I’ve always been fascinated by catchlights. They bring life to eyes, creating an inviting atmosphere—you can even dissect the lighting of a shot by the size, shape and brightness of the reflections in the eye. For the past couple of years, I’ve always fantasized about taking a self-portrait, where I’m visible in the models pupil. It would require a macro lens and an extremely high-resolution camera to create the image I was after.
I’ve tested with many cameras, even a PhaseOne 100 megapixel back–I’ve just never happened to be in the presence of a medium format camera and the corresponding macro lens. Until yesterday…My buddy Clay was sent an IQ380 from Digital Transitions for a shoot with Jennifer Lawrence for her foundation. They also sent a few Schneider lenses, the 40-80, 150 and the 120 macro. When I saw the 120’s minimum focusing distance was 14″, I knew I had to shoot this concept immediately.
Thankfully my girlfriend, an amazing makeup artist, tolerates my light-testing obsession and was down for the late night studio session.
The lens is an f4 Leaf shutter, with flash sync up to 1/1600th of a second. Shooting that close to a face at f4 would be nearly impossible–the depth of field would be half of one centimeter. I chose f14 which still only gave me a little under 3/4″ of focusing depth. I was shooting on a tripod and not caring too much about capturing motion so I set the camera to 1/200. I kept my ISO at 100 because even though digital medium format has come a long way, I’d be using a 100% crop which contained too much noise for my taste. I mention the settings before lighting because if I’m in a position where I’m able to choose camera settings, it’ll always be a conscious choice.
I also use a light meter. I think there’s a misconception that using light meters for digital photography are only for those who don’t know how to get correct exposure on their camera. Instead, I use it to quantify light on set. I choose my camera settings (usually before even powering it on) and start lighting for that. I can control and visualize contrast before snapping a frame.
Technically I was the subject in the photo, so the key was a bare bulb Profoto D1 at full power. It was 2-3 feet from my face giving a meter reading of f45. Remember, the light has to reflect off of my face, into Bethany’s pupil, then reflect into the lens. The fill was a Profoto D1 in a 2ft OCF Octabox reading around f16.
As I mentioned before, I also had access to a 150mm lens, but its minimum focus distance was 3.8′ so I actually lost quite a bit of frame. I also wasn’t at the minimum focus distance–when I tried moving in that 15″ mark, the distortion in the eyeball partially covered my face with the reflection of the lens. I had to find the sweet-spot distance of lens-to-eye and face-to-eye. The image inevitably needed to be cropped 100% actually, hence the entire reason I’ve waited so long to shoot this on medium format.