I recently had the pleasure of photographing the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
This is a man who has spent the majority of his career in life-threatening conditions. He is in my eyes, the definition of true celebrity. People like this command respect. His modesty, despite his incomprehensible achievements, is simply astounding. I wanted to create a portrait that echoed this.
I decided that the mood of the image would have to be dark, strong and powerful to convey his past. The lighting would need to be harsh and high in contrast to pick up the detail in his skin and accentuate his features.
I wanted to remove any emotion from the image, drawing the focus into his eyes and giving a feel of confidence and power.
I decided a low-key portrait would suit best. The challenge of this is that it had to be shot outside during the day. The location had no power and I only had 15 minutes to set up and 10 to shoot.
I decided to use speedlights for the convenience, but since it was mid day to underexpose the background sufficiently meant shooting at f14. I knew getting enough power from the main light was going to be a struggle.
I used a power pack to give me a full power recycle time of 1 second and set the back lights to ½ power which were fine with batteries.
I have recently started shooting a lot of my male portraits on a 100mm macro, this lens is razor sharp and a beautifully natural length for portraits. It is almost too sharp to shoot women because it leaves nothing to the imagination, but with a subject like this every little hair and wrinkle is accentuated which is exactly what I wanted.
The light setup I used was a 56” octabox for the main light, this ensured nice round catch lights in the eyes and good soft coverage of the camera left side of the face. I used a white reflector to fill in the camera right side of the face. Both the reflector and main light were in as close as possible to give optimum light output.
As I wanted harsh lighting I decided to leave the backlights bare. Doing this highlighted his hair and stubble but most importantly gave a great hard rim light to his jacket and really lifted him from the background.
I originally wanted a fully black background but a little bit of spill from the main light picked up the rear doors which I think really added to the image and gave an industrial feel, so I decided to leave it in.
Post-production is a bit of a secret, but only very subtle colour grading and sharpening. I decided to crop the top of the head to further draw focus to the eyes.
If I was to shoot this again I would probably use Profoto B4s for their super fast recycle time and power, but on some shoots their size and weight just isn’t convenient.
The shoot went really well and the outcome is what I had in my head, which is always nice. Big thanks to my assistants George Gunn and Sam Shaw.
Camera – Canon 5Dmk3
Lens – Canon 100mm f2.8 L (macro)
Main light – Yongnuo 565ex 24mm full power
Fill – White Lastolite reflector
Rim lights 2 x Yongnuo 565ex 24mm 1/2 power
Aperture F14, Shutter 160/sec, ISO 100
Click Here to see the large version of the final image