My old studio in San Diego was about 500 feet from a liquor store. Shortly after getting popped for PEDs, Floyd Landis came in for an evening portrait session. There were a few beers in the fridge and there was your typical Craft service, but Floyd was in a drinking mood and it wasn’t long before he’d dispatched anything on hand and excused himself for a short trip to the corner store. Many beers later, and Floyd’s looking at the camera with a drunken rage that was fitting to the time and circumstances of his life. Floyd’s not exactly shy and private, so I don’t think he’d mind me writing about any of this.
Booze and photos are usually a bad combination. But I’ve always found Landis’ loose-canon personality highly likable and entertaining. He was pissed about his situation, but there was something wildly theatric about the way his anger mixed with the beer and his engagement with the camera.
Special times call for special lights. When there’s someone high profile coming in, I like to have a few different sets ready to go. You can’t always create mood, but you can be ready and reflexive to whatever mood walks through the door or develops on set. I love Walter Melrose’s Mola line of beauty dishes. Years ago when headed to Mexico to shoot swimsuits, I picked up a Mola Setti. Essentially, the Setti is a 28-inch beauty dish. But it’s much more than that. It’s a deep, high-contrast, very directional modifier with beautifully dramatic falloff and edges.
The Setti is even unique in the way it mounts. Where most beauty dishes mount to a strobe head that’s already mounted to grip, the Mola mounts to the grip directly and accepts the strobe independently. It’s a heavy piece of hardware; think of a big lens that’s mounted directly to the tripod, as opposed to mounting the camera to the tripod and then the lens to the camera.
Because it’s directional, you need to aim the Setti carefully. I’m about 5’ 8”, and if I remember, Floyd’s about 5’ 10”. With Floyd in front of a simple storm grey piece of seamless, I placed a small apple box opposite and about four feet away. I was shooting an 85 mm focal length on a full frame 35mm camera, a favorite combination for headshots, and standing on the apple box, I was directly in line with his gaze.
The Mola Setti was positioned directly over my head, such that its lower rim grazed my hair slightly. When used with Profoto heads, the strobe can be placed in the dish at variable depths behind its patented Opal Glass for a variety of looks. The Profoto heads are delineated numerically on their sides; with the Setti, I like to clamp it down at about level six. With the dish angled downward and carefully focused, the look was symmetric, dramatic and, together with the intensity of Floyd’s gaze, it was fittingly angry.