Four headshots, two moods

I do a lot of headshots. On the surface, it's a pretty simple thing: frontal view, flattering lighting, simple background. But like haiku, there's still a lot of variation possible within its restricted form. Should the lighting emphasize facial features or hide age lines? Is the person's left or right eye dominant? What color shall the background be? Open or closed smile?

Matching a style

For these headshots of executives from Monday Properties, I was asked to match images that had been taken by another photographer. This is trickier than it sounds. Without the ability to actually talk to that photographer and discuss lighting and background, I had to guess at his or her setup. Surprisingly, it was the color of background that gave me the most trouble, as I couldn't quite get the new photos to match the older ones. In the end, I simply cut out my background in Photoshop and replaced it with the correct color.

Try this game: go to the team page on Monday Properties website. There are 16 executive photos, of which 9 are mine. Correctly identify the 9 and I will send you a gift!

Neighborhood business

Michael Garcia should be a familiar face to anyone who attends an Arlington Chamber of Commerce event. I don't think he's ever missed one! Michael asked me to photograph his insurance agency in Arlington, Virginia. As a small business with a retail storefront on busy Columbia Pike, it's important to be visually connected to the neighborhood.

We were lucky that the day was slightly overcast, at least long enough for us to take some outdoor photos. Then it was indoors for group and individual pictures. Michael's team even coordinated with State Farm red tops!

Just press the shutter? Hardly ...

The human eye is remarkably forgiving. Walk into a typical building and your vision (1) automatically adjusts from the bright outdoors to a much dimmer interior and (2) compensates for the vastly different color and quality of light.

A camera isn't quite so smart, so we photographers have to work to make it mimic what we see.

In my assignment to photograph the Arlington Mill Residences for Washington Workplace, I knew that the lobby area would be especially challenging. Here's what my Nikon saw when I first walked into the lobby.


The overhead lights are warmer than daylight. Luckily they're reasonably consistent with each other. But their brightness is a problem. If I set the proper exposure for the furniture, the overheads are totally blown out and have no detail.

Turning 180 degrees, here's the view towards the entrance. As you can see, it's glass, and lets in daylight. Fortunately the daylight wasn't too strong, and even though it was a different color temperature than the room lights, it would be relatively weak.

I set up 2 strobes behind the camera, facing into the little corners formed by the foyer. I needed a broad swath of light, as diffuse as possible; ideally I would have liked to have an entire wall, instead of just the little corners, so I spent quite a bit of time varying the height, distance, and angle of the strobes. Here's a photo where I got it wrong:

Eventually, it all worked out. Nice, even light across the lobby. Balance camera exposure and strobe brightness so that the overhead lights look like they're on, and you can still see detail in the lighting fixtures. Here's the final photo:

Not bad. Given more time and budget, I would have cleaned up the reflections in the glass doors by shooting more images with the lights in different positions, then compositing in Photoshop. But the client was happy, and so was I.

Covering a technology conference

Photographing a conference is a lot like street photography: you have to be unobtrusive, and you're constantly hunting for interesting expressions. Even with 400 people intently focused on a single speaker, there's plenty of subject matter to capture. My main challenge was lighting - a messy mix of fluorescent, video, and LED - and darkness (as conferences tend to be). Despite the funky colors thrown off by the projection screens, I shot the available light, with not too unpleasing results.

See more of my photos from the Gasification Technologies Council's annual conference on their site.

Assignment: Arlington Free Clinic

I'm thrilled to be shooting photos for the Arlington Free Clinic's annual report, gala, and 20th anniversary. I have many friends at the Clinic and they provide an indispensable service: free medical care to Arlington's low-income and uninsured. They rely on generous donations and countless hours volunteered by doctors, therapists, nurses, and translators. The need is great: every month, several hundred people apply through a lottery for only a dozen or so new-patient spots.

It's always a challenge to photograph in an environment where people are busy and their work is far more important than yours. Luckily, the Clinic has pretty good lighting. A typical office's fluorescent lights cast an appalling green color; the Clinic has daylight-balanced lights, which actually photographed a little bit warm. I only had to use a 1/4 CTO gel on my speedlight for an occasional fill. Otherwise, most of the photos were shot with available light.

It's doubly difficult when you're working with patients. You have to be sensitive to their situation. The best strategy is to be quiet and blend into the background; you cannot be the "big-time" photographer, setting up lights and directing people. In this instance, the subject matter trumps all technical considerations. I'm grateful to the people who allowed me to photograph them during their medical consultations.