Portrait of Mike Weymouth

The other day, mentor and good friend Mike Weymouth of founder of Weymouth Design asked me to shoot his portrait for a large article he was writing for Graphis regarding the Annual Report business and his 30 plus year journey through its center.

Mike and Greg bounce ideas....

Mike and Greg bounce ideas....

Mike Weymouth started his design firm in 1973.  A couple of years after working with photographers on jobs, Mike (a true perfectionist) realized that he was increasingly frustrated with their artistic process, and decided he might be able to do it a bit better.  It wasn’t long after his revelation that he picked up a camera and began creating amazing images.  Those early photographs would send him onto a long and successful path as an innovator, a designer, photographer, and eventually, the winningest designer over a career.

Richard loves getting up early!!!

Richard loves getting up early!!!

Although working with Mike is demanding, the experience is rewarding.  His level of energy is amazing, and his capacity for creativity is bottomless.

Mike, I began to work together in 1999 when I first began in this biz as an assistant.  In those early days, I was privileged to travel the world and learn many important lessons.  His lessons didnt just surround good photography, but drove at the nuances of what it meant to run a successful business, and most importantly, how to be a good vendor and take care of your client.  Over the past decade, our relationship has developed past mentor/mentee, and turned into a really wonderful friendship.  He is a constant source of ideas, and a wonderful sounding board.  I highly encourage you to research his work.

Working on the prop for the shot

Working on the prop for the shot

Anyway, Mike has been slowly retiring over the past year, and he desired an image that would both speak to his confidence and success, as well as mark his progressive exit from design scene.  To do this, Mike constructed a large book that would represent the Annual Report business, and launch it into the air to represent his “letting go.”

Our day started in the studio at 5AM.  (for some reason, we seem never to get any sleep around here…) Richard and I packed up the truck and headed over to Nantasket Beach for the 7AM call.  Mike roughly had an idea of how he thought the shoot should go, but let us do our thing in order to explore the situation.

Using the Profoto Ringlight

Using the Profoto Ringlight

I thought that if he was going to be launching this book, we would definitely want to include some motion, but as it was a portrait, we would need to make sure that his face was tack.  To do this, we made sure to bring the Profoto 600B battery strobe.  I have also been experimenting lately with using the Profoto Ringlight in unconventional ways, and decided that I would try shooting this photo in a similar manner.

I think the most important thing to realize about producing great photography is that (at least in my opinion) it is important to look at the day as “a problem to solve,” and not just a task to complete.  I really see a photograph as a truly organic product that has a general thought behind it, but is not fully realized until you go for a walk and flush it out.

Richard setting up the prop

Never enough dancing...

Never enough dancing...

Once we got to the beach and began to get set up, it slowly became clear to me that I was much more drawn to the idea of portraying Mike as a confident “legend” of the AR biz, rather than trying to work with some “setting it all free” type of image.  The key here is to be open to those voices, and not to be afraid to change your direction.  This may be hard to do if you have models, assistants, a police detail, the client, an art director, account execs, etc… all sitting behind, looking to you for the definitive answer.  But in order to work at the highest levels of this biz, you have to somehow find the confidence to dig deep and to listen to those subtle voices so you can completely change direction.

Anyway, once I had an idea locked down, we went about the technical business of working out the numbers.  Richard mounted the Profoto Ringlight up high on a large stand (probably 9’.)  We wanted to incorporate motion, so I first experimented with the shutter speed, and found that it would work best at 1/20 of a sec.  The big problem was sun…  it was pretty bright, so our exposure was off the charts too high, but not impossible to work around.  We would just have to stop down the lens.  To do this, I thought about using a ND, but as we were given a nice gift with the clouds, I decided to use the 77mm B+W Circular Polarizer.  This would not only pop the cool whisp-ers, but give a nice saturation to the blue sky.  With the polar on, the ambient light showed f32, and we were in the green.  This was great and would allow me to incorporate the motion at a wee-less than 1 stop under, while popping the strobe to freeze his face at f22. 

Always in pursuit of the better photograph, I decided to add one last little touch and add a 0.6-4x graduated neutral density filter.  This would bring down the sky and really draw the eye into the center of the photograph.  Of course, the one problem with stacking so much glass in front of the lens is you risk vignetting.  And sure enough, we got a nice black circle around the edges of the frame.  Not to worry though… I just backed away and zoomed in a tiny bit, and knew that I would just come in on the image with a crop in post.


Once we began shooting, it also became clear to me that we would scrap the beach location entirely from the image and concentrate on incorporating a solid cloud filled sky as the background.  It was far to dramatic and beautiful not to include in the image.

So the technical BS was set.  f22, 1/20sec, 200 ISO on the Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens, Profoto 600B on full power with an open ringlight up high to the left, pocket wizards, large stand, 2 sand bags, CF cards, circular polarizer,  graduated neutral density filter, and a little bit of luck…

All that was left was to shoot the image…. And shoot we did.  The important key to getting an image like this is lots and lots of shots.  You know what they say… “throw enough shit against the wall, and sooner or later some of it will stick.”
Anyway, after several hundred frames, I was confident we got “the shot” and we were free to have fun with all sorts of other ideas.

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