David Bailey Portrait Challenge

Following back-to-back winning entries in both the Art Streiber (June) and Peggy Sirota (July) portrait challenges, I was certainly riding on the crest of a wave. As I’m originally from the UK, the David Bailey Portrait Challenge for August was centred on a photographer who’s work I was more familiar with. This was going to be both a creative challenge and a lot of fun.

“Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.”

Venus Williams

Who is David Bailey?

David Bailey was born in Leytonstone, East London. He left school at the age of 15 and became a copy boy at the Yorkshire Post on Fleet Street. Bailey began his professional career in 1959 when he worked as an assistant to fashion photographer John French. This was closely followed by his meteoric rise to fame at British Vogue in the early ‘60s. His bold images disregarded the traditional portrait and fashion rules of his day. His high-contrast photographs with stark white backgrounds became his signature style. It was during this time that he captured and helped to create the ‘Swinging London’ scene of the 1960s.

Over the years, David Bailey has captured countless celebrities and iconic personalities. These range from the Kray twins to Queen Elizabeth II, and a myriad of characters in between. He has also directed several television commercials and documentaries. In 2001, he received a CBE as recognition for his outstanding contribution to his community.

“A positive attitude can really make dreams come true – it did for me.”

David Bailey
David Bailey Portrait - reference
“Kray Twins” Reference Photo © David Bailey

As soon as this challenge was announced I knew exactly which David Bailey portrait I was going to recreate. I also had the perfect volunteer in mind. My good friend Neil flies for British Airways and is in Singapore maybe twice a year. He expressed an interest to be a part of our Portrait Masters series when he saw a previous Platon submission way back in November 2018.

Let’s Get Down To Brass Tacks

Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes

Here is the gear list and camera settings:

  • Canon 5D Mk3
  • 50mm (EF 24-105mm f/4L USM)
  • 1/100 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200
  • Camera set to JPG with B&W profile
  • Main Light: Canon Speedlight 430EX II inside an 8″ modifier
  • Background Lights: LED panels

My original plan was to rent a Rolleiflex for the shoot and scan the exposed B&W images for the final edit (layering) in Photoshop. Unfortunately, the availability of both the camera and the model didn’t work. So to add to the authenticity of the finished result I opted to shoot this using a B&W camera profile in JPG. The aim was to get as much right in camera as possible. I also wanted to remove the comfort of being able to edit RAW files.

David Bailey Portrait - lighting
Lighting Diagram

The first step was to fix the relative positions for Ronnie and Reggie in our Singapore photo studio. Neil and I both stood in the relevant spots and marked the floor. The light source and camera position/settings didn’t change between the two shots. The original image has harsh shadows so I went with an overhead speedlight to make use of the small light source. I added an 8″ modifier to prevent spill. My aim was to target the faces and leave the suits fall off to black. The camera left LED panel was also feathered slightly. This provided a little kicker light to Reggie (back) as per the original.

Straight out of Camera
Straight out of Camera

Nothing Wrong With Retouching…

The selected images were taken into Photoshop CC for masking as well as basic contrast adjustments. I also added a pocket square to Ronnie (front). To round off the image I added a contact sheet border for that touch of authenticity.

David Bailey Portrait - Final Recreation
David Bailey Portrait – Final Recreation

Researching David Bailey for this portrait photography session gave me a great insight into his approach to forming a bond with his subjects. Neil and I were in the studio for about 2 hours. Only the last 20 minutes were spent capturing the 2 images used for this final image. I realise that I say this all the time, but this really was a fun shoot. Hope you like the finished result.

And finally, a BIG shout out to Neil (and Neil) for being the consummate professional. I’ve never worked with anyone before that can absolutely nail being serious on cue.

David Bailey Potrait Probe – Winning Image

There were a lot a great entries this month so it came as a complete shock when this submission was judged as the winning image for the Headshot Crew David Bailey Portrait Probe for August.

These monthly challenges are a great way to expand both technical and creative knowledge. I’d like to thank all of the Headshot Crew for their support throughout this challenging yet fun journey. Thank you also for voting this as the winning image.

David Bailey Portrait Probe - Winning Image
Headshot Crew David Bailey (August) Portrait Probe – Winning Image

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