Mars-1 Portrait

Mars-1 (#42) -- by Joe Reifer

Mars-1 (#42) -- by Joe Reifer

I photographed painter and sculptor Mars-1 yesterday afternoon in his San Francisco studio. These images were shot for Hi-Fructose Magazine. I made some images of Mars-1's latest paintings, and then began to do some detail shots around the studio. Painting details, palettes, paintbrushes, etc. -- I noticed my reflection when walking by this space age looking television sitting on a shelf.

Lighting Setup

I asked Mars if we could pull down the TV. We placed the TV on a ladder in front of his latest paintings. The overhead fluorescent lighting was turned off. A Canon 580EX was placed on a stand behind the TV to light Mars, and a second 580EX was used to light the paintings. The second flash was attached to a lower ladder rung with a Bogen 175F Justin Clamp. Both flashes were placed on E-TTL Slave mode. A Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter was used in the hotshoe to control the flash output -- the subject light on group A, background on group B.

A small lamp was left on to act as a kicker on the TV. Exposure time for this image was 4 seconds at f/8, ISO 400. I considered gelling the 580EX 's with 3/4 CTOs to balance to the room lamp, but decided to go for a warm/cool lighting mix to add complexity.

Color Temperature

The color temperature for the lamp was about 3500. I set the color temperature in the RAW converter at about 4500, which resulted in:

  • The light on the TV is about 1000 degrees warmer than neutral - very warm, emphasizes orange/yellow tones.
  • The light on the paintings in the background is about 1000 degrees cooler than neutral, which brings out blue tones in the background that play against the orange of the TV.
  • The light on the subject is mostly flash, but the room lamp also shone on him during the long exposure. This mix gave reasonably neutral skin tones in the 4500 degree range.

More complex color temperature adjustments could be made by making multiple RAW conversions at different color temperatures, and using layer masks to blend the TV with the reflected image. Of course it's best to get things as close as possible in the camera.

Compositional Notes

The double reflection was a happy accident discovered when taking a few test shots. The camera was positioned on a tripod in front of the TV in an area that was kept dark. The camera was triggered with a cable release while standing outside of the TV reflection area. The dust on the top of the TV was left to give extra shape and texture. Slight variations in position were shot in order to help control where the scratches on the TV fell in the subject's reflection.

The first images contained a lot of ceiling in the background -- luckily there was a big piece of black material in the studio, which was secured to the ceiling with pony clamps. Using a black background really improved the shot. It's a good idea to keep a piece of non-reflective black material, some clamps, and a roll of gaffer's tape in your car. I also keep a white sheet in the back of my car, which can act as a diffuser, or as a ghost costume for night photography.


I wanted to make sure I was respecting Mars' time, as he's busy getting ready for a solo show at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York. I continued to check in with him during the shoot to make sure he was having fun. Mars was very patient and enthusiastic about taking the time to help make an unusual location portrait. Thanks to Mars for the hospitality, and Atta for the fun assignment.