gary sinise portrait epic awesome photography


Gary Sinise – 6-16-2015

The Gear

Lens: Nikkor 58mm f/1.2

Camera: Nikon D750

Light Sources: 1 Einstein 640 WS by Paul C. Buff

Light Modifiers: Paul C Buff Softbox

Technique: 3 Shot Brenizer Method

The Goal

Try out the look of a softbox instead of a parabolic light modifier.

The Vision

Walk in and do the first thing that comes to mind.

The Story

I overslept. A long night the previous evening judging a print competition for the Capital Hill Photographers group had me in bed way later than usual. I knew Gary Sinise would be speaking at the National Press Club 9am-10am for a breakfast luncheon, but had completely forgotten that driving down from Baltimore to DC in the mornings can be Amrgeddeon (see what i did there…?!). Out the door at 8:15am and who pulls in my driveway? None other than the electrician that was going to be doing work on my house the entire day! He needed me to run through the detailed list I had e-mailed him of all the work. So, there goes another 15 mins. 8:30am and I’m in my car. Pulling out I hear the nicest sounding nightmare I could imagine – gas alert sound came on as I was running on empty. Pull around to my closest gas station and it’s totally full. Pull around to the second closest and I finally put $20 in and speed away. Traffic is looking dicey. Puts me where I need to be at 10:11am – 11 mins after Sinise is done addressing the press and supposed to be doing photos. Tapping up my collection of Waze, Tom-Tom, Google Maps, and Apple Maps I decide that Tom-Tom would be the best approach and head on.

Just so you know Tom-Tom is consistently the BEST directions app in terms of avoiding traffic and just plain not lying to me about when my arrival time is going to be. It had me at 9:56am arrival. I’d have 4 minutes to setup assuming I could find parking quickly. In fact, once I finally got into downtown DC I did find just about the best street parking spot I possible could have asked for just 1 block away. I decided not to even buy a parking ticket and just risk it.

I dashed to the elevator and immediately went to where I needed to go. The doors were JUST opening as Gary Sinise wrapped his closing remarks. I had just enough time to sit my bags down and hand them off to Nathan Mitchell – an incredible photographer himself – who was there to help out.

We popped up my softbox and plugged in the power. Took these quick test photos to check exposure and I was set. In about 30 seconds flat.

test photo for portrait

Exposure was spot on at the weakest flash power of 1/128 – even shooting at f/1.2 without an ND filter. No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Nathan is well out of focus. His test shot was mostly about double checking the quality of light and flash power, but I did quickly realize that I was very out of practice shooting with the most beautiful lens on the planet. The Nikon 58 1.2 has been used in a few of my portraits, however in an effort to change it up from time to time I’d recently been using other lenses like it’s younger brother the Nikon 58 f/1.4G. The 58 f/1.2 has unmatched character and sharpness, but completely manual focus and I had never practiced using it on the D750.

In comes Gary Sinise and I take a few photos of him with bounce flash and a 24-70 with VIPs before whisking him over to my bare bones portrait setup.

He remarks on the line in the wall and I of course reassure him that I’m placing him out of range and that it would be an incredibly shallow depth of field so it was of no concern. Not entirely convinced he steps up and gives me his best. A quick look at the lighting and Nathan knew exactly where to be and how it should fall on his face.

An interesting side note is that this is the second time I’ve photographed in this exact same spot. Comparing the two images it’s really fascinating for me to see how my work has evolved from my very first portrait in this series to now. I’ve toned down the contrast a lot and I’ve become more confident getting much much closer to my subjects.

Now, Mr. Sinise was talking along side another notable individual and receiver of a medal of honor:

16 18 24 2 Edit

The Lesson

I have a few ending thoughts. The first actually ties into the whole “getting close to my subjects” bit. As I previously mentioned last night I judged 90 images submitted to a print competition. The most consistent thing I kept remarking on was that if the photographer took just a few GIANT steps closer to their subject then it would have solved so many qualms I had about their image. It’s a really important item to keep in mind while you’re shooting – and especially when making portrait. This portrait of Gary Sinise is much more engaging and relatable not just because of the more simple and painterly quality of light, but because his face actually takes up more of the frame. Simple as that. Compare it to my linked photo from the same spot I’ve photographed before and it should be clear… closer is better.

Second, though the Nikon 58 f/1.2 continues to be my absolutely favorite lens in my Nikon arsenal, it was really having Nathan with me that made this image possible. Yes, the shallow depth of field and the character of the 58 1.2 is to die for, but it does absolutely nothing behind the scenes leading up to this photo. I’ve long been focused and convinced that always shooting by myself was the best way to go, but today I was proved utterly wrong. Today was a high stress situation and having another person to help setup and quickly make changes with was absolutely invaluable.

Also, 3 hours later and I had no parking ticket illegally parking in downtown DC. I’m the luckiest man on the planet.

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