Last week, I had the distinct honor and privilege to photograph the President and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Dr. Greg Kimura, here in L.A. I have known Greg for a few months now, talking to him at the various museum functions over the past months, albeit briefly due to the many responsibilities that he has during events, but each time, it was always a pleasure to share our common interests in the world’s best camera (Nikon, of course!) and Panerai watches, among other interesting topics. So when he approached me to photograph him for a new set of headshots for the museum, I was definitely thrilled but nervous at the same time! Why, you might ask? Photographing the President and CEO of the largest Japanese-American institution in L.A. is a big deal! Plus, I thought to myself, what if they don’t come out right? What if they (gasp!) sucked?!!! (Double gasp!!!). What if he doesn’t like them?!!! (OMG!!! [faints]).
The week leading up to the session, I was racking my brain, wondering how I would go about photographing Greg, going through all the lighting diagrams in my head, wondering what lenses to use, what angles, what compositions, etc. Basically, stressing myself out! The day before the shoot, I went over to the museum to scout out a few locations, bringing my trusty new Fujifilm X100s to do the honor of location scouting, and I came up with three possible locales, but ended up using just two. That day I took some scouting photos, went home, and once again proceeded to worry and get nervous about the shoot. This was the President and CEO of JANM, and my whole photographic career hinged upon this one portrait session! (Not really, but that’s what it felt like! Lest I forget to mention that I once photographed Rose Ochi, who served on President Clinton’s cabinet during his tenure – but that was then, and this is now!)
There I was, roughly 24 hours away from doing what I love most, stressing out about what and how to do it. And then it hit me – a calm sense of “You can do it!”,”You’ve done it before, and this is no different, just you stressing out again as usual!” (I tend to have to listen to the voices in my head before important gigs like this). I quickly began to get some ideas for how to light it, where to photograph it, and what angles, and compositions to use. Wow. Talk about divine inspiration.
So the next day, I woke up, bright and early, looked over my gear that I packed the night before, ate breakfast, and looked at the clock until it was time to go. I asked my friend Mike P. to assist me on the shoot, to help with the setting- up, and breaking down of equipment. Plus I needed him as a stand-in before we got Greg into the photo. It’s always a great relief to have an assistant. You can totally “mess” up on them before the real talent gets there. What a luxury.
So here’s our first set up. Location #1 – Greg’s office. Photo taken the day before the shoot (Fuji x100s).
Nothing spectacular. Conference table, harsh light coming in from large floor to ceiling windows.
Here’s my trusty assistant for the day, Mike, sitting in under my lighting set up. I apologize for not photographing the entire set up, but what you see here is a gelled CTO 24×24 lastolite softbox camera left, at 45 degrees up and to the left, a bounce-carded rim behind my subject, and my camera’s white balance set to tungsten to turn the daylight blue.
Once I got that dialed in, it was time to bring in our main subject Greg and begin the session. It took me about 5-10 minutes to get my settings right (I forget the actual shutter/aperture), but once I had it, I settled in, had Greg sit in the chair, and proceeded to talk a bit. I think the most important part of any photo session, be it a headshot, a portrait, etc., is to get to know your subject, get them comfortable. Talk about stuff that really inspires and interests them. Sitting to get your picture taken can be a nerve wracking experience, and by talking to them and making them feel at ease will definitely help you both get the image you are trying to create.
So, from the photo above of Mike sitting in as my test subject, and the harsh window lit room, to this series of photos of Greg, comfortable, relaxed, and looking confident as President and CEO.
For all you tech geeks out there, I was using my Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8. Setting the white balance to Tungsten (as mentioned) turns daylight into a bluish color. By gelling my flash with a CTO (color temperature orange), it brings my subject back to what looks “correct”, thus giving me some interesting light to work with, and making an impactful photo vs. just one lit with a strobe.
My next set up, location #2, started off with this lighting. Taken again the day before the shoot using my amazing Fujifilm X100s. (Yes, I do love that little camera!)
Again, nothing amazing. Just overhead, diffused lighting from a skylight. Nice hallway tones in the stone walls and floor.
Good ‘ol Mike standing in once again, next to my makeshift spike mark on the floor. We later taped a spike mark for our subject.
Using the same technique as above, we made these photos:
This one is my personal favorite.