black and white portrait of a man in fog wearing a coat and drivers cap

Atmospheric Self Portrait

I've been on a bit of a dramaitc lower contrast / atmospheric portrait kick lately. I don't normally take self portraits, but when you want to practice and hone your skills at the last minute and no one else is around... it's not a bad option. The trick with self portraits is knowing how to do a few things, mainly: focus, frame, and light - with no help. All very hard to do with nothing but thin air. The trick is to setup a light stand, put a foam head on it, and set it up where you'll be standing. It's not perfect for lighting, but some kind of human-ish lookng face really goes a long way when you are working by yourself. On small film sets I used to just setup a baseball cap on a stand and use that.

I'm a big fan of black and white. It's a bigger challenge than color. Color by itself creates separation, but once you strip that away, it's not a guaranteed thing anymore - some colors have exactly the same luminance values. What was once very stark suddenly becomes one continous tone. No more contrast. I had a vision for this image. I saw it in shades of gray in my mind, so that's how I made it. To me, black and white feels like drawing or sketching. It's all just tones, gradiations, stark contrast.

Technical Details

There isn't too much to say about this. It's a one light image. 45 degree ceiling bouce from behind the big black flag I'm standing in front of, plus a little bit of frontal fill light from a reflector that is above... not from below. A lot of people have bad reflector technique. Most default to holding it down low and using one. Fill light from below usually looks super obvious and kinda weird in most situations. It has a real TV news at 9 kind of feel to it. Yuck. Not my thing. I try to keep all light looking realistic, which means attacking the subject from the right angle.