridded kickers off a smaller white seamless placed directly at his back, having him almost lean back onto the seamless.
See the video above for my lighting diagram construction:-
My workflow is always very purposeful, I don't deal with uncertainty very well generally and I like to be fully prepared, I felt in this case, with a limited time frame to make portraits, I had to be as efficient as possible. Working like this, having everything planned and kept to a schedule, allows time to step away from photography and interact with my sitters, which is as important (if not more) in making portraits as the techinical, as it builds rapport, trust and in some cases friendships. To be purely focused on the end task of making a portrait has a potentially cold and unsatisfactory outcome.