Living in Santa Fe has many perks. Yeah, we have the mountains, cultural diversity, the art scene, and way more dining options than you’d think for a town our size. We also have a vibrant photography community, thanks in part to the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Year-round, with a focus on summer, the workshops hold an astounding number of classes taught by some of the best photographers in the world. This year I decided to develop my portraiture skills, and take Gregory Heisler’s portrait lighting workshop. For six days, I got to enjoy the company of fourteen other talented photographers, absorb as much of Greg’s knowledge possible in such a short time, and shoot some great models in amazing settings. Above is a image of Donald, one of the SFPW’s rock-star models, during a session at the now-defunct New Mexico State Prison.
It was a fantastic time, where it’ll probably be months before I realize how much information sunk into my little noggin.
Our afternoon location shoots usually involved applying some kind of new lighting technique: feathering softboxes, using gels, adjusting white balance to create moods, and even using continuous lighting. All of the tips and tricks were intended to expand our tools for telling a photographic story. The second image of Donald (above) is what you get when using a dark green key light, and applying a custom white balance setting in the camera. No matter what you do with the lighting, you can’t take a bad photo of Donald. In fact, the guy has been doing this so long, he’ll even give you tips on locating those lights. Fun stuff.
This shot was a little Mathew Barney-esque set-up in one of the prison’s main cell blocks. A CTO’d softbox provides most of the lighting from camera right, while a gridded speedlite kicks a little light on Donald (also camera right).
We did three location shoots throughout the week. In addition to the prison, we spent an afternoon in the defunct power plant in Algodones, and a hacienda near Velarde. At the power plant, my group worked with dude sporting an Edward Sharpe look, complete with dreads. This wasn’t going to be a cover shoot for some company’s annual report. While helping out a classmate, I notices the cool typography on the frosted glass doors, and just had use it in one of my shots. Zyklotron is just hack german for cyclotron, and not something you’d find in a real power plant. Chances are, the doors are leftover props from one of the many movie shoots over the years at the plant. Using the doors as softboxes, two speedlites lit the model from both sides. Setting the white balance to tungsten, the flash and ambient create on a moody blue glow, and the whole setting takes on a dystopian man vs. industry look.
(ed. It turns out that the doors and entire plant stood in for both the Nazi nuclear program site, and Oak Ridge site in the first season of the TV show “Manhattan”)
The hacienda shoot involved using standard florescent lights to produce a natural looking light anywhere in the house. Above, the florescent is coming from camera left. While the continuous lights provided instant feedback, it proved more challenging to balance ambient and the artificial light. I guess I’ve gotten too used to working with strobes. However, for a whopping $60 investment in lights, the florescents worked great, and really challenged me to think differently about light.
Add it up and divide by N, the week provided an invaluable experience, even though it was different than I expected. Going into the workshop, I had notions of spending all kinds of time getting into the head of how Greg approaches his photography. While he did spend some time discussing his process, and showing us some demos, six days was too little time. A month would probably be too little. However, Greg was able to attract an excellent collection of students for our workshop. I learned almost as much or more from working with them on the location shoots or seeing their resulting images during the critique on the following morning.
So if you’re looking to branch out, or need some new inspiration for your portraiture, I highly recommend checking out one of Greg’s workshops.