Sloth vs. Vanity

I’ve had a beard almost continuously for the last couple of decades. Not because I think I look particularly good with a beard, but because shaving is a pain in the butt. I just let the damn thing grow, occasionally cleaning up my neck while I’m in the shower, and every now and then pulling out the heavy-duty hair clippers (those little groomer things are helpless against my facial hair) slapping on the #2 guide, and hacking the thing back.

A couple of times recently I’ve been even more slovenly than usual and allowed my beard to get quite bushy. This time around, I decided to have a little fun with it. I shaved off most of it, but kept the goatee. Since then it has gotten even longer, and I’ve been shaving the rest of my face.

Yep, I’ve been doing almost as much work as going completely clean shaven. You see, I like the way the thing looks. Vanity has stepped up and bumped Sloth to the curb, at least for a while.

“How long are you going to let it get?” the official sweetie of Muddled Ramblings asked me a few days ago. I didn’t really have an answer for her. Later I came to another realization: I don’t even know how to trim the dang thing. So for now at least, it’s still getting longer.

This weekend I decided to take a few self-portraits to memorialize Vanity’s time in the spotlight. I have an old Russian Industar 50 lens (no need to add vignettes in post!) that I ended up getting for almost free, that I had yet to really play with. It came with a yellow filter, which is useful for Black and White (mostly outdoors, but hey). Black and white shots of my salt-and-pepper beard (more salt these days) seemed like a swell idea, so that’s what I did.

One thing about a manual-focus lens, self-portraits are a little trickier. Happily my eyefi mobi lets me see the pictures on my iPad without me having to move from my spot. Even with that, I ended up throwing away a lot of shots that weren’t in focus. Once the shots were loaded onto my computer, I converted the RAW files to black and white. The hard part there: which black and white? I spent quite a while fiddling with settings, and I could have spent even longer, but good ol’ Sloth intervened.

I was taking a beard-stroking picture, but I fumbled with the camera controller. Came out all right, though.

I was taking a beard-stroking picture, but I fumbled with the camera controller. Came out all right, though.

One thing about this facial hair setup, my cheekbones are visible. I should smile in pictures more often.

One thing about this facial hair setup, my cheekbones are visible. I should smile more.

The first time I've seen what it looks like from the side.

The first time I’ve seen what it looks like from the side.

A more dramatic pose.

A more dramatic pose.

Technical notes:
These were all shot with a Canon 5D Mk III, ISO 100 at 1/125 s. I started with the lens at f/3.5, but lost too many shots to focus and stopped it down to f/5.6-ish. (The aperture on the Industar is continuous, not “clicky” like on most lenses with manual aperture controls.) Light came from one strobe to my right (and reflected in my glasses), and another at very low power above and behind my head.

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After

This is what happens when my hair is short.

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The ‘Before’ Session

Before my appointment with Mindy this evening, I thought I’d better commemorate what I was about to lose. Of course, you can click the pictures to biggerize them.

Because hair, that's why.

Yep, the hair had only hours left as part of my head. I pulled out a couple of lights, a box fan, and my favorite portrait lens and took a few selfies.

It turns out ten seconds is not quite enough time to find your mark (has to be perfect for the focus), get your hair blowing in the wind, get into position, and finally switch off the photographer and activate the inner model to throw some personality back toward the camera.

Who knew the line between glam and metal was so narrow?

Glam

Glam

Metal

Metal

Guitarists: pay no attention to my left hand; getting that detail right was just one detail too many.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.


I can see opportunities lost in all of these poses, but that’s the way it goes. I’m featuring ones here that show my hair in all its glory. Yes, an ‘after’ episode is coming soon. I’ll leave you with another guitar solo face.
Guitar solo face.

Guitar solo face.

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Call Me Badass

The other day I looked in the mirror after I had been driving. I was still wearing my hat and shades, and I had to laugh. With my too-long-untrimmed beard I looked like, well, not me.

Yeah, not so much a mild-mannered geek as a stereotype from from central casting to be in the background for a scene in a “rough” bar. (Which, in fact, I was once paid to be.)

There are other shots in the batch that don’t make it obvious I was using shoot-through umbrellas (you can see them pretty clearly in the glasses), but I chose these based on different treatments of the light, and for my expressions. It’s a slow process when you have to stop and go behind the camera to see how a shot worked, then getting back in front and duplicating your head angle but altered just a smidge. So getting the reflections under control never really happened.

By the way, the background for those shots is a sneak peek at the shoot I’ll be doing with Harlean (who is a fiction) this afternoon. A shaky phone-camera look behind the scenes:

The set for today's shoot.

The set for today’s shoot.

Fun With Lights

There’s a big ho-down comin’ at work, and my boss was asked to come up with a list of pending accomplishments for her team, accompanied by pictures. So, I needed a picture of me writing, to accompany the announcement that I will soon be finishing Munchies, my long-anticipated novel. Anticipated by me, anyway.

Now, all that was required was a simple picture of me at the computer. But in my head this portrait quickly grew to include dramatic lighting that somehow gave a Munchies-like feel to the picture. That meant color gels, splashes on the walls, and dramatic light on the face, preferably from the glow of the screen.

It was also fun being the talent for once, while my sweetie gave direction from behind the camera.

In the end three of the lighting setups were moderately successful; I have picked out representatives from each of those to show below. The pictures are unaltered except for some cropping; color and exposure are straight off the camera.

For all these setups there’s a tight-beam green-gelled strobe is directly behind my head. In the first two another strobe is splashing light against the wall behind me. I’m thinking it would have been cool to make it a strong primary color, just so see how it looked, but I didn’t do that.

The second and third pictures have only the computer’s LCD screen lighting my face. This required very long shutter times to capture enough light. (The light from the strobes is a fixed quantity no matter how long the shutter is open, so you use exposure time to adjust the mix between flash and ambient light.) Quite a few almost-awesome shots were lost because I wasn’t holding still enough.

Anyway, here are some samples from the shoot. As always, you can click to biggerize them. All the shots were taken with my 85mm lens at very wide apertures to keep exposure times from getting totally ridiculous.

Two strobes and overhead halogens

Two strobes and overhead halogens

Two strobes and screen light

Two strobes and screen light

One strobe and screen light

One strobe and screen light

Not appearing in this list are shots where the green light was behind to my left, where it shone on my face a bit. An interesting effect, but it didn’t really work out this time.

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Hair Haloes

Today’s exercise: separate the subject from a busy background by backlighting the hair. Fortunately I had a model handy with plenty of hair to backlight, and that model was willing to keep experimenting as long as I was. Me. Unfortunately, the challenge of getting a good shot when using a new technique takes a lot longer when you can’t look through the camera as you’re setting up the shot.

I’m sure there’s a more technical term for an accent light shot directly through the subject’s hair, but I don’t know it. I thought it was “hair light”, but it turns out that’s something else.

Self-Portrait, April 23, 2011

Self-Portrait, April 23, 2011, experiment with hair haloes.

Still, it was a pretty successful day. I took more than 100 shots and after a while I was confident enough in the setup that I could concentrate on taking self-portraits that were actually interesting to look at. Nineteen shots remain in my “keeper” bin, though I have no idea what I’ll do with them. Looking at the keepers, I can see that I have a weakness for the overly dramatic. I suppose it’s nice to even have a recognizable style at all. All these images are straight off the camera with no tweaking or even cropping. I swear they weren’t all this over-the-top. Really.

A slightly less overdramatic (and therefore less-liked by me) self-portrait.

These photos don’t necessarily represent the best (my opinion of which changes every moment anyway), but the most representative of the technique. There’s no rocket science here; I got the main lights as close to me as possible so I could turn them down pretty low. That meant less light hitting the busy wall behind me. Directly behind my head is a third light that backlights my hair. I probably should have played with different intensities of that light more.

Even though there's a lot of shadow on me, the hair halo really separates me from the background.

This is the last shot of the day, and the fill light didn’t fire at all. (It’s set to flash when it sees another light flash, but all the lights were turned down pretty far and the fill light was behind an umbrella.) That left my head very dark, but the back light really pops me out from the background. All these photos have reflections of the lights in the glass behind me. In the one above you get a particularly clear look at the spokes of the fill light’s umbrella. Reflections are a bitch, man.

One of my favorite self-portraits ever! I really like the composition, how much my face shows, and how the colors in the jersey came out on this one. By keeping things just a touch underexposed the colors get nice and saturated.

I don’t know how often I’ll actually need this technique, but it turned out to be pretty easy. Here’s the setup:

The setup for Self-Portrait Saturday

For the fill light I could have opened the curtains just off-camera to the right rather than setting up a strobe, but then I would have had to worry about shutter speed, and that was one more variable than I wanted to deal with when I couldn’t look at the result after every shot.

The setup picture itself was taken with our older camera. I propped on a footstool and set it for two-second exposure. When I heard it click, I took a picture with the main camera, which of course caused the strobes to pop and light the scene for both cameras.

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This Week’s Self-Portrait

This wasn’t intended to be a self-portrait; I was working on a shoot with Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction) and realized after a series of shots that I was in the picture also. I like the image, though. It’s a picture of me taking a picture of Harlean.

Keep Away From Childten

Keep Away From Children

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