This is a guest blog from Andrew Tomasino, a portrait photographer based in Allentown, Pa.
Storytellers. That’s all we are as photographers. We’re all trying our best to tell a story with light, using whatever tools and talent we may possess. This particular image needed to be handled with great care, and the story of hardship and struggle needed to be expressed, while showcasing the beauty of my subject, Hailey.
The discussion of women in magazines having a huge effect on those actually reading the magazines (men struggle with this too, I promise) has been mauled over many, many times. If you’re a photographer (obviously the rules are different for you journalists), you get it, because you retouch your images too. One part is to be complimentary to the subject, the other is to make your images look their best. When retouching rules the ad/editorial/portrait/fashion world, these tools become a standard practice for all of us.
So imagine this, you’re a young, beautiful woman … and you get skin cancer. Not only that, but you get skin cancer in a place where the whole world can see. Oh wait, and it needs to be removed …. and there will be a scar that you’ll also have to show the world, whether you’d like to or not. I think most of us (myself included) wouldn’t be half as brave or as strong as Hailey.
When asked to take her portrait immediately after her surgery, with the scar so prevalent on her face, she did so with confidence, because she also had a story to tell. She wanted people to understand what the results of skin cancer actually look like, she had no intention of shying away from it at all.
That was basically the first thought through my head. Damn. What a huge responsibility as a photographer to capture this very pivotal moment in a friend’s life, and to do so in a way that has balance. I ultimately decided to keep things very, very simple. I had time to flesh out some ideas, but everything was too intense, too graphic. My focus was too much on the scar, and not the person carrying the weight (literally and figuratively) of that scar. So I kept it simple.
I used a Lumiquest LTP with some tissues inside (yes, tissues for extra diffusion) with a LumoPro LP180 inside to light her face. The Lumiquest soft box is small, which can deliver varied results given its distance, but that softbox is right out of frame … I mean, right out of the camera left side. I do this often so my light is nice and soft on my subject. The background is also lit, this time with a LumoPro LP160 on very low power. I wanted the background to have a nice gradient to it, almost as if the sun were rising. Hailey has gone through a great transformation, and I wanted my lighting to reflect that.
We tried a variety of looks, but I landed on this one because I felt like she was really looking at me. Which is very important to me as a Portraitist. I’m sure some of you are saying, “Well, yeah, she’s looking at you, you’re taking her damn portrait you idiot.” But that’s not what I mean. There are points during a shoot where the person forgets about the lens, the camera, your tripod, the lighting, and actually just looks at you. This to me is where a portrait is most successful. Yes, there are many beautiful portraits where the subject is not staring directly in the camera, but for this particular shoot, this look provided me with the most emotion and feeling I needed to consider it successful. Storytelling, all in one simple frame.
Here’s a list of the gear I used to execute this image.
- Lumiquest LTP softbox
- Key light: Lumopro LP180
- The convertible LP605M compact light stand and monopod (this was particularly helpful considering I shoot in a very confined space)
- Background light: Lumopro LP160
You can see all my work via www.andrewtomasino.com and also check out BTS and random things I find beautiful on Instagram via @andrewtomasino. Thanks so much to Lumopro for making quality gear that I love to use, and the folks at MPEX for letting me share my passion on their blog.