Andrew Pinkham's Renaissance Pet Portraits
It's not often one comes across someone doing interesting photography via the Lolcats website. But that is exactly where I found out about Andrew Pinkham.
Based in Philadelphia, his work occupies a space somewhere between digital portrait photographer and Old Master painter. He is just as comfortable with a Nikon speedlight as he is with turning a photograph into a painterly illustration in post.
An interesting destination, to be sure. But how does someone go about arriving at a style like this?
Said Andrew, on his path to his painterly photographic portraits:
"I grew up in Chester County PA, in a somewhat rural area. Peoples’ houses that I went to always had huge paintings of livestock or portraits on their walls. I can also remember going to museums and being really taken by the work of the renaissance and landscape painters.
The landscapes that caught my attention always looked very brooding, like the end of the world was about to happen. The scenes were exaggerated to add drama and excitement to what would have been an everyday occurrence.
The renaissance portraits always had a quality of light that bathed the subject(s) in an angelic way. The backgrounds were dark and the faces glowed with fiery oranges and yellows. Sometimes, the artist would incorporate symbolism like a book representing knowledge or a dog that could be representing loyalty.
I had an interest in photography as a teenager but I always felt that something for me had been missing. It was the spellbinding of the subjects and how they were portrayed. An artist could play god much more easily than a photographer could back then in deciding how things would look in the final piece.
I yearned to show a personal style but didn’t know how to go about expressing it. Conscious or not, I really kept on going back to my roots and this is what kept on coming up over and over again. I like the idea of playing with what we think of as historical, whether it was a two hundred years or two weeks ago."
Pinkham's inspirations were painters like Vermeer (part of our Beers with Old Masters series), George Stubbs, and John James Audobon. A contemporary favorite is Bo Bartlett.
As far as his lighting, he plans it out pretty meticulously, along with everything else.
"It all starts with of what the end result will look like," Pinkham says. "I have to plan my ideas out because they can fall apart pretty easily if I don’t have them figured out beforehand. Plus, when others are working with me it’s easier for them because we’re on the same page."
His lighting was born out of necessity. You can't always work at golden hour, so he needed to learn how to create a style of light that was predictable and consistent with the final style of his painting-inspired images. He experimented a lot with his own two pets before learning to use hard light with warming gels outside to get the look he wanted.
For indoor lighting, he creates light that has both fill and an edge by combining hard and soft light on the same axis.
"I came with up something was much like sun light through a window," Pinkham said. "I ended up using a big soft light source like a shoot-through white umbrella or soft box, and a hard accent light from the same direction, at a really low setting with orange added. I kind of work the light like a chef who doesn’t measure, but seasons to taste."
For cameras, nothing too fancy. He uses a Nikon D2x and a D200. He says he was relieved to see that the files held up well -- even up to 40x60" prints with no interpolation. Not eager to needlessly spend money, he adopts an attitude of, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'
He even uses a point-and-shoot Canon G12 for his latest series of mounted birds.
Lighting-wise, he uses Nikon speedlights for the smaller subjects, and Quantum QFlashes for the larger. "The bigger the subject, the further away the flash units have to be and more powerful to keep up," he says. "I really don’t care whose name is on the equipment as long as it well designed and lasts a long time."
On his post-production work, he gave me possibly the best answer I have ever received from someone choosing to hold their creative cards close to the chest:
"Not to be coy, but If I reveal too much technique, it robs you from being able to experience the satisfaction of truly creating," he say, coyly. "Personal discovery and nuance is so powerful and gratifying. It’s really what I love about doing this work."
But he adds that nothing is off-limits, and that he does previsualize a palette for his images:
"I use complete artistic license with adding or subtracting things, a tree here, a cloud there. But most of my post work has to do with to amplifying a mood or feeling. Just like in preplanning the images, I like a lot of yellows and greens in my color palette and use an enveloping quality of light to on shoots to give it a painterly feel before any post treatments."
He notes that he has a hard time defining his peer group, which may be the very best conclusion that you can come to about yourself as a visual artist. The idea is to stand out in a crowded world, and his uniqueness pays off.
"The advantage to having a style with such a narrow scope is that it makes you easier to work with," Pinkham said. "When people come to me, they want 'a Pinkham,' dare I say. They pretty much know the look and feel of what they want."
Cats and dogs may pay the bills for Pinkham, but I have to say that I like even more the human portraiture on his website. They are thoughtfully envisioned and meticulously produced. They really do feel like paintings which are hundreds of years old.
Check out more of Pinkham's work (animals and people) at AndrewPinkham.com.