March 11, 2020: After a few weeks of planning I was able to start my latest project. Personal work is something I advise all photographers to make a regular part of their practice. It gives you the freedom to try new things and explore your vision in a way you can show to clients, something that art buyers and photo editors find very useful in getting to know you. You can learn to mimic others’ style, but that won’t show how you see. Your perspective is what clients and potential clients want to see, even if at the end of the day you sometimes need to capture someone else’s vision on an assignment.
Lighting is critical to telling the story in an image; it’s as important as composition and subject. I’ve always been fascinated by motorcycles, although I’ve not yet experienced the thrill of riding one. Here in California I see bikes everywhere and thought it would be interesting to make portraits of the riders. While I’ve photographed the bikes and some of the accessories, I wanted to put the riders center stage.
I’d done a shoot with Disney’s “Mulan” lead actor Jason Scott Lee for the entertainment news site The Wrap. I used a Westcott 7-foot shoot-through umbrella. It was simple lighting, but the big difference for me was that I used a higher f-stop than usual. I was extremely pleased with the results. This was the foundation of the setup for my new project, called MoTo.
For the first MoTo session, I worked with actress and stuntwoman Cortni Vaughn Joyner. As an added challenge, I would be setting up the portraits in my home. I decided to use an additional light, and right out of the gate, I was happy with everything. It was exactly what I had envisioned. We went through a series of poses and shapes, always aiming to create a portrait of the person, particularly with the simplicity of the white background.
We wrapped up, and I was psyched. I couldn’t wait to make more portraits like this. My mind was spinning with ideas … and then came the Coronavirus lockdown. Suddenly, and like everyone else, I had no idea what this would mean going forward. A number of my jobs had to be postponed; worse, others were cancelled outright.
Within a month, I had retouched the selects, so I had little to do besides workout and go for walks. Like most creatives, I was eager to get to something, some work, and there was only so much reviewing of my past shoots and organizing my desk I could stand. Five weeks into the new world, I felt I could offer a safe environment to photograph in. I already had another subject lined up, so I decided I would use it as a test run for how I could offer solutions for my clients. We all got tested for the virus and masked up. I took the notes from shoot one and applied them as the formula into shoots two and beyond.
My home setup included V-flats to block the two umbrellas lighting the background as well as negative fill on my subject and a 7-foot shoot-through umbrella behind the camera for the fill light. The key light is a beauty dish with diffusion and grid.
Ian Spanier is a commercial photographer in Los Angeles.
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