Elsa Dorfman Portrait Challenge

Following on from the previous Art Streiber Portrait Challenge, this is actually a throwback to a submission for the Elsa Dorfman Portrait Challenge back in April 2019. This is another personal study in our Masters of Photography series. This particular challenge was aimed at the unique style of Elsa Dorfman.

“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”

Neil Gaiman

Who Is Elsa Dorfman?

Elsa Dorfman is an American portrait photographer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is known for her use of a large-format instant Polaroid camera. She has one of only six 20×24” Polaroid cameras in existence. For over 30 years she photographed the famous, family and friends as well as unknown subjects. In each session she only captured two photographs. The subject would select the better of the two to take home. Elsa then kept the remaining image for her private collection that she describes as “B-sides”.

What struck me most about Elsa Dorfman’s work is the unpolished setup. The simple lighting as well as the natural personality of the individuals, couples or families that were stood in front of her camera immediately drew me in. I picked a selection of images as inspiration for my finished composition.

“As my work on this camera has evolved, I have come to realize that my portraits are about affection and survival. How people feel about… the people they share (and survive) their lives with.”

Elsa Dorfman
Elsa Dorfman Portrait - reference
Reference Photos © Elsa Dorfman

Adhering to the principle of “The B-Side”, I also only captured two images of each setup and subsequently selected the better of the two for use in this portrait probe.

The Devil Is In The Details

Here is the gear list including the camera settings for those interested in the technical details:

  • Canon 5D Mk3
  • 45mm (EF 24-105mm f/4L USM)
  • 1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 100
  • Key Lights: 2 x Jinbei strobes inside white shoot through umbrellas

The lighting setup for this shot was quite simple in order to follow Elsa’s own studio setup. This was shot in our Singapore photo studio and the white side of a homemade V-Flat was used as the backdrop.

Elsa Dorfman Portrait - lighting
Lighting Diagram

After reading that she savoured the little technical details of the amber bar of light striping and the fringe of blue ink across the top, I knew I also had to add that detail. There is a company online that can expose JPG files to 20×24″ Polaroids. As a result, my initial plan was to capture the first image, get a proper Polaroid produced and capture a second image holding that. Cost and shipping time to Singapore put an end to that plan. Thus, the Polaroid border was added in Photoshop. The borders for each are unique and not a simple copy/paste; In Elsa’s own words, “It’s like a gift from the camera”.

Elsa Dorfman Portrait - SOOC
Straight Out Of Camera

A Touch Of Post-Processing

The first image was colour corrected and adjusted to provide an image quality similar to Elsa’s work. The Polaroid ‘border’ was then added in Photoshop. Finally, using the Wacom tablet, my wife added her personal hand-written message to that image.

I then repeated this process for the second image including the placement of the first finished image. I then added my hand-written note to finish the piece.

Elsa Dorfman Portrait - final
Elsa Dorfman Portrait – Final Recreation

This was definitely an enjoyable project. Not a typical photoshoot session but rewarding all the same. I hope you like the end result as much as we do.

Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to my lovely wife. Not only for her support and sense of humour during this shoot but at all times on a daily basis.

Elsa Dorfman Portrait Probe – Winning Image

I would proudly like to wrap up this post and announce that this submission was judged as the winning image for the Headshot Crew Elsa Dorfman Portrait Probe for April. Thank you to all the Mentors and Members of the Headshot Crew for the guidance and support, and for voting this as the winning image.

Elsa Dorfman Portrait Probe - Winning Image
Headshot Crew Elsa Dorfman (April) Portrait Probe – Winning Image

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