Monday, April 13, 2009

Reader's Digest portrait assignment

Bob Williamson at his Key Largo home.

My job is pretty amazing. I get to travel and meet some interesting people. This recent Reader's Digest story was no exception. I was assigned to shoot Bob Williamson at his home in Key Largo, Fl. He recently sold his computer software company, Horizon Software International, for $75 million dollars. Although that is impressive, it is even more so after you hear about his life struggles. As a youth, Bob had a drug addiction and was wanted by the police. It was only after a near death car accident that he found God and turned his life around.
Reader's Digest stories are always inspiring and uplifting. All the text and images should reflect this. The only instructions that my editor gave was to make nice photos and give him some variety. I always love when I am given the freedom to capture the subject with no restrictions! What a great client!!!

As with most jobs, my assistant Jorge and I jumped into the rental car early in the morning for the long trip down. It is about a 5 hour drive from Orlando to Key Largo. We planned it so we could shoot with some beautiful sunset light. Sunset is generally better for portrait shoots since the magic light lasts longer than the nice sunrise light. When we arrived, I was really impressed with the property. Often times, a location will dictate just how much variety you can provide.

I started out by shooting him with his home in the background. I also shot him with his old bicycle. I thought it contrasted nicely with the lavish home. It also helps communicate how far he has come in his life. This sounds pretty simple, but these exposures are tricky. Since the home is in shade, it is really important to balance the foreground and background light. If the light ratio between the subject and background is too large, the house would've gone to black. Nothing is worse in a background than a bunch of dark space. I shot these images at 1/80 @ f7.1 with my Nikon D3 and 24-70 lens. The shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light that the house will have, and the f-stop is for the strobe exposure. I used a Profoto 7B with a 5' Octobank for the main light on the right and a Profoto 600B with a small softbox for the fill on the back left side.

After those initial images, I had him change so we could work the backyard. I thought the background was beautiful - good enough to be a fashion/swimsuit location. It wouldn't be hard to make a pretty picture back here. I positioned Bob in shade, so he wouldn't be squinty. I again used the Profoto 7B with a 5' Octobank for the main light and a Profoto 600B with a small softbox for the fill on the back left side.
I like to have some contrast in the subject's face, but not any dark shadowy areas. I then moved him around to show off the gorgeous backyard. The exposure for these backyard portraits were 1/250th at f/10 with the Nikon D3 and the 24-70 lens. I usually try to shoot with more limited depth of field, but with blue skies and ocean behind, I let it go.

The final images I made were with Bob in the hammock. These extreme horizontal images work great in double truck opening spreads, but not so great if they cannot run real large. Thats is why you shoot both horizontal and vertical. In the magazine, they used a variation of the dock photo, which was my favorite. This story is in the May 2009 issue of Reader's Digest.