Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Portrait of a lady in Esslingen

Portrait of a lady in Esslingen

A fellow artist from the Stuttgart region needed a profile picture for her upcoming exhibition, so she asked me to take some pictures of her. I was delighted at the request because I had secretly been hoping to be able to do so. I hadn't seen any photos on her website or facebook page that did her justice, so I set out to change that.

She lives an hour east of Stuttgart, so we decided to meet in Esslingen, where she teaches once a week. With my little girl in tow, we strolled through the picturesque town on the Neckar River, setting up the lights whenever a nice background presented itself. In the picture above, you can see the river and a half-timbered house behind her. What you don't see is the kindergarten class that passed by right behind me, making it difficult for Gabriele to keep a straight face for this shot.

A stone wall leading up from the river into the old town served as a nice backdrop to this "American" portrait of the artist [edit: This is a medium shot. An "American shot" goes down to the knee. My lens was not wide enough for that and wide angle lenses shouldn't be used anyway when taking such portraits]. Granted, the background may seem inconsequential here, but I think the feeling it conveys does add a nice touch.

There was a beautifully weeping willow tree hanging over the river which provided a wonderful background and natural light softener as well. The green leaves go well with both her eyes and the jewelry she is wearing.

The technical side of the tale
In 90 minutes we were able to shoot in seven different settings. It was something I had always wanted to do - walk around a lovely town with a nice, pretty, patient model and make the most of the situation.
Since you can never count on the available light to be shining in the right direction with the right intensity in such situations, strobes and reflectors are a necessity. I had a big white Lastolite trigrip that I either flashed through or used to fill the dark side of her face. A strobe flashing into an umbrella provided the catch light in her eyes most of the time. A second flash was used for fill, too.
I had to set up the umbrella or hold the reflector close enough to her eyes to show up, so I was fairly limited in my use of lens. I chose the light and bright Minolta 1.7/50mm for the first two pictures here and switched to a Tamron 2.8/90mm for the last two. Prime lenses are great for such jobs because you have already set up and don't have to move around a lot. Besides, if you are holding a reflector or flash in one hand and the camera in the other, it is difficult to zoom in anyway.

In the end we were both satisfied with the results. Now on to the next challenge!


  1. Jim, what makes that one shot an "American" portrait? I'm not familiar with the term.

    I'm looking forward to having you teach me about lighting when you're here - if you're willing!

  2. Bravo Monsieur Martin. I liked your account of the back grounds, the kids and the trees going by, the stones wall... and the lenses that you used. Great light on this model!