4 Portraits with the 4th ZEISS Loxia – 2.4/85
Vladimir Morozov gives an insight into different ways of shooting portraits using the ZEISS Loxia 2.4/85.
by Vladimir Morozov
In October, 2016, ZEISS announced new Loxia 2.4/85, which became the 4th member of this family. I won’t hide, these are my most favourite lenses by ZEISS. Perhaps, it seems a bit outfashioned, but, working with images, I don’t like to rely on automatics neither choosing exposure parameters, nor choosing focus points, as I got used to have full personal control over the process. I know pretty well that such an approach is not that widely accepted among modern photographers, but least of all I would like to convince anyone of the opposite, for I consider it to be my competitive advantage. Therefore, without imposing my point of view upon anyone, I’d like to tell you how I work on my images and what tools I have chosen for this work. And, surely, while doing so I will share my impressions of the new ZEISS Loxia 2.4/85.
As 85 mm lenses are often applied for shooting portraits, in this article I am going to tell about several simple and easily feasible for any photographer ways to create a good portrait. We have thought up the concept of this small photo project together with my son Mikhail who has two beloved grandmothers and two great-grandmothers. So we have decided to take four portraits of their hotly beloved grandson. And Misha (Russian diminutive for Mikhail. — TN) will be able to present them the printed and framed images for Christmas. Besides, Mikhail gave his consent to the publication of the photos without retouch, extra thanks to him for that.
A Portrait with One Large Light Source
It is very easy to take such a portrait if there is a large softbox or octabox not less than 150cm (5ft) in size at your disposal, either a window, which can be veiled with light diffusing white fabric. Further, you have to place your model as close to the light source as possible, so that the light source was a the edge of appearing in the frame.
All other parameters in this scheme can be and have to be changed for creation of that very picture you are seeking for. Moving your model forward relatively the light source, you will amplify contrast and increase the apparent 3D-volume of the picture due to increase of the modeling light. Moving the model farther, you’ll get less contrast on his or her face. If you are able to move the light source, then, moving it relatively the background, you’ll be able to choose its brightness.
And some more words about the source height in relation to the model: in this particular case it is lifted so that the model’s head is at the level of its lower third, to get more lighting from above.
If I was to teach portrait photography, I would start with this very exercise, and here is why: first, working with one light source, the beginning photographer would be able to focus on the desirable result and on better work with his or her model; second, working with a large light source, it is possible to allow the model more freedom in posing, as this lighting fits many shooting angles; and third, lighting will always remain the most balanced, for if you add some light somewhere, then some is diminished by itself.
A Portrait with One Small Light Source
Working with just one and not that lengthy light source we, obviously, won’t be able to get main, fill-in, modeling and background light simultaneously, but we will be able to get much higher microcontrast in our image. And it is worth it.
It is high time now to tell some words about the light. In my practice I use halogen light by Dedolight. I prefer continuous light to impulse one for several reasons: first, it is friendly for the model, the photographer and all those who are on the set as there are no flashes that make eyes tired; second, using continuous light combined with a mirrorless camera, in the viewfinder and on the LCD I see exactly that light distribution, with which the photograph is going to be exposed; and third, I don’t need to adjust light intensity if I want to change aperture for increase or reduction of the depth of field.
A small 41x56cm softbox with a 300W halogen lamp was the only light source in this shot. The light source is lifted above the model and located at the left. And even such a simple scheme of lighting offers many ways of adjustment. The optimal height is adjusted by the model eyes: the light flecks should be in the top most part of eyes. Just keep an eye at them so that those flecks remained at all times, otherwise the model’s gaze turns fireless.
Bringing the light source closer to the model you make the light softer; moving it away you get more harsh light. The light-and-shade distribution over the model’s face can be controlled by changing the light angle and moving the light source around the model.
This portrait is shot at f/2.8 and, having enlarged the image, you can easily estimate all subtleties of the picture Loxia 2.4/85 draws. I noticed how good the lens was at separating distances, especially taking into account that Mikhail stood quite closely to the background.
A High-Key Portrait with Two Light Sources
An idea that new Loxia is created only for black and white photography could be misleading, so the two following portraits are in colour.
For this portrait I used two light sources from the previous shots. It is a large octabox sized 150cm, and a 41x56cm softbox. In this setup the octabox acts as a background, and provides the modeling light on the left and right sides of the model at the same time. Just like in the previous shot, the main light comes from a small softbox that I moved to the right side and lowered a little to get an evenly lit face.
In this shot the light adjustment means the correct balance between the two sources, and in the correct placement of the model between them. Start with choosing the model-to-octabox distance, while the main light is switched off. Changing the distance from the source to the model you have to find that way of a flare on the edges, which suits your idea. The closer the model stands to the background, the stronger is the flare, and vice versa. Then you have to set up the drawing main light; and I explained how to make it in the previous chapter. After the both light sources took their places finally, you are to properly balance their intensity. Work with continuous light, to do that you have to meter and set exposure by the weakest light source, and then to reduce the power of the second one correspondingly.
I conceived a gameful plot, so I had to chose a shorter shutter speed to avoid blur. To add some movement, I asked Mikhail to raise his hands and make faces at me. With fully open aperture his hand should be strongly defocused, and that would add some movement to the shot, while the faultless sharpness in the eyes would draw viewers’ attention to the smile.
I have to point out that manual focusing is an absolute must for such subjects as the AF would be just unable to perform on the eyes precisely. And I’d like to rate the new Loxia 2.4/85 pretty highly for a large rotation angle of the focusing ring, which allows to pinpoint superb sharpness, especially shooting close-ups.
A Low-Key Portrait with Two Light Sources
Before the description of the fourth and final shot I am going to make a small technical digression to explain what else I use in my work, as I consider it important.
If I have an opportunity, I always shoot from a reliable steady tripod, here it is a Gitzo Mountaineer. The tripod allows me to keep my consciously selected shooting angle, to keep the selected distance to the model and, oddly enough, it helps me to work with light. This is how it goes. Having placed my camera on the tripod, I connect it with an USB cable to my MacBook Pro and launch Capture One. All this can seem bulky, but this linking of a tripod, a camera and a computer allows me to view and analyze the taken material instantly, and on a large monitor; besides, having started the video mode, one can to control light very precisely, watching all changes on the MacBook monitor turned towards the shooting ground.
I tell about all this just because photographers who hold their cameras in hands, are forced to move constantly from the shooting point to lighting equipment and back trying to control light. They got very tired without having begun their shooting session, and I sympathize with them sincerely.
Coming back to the description of my fourth shot, I am going to explain its concept. I like it very much when there is a light source in the image, whether it be the sun, a streetlight or just a studio light that gives some strong backlight. It is surely possible to get beautiful backlighting without entering the light source into the shot, but in this case the story loses its authenticity. There is some light, but it is unclear from where it comes. And, surely, I love ZEISS lenses: they allow to capture such subjects without any loss of contrast and unnecessary chromatic aberrations.
Here, the light sources are placed almost identically to the previous shot, though you won’t guess by the picture 🙂 . I have only changed the big octabox for a lens device with barn doors and lifted the main higher to create more dramatic lighting of the face. Having set everything up, I added a white reflector to fill the deep shadow on the right cheek.
The only basic difference of this light setup in comparison with the previous shot is the restricted freedom of model’s posing. Just a small small lean or turn of the head, and the light is gone. Therefore I had to charge Mikhail with retaining earphones in one point so that to keep him at least relatively motionless.
In conclusion I have to tell that shooting all the project took a little more than two hours, and Mikhail stayed on the shooting ground just 20 minutes, using the rest of time for watching his favourite cartoons.
Camera — Sony A7R II
Lens — ZEISS Loxia 2.4/85
Light — Dedolight DLH1X300S + White Dome small, DLH4Х150S + Octodome 5, DLHM4-300
Tripod — Gitzo GK3532-82QD Mountaineer
PC — MacBook Pro
Software — Capture One Pro 8
Model: Mikhail Morozov
Photographer: Vladimir Morozov
Official web site of Vladimir Morozov’s studio: www.vladimirmorozov.ru