Look closely. Michelle DuBose is not blowing the feathers. If she was, there wouldn’t be any feathers above her head. Instead the feathers are falling. John, my assistant, stood on a ladder and dropped the feathers while I used continuous shooting mode to capture the feathers falling.
I did not use strobes because strobes would stop the motion of the feathers, and the feathers would look sharp. Instead I used modelling lights and 1/80th of a second for the shutter speed, which blurred the feathers and made them look like little angels. Sometimes a feather was too near one of her eyes, and other times the feathers were clustered too much, so we dropped the feathers several times.
I started taking photos using an aperture of f/2.8 because I knew I wanted shallow depth of field. I wanted her hand to be sharp, and her face to be out of focus. But with f/2.8, her face was too much out of focus and it was difficult to recognize the person as Michelle, so I switched to f/4.
I used one light with a light box positioned near the camera and angled down on Michelle’s head. I made sure there was plenty of space between Michelle and the black backdrop paper so none of the light would brighten the black tone in the background.
I only wanted skin, feathers and black tones, so Michelle is wearing a light black sweater closed tight around her neck. Her arm is positioned directly in front of her neck, and her hand is tilted down slightly so you can see the feathers in her hand.
Michelle had just painted her nails, but when I saw the photo at 200%, I noticed that the nails were not painted perfectly. I used a paintbrush tool and black color to make the tips of the nails have a smooth line and to make the area near the cuticles smoother.
The goal of this photo, and other portraits I make, is to inject a sense of mystery. By blurring areas of the photo, and by including dark areas, we don’t see everything quickly and easily. I also want portraits to hint at a metaphorical meaning rather than simply record a literal likeness of the person. I want the photo to be both a portrait of a specific person and an artwork.
Michelle liked the process of creating the portrait as well as the final result. She said,
“I would like to sincerely thank you for bringing out the little girl inside of me during our photo shoot of my portrait. You made me feel like I was special and that you cared about each step of the process. I am proud to be a part of your beautiful work of art. All that have seen are not only flattering me but very impressed with your photography talent.”
Bill Barley made the print for me, and it took several attempts. The first time, some of the black areas looked streaky because printers have a difficult time laying down large areas of pure black. Bill tried 3 different papers before he found one that absorbed the ink perfectly.