One of the more iconic celebrity portraitists is Martin Schoeller. His portraits have a very distinct look thanks to his very narrow depth of field, his head-on composition and subtly awkward crop, and his deceptively simple lighting arrangement. His aesthetic is so recognizable that several photographers, including Columbus’ own Nick Fancher, have tried to mimic it.
In fact, Schoeller’s portraits — and the various attempts around the internet to reproduce them — are what inspired Mock-Ups, as they’re pretty simple to approximately replicate but hard to master.
Let’s take a look at some of them to determine what makes a Schoeller, a Schoeller:
The first thing one notices when looking at a Schoeller portrait is the incredibly shallow depth of field. Only from the tips of the subjects’ noses to just past the subject’s eyes is in focus, and in some cases even the nose is blurry. This creates an odd “tilt-shift” effect and pays an almost uncomfortable amount of attention to the eyes and mouths of the subject. The lighting is obviously gorgeous, with faint highlights that paint the cheeks and the bridge of the nose, and is especially notable for parallel catchlights in the eyes.
We knew we would need to use a lens with a very low aperture and two striplights. We were using a dark gray backdrop, so we knew we’d need to have a flash behind our subjects to blow out the backdrop, and another flash in front of the subjects to lend those highlights on the cheeks and nose. Here is what our lighting diagram looked like:
The two striplights we used were Kino Flourescent Diva 401 (which we carry in rentals). We used a flash behind the subject to blow out the backdrop, and a flash with a LumoPro 22″ Universal Beauty Dish behind the Kinos for the highlights. We mounted a Zeiss 85mm F/1.4 (which we also carry in rentals) on a Canon EOS 6D, and that’s it. Here are some images of our setup:
The trickiest aspect of this shoot, as it turned out, was getting focus with the Zeiss. It’s a manual focus, and with the wide-open F/1.4 aperture, it took us a few captures to get focus on each subject. We also had our subjects, i.e. members of the MPEX staff, standing instead of sitting, which meant there was some variation in where people stood and how tall each person was, so that threw us off a little.
Otherwise, this was a pretty simple shoot, and the results are pretty darn close, we think:
However, after T.J. was done editing them, he decided that we can do better, with the catchlights and the lighting in general, so stay tuned for Part 2.