Open Sky Portraits


A thought has been at the back of my mind for some months now: given the geography and architecture of Menlo Park and Palo Alto, it happens at various times of day that a neutral-color stucco wall lies in shade, facing a big patch of open sky. Open sky provides that wonderful ‘north light’ that everyone from the Dutch masters to legendary modern photographers hold in such high regard. It’s an ‘instant studio’ if you can get the model, the neutral background and open sky to the same place at the same time – a great advantage to those of us photogs who find lugging the usual tonnage of studio gear a bit challenging.

My friend Victor Frost (pictured above) helped me prototype the project this morning, near the corner of California and Birch in Palo Alto. He also helped by holding up an 18% gray card, which will help in future sessions to pull into line inevitable disparities in light, exposure, color temperature et al. as we move from venue to venue.

If you’d like to volunteer as a model, or get a schedule of potential shoots, drop a line to cg at gulker dot com.

Our first (ad hoc) open-sky portrait (copied from the blog)

steve_300.jpgThe sky today, in between bursts of showers, offered that amazing glow that has enthralled artists since time immemorial. I first noticed the light while trolling Menlo Oaks Drive for an apparently-erroneously reported fallen tree – I thought it might make a nice weather shot for InMenlo.

All the oaks appeared to be upright on that very pretty street, and their mossy limbs made a wonderful tangle when viewed from Bay Road.

The cloud cover had made what a studio photographer would call a ‘soft box’, basically a large diffuser placed between the light source (the sun, in this case) and the subject. Where studio soft boxes are measured in feet, today’s sky would measure in the hundreds of square miles. The light was exquisite.

As luck would have it, I was filing my pictures from the InMenlo satellite office at (the new) Peet’s, when in walked Steve, from Palo Alto (pictured here). You have got to love this delightfully battered mug with its sparkling eyes and smile shining through. It took a little coaxing, but eventually we cajoled Steve out of the warm confines and onto the sidewalk near a neutral background, for an open-sky portrait.

Readers with a photo bent may recall that another Palo Altan, Victor Frost, was my guinea pig for the open-sky project. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for other likely suspects as the forecast continues to promise overcast skies…


2 Responses to Open Sky Portraits

  1. Beth Ann Daye says:

    I’d like to volunteer. Do volunteers have to pay their own airfare? 🙂 I’d even help lug the gear around.

  2. Beth Ann Daye says:

    Victor has a beautiful face…

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