Zarias Studio Selfie

I like Zach Arias' headshots, so I tried to copy one in self portrait. Now, he uses a PhaseOne for those, but we can get pretty close. There's lot of discussion about the mysterious qualities of medium format, but it sounds to me an awfully lot like the same discussion regarding APS-C vs 35mm sensor sizes- mostly wanking. There are certainly quantifiable differences that take place as you change format size, but let's try and be somewhat objective about this. Between APS-C and 35mm, you get better ISO performance and less depth-of-field as you use a larger sensor, as well as wider field of view for a given focal length. Medium format sensors are still mostly CCD, so one rarely gets an ISO bump. Maybe better dynamic range, depending. But that's not huge. Oh, and more megapickels. 

The big things then are less depth of field and wider field of view for his focal length used. I have no idea what focal length he used, so I just popped my 85mm onto my Canon 6D and figured it'd be good. If I opened the lens real wide I could probably get close to the short depth of field he used. But since this was a self portrait I'd be shooting at F/8 to try and give myself a bit of breathing room. 

So, really, it mostly comes down to posing and lighting. The bread and butter of all studio work.

I've spent enough time watching videos, assisting on big shoots and stumbling through my own work that I usually have a basic idea of the lighting I want from a shoot: White backdrop with a beauty-dish-style key light above center. Zarias' photo, IIRC, was taken in the desert during midday. He had his assistant use the diffuser in his 5-in-1 reflector to block the sun and provide the white backdrop. I figured my softbox + umbrella would give me a similar enough effect, with perhaps a bit more studio flair from the wrapped light.

(Side note: So much of my improvement as a professional the last year has been just seeing how other people do something and copying it. Do that enough times and you have a serious bank of poses/lighting schemes/ideas/etc to call upon. Never underestimate concept thievery.)

Hmm. Ghetto. But functional. I used a mark on the floor to place myself, and I prefocused on a chair over that mark. I don't have a remote IR trigger, due to both impractical miserliness and problems with Canon's implementation. Instead I used EOS Remote from my Nexus 5. Works decent enough, and you can pull JPEGs over to check how things look. Big help! Getting focus right was a bitch, even given my method. 

A couple test shots, some light tweaking, a couple more shots, some more tweaks. So on and so forth. Eventually I got the light how I liked it and started shooting for real. Like I said, getting the focus right was a pain in the ass. Having the EOS Remote to look at JPEGs was a massive help. Eventually I found a location and pose that was sharp. With all that locked down, only one thing remained:

The pose.

Posing is a huge skills of portrait shooting. A year ago I wouldn't have given it more than a small note. But I am a converted man. Posing is key. I went for a straight face. Two reasons for doing this:

  1. It's easier. Getting a good smiling shot is hard (ask Peter Hurley), and with my focus issues I wasn't able to loosen up much.
  2. The source photo wasn't smiling. When I do projects like this, I tried to keep close to the material. It forces you to not brush over small things and to really hone your craft. 

You can see the 'remote' in my hand. The black shot above this one in the queue is with the backlight only. 

Eventually I got enough that looked like keepers and popped over to my laptop for some post. I went for B&W like the source photo and tweaked it to find the right amount of contrast. I had been envious of his black and white conversions for a while and wanted to figure it out myself. I think I got pretty close. You can check out some of the settings above. Those aren't the final product exactly, but you get the idea. You probably don't need nearly that much tweaking, but I'm trying to revamping my post skills, and part of that is trying new things. It's pretty easy to get lost in one photo and over-bake it. I find stepping out and coming back after a bit helps.

After getting the .RAWs where I wanted them, I brought the final shot over to Photoshop for some skin touch up (acne? Hah!) and additional sharpening. A profile conversion to sRGB and I saved it out. Voilà!


Not bad for something shot on the floor. Looking back, the background is a touch hot and I could've brightened up the skin a bit. The shirt isn't great either and has some dirt on it. I probably should've also shaved. But hey, that's me. I'll be taking this setup out of the next couple weeks and trying it with some other people. Once I get that down, I'll try copying his depth of field...