This was shot in a studio with the 85mm. I recently got my 85mm back after I had sold it a few years ago. The lens is a beast. Not sure why I got rid of it. Maybe its because I have been using the 135mm but that lens has since fallen out of my favor.
I used one strobe light with a small soft box light modifier attached. The light was set to the lowest power possible. I didn’t want to flood the photo with too much light. I don’t remember the brand name but it may have been Profoto but I am not sure. I guess it really doesn’t matter. I used one circular reflector for a little bit of bounce.
Rants & Tangents
I am really happy with the results of this photo. It’s among my top favorite portraits of all time. I think that everything came together for the shoot. Starting with the model. Awar is one of the sweetest most kind hearted people I have ever met. Her energy is infectious. She knows how to put on the model face when the lights are on but in between frames she is all smiles and laughter.
Pitchfork Media hired me to photograph Janelle Monae for a web cover story. Some of the images I photographed for the Pitchfork article were later published by PDN Magazine.
I photographed the magazine cover photo with my FujiFilm x100s mirrorless camera. I have the silver model but I really want the all black edition.
I really like this camera because it is three times smaller and lighter than any of my Nikon DSLR cameras.
Sometimes it is hard for the subject to hear my directions because the larger DSLR cameras create a barrier between me and the.
The smaller size of the FujiFilm X100s makes it easier to communicate with the person that I am photographing. I think that the photos come out better because there is a deeper connection made. The difference is like a face to face conversation versus a conversation through text messages.
Another great feature of the Fuji X100S is that it does not make any noise. This is a great feature because the sound of the camera shutter can prompt subjects to change their expressions causing the photos to look unnatural. I used the sun as my light source and and a round reflector for fill light.
Hair, makeup, and wardrobe were provided by Janelle Monae’s team. I must mention that her team was awesome because behind the scenes professionals don’t get enough love.
Janelle Monae PDN Magazine Cover
Rants & Tangents
I really enjoyed working with Janelle Monae because she is chill. She was quiet at first but she came alive when she stepped in front of the camera.
Sometimes (a lot of the time) celebrities arrive fashionable late to photo shoots. This means that I get less time to capture the shots. Fortunately, her management gave us more time to shoot. I still had to get the shots really quickly but we got the job done!
Diandra is a great model and is a photographers dream. We have worked together before in the past. She loves the camera and she knows her best angles. She arrived to the studio photo shoot ready and all we had to do was snap the shutter.
We used natural light from the window. The windows were located behind me. I shot this image with a Nikon D700 with an Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D. The 85 is a great portrait lens but I sold it. I try to simplify my camera bag when I can but more about that later.
Ramblings, Rants, Tangents, and Free Thought
I have so many images in my archive that the world hasn’t seen. It is time to start releasing it. I believe that we are all sent here to do that “thing”. The thing that makes us happy. Portrait photography is my thing. Making images has always been in me. Make cool stuff and share it.
More on simplicity. If its not a definite yes then it is a definite no. I try my best to apply this mantra to all aspects of my life. This way of thinking is particularly helpful when you need to optimize your camera bag. I use the same equipment 85% of the time for all of my shoots. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, round reflector, and natural light.
If I use strobe lights it is typically an Alien Bee 800 flash head or a Profoto flash head (if I am renting equipment) paired with a large octabank light modifier. That’s it! No mas.
I also take my cue from studying top photographers. The great image makers have very simple setups. They are not bogged down by excess equipment. They know exactly how to make the image that they want to make with the gear that they have. How may knives does a great chef need?
This is a Janelle Monae Profile Portrait. I shot this in NYC for Pitchfork Magazine. Pitchfork is The essential guide to independent music and beyond. The found me through my natural hair photo book called the Coiffure Project.
The story eventually was picked up by PDN Magazine. One of the top photo magazines in the world!
My images made it on to the cover of PDN Magazine! You know I was hype. It still feels like a dream for a dude from Baltimore. It was a moment were all of the the hard work appeared to pay off. But we know that its just the beginning and the grind never stops.
These images where shot with my FujiFilm x100s Mirrorless camera with a wide open aperture so that I could blur out the background. I cant remember but I think i was at f/2. Im sure I can open up light room right now to figure out the exact aperture but one thing at a time.
We were located in a community garden in Tribeca New York. We did not use strobe lights for this shoot because the sun was just right so all we needed was a reflector.
The subject (Janelle) was really cool. She was a chill person. I wish we had more time to chat about the universe but we were on a tight schedule. Celebrities tend to be very busy so we had to get the shots quickly.
I think we established that we were both Sagittarius which I thought was kind of cool. Searching for some kind of connection. Maybe im over thinking things. Hahaha!
Janelle had a beauty staff making sure her look was crisp. Her makeup was on point and her natural hairstyle was a piece of art.
This was one of the first natural hair portraits for the Coiffure Project. The idea was still new and exciting.
I met Yoko at an art exhibit opening at the Reginald F. Lewis museum. She stood out from the crowd and I was super nervous to talk to her. Fortunately Courtney (the best studio assistant ever) was with me. I pleaded with Courtney to talk to Yoko and give her my business card.
Photographers have bad reputations so first encounters with women are less intimidating when I have a young lady with me. If I approach someone alone and say “Hello I am a photographer” you can see the color leave from their face. This does not happen as much when I have a young lady with me. Ive gotten a lot better about approaching people since then.
This was my fist time working with Yoko and we were both super nervous. She later became my muse. Yoko was always available when I wanted to try new lighting techniques.
This was shot with a beauty dish and a hot shoe flash unit against a white wall. The flash was a cheap brand loaned to me by my good friend Travis Johnson of Digi Artbox. I think he mentioned that the flash unit had exploded at one point. This meant that flash unit had the potential to cause a fire but it didn’t really matter to me because I wanted to get the “Terry Richardson” lighting effect. As you can see the photo turned into something completely different.
I shot this with a Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D but it was paired with a cropped sensor Nikon D7000. Using a full frame lens with a cropped sensor body creates a magnification effect. This means that my 20mm was more like a 35mm lens. Im not sure about the math but you can find explanations online. Currently I use a D700 which is a full frame sensor.
Ramblings, Rants, Tangents, and Free thought
I was happy with the final result. I really like this image because of Yokos body language and facial expressions. I also like the pinky-peachy color of the image. All credit goes to Yoko for being such a great subject. Shooting with her really set the tone for future shoots done for the Coiffure Project. I worked with Yoko many times after our first shoot. Natural Hair Portrait Yoko Ashley Henderson
This is a fashion portrait of Lily Lightbourn a Bermuda native.
I met her though a model agency and we have been shooting together ever since.
I used a Nikon 135mm f/2.8 AI-S which is a manual focus lens. The lens is super sharp and it is great for portraits. Its super sharp and not too sharp at the same time. I know its hard to explain but I really like working with this lens. I recommend this lens if you want your images to feel more dreamy.
We used natural day light from the window and a round diffuser. You can take the outer layer off of my round reflector and use it as a diffuser. The round diffuser was mad close to her face. The closer to the face you get the more of a glow is created. The trick is to get as close to the subject as possible without getting the diffuser in the shot. I learned this through trial and error but I also think the 135mm helped a lot with this because it is a long lens. Meaning that I can stand super far away from the subject and still get a tightly cropped shot.
Rants and Tangents
While writing this post I remembered how much I liked working with the 135mm. Im going to start shooting with it again.
Lily is an agency model who is doing really great things now. I reached out to her agency in NYC to see if I could do test shoots with some of their models. I am based in Baltimore so this can be a challenge. For some reason people do not like to leave the island of Manhattan. I guest it is understandable because they probably get requests from photographers all of the time.
I had to go to their office in NYC to present my portfolio to them even though I had already showed my digital one. I dont think it was about the portfolio. I think it was to make sure that I wasn’t a creep. All went well in the meeting and they allowed me to work with their developing models. Lily was one of them and I have been working with her ever since.
I think I used a beauty dish for this shoot.
The lens was a Manual Nikon 135mm f/2.8 AI-s. This lens is crazy sharp. I recently put it back in my bag.
Looking through my old work and I realize that I like my older photos better. I think its a time when I was more into photographs and I was worried less about what people thought of my work. There was a roughness about the photos. I experimented a lot back then. I used different lenses and light set ups. I guess I was searching for a specific look.
It has been yeas since I shot this photo but I have learned a lot of lesson. One to the biggest is simplicity. The photos that stand out to me the most are simple. There are not a lot of distraction. Also the most powerful photos in my opinion always have some sort of subtle quark. A slight imperfection or lip twitch or eyebrow twitch or funny head tilt or something. Portrait photography is great because everyone is different and everyone has their subtle features. Its is my job as a photographer to capture them. Better yet its my job as a photographer to share those unique photos.
In the darkroom photographers encounter photos that make us think twice. We love it deep down inside but we wonder if the rest of the world will. It is important to post the photos that we are nervous to post.