Magnificent DoF photographer - Sam Barker

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by jose_angel, May 31, 2011.

  1. I`m posting this topic after several threads about DoF, the convenience/need of faster primes, etc., etc.
    Most of the times we think that fast primes are irreplaceable for low light and/or action photography, -something a bit demanding if we want perfectly focused shots-, or for subject isolation -with extremely blurred backgrounds-, that I personally find unnecessary (-sometimes- I mean), and many times, boring.
    As another "environmental portrait photographer" I consider myself (pretty mediocre, BTW), there is an article in the current issue of the Nikon Pro Magazine that I think is worth a look: Sam Barker. I find on his photos a magnificent use of DoF in this scope.
    He like to use a D3X, 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 lenses, plus two SB-900 units. No fast primes. Only on his wishlist, he mentions a 85/1.4G or (notice that he says "OR") a 24-120/4!
  2. Some great shots, although I am confused as to why you mentioned DOF. IMO, his DOF does not define his style, I think everything is in focus in every shot. What he has done in many images is to highlight/isolate his subject with skillful lighting and post-processing.
  3. You are right. I wanted to mention the way he works the backgrounds, always related and slightly blurred (I`d not say in-focus).

    His backgrounds certainly have a rather large DoF; I want to fight the usual idea for portraiture, "the shallower DoF and higher background blur, the better". I don`t agree with it. This is a good sample, IMHO.

    I like the way he obtains a non distracting background (even being only slightly defocused), using flash light to "pop out" the subject. That dark, selected backgrounds also help to avoid bad bokeh issues.
  4. Confusing DOF terminology aside, his work is a perfect example of why the conventional PN wisdom of what makes a good portrait lens is incomplete. Not everyone is doing portraits at f/1.4 or with a prime lens. I loved his mention of using a 24-120/4, a lens a lot of people deem unworthy of using on the spousal unit and the brats on a trip to Wally World.
  5. To some, it's often a luxury to able a to use a strobe, have a bit of time, the desired background set up and a willing subject. If you do have the luxury, you shouldn't shoot them all @f2 or wide open. Environment can and is often interesting. In some cases, more interesting than the actual subject themselves...
  6. Leslie, Jane Bown didn't use those luxuries (strobes, locations), and seldom had much time to make her portraits and did so nicely. She did use two primes, just a 50 and 85. There's many approaches to portraiture besides the conventional.
  7. Luis, I don't know what "conventional" portraits are nor do I know what the lastest trends is. I assume the latest trend is shallow shallow dof type from discussions here but I always liked it since I started shooting in the late 90's. That said, I agree, good portraits can be taking in all kind of ways from all kind of formats with all kinds of lenses, f8 or wide open, flash, no flash etc...That said, I personally always go back to Avedon's portraitures -no shallow dof- just straight up portraiture.
    Me? I don't have a studio nor a LF (nor famous celebrities) but I make do with whatever I have at the time...
  8. The conventional portrait is what is talked about here a few times a week whenever anyone asks about a portrait lens. Obviously, you're well aware of other approaches to portraiture besides the conventional, but I wasn't writing about you or me, the OP or any other individual in particular, but how the Barker pictures and equipment show another way of portraiture.
  9. He uses very high contrast lighting setups. Instead of filling in shadows he creates more. Instead of smoothing out wrinkles he accentuates them (although it looks like post processing and sometimes too much for my tastes) Combine that with interesting poses and some famous Formula 1 drivers makes for good viewing.
    You have already said you are an environmental portrait photographer and I think that is a good term. I'm not sure why you need to fight anything. Just say that and if anyone asks you can explain how it is different from other styles of portrait photography.
  10. Well, I`m not stricly speaking... I don`t want to fight! :)
    I just want to show that for good portrait photography, expensive super fast primes are not a must. I have read here many times about using super fast or longer lenses to have the highest background blur and subject isolation, as if it were the first rule for portrait photography.
    This photographer use dark backgrounds, artificially brightened subjects and large DoF, in a somewhat non spontaneous, formal style photography, and outdoors. Not so common, and specially interesting to me; I`m the same movement, thought. It`s not casual, or street photography... It reminds me some Annie Leibovitz`s work.
    (I`m refering to pics like this, or this one).
  11. For me, the distinction of a "portrait" lens is one that happens to combine a suitable focal length for conventional portraits with a wide aperture to allow a human-sized subject to appear well-separated from the background, whatever it may be. A wide aperture isn't the only way to separate the subject from the background (lighting and not actually having any detail in the background are two alternatives, as these images well demonstrate). A big aperture can separate the subject from the background, and turn an image with a person in it into an image of the person. It's not the only way to take a portrait, but if you have limited control over background and lighting (as in most candid portraits), it's a good feature to have. I don't have a problem with the "portrait lens" terminology - but then nor do I feel I'm doing it wrong if I take portraits with anything that's not a Hasselblad. Maybe "you might find a 135mm f/2 DC useful for portraits" does get interpreted as "you must have a 135mm f/2 DC to shoot portraits" by new photographers, though.
  12. Barker has some great shots. however, he's more of a strobist than a "DoF" photographer. the latter term implies someone who works a lot with either extremely shallow DoF or extremely deep DoF. in Barker's work, he tends to do neither, instead relying on off-camera flash to place light exactly where he wants it.
  13. Jose Angel - "I just want to show that for good portrait photography, expensive super fast primes are not a must."
    We're in agreement on that.What I think helps more than anything else besides being able to see, are skills at human engineering, and street-photographer reflexes.
  14. I think you're wrong about shallow depth of field being considered normal or standard or the expected for portraits. Most portraits are made well stopped down so that the whole person is in focus. Just look into any book or magazine which features top portrait photographers, i.e. Vanity Fair, etc.
    I use shallow depth of field in my people photography a lot, but rarely for portraits. I use it to separate the main subject from other people in situations where the photograph would otherwise be too complicated. Also for documentary photographs in low light. But for a portrait of a person, f/4-f/11 is normal, and I think the majority of portrait photographers would agree with me.
    To me Sam Barker's images are very artificial looking. You would never see this kind of light in real life. The lighting is unusual enough to distract from the actual subject (assuming it is the person in the picture). I can understand that the photographer uses the light to establish a style and to differentiate his work, but I don't like the result at all.
  15. Thanks Eric, I was not aware of that use of the terms "DoF photographer".
    Anyway, I think he may be using DoF carefully, as I do. I carefully check my shots to have just a bit of blur, not so much, but also avoiding too much sharpness; I also like to have a slight jump from the focus plane to the background in order to avoid focus transition. I see he did the same, at least in some pics.
    Andrew, maybe we need to search for the origin of the "portrait lens" concept. I think it comes from the ones used in early photographic studios. Many vintage barrel lenses were marked "portrait" (Dallmeyer, Cooke); as you mention, with the right correct focal lenght, usually fast ones (also better for shorter exposures =non motion blur), and like the DC models, with any image softening control system.
  16. Ikka - "Just look into any book or magazine which features top portrait photographers, i.e. Vanity Fair, etc."
    I agree, but that's not the conventional wisdom here. Not to mention black-sheep lenses like the 24-120...
  17. You would never see this kind of light in real life.​
    You'd also never (or rarely) see the subjects of those photos, in real life, glaring at you like that, or posed/moving like that, or in physical circumstances like many of those shots. It's all stylized, and not just the lighting. Those are fully conceived works. As such, personal style (or client art direction) is a big part of the process. Obviously these aren't meant to be typical editorial portraits.
  18. maybe we can say that Barker is a conceptual photographer, then. he kind of reminds me of david la chappelle a bit, except he uses a lot of natural settings. i'm impressed by his strobist technique and his portraits are also very good.
  19. To me Sam Barker's images are very artificial looking.​
    Ewww! The post-processing! It burns, it burns!!
  20. Where is written in stone that art should look... natural? ;)
    Anyway, printed on paper (the magazine I have in my hands), the mentioned photos look much better. This time the web images doesn`t do them justice.
    Don`t know if I can do this: I`m posting a low res scan (150ppi, .jpg two times compressed) from the first pic. I like it so much. It has certainly an artificial look, even a clumsy PP, but still pleasant to my taste. The ammount of blur in the background is simply perfect.
  21. I think the pictures work well because they are lit in a way that draws your attention strongly to the subject, so that shallow dof is not important to keep your eye on the subject. The lighting is dramatic, and generally looks like flash was used. The fact that the backgrounds are important to the subject, and the story behind the picture makes it important to see easily what's there. But when people generally talk about 'portraits' they mean pictures of their kids or other people close to them. I think for this kind of work it's best if the lighting is great, but still looks natural, which means in part that the exposure on the subject is just a tad brighter than the background. Without too much contrast here it helps to blur the background to keep your eyes on the subject. I realize you know this already! Personally my favorite portrait photographers do you use primes, and use them wide open, and I love the look. But the style is totally different from Barker's. You can't compare and say what's right and wrong, you just have to know what you want the shot to look like.
  22. Just another advertising pro producing soulless eye-candy.
  23. Describing Barker as a Portrait Photographer – DoF or otherwise – is a bit like saying Damien Hirst makes still-life art: I'd call Barker more an editorial/commercial photo-illustrationist in the vein of Jill Greenberg and other commercial photographers who have established a stylized look based on specific and repeated lighting and post-production techniques. Certainly makes for arresting images particularly suited to commercial work, but whether it translates effectively into the realm of PJ or portraiture - where the traditional focus is the subject, not the technique, is open to question. Interested to see if this look stands the test of time, or ends up associated with a particular fad - like '80s music videos, and nothing more. Viewing Barker's photos, the human subjects appear at times to be props in a studio catalog shot, with art-direction by David Lynch. Eye-catching nevertheless. ymmv
  24. Definitely I placed the dash in the wrong place. I should have written
    Magnificent DoF - Photographer Sam Barker
    Not the topic of this thread, but I`ll like to bite. I want to join:
    "Just another advertising pro producing soulless eye-candy."
    Agree. Photography is plenty of advertising photographers that produce soul-less eye-candy images. One of my favourites, Richard Avedon.
    "... is a bit like saying Damien Hirst makes still-life art... "​
    Good comparison, I agree, but probably excessive. Anyway, from I have read, I bet Barker would like to sell his work in auctions, like Hirst... BTW, I dislike Hirst, I like Barker.
    "... editorial/commercial photo-illustrationist in the vein of Jill Greenberg and other commercial photographers who have established a stylized look... "
    Check the scanned image. I see a proud amazonic-type hunter in his land. No doll-looking faces with stupid expressions.
    "... based on specific and repeated lighting and post-production techniques... "​
    Irving Penn, Arnold Newman
    "Certainly makes for arresting images particularly suited to commercial work, but whether it translates effectively into the realm of PJ or portraiture - where the traditional focus is the subject, not the technique, is open to question. Interested to see if this look stands the test of time... "​
    Man Ray, early Bauhaus photography...
    ... ... all mentioned above can be applied to many claimed photographers. Just judge them at the end of their working life. I think Barker is in the begining.
  25. "I see a proud Amazonic hunter in his land" - I see a carefully picked, dressed, styled and lighted model with a non-functional prop bow against a scouted backdrop.
    I don't see much difference, aesthetically, between Barker's work and that of Steve McCurry - there is a slight stylistic difference yes, but the poverty/war/ethnic-fashion crossover genre has been done before and done far better. If work like this is remembered at all by posterity, it'll be as a generic representation of the utter commercialisation of art and its devolution into a pure commodity. And speaking of which, Damien Hirst epitomises this entire movement. Simplistic themes - like the inevitability of death (well Durrr!) being sold like some kind of major revelation to "art" collectors as a financial investment. So of course Hirst commands high auction prices, it's like the Tulip-bulb trade of the C17th where any recognition of true worth would bring prices crashing down.
    The one thing about Barker's pictures that makes them stand out for me is: How does he manage to make his models look so utterly bereft of emotion and humanity? Does he bore them to death by taking an age to pose them so stiffly, or is there a PhotoShop plugin for it? Perhaps instead of redeye removal it's deadeye insertion.
  26. LOL... you`re so hard, but I understand you. Well, it`s so difficult to be a master. Let them an opportunity. Time will tell...
  27. Admittedly, his travel work is impressive (I'm not going to comment his commercial or obviously setup studio work as this is heavily controlled anyway), but it certainly is NOT the work of the casual or average traveller - amateur or professional. He has infinite time, unlimited access to his subjects (you can see that from the timing and posing in his photos) and, undoubretly, someone to carry his equipment. I mean, 99% of his images, while they can be taken with the gear you mentioned, they also require stands, remote trigers, light modifiers, etc, etc and none of those are either easy to carry or setup or anything.
    So yes, if I had someone to lug 40 pounds of stuff for me, who knew the local language and could "convince" or "arrange" for near unlimited access to all sorts of local people for me, then I too would be able to shoot at f/16 and blast my subjects with light, again and again and again, until I got the shots I wanted, with this amazing depth of field (which, you're right, enhances rather than diminishes the images).
    I'm saying this because I too lug around pretty much the same equipment you mentioned but I don't frequently get to use it because (a) access is difficult, even with extremely well natured subjects, the moment is often VERY fleeting, (b) time is of the essence and (c) I rarely have the ability - or even security - to place two or three strobes in various places around the subject(s) and start testing the lighting and overall setup. I HAVE travelled with a production crew and have enjoyed these perks, but its the exception rather than the rule and yes, at those times you can create true marvels...;-)
    Plus, I bet the farm that Mr Barker processes his images so heavily that I very much doubt that you would see an out-of-the-camera result and connect it! I'm not saying he shouldn't or anything - if that's what the client wants (and they obviously and frequently do!), then he does very well to do it, but it does pose the question "how much of what we see is accomplished in camera or outside".
  28. The proud hunter is carrying a fish spear, AFAICT.
  29. Jose, some of his male portraits appear to use a simple "softbox sandwhich" lighting technique. Shouldn't be hard to emulate - if you must. Add a heavy dose of sitter boredom followed by an equal amount of Portrait Professional and you're there.
    I really think the depth-of-field aspect is fairly irrelevent, since mostly the backgrounds are so carefully controlled. It's a clinical take on environmental portraiture - literally, in the case of the Iraqi hospital workers. The firefighter "portraits" just don't work for me at all on any level, rubbish lighting, rubbish posing and rubbish backgrounds. A set of rusty lockers. Come on! If there was one backdrop that needed throwing out of focus, that must surely be it.
  30. Jose,
    You described him as a portrait photographer - don't be surprised if you get a response to that - along with your statement that Barker makes "magnificent" (your word) use of DoF and eschews primes: You act like he's invented the wheel:
    A more considered analysis of Penn, Bauhaus, etc will reveal a clear distinction between them and Barker, for any number of reasons. - We can re-convene in another 30 years to see if Barker achieves your predictions, or if he turns out to be another LaChapelle: Like I said - ymmv.
    The Hirst reference was sarcasm, btw; not easily conveyed via a web forum
  31. Thank you all for your comments. I always enjoy/learn reading them, sincerely.
    Just to add a few highlights from this photographer, as I read on the NPM:
    • Actually, his more distintive work are that "environmental portraits"; he wanted to have studio-like portraits on remote locations. It`s interesting how&why he achieve this results with two SB units.
    • Looks like he really use a rather small equipment (camera, 2x lens, 2x flash). He also use homemade tricks to manipulate light quality on his SB-900.
    • To Marios; Barker likes to hire natives in that remote locations not only as assistants (to hold the flash heads) but to have access to certain people and locations and to avoid problems in conflictive areas.

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