Rather than having the latest aluminum cased device adorning their landing page, one year ago apple.com consisted solely of the image below; and it remained that way for an entire month.
Of course, it was in tribute to Apple’s founder who had just passed away. Purportedly, this photograph, made by Albert Watson, was Jobs’s favorite and was shot on medium format film. I hadn’t yet read Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography on Jobs and had very little knowledge of the man; this image, however, intrigued me.
Even if you don’t know who the subject is, the expression, character, and pose draw you to view it a little longer. I mean, he’s not stroking his beard–that would be too cliche, I think. And the expression may at first appear to be severe, but soon becomes impish–like he’s got a joke, and he might even let you in on it. As a portraitist myself, I highly admire that ability to draw character out–and to draw so much in a single frame is a testament to Watson’s talent.
Beyond the subject, there is also technical excellence–which is nothing less than requisite when photographing one of the richest men in the world. Yet there is still style. It appears to me to be lit with a beauty dish (often reserved for, well, beauty images) from the left, maybe even using a grid to focus the light more tightly (see the way it falls off to a darker tone on his right ear?) There is also depth and detail in the darker side of his face which makes me think a big white reflector (v-flat?) is on the right side of the image. Straightforward and effective, right? One of those images you look at and think, ‘I could shoot that.’
But, of course, you didn’t, and neither did I. But I wanted to be able to shoot it should a billionaire call and ask for a headshot. So I did what Roberto Valenzuela suggests and practiced it, made it part of my toolbox, something I can pull out without having to learn it under pressure. (Valenzuela’s book is highly recommended)
My friend Justin was at the studio so, he was the first guinea pig.
At the time I did not have a beauty dish, but it’s just a soft round light, right? So I used a small octabox (I love Paul C. Buff’s collapsible models) on Justin’s face, and another light on the white seamless paper hanging for the background. I didn’t have a grid for that box to focus the light as tightly as the Jobs portrait appears to be, so I chose to use the adjustment brush in Lightroom to burn down the edge of light on the right side of his face; I also used the adjustment brush to brighten the seamless and make it evenly white (hint: use the “Auto Mask” checkbox). I used a large white reflector (5-in-1 pop-up) on the right side of the frame to ease the darkness of the shadows. Ideally, I wouldn’t need to do all that post on the lighting, and I know there are myriad other ways to do it…but I did it this way (we’d love to hear other methods to help people achieve a similar look – send those to us on Google+ at (link)
Camera Settings & Black and White
I believe I found out later that the original portrait of the Jobs was shot in color, which is good for flexibility and options, both of which I’m in favor of. However, I wasn’t being paid to photograph a CEO, and I wanted my post-processing to be minimized, therefore I shot in Monochrome on the camera. I know, I know: why would I limit myself that way? Well, if you shoot RAW, then even though your camera was set to monochrome, the images will be in color once they are imported into Lightroom or Photoshop, which means there’s post processing to do. However, if you shoot RAW+JPG, then you get your original RAW in color, and you get the JPG in black and white. Options, baby!
My opinion is that your $800 camera is a computer that is designed solely to let you make pictures…Unlike your $800 computer that is designed to let you write papers, watch movies, and regale your friends with your breakfast choice on Facebook. Thus, I’m happy to let my camera make exceptional black and white images for me. But I rarely use the default monochrome setting.
I love a high contrast black and white picture, and when I shot film in high school I could get it by using a red filter on the front of my lens to alter the way the light was recorded on the film. It’s like the Cracker-Jack decoder: there’s a bunch of red and blue dots on a page and your eyes can’t make out a discernible message until you place the red cellophane decoder over the page. The red cellophane made the red dots appear the same color as the white page around them, and made the blue dots darker so you could read the words written in the blue dots. Similarly, a red filter on the lens makes red colored things lighter toned, and blue things (the opposite color) darker (for portraits, that means that pimples are practically gone without any touch-up.) Your DSLR almost certainly has the option to not only shoot in monochrome, but also to add filter effects–red, orange, yellow, or green. Try out each one and see what effect they have on your work. Please note that on film we put the filter on the front of the lens, but in digital, it’s applied digitally to the sensor directly, so there’s no glass to carry and no fingerprints to wipe off. Also, this isn’t going to make your picture appear red–that would come from the tint effects you have available in the monochrome settings. (Hint: the green filter is probably the wrong choice for most portraits, but may be incredible for your landscape work)
For the image of Justin, I chose the orange filter because I didn’t want his eyes to be too dark but still wanted the orange and red tones of his skin to be lightened.
I liked Justin’s portrait so much, I asked him to make one of me, too.
Then Corey walked into the studio.
Then Bob came by.
We had our usual Wednesday lunchtime meeting of our local SMUG, and many of them came into the studio to show tribute. I also hosted the quarterly regional arts summit meeting, and some of them came in, too. I shared these images on Facebook and invited anyone to come in for a Steve Jobs tribute portrait, and they responded heartily!
I photographed everyone from one-week old babies to 81 year-old men. And they told me stories. Stories about Apple computers being part of their lives. Many of them were teachers, and they went on and on about how wonderful it was to have computers for their students to learn with and what wonderful tools they were. Some of them were professionals who loved the machines, while others simply appreciated their simplicity and design. Some didn’t care for Jobs as an individual, but couldn’t help recognizing the monumental things he had done. Some were cinema professionals whose entire industry was altered and enhanced by the man. It was really a wonderful experience, and introduced me to many of my neighbors I hadn’t known. This project opened my eyes to the diversity of people who live in my little valley in Northern Utah. See the rest of the images here. (http://sdesigns.smugmug.com/2011-Commercial/Steve-Jobs/Steve-Jobs)
Causing a Stir
Steve Jobs created things. He made products that actually changed lives (my iPad, which I have produced this writing on, has enabled me to change my life by becoming a full-time photographer), and has built a business that is a part of a generation. He caused a stir.
Albert Watson’s image caused a stir by representing that man and that company, and his images have been hugely influential in other publications, as well.
In tribute to these two visionary men, I used the above image of me for an ad in a local coupon magazine. That magazine was published the same week that Isaacson’s biography of Jobs was released…and my ad made waves! Small, local waves, but waves, nonetheless. The owner of the entire publishing company called my rep directly to ask if I was mocking Jobs; to the contrary, I assured her that I was making a small tribute, and please see the whole project. Well, they decided to run my ad in the end. What I learned was that making waves is important because it causes people to notice. Since then, I have run an ad each month, always a black and white picture of me with a story. These ads stand out in the entire publication because they are quiet and different and because they are different they make people stop and read, pay attention and notice what I’m saying.
Hopefully, my art is a tribute to all those I’ve learned from. Hopefully, it will continue to be as I learn and create and try to make a little impact on this world, too.
Levi is honored to be an ambassador for Lumix cameras, Vanguard tripods and bags, and Spider Holster carry systems.
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