Featured: 'Finding Clarity' by russelljtdyer

Discussion in 'Portrait' started by russelljtdyer, Aug 16, 2014.

  1. russelljtdyer

    russelljtdyer Leica Place Regular

    25
    Aug 2, 2013
    Milan, Italy
    Russell J.T. Dyer
    Early this year, I bought a Leica M9, replacing an M8.2. I mentioned in a previous post how long of a journey it was to get to this point. Although it works well for me outdoors, I've had problems using the M9 for studio photography. Without automatic focusing, it has been difficult to use with models. My main problem is with focusing sharply. It's easier with the M9 and it's better sensor, but I still have problems. I’ve tried to work through my difficulties, but have been unable to resolve them. It’s embarrassing to have all of this equipment, when a model can take better pictures of me with her iPhone.

    A few months ago I discovered Matthew Osbone (see photo below of him), who gives photography lessons and uses the Leica M9 camera and Leica lenses for fashion photography and weddings. He's the same person who taught the workshop that Christina attended at the end of June this year in London. I asked him to give me private lessons to improve my skills in using my cameras and lenses in a studio setting. I had to go to London this past week for a few days for work, so I scheduled one day to go to Matthew's studio in Coventry.

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-0.

    He gave me advice about holding the camera differently, adjusting the lens more smoothly, where to focus on the model, etc. We photographed a model, Gina Underhill for over four hours. He also gave me suggestions on configuring the camera for portrait photography. He went through exposure settings and positioning and use of the studio lights, as well as working with natural lighting.

    The result is that I feel much more confident about using my cameras and lenses for studio photography--and it was a fun day. Below are a few of the photos from the day. If you click on them, you'll see larger versions.

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-1.
    equipment: leica m9 & leica summicron 50mm f/2
    exposure: aperture: f/2.8; shutter: 1/125; iso: 160

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-2.
    equipment: leica m9 & leica summicron 50mm f/2
    exposure: aperture: f/2.8; shutter: 1/180; iso: 160

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-3.
    equipment: leica m9 & leica elmarit 28mm f/2.8
    exposure: aperture: f/2.8; shutter: 1/500; iso: 160

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-4.
    equip: leica m9 & leica summicron apo 75mm f/2
    exposure: aperture: f/6.7; shutter: 1/90; iso: 160

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-5.
    equipment: leica m9 & leica summicron 50mm f/2
    exposure: aperture: f/2.8; shutter: 1/180; iso: 160
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2015
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  2. ajramirez

    ajramirez Leica Place Veteran

    267
    Mar 30, 2013
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    Wonderful set of photographs!
     
  3. chalkdust

    chalkdust Leica Place Regular

    78
    Apr 3, 2013
    Russell - these are wonderful images. Great job! It is so wise of you to get help from a person more skilled. That is how those skills are passed on. :)

    I notice that each of these images is shot at f/2.8 or smaller aperture. I have found that f/2.8 and f/4 are two of my best apertures for people. When I look at my father's old lenses, f/2.8 was as large as he owned.

    I am not making any big statement here...just some photographic musings inspired by your great work. Thanks!
     
  4. Brian

    Brian Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 3, 2013
    Your model is beautiful- and the photographs really catch her beauty. You certainly have put the M9 to great use, have mastered it.
     
  5. raid

    raid Leica Place All-Pro

    Apr 12, 2013
    USA
    Raid
    Could you share with us sone of the tips tht worked best for you?
    Thanks.
     
  6. russelljtdyer

    russelljtdyer Leica Place Regular

    25
    Aug 2, 2013
    Milan, Italy
    Russell J.T. Dyer
    Thanks for the compliments. Yes, Matthew recommended a tighter depth of field for portraits. It not only makes the background softer and less distracting, it makes the image of the model more personal. When we look at someone, if we're getting into that person, we focus on their eyes and partially on their face. We don't look at things behind them or even focus on much else on them. So he recommended a wide open aperture and to focus on the nearest eye is best, or at least provides the most powerful results.

    -Russell
     
  7. russelljtdyer

    russelljtdyer Leica Place Regular

    25
    Aug 2, 2013
    Milan, Italy
    Russell J.T. Dyer
    Thanks ajramirez and Brian for the compliments. It was fun and I definitely feel more confident. I need much more practice, but I have a fighting chance at getting good at studio photography. Yes, the model is beautiful, and surprisingly young. She's only 17 years old, but works with a modeling agency. She hopes to sign a contract with them soon when she turns 18.
     
  8. russelljtdyer

    russelljtdyer Leica Place Regular

    25
    Aug 2, 2013
    Milan, Italy
    Russell J.T. Dyer
    A Few Tips

    Well I don't want to take anything away from Matthew Osborne's workshops. He could tell you more and you would learn much more attending one of his workshops than from what I can write here. But I think I can share a few tips I learned that might help some.

    One simple tip I learned from him is to focus on the eye of the model that is closer to you, or rather closer to the lens. About one-third of the area that is acceptably in focus will be before the point on which you focus, and two-thirds beyond the focus point. Using a tight depth of field (i.e., an aperture between f/2 and f/4), if the model's head is turned slightly away from you and you focus on the closer eye, the one further away should be fine--it will be within the further two-thirds zone of the depth of field. If you focus instead on the eye which is further away from you, there's a good chance that the closer eye will not be in focus because with a tight depth of field, not much space will be in focus. You can see what I'm saying in the photo below:

    russelljtdyer-20140810-leicaplace-6.

    In this photo, I had the aperture of the lens at f/4 and I focused on her left eye, the one further away. It's very sharp. But from the nose coming closer to the camera, she's out of focus. Her right eye is blurry. It would have been an excellent photo if I had focused on the other eye. Then it would have been sharp and the other one would probably have been fine. In this shot, you can see that all of her left eyebrow and cheek are in focus. So there was enough depth of field to have had both eyes in focus if I had focused on the closer one.

    In the past, I was random about where I would focus: sometimes the nose, sometimes the chin, and sometimes even the collar of the model's shirt. It made for a mess of photos. By focusing on the eyes, since that's where the viewer of the photo will look, makes it all much simpler.

    Another tip I can convey easily is about configuring the Leica M9 for portraits. The LCD screen on the back of the camera is not very high resolution, so it's difficult to see if a shot is in focus before moving on. Although a film camera provides no feedback, it's a useful tool and you should be able to use it. I know I can zoom in on the LCD screen, but since I wasn't consistent about where to focus, I would look to see only if something was in focus and felt it was good enough regardless of what was sharp. More than that, even if I looked where I had focused the camera, I still wasn't sure how well I did. It wasn't until after I was done shooting the model and loaded the photos on my computer that I knew if I had done well. I always dreaded that moment for fear that I had wasted the model's time taking pictures that are rubbish.

    russelljtdyer-leicaplace-leica-m9-settings-portraits.

    Matthew's tip about configuration was to set the camera to record both DNG (i.e., raw) images and jpeg images. I had been recording only DNG files because I upload them to Adobe Lightroom and it exports easily to jpeg files. Since I didn't want the jpeg files on the camera, it seemed like a waste of space on my memory card and takes longer for the camera to process the images. However, it helps in getting a better image. From what I can reason out from my background in computers, if you take pictures and record only DNG files, the camera takes the thumbnail recorded within the DNG file to display on the LCD. That image is not very good. If you instead include a jpeg image, the camera displays the thumbnail from it on the LCD. That might be the same quality, but it is one that has been processed. So if you go into the Menu on the M9 and set Color Saturation to Black & White, as well as Sharpening to High, and Contrast to Standard, the result is a much sharper, high resolution black and white jpeg image--which you can delete from your computer hard drive after you upload. The DNG file will still be in full color, only the jpeg will be in black and white. The point of that jpeg image is that the camera will display the thumbnail from that sharpened, high resolution black and white image on the LCD. You will see a much better image for you to review. Plus, you won't be distracted by color and can check easily if your image is sharp by zooming in on the closer eye on the LCD by spinning the wheel.

    These two major tips--focus on the closer eye and configure the camera for sharpened black and white images--quickly put me on track to much better portraits. After that, it was just minor changes and some practice that helped to make more improvements.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2015
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  9. MrLeicacom

    MrLeicacom New to Leica Place

    1
    Aug 18, 2014
    Coventry UK
    • Like Like x 3
  10. Christilou

    Christilou Leica Place Veteran

    388
    Apr 5, 2013
    Love the pictures you got Russell, a very beautiful young lady to be sure but you made the pictures :) I'm so glad you were able to work with Matt, he's a very calm and practical teacher and he also encouraged me to shoot wide open. I'm hoping to get some more practise in before taking another workshop next year. I hope you'll post some more?
     
  11. raid

    raid Leica Place All-Pro

    Apr 12, 2013
    USA
    Raid
    Thanks for the tip. I do same. I try to remember to focus on the closest eye, but sometimes I focus on the other eye, which then results in an image that looks to be imperfect.
     
  12. russelljtdyer

    russelljtdyer Leica Place Regular

    25
    Aug 2, 2013
    Milan, Italy
    Russell J.T. Dyer
    Practice and Coaching


    Thanks, Christina. I took some photos with my Zeiss Ikon film camera. I haven't had the film developed yet. Very few stores are open in Milan during August: Italians tend to leave the cities and return to their rural home towns. Next week, though, when the photography labs open again here, I'll get the film developed. When I do, if the photos look good, I may post them here.

    Practice is good and important, but if you live near Matthew, I recommend doing another workshop sooner than next year. If I lived in London, I'd do an afternoon private lesson once a month with him, until I get all of my problems worked out. He lifts his camera and focuses so smoothly, and has a good sense of how to pose the model and where to point the camera. That comes in part from practice: he takes over 1500 photos a week. I could and should take many more photos than I do. That would help. So that I don't reinforce bad habits, I would also want to meet with someone to help me to improve my skills. But that may just be my style and not for everyone.

    -Russell