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epic portrait // ron paul

Ron Paul – October 5th 2011

The Gear

Lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.2 – w/ ND filter

Camera: Nikon D3s

Technique: Freelensed

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

Light Modifiers: Key light is a 35″ foldable Octabox – camera left. Rim light is a gridded 10″ x 36″ Stripbox – camera right.

The Goal

Take a relaxed and thoughtful portrait that would portray my subject as a serious presidential contender.

The Vision

So, I’d used the brenizer method on all my previous portraits, and wanted to try a different and quicker technique for a change. For some reason I refuse to just take a normal photo, haha. I decided to try freelensing as it would be a fast way to isolate my focus exactly where I want it. The Nikon 50 1.2 is a perfect lens for freelensing as it has an aperture ring (required if you shoot nikon and want to keep your aperture open, but your lens disconnected from your camera), and I’ve found that the 50mm focal length is a fantastic range for freelensing properly. However, with such a shallow depth of field to begin with it can be a bit risky with only a few minutes to take the photo. Luckily, I pulled it off.

With these cell phone pics you can kind of see the positioning of everything and just how boring that white corner is. I’m looking at my camera intensely because i’m taking the lens of the mount to freelens… and sorry about my boxers in the second shot, ha.

The Story

Since the republican presidential primaries are heating up I’m getting access to many of the top candidates. The National Press Club is the premier venue in Washington DC to address the press so it makes sense that candidates would be coming by.

At the time, Ron Paul was well known, however not doing particularly well in the polls. Many of the things he says and work that he does goes largely ignored by the mainstream press. Just a general observation of mine. However, more recently he’s had a large spike in polls and seems to be one of the top 3 candidates keeping up in the polls.

I used the silver beauty dish as the main key light in all of my previous portraits so I decided I wanted to try using a light source that was a little softer and less contrasty. the Paul C. Buff Octabox provided just what I was looking for. Because it’s a larger light source I decided to use it with a grid so I could keep things more directional.

Now, the Octabox (and other similar light sources) tend to have a somewhat uneven output of light. There’s a very strong hotspot in the center of the output and it can be difficult to work with, but I’ve found that I get incredibly nice results by feathering the light from the edge of the Octabox on my subject. By aiming the hotspot just to the left of Ron Paul’s face I get the edge shadows to be the primary part hitting his face. Feathering the light like that helps create a painterly looking effect that’s used often by photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Joey Lawerence. The effect might be a little less pronounced being that I have the Octa gridded, but it still looks great to me! I’ve found that by using grids I have more control of the direction of the light and it really helps create more dynamic and interesting light.

This portrait was made in a completely new location than either of my previous works. It was literally a white corner in a small and ugly room w/ florescent lights. Thankfully, the florescent lights were dim enough to where they weren’t a factor in the final exposure, and I was in tight enough on Ron Paul so the background wasn’t a big factor.

Combined with the crazy shallow depth of field provided by the f/1.2 aperture and freelensing… I was able to sculpt every element of the photo precisely how I wanted it.

The Lesson

After creating this photo I felt a solid sense of pride. I realized that I am starting to be able to piece together all elements of a portrait in my head before ever taking the photo, and more importantly I’m able to answer the “why?” behind each element. I believe this is an extremely valuable quality to have as a photographer – especially in portrait work. Thinking about how all the various elements of an image work together with studio lit portraits makes the work much like painting and drawing than fly-by-the-seat-of-your-paints wedding day stuff. Not that there’s anything better or worse about either type of photography, but I enjoy the process and thinking that goes into creating a single compelling image.

Ron Paul looks like a serious Presidential Contender in this photo. The focus on his one eye really pulls me in and engages me with the photograph. It creates a unique viewing experience much like Ron Paul is a unique candidate. That combined with the strong highlighting and confident expression really makes this an epic portrait.


Leave a Comment

  • long time lurker. came here to say this one is my favorite by far. great work

  • This is my favourite so far. I love the soft creaminess of it.

  • Emily

    Such a great portrait. Thank you for taking the time to explain your process!

  • Awesome man. Love that you flashed him your boxers.

  • Amazing shot.. and skill to pull it all together in a short amount of time!

  • This portrait of Ron Paul is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

  • Gorgeous and arresting portrait! Thanks for the explanations too–really valuable insight.

  • Really nice, Sam. Fantastic portrait, and I loved reading your thought process.

  • fantastic. really fantastic.

  • SWEET! So neat that you got this opportunity.

  • This is awesome work done! Congrats!

  • awesome dude, I love the series!

  • That’s just excellent! Love that you went out on a limb and freelensed a portrait of Ron Paul. Takes courage to do that. You nailed it!

  • Brilliant use of technique (free-lensing) and definitely a thought provoking portrait.

  • sam this whole series is great man. your wedding work is always rad but this portrait series is pretty badass my friend.

  • Incredible work Sam, freelensed portrait = all kinds of awesome!

  • […] geht echt was. Auch — oder vor allem — bei den anderen Porträt­tech­niken. Beson­ders der Ron Paul […]

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  • […] corner I was working in. I’ve actually worked in this exact corner before… it’s where I made my portrait of Ron Paul. Anyway… imagine the space without the chairs and video camera and all that mess. Still, […]

  • […] have it I was stuck in this boring room again (same room that I photographed Mariska Hargitay and Ron Paul). Thankfully there were no chairs in the room this time… this is just an old photo I […]

  • […] it I was stuck in this boring room again (same room that I photographed Mariska Hargitay and Ron Paul). Thankfully there were no chairs in the room this time… this is just an old photo I used in a […]

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