Recently I was asked to shoot a series of portraits of some proud scientists for Eindhoven University of Technology. My alma mater celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and invited some of its foremost researchers to give a TED style talk highlighting their work. I was tasked with shooting a portrait of each scientist that would capture their proudness and determination.
Setup of the project with big thinkers
As is quite common in these things, the projects wasn’t weeks in the making. I got a call on Monday, photos had to be taken on Wednesday. Luckily, my contact at the university was able to send me a detailed briefing, while the time and location for the shoot had already been determined: all speakers would be practicing their talks in the movie theater that’s situated on campus. What’s more, the full executive board would attend and give feedback to the speakers. This just goes to show how ambitious and serious these talks would be!
Concept and execution
Come Wednesday, I set up in a reception area outside the theater room. We had agreed on shooting the images in front of a nondescript background. We’d turn the images into black and white, to add to the heroic and proud style we were going for. At first I had a bit of a hard time finding a suitable spot, believe it not the room hardly had any blank nondescript and non reflecting backgrounds! In the end I settled for a column that had some dents and scratches in it, which actually turned out to work quite well.
In terms of lighting, I relied on my Elinchrom ELB-400 portable flash system, combined with the rather large 135cm Rotalux octabox. The light that comes from this light modifier is just amazing, especially when you place it close to the subject’s face. It turns really soft and I love the falloff across their face. The size enables you to also place it a bit further back and still get some nice and soft light though.
Big Thinkers turned models
I’d actually worked with some of the scientists turned models before, which made it quite easy to get some rapport with them. These people are very passionate about their work. Just asking them about the content of their presentation was enough to break the ice, distract them enough not to worry about the photos too much and light a spark in their eyes.
Usually I don’t show people the photos I’m taking on the back of my camera, because I feel the photos will not look as good, and also because since I haven’t done any culling yet there may be some photos that turn the subject off. This time around though, one subject asked to see the photos and was then absolutely thrilled of the results. I then showed all subjects the photos midway through their session, because I felt they would be even more psyched and would be more willing to work with me on improving their poses even more.
In the end, these photos were used for the promotion of the talks the researchers would deliver on the Dies Natalis of this university. One dilemma I was stuck with though, was the classical question whether or not black or white worked better. For my portfolio I went with color, if only for the fact that I feel too many of my portraits are in black and white already.