The Dogwood 52 Challenge Week 1 - Getting Into a Groove with a Selfie

April 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve been in a proverbial funk with my photography for a while now.  (Why is “funk” in music a good thing, but it’s bad anywhere else?)  I haven’t been shooting a whole lot of shows, and as such, most of my shooting has been snapshots around the house, at family parties, and so on.  I’ve done a few paid shoots here and there (some portrait and a few commercial shoots), but I haven’t really been shooting for myself for a while.  It’s hard with the little guy running around, working a fairly exhausting “real job” as a teacher, trying (unsuccessfully) to keep up with the house, playing in a band, and doing what I can to be a good husband all at the same time.  So photography has suffered.  I’ve still been thinking about photography a lot and had ideas floating around, but I haven’t been giving myself the time to work on them.


When I came across an article about a 52-week photography challenge created by Dogwood Photography on Petapixel, I got intrigued.  I had considered doing some kind of a challenge before, but most of those were daily challenges, and I couldn’t see killing myself trying to keep up with a 50-day challenge or something similar.  Now, one photo a week?  That seemed manageable.  I gave it some more thought, and I decided to commit.  I joined the group on Facebook (along with 10,000 of my closest friends), and as an extra measure to make myself accountable, I posted to my friends on Facebook looking for recruits.  I figured if I could start a smaller group of people that were interested, I’d be much more likely to get a photo done each week in order to not let anyone down.  About a dozen of my friends joined up, so it was official: I was committed!

I’m now a few weeks into the challenge, and even after Week 1, I had the idea to do a blog post about each shot.  Call it a desire to share, a desire to keep committed, a desire to push myself, a desire to freshen up my website - all of these apply.  So, without further ado… (Did I really just say that?  What a dork.)


Week 1: Portrait - Selfie

Week 1: Self Portrait

A lot of people doing the challenge were freaked out by this challenge, but I was looking forward to doing something fun and different for it.  Some of the other portraits have me freaked out.  (I’m sometimes a bit shy about asking people to pose.)  Some of the landscapes have me freaked out.  (I feel like I’m out of spots locally to shoot, but that’s just because I haven’t explored enough.)  Some of the artistic challenges have me freaked out.  (What if… blah blah blah.)  But the Portrait challenge of taking a self-portrait didn’t seem too scary.  I could figure out something interesting, and I didn’t have to talk to anyone else.


I’m not exactly sure what the genesis of this idea was.  I’ve tried to track backwards from where I ended up to figure out where it started.  I had shaved (head and all) a few days earlier, and somewhere during the process of shaving, I think I looked in the small mirror I use during part of the process, and the idea came from there.


Prior to setting up the shot, I had thought it through pretty well.  I figured the 85mm lens was about the right length to capture the mirror and reflection. I was pretty sure I knew where the camera had to go to stay out of the frame.  I thought I’d be around f/8 and that would give me enough depth of field.  I assumed I would need a flash - maybe shooting into the ceiling to light up the relatively dark bathroom.


I went up to the bathroom and managed to get the tripod in with only one foot in the bathtub.  The camera just fit in the spot I needed it to go.  The 85mm was the right focal length for the composition.  I focused on the mirror, got into what I assumed would be the right position, and fired a test shot.  And… I was totally out of focus.  This was when I realized that another assumption of mine was wrong.  I had figured if I focused on the mirror, the reflection would be in focus.  It turns out, shooting into a mirror is like shooting through a window - you still need to add on the distance from the mirror (or window) to the subject.  And then in my shot, I was shooting from the camera into the big mirror, then into the small mirror, then to my eye.  I forgot about that extra little distance from the small mirror to my eye.  Once I remembered that, I was able to get pretty close to focus with a little extra trial-and-error.  I realized that pushing the aperture down to f/11 gave me the extra DOF to allow more room for accurate focus.


I made a compromise between shutter speed and ISO and ended up at ISO 800 and ⅛ second.  The ISO didn’t worry me - I knew I was going with a B&W conversion and any noise would just add to character of the shot.  The ⅛ didn’t bother me, because I could stay fairly still for the shot.  


I was happy with the ambient, but I knew I needed a “killer flick of light” (Thanks, Joe McNally!) on my face.  I set up a gridded speedlight on a shelf and pointed it at my face from just a little below (mostly to keep it out of the frame).  I checked the shot, and there was bright white circle on the wall to my left.  Duh - the mirror on the other side.  It would be easy to fix in post, but I figured I’d get it right in camera, so I gaffed up the other side of the mirror.  The light was right, and I was ready to shoot.



I triggered the camera using the timer and a series of 5 shots in 2-second intervals.  As I shot, I accidentally picked up the razor in my right hand once, and that was when I realized that I could use my right hand, move the mirror with my left hand to my right side and shoot through the circle of my arm, essentially making another frame to draw the viewer’s eye to mine.


I took a few more shots and I was happy with at least a few of them.  What I didn’t realize was that in making that adjustment, the light caught my arm a little bit.  You can see in the final image that there was a patch of light that caught my wrist.  Honestly, I didn’t notice it at first, and once I did, I didn’t think it was so bad that I had to redo it.  


Post-processing was done with Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex.  It’s my absolute favorite B&W editing tool - it’s quick, powerful, and can go from mild to over-the-top.  The interface is pretty easy to use as well.


Once I did the picture, I ended up joining a group for the challenge on Flickr.  The main Facebook group was huge and easy to get lost in, and the group I created was small, so the Flickr group seemed like a nice middle ground.  I uploaded the picture (my first upload to Flickr since 2012, when I abandoned the site for other venues), and wouldn’t you know, it ended up getting put on the “Explore” page, and I racked up over 8,000 views in 24 hours.  Cool.



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