Sunday, October 20, 2013


Get yourself a mirror and paint your own portrait, over and over. It's a great chance to experiment, you'll discover things about yourself, and you don't have to pay the model! (Susan Avishai)

Selfies. Ya Gotta Love 'em. Up until recently, I didn't know they had a name.

The shot at the top of this posting (Photo #1) never fails to amuse. Right after I made it, I brought it to my favorite lunchtime haunt, Nini's in San Mateo, and showed my handiwork to the waitresses, telling them I was photographed with my two identical triplet brothers. All believed it, at least for a moment, but their growing skepticism forced me to reveal my digital trickery. However, one viewer went so far as to state "...the middle one must be Tom, because he's the oldest". Ya gotta love 'em. More details later.

Making selfies in the film era was problematic because you could not gauge your success until after your prints were delivered. The immediately feedback provided by the digital camera's LCD panel allows you to adjust your exposure or composition should you wish.
Photo #2
Here are some useful strategies and techniques. The Left Hand Hold (Photo #2) is a very useful technique to master. Since all of my lenses have UV filters, I can use them as a mirror to assure proper alignment. 

There is one problem that you may encounter, particularly if you are not a supermodel, which I am not. The ergonomics of the camera make the Left Hand Hold relatively easy to hold, but pretty much forces you to photography yourself from the left side, or straight on. Supermodels may be many things, but being a successful photographic model requires a high degree of left to right symmetry in the face and body, a quality that is often overlooked.

If you look at yourself in the mirror, you may notice that one eye appears larger than the other. In my case, my left eye is slightly larger, perhaps due to a heavier lid on my right eye. Whenever I face away from the camera,  the left eye, which is nearer to the camera, will appear larger still, giving my face a slightly off-kilter look.

Photo #3
In Photo #3, I used a filtered flash coupled with an appropriate custom white balance setting to produce a proper skin rendition but forced the background to take on a magenta hue.

For this shot I used Gary Fong's Collapsible Light Sphere with one of his green fluorescent filters. I has been my experience that all of these filters work best when a custom white balance reading is taken, which I did. Doing so had the same effect as adding a magenta (color compliment to the green filtration) filter in front of the lens which gave a twilight look to the background. And since the (green) filter was attached to the primary light source (the Light Sphere), my skin tones are quite natural. I did crop the image slightly to remove some traces of bed-head. 

Photo #4
The next shot (Photo #4) was something of an extreme drag shutter shot. Taken at night, the key light was a speedlight bounced off the walls of the darkened dining room in front of me. The foreground exposure was provided by a single speedlight bounced off the wall. The background was illuminated by a  table lamp with a warm-white fluorescent bulb. For all intents and purposes, the bounced key light never reached the wall behind me, so the lamp provided all of the ambient light. In fact, you can see a reflection of the bounced light in the framed artwork in the background. The exposure was 1/2 second, and my slight movements created the irregular outline around me. The white balance preset was "Flash" to match the speedlight. In this shot, camera shake provided the ghostly edging.

Photo #5
When used outdoors, this same technique can produce some interesting images. In this photo made outside of my home, the street and window lights were used as simple accents because there wasn't enough light to fully illuminate the homes. In Photo #5, the left sample was made with the camera held relatively still, while the right was made with the camera panned from one side to the other.

Photo #6
This last shot (Photo #6) was featured in an earlier post. In this case I used an open aperture and a telephoto lens to provide the background blur. To make the shot, I positioned myself at the edge of a shadow cast by a nearby tree. This gave me total control over the light on my face, which in this case was a speedlight shot through an umbrella. The photo as actually made by a friend after I had done the setup and determined the appropriate exposure. It would have been impossible to hand-hold the camera since the camera was about ten feet away when the shot was made. Additional details on the shot can found by clicking here.

There is one take-away from these experiments: When in doubt, select the white balance setting that provides the best skin tones. In the mixed lighting conditions presented by these two experiments, I tried to keep the skin tones "realistic" and let the background go along for the ride. In Photo #3 I wanted the background to take on a magenta tone so I essentially set the camera's white balance to a generic Fluorescent setting and gelled the flash to match. In Photo #4, the white balance matched the off-camera flash, and the background just "did its thing".

Playing with different light sources and exposures can lead to some interesting results. While none of these selfies will be printed, each serves as a record of a lighting experiment that may provide a solution for a future lighting problem. Now if I can only get my subject to smile...

The lead shot was a sandwich composed of three layers. The three images (Photo #5) were made in front of a textured background using high frontal lighting with an accent light coming from the rear. The secret, if there is one, is to be sure that the camera is mounted on a steady tripod and that the camera not be allowed to re-focus between photos. This insures proper registration when the layers are merged together.

Photo #5