Lisa & Pat caught in a candid moment during the portrait shoot.

Meet Pat & Lisa Miller of the Natchez Brewing Company. 

I got the opportunity to meet Pat and Lisa during the recent Food & Wine Festival in Natchez, Mississippi. Visit Natchez had hired me to shoot the weekend fest, and the very first stop of the restaurant tour was The Camp Restaurant under the hill on Silver Street. That’s where I met this friendly and interesting entrepreneur couple who brew craft beer.

One thing led to another, and we arranged to have an environmental portrait taken of them at their brewery on Franklin Street in downtown Natchez. In Environmental Portraiture, the idea is to capture your subjects in their environment; in other words, in some context of their life, their work, or what they do – in their surroundings. This is quite a different approach than studio portraiture, where you photograph your subject in a studio with a backdrop. Studio portraiture can be very effective in that it normally isolates the subject to that one element – them. Either approach works well, depending upon what you’re after. For Pat & Lisa, I chose to go on location and photograph them inside their brewery to put them in context as craft beer brewers. An issue with this approach is the logistics of lugging all the lighting and camera gear on location, and at this time of year the heat and humidity make it more difficult. There is also the issue of the context (the surrounding, or set), and getting it right. This often must be carefully staged and arranged to bring out all the elements that are needed so that the viewer of the image knows what is going on.

The Brewery’s logo.

Let me explain a little more about that last thought and why it is so important – that idea of sometimes needing to stage or set up the surroundings for the shot. In real life, our eyes take in a staggering amount of information in just a few seconds. Walking up to Lisa & Pat’s brewery building … an old, tall structure from the 1800’s with a ton of character, seeing their logo painted on the tall windows, walking through the front entrance into a huge room of brick and cypress timbers with very high ceilings, and seeing the large beer tanks in the corner … the aromas, the feel of the atmosphere, the taste of the amazing beer …well, it all combines to create quite an emotional and intellectual impact, and that is the issue …

How does one capture all that information and communicate the emotional impact of that entire few seconds into just a single photographic image of just one part of that sequence? That is the challenge of still photography, and why I love it so much. That’s also why I must pour more thought, planning, and staging into the image I am going for – so that I effectively communicate the experience – not just a simple scene. This can sometimes be lost on photographers even – especially those who come from a photo-journalistic background whose strict guidelines go by the mantra of never changing or altering anything in the scene. An analogy would be akin to marching band drummers with their strict regimen of exact drum-line drumming sometimes having difficulty switching to playing jazz, which is loose and improvisational drumming. Environmental portraiture is not photo-journalism. In this style of environmental portraiture, I am conveying the emotion and the experience of the entire scene’s panorama and sequence, not taking a forensic evidence shot of just what is there in that second and in that one narrow place that is within the frame of my camera’s lens.

Scouting shot taken a couple of days before the real shoot.

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” – Ansel Adams

How is that done? How can I communicate the emotion of a scene … of an experience? Well, some key elements of achieving this are in how I choose to stage and light the scene. The image at left is a scouting photo I took a couple of days before the shooting session. It’s always a good idea for me to scout out a location and look for the best angle to begin to work with in order to have the most optimal starting point to portray my vision of the portrait. In this shot, one can see the beer tanks – which I thought was key. However, the scene is very cold, cluttered, industrial, and needs a lot of work to make it more interesting. In particular, the white wall along the left, the exit sign, and the clutter along the floor need to be addressed. I had two assistants helping me on this shoot: Pam Swayze and Taylor Cooley. I enjoyed their help and their creative input in working to make this portrait “pop.” I very much enjoy operating with a talented team of photographic assistants such as Pam and Taylor when I get the opportunity. 

There were plenty of items in the building that screamed “beer brewery” – such as large wooden barrels, old bricks, kegs with their logo on them, and of course – the beer itself. So fortunately, I did have some interesting and appropriate items to work with. After Pat did a general clean-up of the area, I used all of these in various arrangements, moving them into the scene and tweaking their placement until I got a more interesting look. Pam did a great job of arranging the beer onto the top of a barrel, and pouring it into glasses. After this was done, I moved on to working out the lighting in order to give the scene drama and character. 

The “key” light is to camera right, and is a large 53″ Rotolux octabox (softbox) mounted onto an Elinchrom mono-strobe. It is up fairly high, mounted on a c-stand equipped with a boom arm, angled toward the subjects. A fill light was added to camera left, on yet another c-stand with a boom arm. This one was a 27″ gridded beauty dish mounted onto a Paul C. Buff “Einstein” mono-strobe. Three Nikon SB910 speedlites were strategically placed along the brick wall to the sides and rear, pointed up to give texture and mood to the wall. They were gelled using Magmod creative color filters. All of these were triggered remotely from my camera using Pocket Wizard radio controllers.

Magmod’s entire line of modifiers for speedlites.

The Magmod system of speedlite modifiers is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of kit. I like them so much that I invested in their entire line of modifiers. It’s a clever system that uses strong magnets in order to place light modifiers onto your speed light, and allows for quick changes to what you are doing. They are also “stackable” – so that you can add gels and grids stacked on top of one another to creative effect. In the scene I chose to light, I used amber and reddish colored gels on all three SB910 speed lights to mimic the brewery’s logo colors of amber and red. (It also was not lost on me that it worked to complement Lisa’s beautiful red hair.) Taylor, Pam and I worked with the power settings on the flash units to get just the right amount of light and color. Next, I backlit the two glasses of beer with two small LED penlights. For the blank space of wall in the background, I used the label off of the brown bottles and resized it in Adobe Photoshop CC 2015, and angled it to fit the perspective of the wall. I used a soft blend mode to make it appear as if the logo is naturally there. (Lisa and Pat had also told me they plan to have the logo painted up onto that area.) Into that scene I placed Lisa and Pat – who both have great camera personality. The shot below was my resulting final edited image …

Environmental Portrait of Lisa & Pat Miller “Craft Beer Brewers” – Copyright 2015, Michael Chapman.

I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes at what goes into making an environmental portrait such as this one. An image like this can capture so much of a person’s life story at a given time of their life, and the portrait can become something that is treasured and handed down to the next generation. If you would like your story captured in a timeless format, then contact me and we can arrange something just for you!




SHOOT DETAILS AND CAMERA EXPOSURE METADATA:

Subjects: Pat & Lisa Miller
Creative Director, Image Concept & Design, Photographer, & Retoucher: Michael Chapman
Location: Natchez Brewing Company, 413 Franklin Street, Natchez, Mississippi
1st Photography Assistant: Pam Swayze
2nd Photography Assistant: Taylor Cooley
Make-Up & Hair: Lisa Miller
All Rights Reserved – Michael Chapman, 2015

Image 1 (“Caught in a Fun Moment”): Nikon D810; 50mm f/1.4 prime lens; ISO 64; f/4; 1/250s; tripod mounted. There are moments in a photo session when you can get some fun candid shots. I always look for moments like this. They sometimes make for the best images.

Image 2 (“Logo”): This image of their business logo was used from Lisa & Pat’s Facebook page. Image credit to others.

Image 3 (“Scouting Shot”): The metadata isn’t important for this image … but what is important to me is to have scouting shots like this to take home. This gives me the time to think about and carefully plan my approach to the real photo session. I want to be very deliberate about portrait sessions, think about possible symbolic elements that I can include, and other factors that will bring out the essence of my subject(s). Plans can and often do change even then … but at least I have a plan as well as a more in-depth understanding of my subjects and their context. I use all of this as my starting point for framing, composition, angle of view, depth of field, and other considerations that I might not remember without having some scouting shots to look over at home, without any distractions.Image 4 (“MagMod Banner”): The MagMod website URL is: www.magnetmod.com 

Image 5 (“Craft Beer Brewers” – Environmental Portrait): Nikon D810; Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens (at 24mm); ISO 200; f/11; 1/20s; tripod mounted. Tripod: Gitzo carbon-fiber legs with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball-head.

Lenses Used on this Shoot: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Prime; Nikon 105mm Micro f/2.8; Nikon 24-120mm f/4.

Lighting: Elinchrom RX400 mono strobe (x1) with 53″ Rotolux octabank as the key light; fill light was a Paul C. Buff Einstein mono strobe (x1) with a 27″ gridded beauty dish – all other lights were kickers (accent lights); Nikon SB910 speedlites (x3) with Magmod modifiers; Lights were triggered with Pocket Wizard radio controllers (x5) – Flex TT5’s, Mini TT1, and AC3 Zone Controller; stands: c-stands with boom arms, Manfrotto Nano stands with umbrella adapters, and Alzo 10′ stands. Both creative gels, as well as color corrective gels (CTO 1/4 strength) were used to help create mood and correct the color temperature of the ambient lighting. The Nikon SB910 speedlites and my Pocket Wizards are powered using Eneloop Pro AA rechargeable batteries.

Post-Processing: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 & Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.

Computer & Tech: Apple MacBook Pro w/15″ retina display (shot tethered); Wacom Intuos tablet (medium); JBOD backup using Seagate hard drives for Mac (3-2-1 approach, with Dropbox as Cloud backup).