Portrait of an Engineer

A recent editorial assignment had me shooting portraits for Doggerel. Doggerel is an online magazine that covers the built environment, published by the international engineering consulting firm Arup. The focus of this assignment was shooting a couple environmental portraits of Matt Clark, a structural engineer with Arup that was being profiled by the magazine.

I was free to do pretty much whatever I wanted for the shoot but also realized that Matt would probably not want to spare more than 15 minutes so I had to keep it pretty simple. Therefore I decided to use natural light instead of trying to haul all my lighting gear around. I scouted locations near the Arup office in Manhattan's financial district beforehand and found an area under the FDR that would be perfect because it is covered so a) weather wouldn't matter and b) most importantly, you get that soft directional light, similar to a big window. Location - check, lighting - check!

The one requirement for the shoot was for the subject to be fairly centered because of the way Doggerel's website crops the photos depending on the reader's browser view. But just because this was going to be a simple setup, doesn't mean that I wasn't going to try something cool and honestly, keeping it simple tends to allow for more creativity during the shoot since you aren't confined to one complex setup. To try something different, I had been experimenting with panoramic portraits. Why would anyone want to make a panorama of human? Well, a wedding photographer named Ryan Brenizer popularized the method because it allows you to have a very shallow depth of field with a wider composition. Gives the image a feel of old school large format photography. The method essentially consists of taking a grid of photos of the subject and surroundings with a longer lens at a large aperture and then combining the files into a panorama using photoshop or other stitching software. I wouldn't recommend trying a new method on a paid gig so for some background, I had been testing the method with my favorite subject, Buddy:

Dog Panoramic Portrait

For Matt's first photo, I had him stand centered in an open area underneath the FDR in the East River Park. The hard part about doing this type of panoramic portrait is that you have to wait for the background to be clear for each shot and make sure that there are no gaps in your grid of photos. This meant waiting for the tourists to clear the scene of each image and making sure Matt didn't move too much. There are tripod heads that are designed specifically for shooting panoramas but these two portraits were shot handheld. The biggest benefit of using a panoramic head is the elimination of parallax error that is caused by the shifting plane of the sensor from shot to shot. Parallax error makes it hard for the stitching software to combine the images and can cause items that are supposed to be straight do some funky stuff.

Matt Clark Engineer Portrait

For the second photo, we walked down to an area of park benches for a more casual portrait. The sun came out from behind the clouds creating a warmer feel than the first portrait.

Matt Clark Engineer Portrait 2

I ended up with some parallax error that made post production a little more work than I would have liked but, overall, I was pleased with the way the panoramas came out.  Here is a link to the accompanying Doggerel article:

Profiles in Design: Structural Engineer Matt Clark