Where Strangers Become Friends; The Impact Of Photography
By
Monte Zucker
• Posted Sept 1, 2005

Throughout my lifetime as a photographer I've met strangers who have later had a tremendous impact on my life. Many times, events have had an impact on me as well. This time it was people, place, and timing.

I was teaching a class in Gouverneur, New York. Well, at least I was trying to teach a class. In reality I was so sick I could hardly get out of bed. For a few days I didn't. I was taken care of by my host and hostess, Nelson and Donna Lawrence at their bed and breakfast home, the Lawrence Manor. Finally, when I was able to get out of bed and teach my class in Gouverneur I felt like I wanted to do something special for Nelson and Donna.

Their home was magnificently decorated and just crying to be photographed. So, I began one morning by photographing them with their little baby at the base of the staircase that led up to several incredible sleeping rooms.

I set my Canon EOS 20D to Aperture Priority, ISO 800, Custom white balance and made this picture. The only work I did on the picture was to open up the deeper shadowed areas by going Image/Adjust/Shadow/ Highlights (Photoshop CS), setting the shadows to 13 percent Opacity (my own default for that function). When studying the picture I decided that it would be a perfect photograph for sepia toning. I did it with the built-in action in Photoshop CS.

Darkening the corners of the photograph slightly by making an adjustment Layer/Curves did the finishing touch. Then, I darkened the highlight end of the Curve and painted out the center of the photograph. Lighting was mostly by daylight coming through the front door and the light fixture in the upper-left corner of the picture.

At breakfast I noticed all the wonderfully detailed items that were placed so neatly around the house. It was a must that I photograph Donna with one of her antique teacups.

Another Custom white balance was called for. I used an ExpoDisc; quick and efficient. Here's the picture being taken. I kept her body at a 45Þ angle to the camera to support her profile, turning her face away from the window until I got a shadow on the near side of her nose and no direct light on her left ear. I worked carefully to see the pupil of her eye over the frame of her glasses. One of the student photographers held up my Westcott reflector to open up the shadowed side of her face.
At the breakfast table I was introduced to three of her houseguests--sisters who were having a family reunion. Life was good. They were all introduced and I got to know them quickly that morning. Again, it was a given that I would have to photograph each of them.

Right after breakfast I brought them each to the window for a quick photograph, explaining all the while to the photographers what I was doing. I had been experimenting with various ISOs and found that I could work with ISO 800 and have no problem with grain or clarity. At that speed I could hand hold my camera if necessary. I do, however, try to work with my Canon EOS 20D on a tripod almost all of the time.

I turned them toward the window, so that the daylight was lighting half of their faces. Then, I placed my reflector (the Westcott Monte Illuminator) on the window side of their faces, turning the reflector toward the window to pick up the daylight, and, finally, turning the reflector toward my subjects to wrap the light around onto the shadowed side of their faces.
The reflector became my main light, putting light into both eyes and creating my typical light pattern on the shadowed side of their faces. Subtle, but the pattern was there! I explained to them that when the light pattern is already on the face (as in the profile portrait) the reflector is used to open up the shadows. When the window light illuminates only one half of the face the reflector is on the lit side of the face and acts as the main light.

I showed each of them their portraits as I was taking them. They were amazed and thrilled. We fell in love with each other. The third sister was into reading all the time. I saw the Sisters book nearby and knew that it was perfect for being a part of her portrait.

My camera position was set to photograph the 2/3 view of each of them, shaping their faces beautifully and slimming them at the same time. Also, from the camera position seeing the 2/3 view of the face, the specular highlights created on the edge of the face and the bridge of the nose are incredible.

Finally, of course, I just had to photograph the three of them together. I could the emotion between them. I needed to bring it out in my photograph. Instead of having them look at the camera I posed them involved with each other. The final touch was the linking together of them with their hands and arms.

This was the key to the whole picture. When I looked at what the other photographers had shot I noticed that they had cropped the picture to just their faces. "No!" I shouted. "You missed the whole picture! It was the bond between them that was the key to the portrait! Look at their hands, their arms--that's what's making this picture!" They learned a big lesson then and there.
When we all met at breakfast I realized that there was still another member of the group. She was the daughter of one of the three sisters. You just know that I had to photograph her with her mother. Instead of leaving the mother seated and bringing over her daughter I seated the daughter and stood her mother, enabling her to put her arm around her daughter. The mother's arm around the daughter was the whole picture!

With tears in her eyes, the daughter came to me afterward and told me that her mother's health was rapidly declining. "You have no idea," she told me, "how much this picture means to me! And you have no idea how much these pictures of the three sisters means to them and to all their friends and relatives!"

I told her, "I think I have an idea about that!" I knew when I decided to photograph them.
Afterward, Donna told me about her own daughter and grandchildren. I invited them all to come to our class and be our models later in the day. Thankfully, they did come and we had quite a time with them.

I began by photographing each of them by window light.

The youngest of them wasn't too excited about posing for us. To get her into the fun of things I began by posing her mother with her grandmother. The setup was simply my two Westcott Spiderlites and a reflector.
Then, I added her sisters and tried to get the youngest to join in. She still wasn't really too excited about posing for the picture, but she didn't want to be left out of all the fun. I did get her to join in for one shot. That's all that I needed.

All in all, it was a fun day from beginning to end. The week didn't start out too well but as the week progressed I got better to really appreciate how good life can be, especially since I was hosted by such great people as Nelson and Donna Lawrence at their bed and breakfast, Lawrence Manor (www.lawrencemanor.com).

The byline of their bed and breakfast is "Where strangers become friends." It certainly held true for me and their other houseguests that week. I'll never forget the impact our photographs left on those sisters and their families.

No more strangers. Forever friends. How fortunate we are to love our work so much.

In last month's Master Class column, we incorrectly listed the website for Superlite Custom Backdrops. The correct website is www.superlitebackdrops.com.