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 by

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:

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:

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: