Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Getting The Shot: “Indonesian Beauty II” by Douglas Dubler 3

Indonesian Beauty II

This image was captured with a Sony A7II  at f/4 @ 1/30 sec using ISO 400 with a Zeiss Otus 85mm (using a Novoflex adapter).
Retouching by
Irfan Yonac

Here’s the story behind this image in Douglas Dubler’s own words (edited by Richard Hood):

As an art form based in “the actual,” photography has always provided a meeting-ground for both beauty and truth. In over forty years shooting fashion and beauty portraits, I have consistently sought to explore this intersection, looking for moments that define a visual tapestry, woven out of  the “why,” as well as the “who.” My photography depends upon finding the right tools, creating the right environment, and establishing the right rapport with a subject, to display something of the truth within the beauty I'm capturing.  My recent creation of a portrait entitled, “Indonesian Beauty” demonstrated the process of combining technique, technology, and timing in order to capture a compelling, and transcendent image.

In the 1990s, I visited seven Asian countries in four weeks, lecturing to photographers on behalf of Fuji film. After such an intense working experience, I decided to take a rest-and-recovery stop in Bali. There, I established a routine that involved catching the sunrise each morning from a different location,  working for an hour or so until the light got too high, then retiring for some sleep and food. I'd then go out for the sunset in a new location. I had planned to spend a week in Bali, but was so captivated by colors and culture, I remained for three weeks.

When I returned to New York I was introduced to Gde Arsa Artha, who has since become a good friend, and who has, over the years, continued to teach me about Balinese art and culture.  Just last month, Gde was responsible for my visit to the Indonesian Consulate, where we were invited to attend a fashion show  they were hosting for four Indonesian couture designers, who were in New York for the Couture Show.  Always wanting to put my best foot forward and following Pasteur’s mantra “Chance favors always the prepared mind,” I organized a mini entourage consisting of a digital tech/1st assistant, 2nd assistant, hair and make-up artist, and several others to help with the equipment. Out of this visit would come my  portrait of Chitra, the “Indonesian Beauty,” featured here in an earlier blog, and the current portrait of Sarah Azca, shown here.

Figuring on just a simple main light and one light for a background if necessary, I packed one of my Broncolor Grafit 3200 wt./sec packs with one of my “signature” Lightbar 120s and a regular Pulso head.  (over $18,000 worth of lighting equipment at retail).  When we arrived at the Indonesian Consulate, they were in the process of dressing the models and doing their walk-throughs in preparation for the show.  I took a few minutes to survey the three floors looking for the best place to set up, where I could at least take advantage of some of the wonderful available light that was entering through a beautiful domed skylight, similar to a mini-Guggenheim.

I decided that the second floor would be more central as that was where the dressing rooms were and I could capture the models both coming and going.  I had the Lightbar 120 set up and proceeded to do a few captures to check the light.

I didn’t like what I saw.

But more of an issue was the fact that no matter where I positioned the light, someone was always walking in front of it and almost tripping on the power cord or head extension.  I quickly realized that, even if I got the light worked out to my liking, the logistics were such that the decision to  light the shoot had been wrong.  In the past, this would probably have been the end of my day.  Here is where the importance of having the best tools comes to the fore:  after a few readings with my Sekonic Litemaster Pro light meter, I decided that with the super fast Zeiss lenses I had and the image stabilized Sony A7II camera, I could work with the available light, filling when and where necessary with my Roscopak silver/white reflector

My next objective was to find one or two models with whom I thought I would be able to work well. Initially, I had assumed  that the majority of the girls were from Indonesia. But after speaking to several of them, I learned that, in fact, most were from New York City.   My hair and make-up artist, Sylvia Pichler, while touching-up the make-up,  was alerting me to interesting looks on the girls.  One of the first models she brought to my attention was Sarah Azka, an Indonesian  who had been flown to New York by one of the designers.  Instantly, I thought she had a great look and the dress and headpiece she was wearing were a beauty photographer’s dream.  We took a few photographs on the lower floor,, where the light wasn’t to my liking so I told her that when she was done with the show I would like to take some more photographs.

I continued to work basically filing time waiting for her to be finished.  When she appeared, I immediately had my friend Gde tell her to follow me upstairs and I found a spot where the light had a beautiful bounce quality, though because it was after 3:00 P.M. my f-stop was starting to drop quickly.  I knew I had to work quickly. I changed my ISO to 400 and put the incomparable Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 on the A7II with the Novoflex adapter.  At f 4 I was at 1/30 sec. which was about as slow as I wanted to go, hand-holding this heavy piece of glass.  With my “previous” camera, I would have had to be at 1/320 sec. which would have increased my ISO to over 3200. A definite “quality” deal breaker.

I shot 230 images that day.  This photograph was number 227.  When I shot it I knew there was no need to continue. I had the shot!

So it all came together. I had the right tools in the right place at the right time. I had the right model, and, though there was a definite language barrier, I was able to establish that few precious moments of rapport with her, so necessary to capturing the intangible magic that makes up a great beauty or portrait shot.

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Douglas is an iconic fashion and beauty photographer with hundreds of magazine covers to his credit. If you are interested in joining him in Manhattan for a workshop, please contact me and I’ll add you to the list for future workshop announcements. Exact details will be included when space for the next workshop opens up.

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