Thomas Abban

Or, Hope For A Nice Publicist

Do you like Led Zeppelin? Jack White? Jimi Hendrix? Prince?

I’m sure Thomas Abban is over being compared to those artists, but it’s appropriate. He’s a young dude (21???) with a hell of a flair for guitar and black-and-white clothing. He even directs his band like an artist who’s been playing for twice as long.

Shot some portraits during load-in, caught the AMAZING late-night set.

Those of you familiar with the work of Greg Heisler, Art Streiber, Dan Winters, Annie Leibowitz — the A-list editorial portrait photographers — know that they often undergo extensive testing of lighting and camera setups. Then, when they arrive on set or the subject arrives at the studio, all they have to do is replicate that scenario, drop in a new face, and bam. Then they can concentrate on working the subject rather than sweat the technical stuff.

I tried that. But, you know. The real world happened.




All of these are variations on a speedlite on one side, gold reflector on the other.

The first is a bare light at head level, shooting horizontally into a reflector at the same level. Probably my favorite of the three, though if there were a way to reduce the intensity of the flash by maybe a stop, so it wouldn’t blow out quite so much. Trouble with that is retaining proper exposure on the face.

With the second, I put a shoot-through umbrella on the flash and raised it up about two feet above my head. If I owned a small soft box or octa that could control spill, this could be a really successful and reliable setup in the future. A flag would do the trick in certain situations like group portraits or in a bigger space.

The third was inspired by a happy accident. The bare flash, zoomed to 105mm, is right next to the lens, barely out of view. The reflector is also just out of frame. My 50mm tends to give me a hazy flare any time any sort of light hits it, so with the flash just barely skimming the surface of the glass, it gives me a nice blue-toned, washed out kind of effect. It’s also making a second catchlight.

With alllllll that experimenting, and when I arrived at Icehouse, we were effectively evicted from the floor of the restaurant. Outside, the walls were way less interesting, they was no light for the camera to autofocus, and the wind blew my reflector into Thomas more than once. He was a gracious subject. I try to live by “don’t let them see you sweat,” and even in this situation — a shoot purely at the courtesy of Thomas and his publicist — it wounded my pride to not be totally on my game. But he remained calm, stuck with me through a few awkward silences, gave my weird ideas a shot, told me what mattered to him. What a relief.

Thanks for reading!


Twin Lenses

Gotta thank Nate Ryan again for lending me his Yashica 12 for a few weeks. Developed and scanned by State Film Lab. Some finessing of contrast and crop correction in Lightroom. Film stock noted in the captions.

A few thoughts about TLR’s, 400 speed film stock, and film in general.

— As in introduction to the 120 format, a TLR like the Yashica 12 is just about as good as it gets. It really does provide an experience like that of a point-and-shoot. Great size and weight, good quality lens on the front, and generally a joy to use. It’s not intimidating like some other medium format cameras can be. (Though I did reclaim my RB67, and I’m happy as a camera clam.)

— After giving HP5 a shot, I still like Tri-X enough to fork over the extra $1 per roll (B&H is my source.) In my very un-scientific and limited experience, I prefer Tri-X. I prefer the transitions from highlight to white, shadow to black. HP5 seems a little muddy at the far ends of the histogram and takes a little more work in Lightroom to make a nice curve. Interestingly, it’s actually in full daylight where the difference is more noticeable.

— I really, really can’t stress enough how much I love black-and-white film. Nothing looks quite like it. I want so badly to learn how to develop it myself. Someday.

— 5 rolls of film x 12 exposures a roll = 60 scans that came back. 25/60 is a ratio I’m proud of, but it’s not altogether that much higher than what comes off of my digital Ricoh, my regular walk-around camera. I also own a 35mm Rebel 2000, which I bought so I could use my existing EF glass. I like my 35mm Rebel OK, but the act of using and touching the Yashica and my Mamiya brings me such joy. So shooting film is less about the slowing down and being picky with what pictures I take, but more just about how good it feels to use these medium format cameras.

— I’m glad I didn’t shoot film until now, when I’m much more confident in my ability to set proper exposure. Of course, “when in doubt, overexpose” is great advice from the internet, but with the help of my 5D and and iPhone app called Lux, I feel like I’ve more or less outgrown my insecurity. That is, until something goes horribly wrong….

— I just hope I don’t go broke too quickly. I’ve got another 5 rolls sitting on my desk.

Always interested in talking shop with other photographers about this stuff, since I feel like I’m still very much in the very early stages of my film education. So send me a message with any and all thoughts you might have. Please!


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