Have You Seen This Wizard?

Last weekend, my youngest kid turned 11. If you recall, that's the age when Harry Potter got his invitation to Hogwarts in the first book. So what better way to celebrate than a Potter-themed birthday party? Brilliant! But I can't take credit for the idea, that's was my son's. And truthfully, my wife did all the planning and most of the work.

My contribution – other than tall guy hanging stuff – was to create Potter-themed portraits of all the attendees.

We planned two pictures each: One would a fun "Wanted" poster like the iconic one with Sirius Black. The second would be a slightly less sirius, but more serious, portrait styled after the movie posters.

For the Wanted posters, my wife made a cardboard picture frame with the text, and a handheld identification number sign. I hung the frame from the top casing of an open doorway between two rooms, and set up a black backdrop behind it. I just used available light because I didn't want the photos to look too polished. It's a mugshot after all. Most of the work was in post-processing. I was very heavy with the broad and local contrast in Lightroom to give the photos a gritty look, then I took them to Analog Efex Pro to convert to black and white; give them a yellowed look; and add a lot of grain, scratches, and general film degradation to the images. I created custom presets in AEP for these actions so that I could save time and get consistent results for all the images.

Whereas the Wanted posters were mostly done in post, the movie poster portraits were mostly done in-camera. I set up in our library which is the darkest room in the house. I used the black backdrop again. This time it was all artificial lighting. The key light was a 24x24 softbox in standard portrait position – camera left, angled down at the subject at about 45 degrees.  I set up a rim light on a short stand behind the subject, shooting up at the back of the head. The rim light provided just a tiny bit of separation between the subject and backdrop and also spilled a little bit of light on the backdrop, which I liked. My camera settings were such that ambient light had no contribution to the overall lighting – it was all artificial. As I mentioned, the movie poster pictures required minimal adjustment in Lightroom. Basically, I tweaked the exposure a little, de-saturated the color a little, and set the white balance to be a little cold (i.e. towards the blue side). The crucial bit for this look is the de-saturation and cold white balance – that really sells it.

In a couple of cases, the kids had bits of birthday cake on their mouths that I zapped with the healing brush. Ah, the life of a small-time photographer, working with amateurs.