Faces & Spaces :: Jan

February 14, 2012 | Editorial Photography




Had another shoot for my faces and spaces project today. This is Jan and she’s adorable. She is a very talented artist working at her craft each and every day. She has more hustle then most artists I know who are still in their 20’s. That’s some of her work on the wall above. Her house is filled with art and she makes an amazing cup of green tea. Jan asked me several times to filter my lens to get rid of all her wrinkles but in my professional opinion she’s beautiful just the way she is. All of us could only hope we have so much grace as we move on through life as she does.

This is a personal portrait project focusing on subjects 70 and older. If you or someone you know lives in the Atlanta area and would like to be a subject for this project please email us at studio [@] zackarias [dot] com. Shoots typically take about thirty minutes and I’ll travel to you.

The reason I started this project is two fold. I was showing my portfolio last year in New York and some consistent feedback I received was I needed some more age diversity in my book. Most of my work for the past eight years has been working with musicians so the “age” of my book are subjects 30 and under. Second, two photography regrets I have is that I never got a great portrait of my grandfather nor my dad. If I close my eyes I can see the portraits I would shoot today if I could but unfortunately I’ll never have an opportunity to make those portraits. This project is sort of my way of giving families images of their elders that I wish I would have shot of my own family.

Lastly, some of y’all have asked how I shoot for this project. Here’s a quick shot of my set.

The set up here is an Einstein as the main light in a PCB 22″ white beauty dish. That’s hanging out on a 40″ C-Stand with an arm acting as a mini boom. That flys right over my camera and we put a 25lb sand bag on the stand just to make sure it doesn’t go over. The background is a large pop-up scrim/reflector that is A clamped to a stand. It’s lit with another Einstein with a PLM reflector on it. Both lights live in the 1/4 power range. The PLM reflector gives a nice wide coverage on the background without spilling onto the subject. That pops the background to white. For this project I wanted a consistent set up that had a small footprint. I can set this up in just a few square feet of space and it gives me a consistent look no matter what location I’m in. For the spaces shot above I took the dish and pointed it to the back of the room and ceiling. I typically shoot the spaces part with natural light but we just didn’t have enough here due to it being a very overcast day so this one had to be lit.

Walking through the door we have three cases. My ThinkTank Airport International bag with camera gear. A ThinkTank Logistics Manager with all the lights, cords, grip, and two small light stands. Finally the beauty dish has it’s own bag that also holds the pop-up reflector. The C-Stand is just on it’s own. It’s a beast.

You can see more of my Faces & Spaces images on my 500px portfolio. I use 500px as a holding area / dumping ground for images that either do not fit on my main site or for projects that aren’t completed enough to make it on my main portfolio page.



PS – The only thing stopping you for doing a personal project is … Oh yeah. There isn’t anything stopping you from doing a personal project.


  • Jeremy Hall said on February 14, 2012

    Awesome. Love the project and the results. And yeah, the only thing stopping my personal project is me. Stupid.

  • Sheri J said on February 14, 2012

    I am SO glad I asked Jan about doing this with you, she looks fabulous as I knew she would. Thanks for sharing your “WHY”. I couldn’t agree more, I take every opportunity to make sure I get some shots of people who are older in my life and in my client’s lives. You have done a great job so far on this project. :) I never thought of that kind of set up for a quick headshot, taking notes. You inspire me. :)

  • Zack said on February 14, 2012

    @Sheri – Thanks for getting her in contact with us! She’s awesome!


  • Mick Buston said on February 14, 2012

    will never regret the 3 minutes it took to make a portrait of my dad who sadly passed away last year but his photograph will stay with me forever http://mixphotography.co.uk/2010/02/23/dad/

    Heading to Ireland later this year to photograph the small village he grew up in with his brother acting as my tour guide and will make sure I get portraits of the people as well as the place. Keep on inspiring us Zack

  • Adam Malcolm said on February 14, 2012


    Seeing you post these, and seeing the length of time between posts has helped me to see that it’s okay to spend a long time on a personal project.

    I’ve been meaning to ask my Italian barber if I could do some portraits of him for a long time now, if I haven’t asked him the next time I see him, I’m going to get someone to kick me up the butt!

  • Zack said on February 14, 2012

    @Adam – The best projects take a lot of time to complete… if they ever actually end. :) Sounds like you have a great subject on your hands. You better doing something about that.


  • Eric Von Lehmden said on February 14, 2012

    You continue to amaze and inspire Zack! Thanks so much. -Eric

  • Tom said on February 14, 2012

    THanks as ever ZACKAROONI!
    IHMO, and you can tell me to get lost: for the close up, you should consider a white bounce card below the subject’s face to open up that deep shadow under the nose, and spark up the eyes a bit.
    MY .02, <3 ya, bro.


  • Jerry Barton said on February 14, 2012

    First I’d like to thank you for sharing your project with us, and also, to say that I’m truly in awe of your subject matter. I’ve long thought that we as a younger generation have let the older generation pass us by with all of their knowledge, experience, and love, given as only a grandmother/grandfather can give. Thank you !!

  • Simon Ouellet said on February 14, 2012

    Your blog is pure gold, Zack. Less gear talk, more artsy stuff. That’s kinda where I’m at right now with my photography and I really think you’re a big part of that change. I wanna focus less on the numbers and the equipment and more on who I put in front of my lens and what’s the story around these people.

    Right now, I do have some kind of an excuse for not doing a personal project : I’m in university and I’m struggling to be the best. But when I’m gonna be done, I want to kickstart a project mid-way between David Hobby’s HoCo Community project and yours.

  • Mark M said on February 14, 2012

    Thanks for the great posts Zach. What are you using as a case for the beauty dish? Is it a hard case? I’ve been looking for something that can take a 22″ dish and can handle being checked as luggage.

  • Mark said on February 14, 2012

    Zack, I mean. Can’t even spell your name…blame it on valentines day.

  • Gregk said on February 14, 2012

    I wish my grandmother-in-law lived on the other end of GA.

    Great stuff.

  • Brian Powell said on February 14, 2012

    Your Einstein receiver looks like a different profile than the ones I got…
    Who cares! Great project :) How do you plan on wrapping it up, publishing it, displaying it, etc?

  • Gerald said on February 14, 2012

    Beautiful images Zack, and thank you for taking time to show us your setup.

  • Iden Ford said on February 15, 2012

    Zak, thou art a brave man. I’d be terrified to photo a senior with hard light…on the other hand I Love this photo. I recently photographed a former munitions factory worker from the 1940’s. 89 years old. Long story .
    I went with really diffused soft light, large light source. Your photo has more dimension I love it.
    Btw did you shoot this with your iq 40? I love your work . Thanx

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    Iden – I typically like to go the opposite way of what photo school taught me to do. :) Yep. Shot with the IQ. Would love to see your portrait you shot. Post a link!


  • craig said on February 15, 2012

    Very nice project. Thanks for sharing your lighting set up. Really enjoy your blog. Inspirational!!

  • Jeremiah Mullins said on February 15, 2012

    Zack –

    Lots of random thoughts:

    When I first saw the top picture I thought “head not in a clean spot” (Thanks for all your hard work teaching!). That being said – I still like it. It shows off her spunk, kinda like my grandmother. (Also – given the wall and the spacing of her art there was not enough room there to put her head in a 100% clean spot)

    Love the series – I need to reboot mine with local pastors in their churches. I’ll have to GOMA and start shooting it again this month.

    I feel you on the pictures of your grandparents – Dad’s parents passed when I was younger, before I ever really picked up a camera. I was able to grab a picture of Mom’s parents though :)

    I know you said you weren’t going to talk about gear for a while, but when you find a minute would you share your thought process on buying the Einsteins? No rush though. You keep writing and I’ll keep reading, whatever the topic.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Iden Ford said on February 15, 2012

    Here’s Queenie

    I shot this minutes before we left to go to a huge event in Ajax Ontario where we screened the final episode of our TV series Bomb Girls and Queenie was the guest of honour for the town that night. I wanted a hero shot of sorts but I wanted her to be bathed in glowy light. I was after her personality which is exactly as u see her. A 90 year old woman who is the “belle of the ball”
    also here at the event https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150648133613156&set=a.10150648123568156.435679.528728155&type=3&theater

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Iden – Well done!


  • Devorah said on February 15, 2012

    Zack, it must be in the air — I just shot a portrait of my mother’s first cousin in Dallas whose 95th we celebrated this weekend. And I feel just the same about capturing our older relatives and dear ones on film, er, sensor. 😉 Here’s mine: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150524070921652&set=a.10150524070866652.366853.567321651&type=3&theater

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Devorah – Well done as well! Can’t beat window light.


  • Aaron Pelly said on February 15, 2012

    Zack, thanks for posting these. If Jan happens to read this, she’s gorgeous the way she is. Iden beat me to this, but I was going to ask: Isn’t using “beauty lighting” usually considered inappropriate for an older subject? 😉

    I have a question about how you lit this. How much over the main did you light the background? If they’re both at 1/4 power, at that distance I’d think the background couldn’t be more than 2/3 stop over the main. Yet you still got it to go pure white. I would think the usual 1 2/3 stop would give too much spill back onto the subject, though, since she’s so close. I ask because I’ve been shooting on white recently, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it in less space. I have a reflector that looks just like that one…maybe I’ll give that a try.


  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Aaron – By traditional standars I am breaking the rules for sure. But for me, and since this is personal work, I’m not trying to create traditional portraits. The whole project started because I’m drawn to faces and all of their so called “imperfections”. It is my personal opinion that wrinkles are earned. There’s no getting around them. I think of them as a badge of honor. A “I made it through 70, 80, 90 years of life” kind of honor. I want to show that. Up close and personal and lit in such a way that they are accentuated. To me it’s beautiful and that what’s I want to show and to fly an octa over my head would begin to lose what I’m looking for in the first place. I sure as hell won’t be winning any PPA master of photography badge for these photos but I’m not trying to. :)

    As for the lights, it’s hard to tell from the photo above but the background light is much closer to the background than the dish is to the subject. Inverse square law and all that. I can’t tell you exactly what the lights are on but I know they are somewhere in the 1/4 power range. To get the background white it has to be at least 1.5 stops brighter than the subjects and I adjust the power until I get there. Next time I shoot for this project I’ll take a closer look and report back.


  • Girish said on February 15, 2012

    It’s something amazing to set take portraits. You can actually live their tale in a matter minutes. I like the environmental portraits this series contains. Great going. And keep it up.

  • Patrik Lindgren said on February 15, 2012

    Woah, that environmental portrait is absolutely fabulous. It´s like i know her when i see this.

  • Aaron Pelly said on February 15, 2012

    Zack, thanks for the feedback! I really like the way you lit her. I just joined my local PPA state group, and I recognize that this wouldn’t do well there. You know what? I think I like it better than I would a “correctly posed and lit” portrait. That’s what kills me — I don’t think I’d have ever thought of lighting her this way if I was making the same portrait. I’m a bit too fixed in the mindset of “rules.” That’s why I’m grateful for you posting stuff like this — it pushes me to think in new ways. I’m working on finding a way to shoot business headshots that don’t look like traditional business headshots but that are still marketable for the client and this is helpful. Not that I’m going to light this way, but that it’s pushing me to think about how I want to shoot vs. what the rules say.

    A technical question again — if the bg light is 1.5 stops hotter, wouldn’t it normally create way too much spill/wrap on the back of the subject since she’s sitting so close to the background?

    If you see Jan, tell her we said she’s beautiful. I agree — wrinkles are earned. I’ll try to remember that the next time my eight year old laughs at the lines on my forehead. 😉

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Aaron – Note that IF I was hired to shoot a portrait that was supposed to minimize “imperfections” then I would work to meet the needs of the client. If I could pull off “my” shot after that then awesome. Client’s needs come first. Hopefully, in the perfect world, I would be hired to shoot how I wanted to shoot but that isn’t always the case.

    The rules are great to know. Everyone should know the rules and know how to achieve them. They are the starting point everything else can be built off of. But then, once you know the rules it’s up to you how to break them. Sometimes it’s the best thing in the world to throw the rules out the window. Sometimes it’s best to stick to them. I think being a “professional” (whatever that means these days) is knowing when to push and when to stick to the tried and true. I say all of this to say that I’m not against the rules. I support them but I don’t live by them.

    I push that BG light just to the point it blows to white without spilling too much. You can find a happy medium between the two. If I’m getting too much spill then I move the subject further from the background.


  • Aaron Pelly said on February 15, 2012

    Zack, I agree with you and get what you’re saying. Right now I’m in the process of building a portfolio of business portraits. My goal is to get my portfolio representing how I want to shoot, then use it to find clients who want that. I’m totally not sure if it’s going to work, and I recognize that I’ll probably get hired sometimes to shoot the traditional way, and I’m fine with working to their needs. I’m sure they can get that traditional look cheaper at Sears, though.

    I had a wedding coordinator tell me the story of a photographer who wouldn’t listen to what his clients wanted at all. He told them (I’m paraphrasing), “No. You need to do what I tell you. I’m the artist.” Yeah — I don’t want to be like that guy.

    Thanks for the pushback. I appreciate your thoughts.

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Aaron – You’re going to down the right path in your thinking and planning.


  • Frank Grygier said on February 15, 2012

    Zack, I will be starting my own project soon. I have two subjects lined up in Houston,TX. Two young ladies in their 80’s and 90’s. If you don’t mind I may “borrow” you set up. I love this series of portraits.

  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    Are you sure you’ll have enough gear? :) JK


  • Mars said on February 15, 2012

    Hi Zack,

    As always your photos are inspirational!
    With your ‘spaces’ photo did you use any ambient light for the room or did you kill it completely?
    Just sayin’ cause i am suprised the beauty dish covered so much coverage.

    Thx for sharing Zack see ya Sat:)


  • Zack said on February 15, 2012

    @Mars – I dragged the shutter a bit but the dish was pointed away from the subject into the back of the room and ceiling thus making it a larger wash.


  • Gramma J said on February 15, 2012

    One picture is worth a thousand words; add another one and you at least triple that. I seldom comment on blogs, but this project is so compelling. With all subjects your color environmental portrait conveys to me a wealth of details about the person. With some of the subjects the “What you see is what you get.” closeup b&w portrait reinforces what I learned in the environmental one–love the lacy camisole peeking out of Jan’s jacket. With the General, I first see a stern faced man, a much decorated former soldier who has probably seen much most of us hope never to see. Yet, all the photos on the wall tell me there is much more to the man–a hint of what’s to come. Then there is the b&w closeup showing a man with such a sweet smile it melts the heart. With this project I see not only a very talented photographer, but a very caring one, too.

    I hope Caleb and Grayson appreciate having Zack Arias as a mentor.

  • keenast said on February 16, 2012

    What a beautiful photo – as well as beautiful woman! Would love to read though more about your camera setup. Lens, ISo, etc etc 😉 tx !

  • Aaron Pelly said on February 16, 2012

    Zack, thanks again for all the feedback (and the time you took to give it). That means a lot.


  • moritz said on February 17, 2012

    I think of the portraits of this project you have shown us so far I like these two best: The ambient one for its composition (it reminds me of a Saul Steinberg drawing of rooms with huge walls stacked with paintings) and the close up b&w for what happens with jans hair and the white background, it gives her something magically airy. As always: thank you so much for sharing!

  • Jessyel Ty Gonzalez said on February 17, 2012

    The location photo (her on the couch) is one of the better photos I’ve seen from you, Zack. Kudos.

  • Mark Ivkovic said on February 18, 2012

    Another belter Zack, well done.
    Gotta love “PS – The only thing stopping you for doing a personal project is … Oh yeah. There isn’t anything stopping you from doing a personal project.”
    Sooo very true, I spent quite some time moaning about not having the work in my portfolio to get the jobs I wanted, or waiting for that moment when everything is perfect to go create that personal project. Screw that, I finally came to the conclusion that I’d rather get shot down trying than get to my death bed with regrets.
    The internet is always full of folk saying this kind of stuff but I think in the end it comes down to the individual having the guts and self realisation of the truth. These kinds of posts however do the job of gentle pushes towards that end though.

    You’re an inspiration as always (I am awaiting the day you shoot something I really hate just to prove you’re human) :)


  • Mark Ivkovic said on February 18, 2012

    Having said that I just noticed the mug in the foreground of the Spaces photograph and it’s bugging me. Maybe not enough to incite hatred though.



  • Zack said on February 18, 2012

    @Mark – It bugs me too. :)

  • David said on February 18, 2012

    Zack, sorry to focus on gear again… But is that a Cybersync receiver plugged into the Einstein in the setup photo?

  • Zack said on February 20, 2012

    @David – Nope. That’s the PocketWizard trigger made for the Einstein. It’s ok. The antenna covering sucks. Broke off on both of mine in less than a week.


  • Kathy Porupski said on February 19, 2012

    Hello Zack, As always you continue to amaze and inspire me… so happy to see your continuing with this project and thank you for sharing it with us. After our conversation while you were here recently in FL. it has become even more clear as to your passion behind it. That holds true for myself as well as my mom now fighting lung cancer for several years has two new spots on a pet scan and round three of the battle continues. Should you get back down to Florida anytime soon, as time is a precious thing right now I would be so honored if one of my favorite legends and greats would consider my mom for his faces and spaces project. Sent you a few images of her back at the start of your project and being a Korean teenage war survivor who immigrated to the US you’ll find her to have lived through more than
    most in the world and a personality to go with it! Hope life is treating you good and great to see you while visiting our neck of the woods… :-)

  • Lisa C. Lloyd said on February 19, 2012

    Hey there Zack! Thank you so much for doing this photo shoot on my mother! You do great work and when I can show her online, I will show her..Thanks again, Lisa C. Lloyd

  • Carlos Bruno said on February 20, 2012

    ey Zach …
    It’s not time to “return the favor” that HObby did to you and make your moves (well … you have “direct line” with “G*d Jarvis”) to put Jonathan Canlas on Creative LIVE?
    We deserve good things once in a while, don’t we?
    JS for the 3rd time and you stop on 2nd? Not fair …

    Just saying …
    Tons of love.

    HOPE you noticed the “H” this time …

  • Chase said on February 21, 2012

    The first photo reminds me of the redneck ballerina set from your first CL class (best off camera lighting class evar!!), not sure why maybe it’s the wood wall. I like that you left the cord for the display light in the picture. It could have easily been removed in post but adds character to the space. One small critique: The reflection of Jan’s face in the table bugs me a little. I would have either polarized it out or gone deliberate by clearing the table and moving it closer to the subject to pickup more of the overhead art. Why not centered in the couch, was it a deliberate decision? I myself am a bit of a fascist when it comes to symmetry, sometimes to a fault. I’m very much looking forward to the video from Saturday’s critique. I thought about coming up from Jacksonville for it but you know how it is, gas is high…

  • Stella said on February 23, 2012

    Very inspring work here, Zack.

    My question comes from a subject I am passionate about. Have you ever taken portraits of people living with Albinism? In my part of the world, I am yet to meet a photographer (at the level of your skill) who is even remotely interested in photographically telling the stories of the most beautiful, memorable faces I have ever know…

    Food for thought :-)

  • Zack said on February 23, 2012

    @Stella – I have not but would love to!


  • pexy said on February 27, 2012

    trying to work out why you made her black and white in the 2nd image?

  • Latesh Lilwa said on October 23, 2014

    Hi Zack,
    Please try to make one light head shot DVD


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