Los Angeles Portraits : Playing With Color & Light

Playing with Shadow and Light in the LA Portraits Session


use of vibrant color in portraiture

Like most film wedding photographers, I too have become enthralled with the soft, pastel style championed by Jose Villa and many other wedding photographers shooting on Fuji film.  Soft and bright photos are good for a wedding - they complement the day and all it's details.  But I believe one should find their own style, and to do that we need to experiment.  And part of my style is shooting on Kodak Ektar film and, through that, finding the richness of full color & captivating light and shadow in all it's multifaceted detail.  I want photos that pop, that have vibrant life inside of them.  So shooting Christina on a recent trip to Los Angeles was a complete joy.  Instead of working in that last hour before sunset, I shot about four hours before sunset.  Instead of sticking to the open shade, I played with the beams of light as key light within the frame.  Having such a beautiful subject also helps.  And oh yeah, we have a good working rapport, because she happens to be my sister.

Christina in Los Angeles Portrait Session


why clicking at the right moment is crucial

The photo above is one of my favorites from this session.  Using the sidewalk below as a natural reflector, Christina is subtly lit by the natural sunlight bouncing into the frame.  She looks calm and confident, with a graceful and intelligent poise.  So much of photography is, as the great Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, capturing the subject in that "decisive moment", that fraction of second in which we get a quick peak into the person's soul.  There were a number of shots taken in this very spot, but the reason why I selected this one was because it best captured that "decisive moment", that between breaths moment, that flash of intensity that makes a portrait great.

Having a great time. Shot on Contax 645 camera, Kodak Portra 800 film.

Having a great time. Shot on Contax 645 camera, Kodak Portra 800 film.



on finding better colors and more detail

I've made no secret lately in my Instagram and Facebook posts that I've started scanning my own film negatives.  Many film photographers (particularly in the wedding industry) get their negatives processed and scanned at the lab of their choosing, typically on a Fuji Frontier or Noritsu scanner.  There are some great labs out there, but these two scanners seem to receive a disproportionate amount of attention in the wedding industry (I'm not sure why).  Also, you don't hear much about the benefits of self scanning your film.  I've started using an Imacon Flextight 343 scanner (Imacon is now owned by Hasselblad), which has produced drum scans that are far superior to what I was getting from the labs. I now champion scanning your own film if you have the time.  Even when I'v communicated to the labs exactly what I want several times, I've always found that the image I got back would need modification.  Scanning my own film, I'm able to produce a 860 MB TIFF file according to my color preferences and edit the contrast & sharpness slightly in Hasselblad's Phocus program.  For more info on why a film negative is far superior to digital in terms of the information it holds, check out Ken Rockwell's great post on film resolution.

Shot on Contax 645 camera with Kodak Portra 800 film. 

Shot on Contax 645 camera with Kodak Portra 800 film. 


golden hues and making photos pop

As a wedding photographer, we are constantly told to shoot in the open shade.  And yes, shooting in the open shade is the ideal place for photos when you're a natural light photographer shooting outside.  But have you ever tried having streaks of sun in the background?  Or finding a magic spot about two hours before sunset where the sun serves as a golden key light?  Try it and experiment with it sometime.  These things produce amazingly vivid results and some of my best photos incorporate direct sun in some way.  Above you can see an example, with the sun serving as a side light.

A portrait of Chrsitina using Kodak Ektar film


Experimentation is crucial to move any industry forward and to produce new and exciting work!  And that goes especially for the wedding photography industry.  So often we become accustomed to doing things as we're told and don't stop to think that maybe there are other avenues to explore (like scanning your own film to get colors that fit your style more, or like using the sun in different ways).  I hope that anyone reading this is inspired to explore these other avenues as a film photographer!