It began with wanting to photograph my friend Lauren’s beautiful blue eyes. The how and where would come later. My initial thought was to focus only on the eyes using a macro lens. I’m guessing this was because it’s an image that has been ingrained in memory from countless similar shots seen in the past. However, I wanted to push in a different direction.
I decided to work with a fast prime lens, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus Nikkor, on a Nikon D3 camera and to shoot under the belly of the Lake Worth Pier in Lake Worth, Florida.
I seldom pull out the tank-like built, manual focus 85/1.4 lens. Now days with cameras that do it all for you my lazy side would gladly rely on an auto focus 85/1.8 Nikkor lens, which I also posses. It’s smaller, lighter and the camera and lens speak well with each other. The former lens, on the other hand, relies more on the dexterity and eye sight of the photographer, specifically when it comes to focusing. The advantage though is that it blankets the photograph with an incredibly soft and abstract background when shot at the wide open aperture of 1.4. The focusing, needless to say, is critical and can be quite difficult to lock in, especially when working at a close distance. I can place the camera and lens on a tripod to hold the position but not the model. If she even moves a fraction of an inch the focal point will be lost!
My lighting was a single Nikon SB800 Speedlight placed on a light stand to either side of the camera and no more than two feet from Lauren’s face. The Speedlight was triggered and controlled using Pocket Wizard’s Mini TT1 transmitter with an AC3 controller and the Flex TT5 transceiver.
Being outdoors, albeit in open shade though with strong sun light surrounding us, and shooting at the widest aperture would require synchronize the flash and camera above the maximum sync shutter speed of 1/250. Fortunately the D3 can be set to shoot at higher shutter speeds though at the expense of flash power. Shooting at f/1.4 I needed very little of that precious power. Besides using more flash power and a smaller aperture would bring the ugly pilings and bystanders into recognizable focus. (The bystanders weren’t ugly, just the pilings.)
Nonetheless it didn’t matter what the background looked like or what was in it. The underside of the pier with its blasé concrete columns is not conducive to photographing beauty, and honestly neither was the dad and daughter that decided to sit right behind where we were shooting. The one thing the location provided was shade. This allowed me, and not the sun, to control the light on Lauren.
Like I said, focusing was critical and many of the images had the eyebrow or eyelashes in focus but not the pupil. In other instances one pupil was in focus and the other wasn’t, which is normal when the eyes are not equal distance to the lens. Unfortunately it’d be the wrong eye! But when the focus was tack-on the images exhibited a characteristic of intimacy and soft sensuality. The attention is solely on the face and focused eye and is accentuated by the softness and subtle shades of the background. The pilings, the ocean, the man, his daughter and their blue back pack all became an integral part of the image, all with out reveling their identity.