Kira Derryberry is a Tallahassee based photographer focused on Family and Commercial portraiture. Kira has spent the last 10 years of her career photographing hundreds of clients all over the southeast as well as sharing her knowledge with thousands of photographers across the country as an educator. When not slinging a camera or volunteering for her favorite photography organizations, Kira is a wife and a mom who publicly loves karaoke jams and bad science fiction. Follow her on Instagram @shekira or visit her personal site.
I spend about 50% of my business time in commodity portrait work for headshots, advertising, and branding images and I spend the rest of it in family portraiture. Both areas are rewarding but do require a bit of consistency and repetition in lighting, posing, styling, etc. That doesn’t
always allow me to flex my creative muscles as much as I’d like. To feed my artist side, I try to set time aside every couple of months to do something for me. Those personal projects often end up being single person character portraits because it was that kind of portraiture that made me want to be a photographer in the first place.
With portraits I want to convey personality. It’s helpful to be very familiar with the person being photographed. That familiarity affords me the trust I need to get the expression I want and the opportunity to be more creative with the lighting and styling. Creating trust with a client is also easy to do when shooting tethered because you can quickly show them the images as you go to build that confidence. For this project, I asked my very sweet and supportive dad, John, to pose for me. Lucky me, he said yes!
Styling this shoot was incredibly fun. I mean, how often do you get to pick out an entire outfit for your dad? I wanted Dad to be stylish and cool while also accentuating the texture in his beard and skin. I chose a gray textured sweater with an interesting collar to pull out the grays in his beard as well as the blue gray of his eyes. I tend to be very monochromatic, as you can see from the background and subject matter, but that little pop of olive green on his pants brings just enough color back to compliment the tiny bit of red in his cheeks and anchors the image back down from being too muted.
Speaking of texture, let’s get into the technical aspects of the image. I didn’t want to over correct the skin or hair on this image. His character is sharp and wise with a bit of devilishness that needs texture to feel like it’s coming off the image. I shot this at f/11 for that reason. I wanted absolutely everything to be tack sharp. For the light, I wanted a darker mood, but I didn’t want hard light exactly. I chose a large modifier for my main light. I placed it close and just in front of him to feather light across his face and create a fast fall off for the shadows.
My studio is all white, so lots of light bounces around. To control that, I used the black side of a v-flat opposite that main light to deepen my shadows on the face and create dimension. To light his clothing and bottom right of the image, I used a small strip box with a grid attached for fill to give a controlled narrow beam of fill lighting to the camera right side of the image without canceling out the negative fill I was getting from the v-flat.
And finally, I used the same sized gridded strip box behind and overhead to create a subtle separation for his head and shoulders from the background. Generally with a subject that is bald or has white hair, I won’t use a hair light so I won’t have to deal with too much shine in post, but because I had it on a very low power and gridded, I was able to get just enough light to illuminate his shoulders. I took care of the small amount of shine on his head in post while still leaving the highlight that lends to the dimension overall of his head shape.
I kept my postproduction as simple as I could. Since I tethered while I shot, the image looked pretty great right out of camera! One of the nice benefits of tethering is the ability to see things you may need to correct quickly on set so you can spend less time editing. The only things that I modified outside of my Lightroom capture was white balance and a small amount of burning down his beard in Lightroom, very mild hair and skin clean-up in Photoshop using the Frequency Separation technique, and then some color grading and contrast adjusting using Alien Skin Exposure X2. I finished it off with a +10 to the clarity adjustment in Lightroom just to give it that extra crispness.
I really love the way these portraits came out. They are just so my dad in so many ways, right down to that subtle smirk in his close up. I hope this has inspired you and given you some ideas of how you can level up your next personal project. Happy shooting!