Miller Mobley on Making Work for Your Portfolio

Editor's note: Please welcome New York-based photographer Miller Mobley as our guest poster today. Miller specializes in advertising, editorial and portrait photography.

I'm from a small town in Alabama known for it's college and more importantly its college football; Tuscaloosa. I had never picked up a still camera until I was entering my sophomore year of college at the University of Alabama.

I wanted to major in film production, but came to find out there was no such thing. The next best major was studio art with an emphasis of b&w darkroom photography. I picked up a camera and started taking pictures. As my junior year of college rolled around I was making tons of work, but really not getting paid for any of it. So I started meeting with ad agencies and magazines to show them my portfolio. Suddenly, things started picking up and I was getting quite a bit of work.

I decided that the whole college thing was not for me, so I dropped out and pursued photography full steam ahead. I'm now 24 years old and living in New York with my beautiful wife.

I first just want to thank David for giving me the platform to share, what a great opportunity! There are so many things that I wish I could talk about, but the one thing I want to focus on today is making work for your portfolio and of course the technique.

It's so important to create work. It does not matter if you're a painter, architect, or photographer. Creating work is what will ultimately satisfy you in whatever field you might be in. It's also important to push yourself into different directions and to explore techniques such as lighting that you've never explored. For most people there's always that one setup, or that one look that you have your subject give you, or maybe even a certain angle.

I believe it's okay to stick with what you're comfortable with, but I also believe that if you push yourself a little further to making something that you're not comfortable with the rewards can be astonishing. It makes you a better photographer and it also opens up all kinds of new inspiration that you might not have thought you had.

I was going through a period of time where I felt that I needed to create more "advertising" work. (Still am) There's nothing more that I like than creating a simple, yet beautiful, quiet portrait of someone. But in this case I needed to almost be selling something. Wether it was the car, the suit, or even the lifestyle. I knew in my head that I wanted to create something that was a little hero-esque. Hence the dramatic light, confident gaze, and low angle.

So, with the help of my wife, we started to concept the shot. We decided we wanted to have a luxury car because I had never shot anything with a car. We also decided that we wanted a good looking older, somewhat rugged dude. And lastly, we needed a bad-ass looking suit. So we started making phone calls to pull this shoot together. We ended up finding someone with a Maserati that was happy to let us use it and also a clothing provider.

We searched and searched for a model that we thought fit the part, but did not find anyone until a friend recommended a friend of a friend. So there we now had a model, clothes, and an awesome car. We then location scouted and found a great building for the background. We hired a makeup artist and an assistant and finally we were all set for the shoot at 5AM.

The Lighting Setup

This image was made with a combination of three lights. To camera left was a Profoto Compact 300R w/ Reflector. This light served two purposes.

First, it was the backlight that kicked the car and the subject -- it gave both a nice separation from the background. You can see that the background is somewhat dark, but the left edges of the car and also the edge light on the subject somewhat separate them from the background and pull you into the image a little more.

The second purpose of the light was to have a somewhat interesting lens flare. I achieved this by just bring the light close into the frame and also pointing it towards the camera more than usual. I think I might have even taken the lens hood off of the camera.

The second light was a Profoto Compact 600R which served as the key light. It's a pretty simple setup. I basically put an Elinchrom Octa-Bank on the strobe and raised it a few feet above the subjects head. I then pointed the light down to give some nice shadows. I usually like for my key light to be a little higher than the subjects head and usually pointed down.

The third light and one of the most important was the fill light, which was placed directly behind the camera. It was another Profoto Compact 300R with an Elinchrom Octa-Bank attached. This light served for filling in the shadows and also giving more light to the suit.

We then had our subject open the door and step out of the car while buttoning his jacket, we did this repeatedly until I felt that we had the shot.

Final specs for the image: Camera: Canon 5d Mk II; focal Length 55mm; f/stop: 5.6; shutter: 1/160

Editor's note: Check out Mobley's portfolio and blog, or follow him on Twitter, below:

Twitter: @millermobley


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OpenID modifiedphoto said...

Great shot. The lighting commands the viewers attention across the car to the well dressed man and back across the car. Perfect. (one nit, the mirror on the door has water spots)

March 14, 2011 12:11 AM  
Blogger The Jen said...

Fantastic post. I love reading the thought process that precedes the shot. I'm mostly self taught and I often wonder if I am approaching this industry in a sensible way. Thanks!

March 14, 2011 12:40 AM  
Blogger Winder Woman said...

Miller, the photo is dynamic and beautiful. Were you able to sell it or use it somehow? If so, what was it used for?

March 14, 2011 12:50 AM  
Blogger Miller said...

@WinderWoman Thanks so much! No, I have not sold the image or used it in any other media besides my portfolio. The image was intended to be a portfolio piece. If a buyer comes along, I will be happy to talk!

March 14, 2011 8:20 AM  
Blogger Juan said...

nice work, txs fhor sharing

March 14, 2011 8:57 AM  
Blogger JC Photog said...

Great work congratulations, and thank you for sharing the motivational and the techniques.

Keep shooting :)

March 14, 2011 9:00 AM  
Blogger henk said...

awsome post; enjoyed it very much!
Thanx for sharing your thoughts and explanation. your site is excellent, never seen a pdf-maker like this.

March 14, 2011 9:49 AM  
Blogger fstop47 said...

Nice shot Miller. The flare on the left is a little bothersome and I wish it wasn't there. Otherwise, this is a nice setup and cool image.

March 14, 2011 10:13 AM  
Blogger fstop47 said...

The flare on the left is a bit bothersome and I wish it wasn't there. Otherwise, this is a very cool image. The light on the model and the car are great. Thanks for the post.

March 14, 2011 10:16 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Great article and photo. Thanks for the "behind the scenes" look!

March 14, 2011 10:22 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Thank you for the article and the "behind the scenes" look at your great photo!

March 14, 2011 10:23 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Thanks for the great article and "behind the scenes" look at your great picture!

March 14, 2011 10:25 AM  
Blogger theotherme said...

I like how you used the backlight with lens flare. for me it gives a feeling of the rising sun behind him. He's getting an aggressive start to the business day. Or it could be the end of the day and he's off to conquer the hot Brazilian consultant he met at the conference today. Either way, this is a man on a mission!

Great photo!

March 14, 2011 10:35 AM  
Blogger jigsaw88 said...

Great Info, Great Photo! Thanks for sharing. :)

March 14, 2011 10:41 AM  
Blogger ryan said...

just curious......what was the ambient like? was it noon, twilight, etc.........

March 14, 2011 12:16 PM  
Blogger ryan said...

just curious.....what was the ambient like? noon, twilight, etc...

March 14, 2011 12:17 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Love this, I'm going to read it several times to remind myself how much goes into being at that level.

March 14, 2011 1:56 PM  
Blogger Carter said...

Great shot - both dynamic and ambiguous. Would you mind a little more detail on this? "We ended up finding someone with a Maserati that was happy to let us use it and also a clothing provider." I have a little trouble wrapping my wits around, "Yeah, show up at 5 AM with you Maserati, and make sure it's spotless, OK?"

What was the negotiation like?

March 14, 2011 2:14 PM  
Blogger Bryan Barbee said...

Like your lighting style very much. How much help do you have on location shoots. I am putting together a portfolio myself, with the help of my kids, and friends. The shot with two couples. Were they professional models.

March 14, 2011 2:23 PM  
Blogger rich Bianchini said...

This guy has an Unbelievable portfolio, I just loved going through his images. Looks to be influenced by Dan winters( a good person to be inspire by in my book). I went away very inspired and anxious to go out and create some photographs.

March 14, 2011 3:25 PM  
OpenID Joe said...

Great post and photo. Thanks for the pre- shoot info.

March 14, 2011 4:52 PM  
Blogger Stuart Leask Corporate Paparazzi said...

Great shot, Love it!

March 14, 2011 5:05 PM  
Blogger said...

Thanks so much for the information. I'm a single 30-year-young photographer working within the social-political and fine art photography worlds, BUT all photog shooting techniques, information, and wisdom are extremely important, and I appreciate your knowledge. Stay blessed.

March 14, 2011 5:19 PM  
Blogger Fenix Fotography said...

Great post Miller--thanks!

@Carter, borrowing a car can be done--it may cost you a print if it isn't for publication. It helps to have local brand recognition and connections. I work for a small locally published lifestyle magazine and in the last few years we've been able to borrow exotic sports cars on two or three occasions as well as multi-million dollar airplanes on two others, even a yacht for a swimwear shoot--all with no costs.

March 14, 2011 8:39 PM  
Blogger Miller said...

Thanks everybody for all the comments. It really means so much! I'm so glad to everybody responding to the photograph. I hope everyone is encourage to go create more work. @Carter - It just so happens that my father owns a clothing store - Mobley and Sons - so he provided the clothes. And we have a good friend who owns a Maserati. We really just tried to use the resources that we have already. @ryan It was about 5-6am in the morning, It was raining as you can tell by looking at the car mirror... Basically just a blue ominous sky. Pretty much perfect! @Byran Barbee Not a lot of help, the model was actually just a guy who I knew through mutual friends. We looked at Modeling agencies nearby, but could not find anyone suitable. Thanks again everybody, Keep the questions coming!

March 14, 2011 10:02 PM  
OpenID kurtwerks said...

Love the lighting and the cool tones. You were right about the killer suit, too. My gripe is going to be with the phrase, "we started to concept the shot."

Ugh. No, you didn't. Maybe you started to conceive the shot or started to formulate the concept for the shot, but you most certainly did not "concept" it. Concept is a noun, not a verb.

March 14, 2011 11:29 PM  
Blogger Holbrook Hart said...

fantastic photo... informative post. Please say you will be guest blogging more!

March 15, 2011 12:37 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Nice post, Miller. It takes a lot of guts to post on David's blog, considering his wordsmithing skills. But you did great, and your photo is very dynamic and well thought out. Thanks for taking the time and walking us through the thought process. I have a feeling we'll be seeing your name again in the future...

March 15, 2011 1:16 AM  
OpenID iksamenajang said...

I love the flare ...

Very nice photo, and thank you for the background info ... Nice post ...

March 15, 2011 2:07 AM  
Blogger nick said...

Love the Photo but would like to know how you post process your images . i know this site is gear towards Lighting ,but i also feel the way photographers post process their images can also enhance their strobe lit photos .

March 15, 2011 9:23 AM  
Blogger nick said...

Love the Photo but would like to know how you post process your images . i know this site is gear towards Lighting ,but i also feel the way photographers post process their images can also enhance their strobe lit photos .

March 15, 2011 9:24 AM  
Blogger Stuart Mackenzie said...

Great pictures, but his website needs sorting out. All kinds of ugly in firefox. ( scrollbar on left causing text to overlap). Fine when fullscreen

March 15, 2011 10:19 AM  
Blogger jimm said...

Thank you.

March 15, 2011 1:09 PM  
Blogger Miller said...

Can't thank everybody enough for the great responses... keep the questions coming!

March 15, 2011 6:02 PM  
Blogger djthuro said...

Awesome shot, I really like your shooting style. I would also like to know the post processing you do to the images as this is a style I have tried to achieve previously, and although I feel I've come close, it isn't exactly there yet. your site looks fine in chrome and safari btw.

Thanks for the inspiration, cheers.

March 15, 2011 6:37 PM  
Blogger I happy dirt said...

Very compelling image. My question, and it pertains to other great images I see online, is what lighting ratio did you use for the various lights? In this blog, that seems every bit as important as the basic aperture and shutter speed. I can guess, but if it were given frequently, it would become second nature after a time.

March 15, 2011 11:10 PM  
Blogger I happy dirt said...

Very compelling image. My question, and one I have for other situations such as this, is what lighting ratio did you use for the photo? I can guess but would always wonder if I was right, and if it were given along with the basics of aperture and shutter speed, it would become second-nature after a time.

March 15, 2011 11:13 PM  
Blogger France said...

Eye catching and dramatic shot, you definitely have a cinematic style! Question for you about the Octa-Banks, what size did you use? and were they both the same size?
Thanks and keep up the great shooting.
P.S. The flare works me, keeps it from looking too staged.

March 15, 2011 11:51 PM  
Blogger nicola said...

Great picture.

The greyness of everything works really well.

If you'd had a friend with a red Maserati, do you think you'd have come up with a completely different shot?

March 16, 2011 5:18 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Amazing shot! It's always good to read about the story behind a shot

March 16, 2011 1:28 PM  
Blogger PHOTOMAMP said...

Awesome picture and a really instructive article.
Accurately describe the process we are, in when we're looking for new work prospects. Encouraging!


March 17, 2011 4:54 AM  
Blogger Sloane said...

Fantastic post, I'd love to know what sort of post was done on the image as a final point on the shoot?

March 19, 2011 1:04 AM  
Blogger Lyle said...

Thanks for the insights and inspiration, Miller.

Last fall I wanted to beef up my portfolio and had conceived a shot but felt I needed someone else to help me pull it together. I invited another photog to join me as a full partner but despite wanting to shoot his heart wasn't into the planning and he actually said "what's the big deal, I don't plan to be the next David Hobby". The project sputtered and the shoot never happened.

Well, now it will happen and I'll get it done on my own. You are lucky to have had someone with whom to develop the concept. I'll just have to work harder.

Thanks again to you (and David).

December 27, 2011 9:03 AM  
Blogger IT Futtzy said...

I had a look on Miller Mobley's website. It would be nice if he could write an article about the post-procduction of his pictures on the PC. They're all looking very nice.

January 04, 2012 8:29 AM  

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