Saturday, October 24, 2009

Comments on first family's photo

Yahoo news reported that the first family's first official photo was released. Here's the photo, taken by Annie Leibovitz. Of course the photo looks good and I like the expressions on their beautiful faces, but from a purely technical point of view, I'm a bit surprised that the lighting looks so simple and frankly underwhelming to me.  Maybe it's "deceptively simple" and too subtle for me. It seems possible to duplicate the lighting by simply bouncing the flash behind and camera right. Or by a large umbrella or softbox. From the catchlight on the original size photo, I'm guessing Annie used a softbox. I can't tell whether a fill light was used.  Doesn't seem like it. I'm wondering whether Annie used a hair light, because the first lady's hair has a shine, but the shine could have come from the key.

From the background it looks like ambient was killed (intentionally I assume).  Looking at the exif, I'm kinda puzzled too. It says:
  • Canon 1Ds MkIII
  • f/8, 1/125, ISO 400, 0 EV.
If I wanted to take this same shot, I would have instead gone to max sync speed (1/250 for the 1Ds MkIII)  and used a lower ISO.  Because there's no ambient anyway, the faster shutter and lower ISO wouldn't change the lighting of the shot.  The lower ISO would have less noise (though I concede that the 1Ds probably has negligible noise even at ISO 400) and the fast shutter would minimize blur from subject movement (though I am guessing that with virtually no ambient, the light was all flash, thus shutter speed was effectively the duration of the flash, i.e. 1/1000 or faster).  On the other hand, if Annie bounced the flash and didn't use a softbox, I can understand the use of ISO 400.  I doubt she did though, because bouncing can be more unpredictable for white balance, and there may be unintended reflections.

If I were to take my own version of this shot, I would have allowed more ambient light, because I think the darkness in the rooms in the background seems unnatural and to me off-putting. Or with Annie's unlimited resources, I would have placed another flash in the rooms at the back to light them up. The light from the flash also looks a bit cold. Perhaps it needs a gel. I might have also placed a gold reflector in front of them and bounced a bit of flash into it to add even more sparkle and warmth to their eyes.  In terms of composition, I think I would tried a very slightly lower height to decrease the negative space on top. I also think I would have picked a room with a less somber color (given the current economy).  In terms of choice of equipment, I believe the leader of the free world and his family deserve a shot from a medium format camera (digital or otherwise) for posterity.

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