Epic Portrait: Arianna Huffington

Creative Strobist Portrait of Arianna Huffington by Washington DC Photographer 1

Arianna Huffington – July 15th 2010

The Gear

Lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.2

Camera: Nikon D3s

Technique: The Brenizer Method

Light Sources: 2 Einstein 640 WS by Paul C. Buff

Light Modifiers: Key light is a 22″ silver beauty dish – camera left. Rim light is a gridded 10″ x 36″ Stripbox – camera right.

The Goal

Try to create two compelling portraits in 30 seconds while making life less difficult for myself.

The Vision

I learned a lot in my first epic portrait. Opposite what I said I’d do I decided to keep the lighting largely the same and work more on expression and adding overall interestingness to my subject.

The Story

Less than 2 days after my first portrait shoot I found out I would have the chance to make not just one, but two portraits. Arianna Huffington (co-creator of the Huffington Post) and Tim Armstrong (CEO and Chairman of AOL) were speaking at an NPC Luncheon together to discuss the purchase of the huffingtonpost.com by aol.com.

The photo location was in a bit better room this time. It was larger and had a more interesting background. However, something I’d find later on is that the vertical lines in the background make stitching together the frames of the pano for the brenizer method is insanely more difficult with so many vertical lines. Overall I’m happy with how the stitching came about in the main image of Arianna.

Here is a wide shot of the setup. Nothing too fancy:

Creative Strobist Portrait of Arianna Huffington by Washington DC Photographer 2

Now, I actually did have a little more time to work with these subjects because there were two of them and they were totally on time. My goal this time around was to get a more interesting perspective and expression and just to take a more interesting portrait in general, but I had to ask myself what does that mean? What makes a portrait of a person interesting?

I already know I can take a “normal” portrait. Good lighting. Straight forward look and composition? No problem:

Creative Strobist Portrait of Arianna Huffington by Washington DC Photographer 3

But these are completely boring images to me. Yes, the lighting is good and the expressions are safe, but there isn’t much going on beyond that. They don’t make you think.

So, after I photographed a “safe” photo of Arianna I decided to try and get the elusive “interesting” photo. What easier way than to ask her to turn away from the camera and relax her expression? People’s first instincts are to smile and say “cheese” for any and all photos. I’ve found that by simply asking someone to relax their smile it instantly transforms the photo into something more thoughtful. Besides, I’m not a fan of people smiling unless they’re truly happy or laughing about something. I’m guessing her relaxed and distant looking expression was more in line with what she was actually feeling at that moment before her speech with Mr. Armstrong.

Yes, I decided to do a brenizer method of it, but I kept it fairly minimal. I think it’s 3 shots total. I ended up with close to a 1 X 1 crop, which I’ve always been a fan of, but rarely ever use.

The Lesson:

Overall, I like the final portrait. There are certainly things that could be better about it, but it’s a solid step in the direction I want to be going.

I really like the lighting, but it’s very similar to what I used when photographing Ted Leonsis the week earlier. I will definitely be changing my strobist techniques over time, but I’m much more concerned with exploring ways to get story-telling expressions out of my subjects very quickly and comfortably than I am with crazy lighting… for now.

It was easier for me to think clearer because I wasn’t as nervous this time around, but I was definitely still moving a bit quickly since I was portrait-izing two subjects instead of one.

I suppose the final portrait isn’t a very flattering perspective for her. I’m guessing if she was able to choose between the two images she would pick the safer shot, but one of the advantages to being in the position that I’m in is that I don’t really need to think about that. I’ve found that many times the most interesting portrait is not the most flattering. You just have to think about the context of what you’re shooting and who you’re shooting for.

Just by simply asking Arianna to look away and relax her expression I’ve created a vastly more intersting portrait than the “safe” shot. No, the stitching isn’t perfect, she doesn’t look as flattering, and the focus isn’t pin sharp, but it’s different and thought provoking. I’m happy about that.

and here is the classic cell phone pic of me in action:

Creative Strobist Portrait of Arianna Huffington by Washington DC Photographer 4

 

Creative Strobist Portrait of Arianna Huffington by Washington DC Photographer 5

Photography by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Sam Hurd

About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

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  1. Dear Sam the first picture is amazing, its nice to move from ‘the safe zone’ you are brave doing the stitching especially with the background. Did you have to use hi speed synching ( hyper sync) to achieve the subtle bokeh?
    great work. Sam

  2. awesome portriature. I have recently discovered the brenizer method. I came across your work on fstoppers. well done. i gave my first go at the brenizer method last night, on a tree. final image was about 24 frames. a bit overkill but wanted to be sure i captured each and every part of the scene. used a 50 1.4. will be trying the technique on a live subject this weekend. thinking of using the 85 1.8 and less frames. portrait shoot of woman in black dress. want to get waist up. should be cool or a tremendous failure!

    thanks for the inspiration. i like how you use the method, probably more than brenizer himself.

  3. Matt McDaid says:

    Lovely portraits Sam, and that you for giving us an insight to your work. You have no idea how much it helps us aspiring photographers. With regards, your 3 frame Brenizer shots, do you shoot the subject horizontally or vertically? Or does it even matter? Thanks again!

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