photo by Samara Pearlstein
Photo Day! Not Roster Photo Day, those are the standardized shots that end up on MLB websites; Photo Day is when the team brings in a photographer to do proper studio portraits of the players. Sometimes they’re pretty straightforward, sometimes they are artsy and deranged. This spring, as it happens, the Red Sox and Tigers had the same photographer, and he used the same general concept for both teams.
It’s… um, interesting. Since RotT is ALL about the art and the photography, I reckon we’re gonna need to talk about it.
You can see the Tigers shots over here. They’re by a Getty Images photographer named Nick Laham. The first image that comes up on his personal site, at the moment, is Fernando Rodney, which in and of itself is good for a hearty chortle or several. If you poke around his site, or search for him on Getty, you’ll see that he has a lot of really nice work, so it’s obviously not like he doesn’t know how to handle studio lights or whatever.
I also feel obligated to point out that he’s responsible for this wholly amazing Braylon Edwards photoshoot (start there and click to the right), which is just… yes.
Ahem. Anyways. The Tigers photos! There are a few things going on.
First off, I’m not sure exactly what lens he’s using, but whatever it is, he’s shooting it WIDE open (my initial guess would be some sort of 50mm f/1.4 lens, but that’s probably my own bias talking– I love that lens like burning). The result is a wicked shallow depth of field.
What does that mean?
Check out this terrifying image of Miguel Cabrera. Ignore the horror of the chin pubes, if you’re able, because the only person we can blame those on is Miguel himself. Do you see how Miggy’s eyes are in sharp focus, but his nose is blurry, and his face falls off into blurriness as it recedes backwards from his eyes?
Imagine that Miggy’s face is divided up into vertical slices or planes. Some of them, like the slice containing the tip of his nose, are closer to the camera lens, and some of them, like the slice containing his ears, are farther away from the lens. A shallow depth of field means that only a very narrow group of slices are going to be in focus, and everything in front of and behind them will be out of focus to some degree– the farther away something is from the in-focus slice, the blurrier it will be.
A camera takes photos through a little opening in the lens. A photographer controls the size of this opening (aperture), making it bigger or smaller. A relatively big aperture (the lens ‘wide open’– at 1.4 or 2.8, for instance) will result in a shallow depth of field, while a relatively tiny aperture (the lens at 8 or 11, for instance– yes, it’s backwards, don’t ask) will have a deep depth of field, where foreground, mid-ground, and background will mostly be in focus together.
Shallow depth of field. See how blurry the background gets?
Broader depth of field. See how the foreground, mid-ground, and background are all mostly in focus?
Miggy’s eyes, eyebrows, the tops of his cheeks, and some of his (ugh) chin pubes are all on more or less the same plane, so they’re in focus. This isn’t actually bad– you’re usually ‘supposed’ to have your sharpest focus on the eyes, if you’re shooting a portrait, and that’s clearly happening here. But my personal preference, at least, is to try to avoid a big blur in the middle of the face. Mr. Laham did it with the high key shots (see how Miggy’s nose is blurry, but less blurry than before, and more of his face is in focus? I’d guess that the aperture isn’t quite as wide open, which means more depth of field– more slices are in focus at the same time), so you KNOW not doing it with the blue background shots was a deliberate choice. Harumph.
The other main issue here is the lighting. It’s not one of the standard portrait lighting set-ups, which is FINE– I went to art school, yanno, I LIKE when things are weird and different and ~*~edgy~*~. But this… this is something that was probably better as a concept than photographic reality.
Let’s use this shot of Granderson as an example, because it takes a special sort of WTF to make Curtis Granderson look less than perfect. You can see the depth of field shenanigans clearly here too, but ignore that and look at the lighting on Curtis’ face.
The main light sources are off to the sides, kinda angled in– you can actually see them reflected in Curtis’ eyes. Now, I don’t know if this rig consists of two lights, or a light and a reflector, or how many fill lights there are, or whatever, but the result is that every Tiger, to a greater or lesser degree, has a shadow line down the center of his face. It sounds like a cool concept, EXCEPT FOR THE PART WHERE IT MAKES THEM ALL LOOK CROSS-EYED.
You can see more examples of this problem in the Red Sox photo day shots, which, as noted above, were done by the same guy, with the same (or a very similar) lighting set-up. I said this elsewhere, but poor Michael Bowden barely even looks human, and Rocco Baldelli’s photo almost makes ME go cross-eyed in sympathy.
What’s going on?
This sort of side lighting doesn’t just draw a pretty shadow down the line of the nose: it also creates shadows on the inside halves of the eye sockets. You darken someone’s eyes where they’re close to the nose, and that person is going to look insane and cross-eyed. It’s that simple.
Since there’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Laham knows how to light a face so that this DOESN’T happen, I can only assume that it was intentional. So….