Friday, January 15, 2010

Anatomy of a Family Portrait

First off... I want to apologize for my long absence from blogging.  Like for most people, the Holidays are a hectic time for me.  Aside from the usual hustle and bustle brought about by numerous parties and the distribution of gifts to friends and business clients (not to mention the kind people in my children's respective schools), my whole family flew in for a visit and for the first time in years, we were complete.  Which brings me to the topic of this particular blog entry...  Our Family Portrait.

L-R Back: Reno, France, my wife Anne, Mom, Me, Dad and Ren
L-R Front: my daughter, my son and Pinky

My brother Reno just got married last June, and this was our first family reunion in three years.  Now that we all have spouses (my two brothers and I), it somehow felt cosmically symmetrical to my parents to capture the moment for all eternity in a "Formal Portrait."

The last Portrait of my family was done around fifteen years ago by renowned Pasadena photographer Charis, when the three of us were not married yet.  With Charis long gone, and with a studio of my own, the task naturally fell on me.

I love taking pictures and would naturally jump at any opportunity to click a shutter, but this photograph includes me and my son.  Shooting myself is a daunting enough... add an over-active and somewhat willful five year-old boy into the mix and you've got the right ingredients for a disaster!

I calmly assessed the task before me.  If this was a movie, it will be like directing and acting at the same time -- a hard proposition, but not an impossible job.  Anyway, I will just be shooting my family.  I expected them to give me a little bit more room for error (at least I hoped).

To deal with the gap of not being able to see my shots after each firing and to avoid using the self-timer, I downloaded the DSL Remote for the IPhone by onOne software.  It is a bit pricey, but well worth it -- if you can get it to work.  It has support for both my Canon 1Ds Mark IIs and my 40D, but has yet to get updated for my newer 7D.  Since it does not have live-view for the 1Ds, I was left with the 40D.  I had a hard time configuring it since I had to use an ad-hoc network setting, because my home and studio networks are different.  After several hours of wrestling with the software, I was finally able to make it work in my house.

To make a long story short... when I tried the DSL Remote in the Studio on the day of the shoot, it did not work.  My neighbors' wireless networks kept intruding on its frequency.  In the end, I got to shoot with the 7D with an infrared trigger to get the job done.  If you look at the picture closely, you will see the trigger on my left hand.  I am particularly proud of this accomplishment and have chosen to keep the trigger in the final photo.

The final picture is a composite of four individual shots... an option I did not have much control over since I was not only dealing with a group shot (where blinking is always a problem), but I was also in the picture so I could not see what I was shooting and my son (in the foreground) was in a sour mood and would not cooperate.

Here are the four individual shots I used:

Surprisingly, all we needed was half a dozen takes on 4 different setups (all with usuable shots).  I also did individual couple portraits of my brothers and their wives, as well as of my parents.  I shot everything without a seamless since a background of any sort would have been distracting and limiting in terms of poses for a group this big.  I opted for black background upon editing, since I wanted to concentrate more on the faces and the personalities of each individual.

-- Shot with a Canon 7D and Canon EF 17-40mm L f/4 lens.

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