Kai With His Skateboard

Simple is often best. A patch of daylight on a simple brick wall is all I needed to create this portrait. Oh, and the coolest kid on the block as my subject.

Kai is very cool, very photogenic and completely at ease in front of the camera. I’ve photographed him a few times, and knew how relaxed he would be during this shoot. I asked him to bring his skateboard, and loved how it was nearly as big as him!

Setting up the shot

This patch of wall is less than 20 metres from our studio’s front door. You don’t have to go far to find usable locations, and there’s a big advantage of tapping into ones close by: you can watch how the light changes during the course of the day and the year, and so learn the best times to use it for different types of light.

Here, the overhanging foliage (out of shot) shapes the light that falls on the wall. Gaps in that foliage leave patches of brighter areas, and that’s where I’ve placed Kai. Our eyes are drawn to the lightest part of an image, which means we are visually pulled to the subject in a portrait like this.

I asked Kai to stand naturally with his skateboard to see what happened – this pose is what he did in response. I simply asked him to look down the street. This adds implied narrative to the image (what is he looking towards? Is he waiting for someone?), and gives an impression of a moment caught, rather than created.

To the right of the image (as we’re looking at it, my assistant is holding a large piece of white cardboard. This makeshift reflector has created a subtle ‘glow’ on Kai’s skin, which you can just see on the right side of his neck. This lightens the shadows.

Post-Production Tweaks

I did three things in Photoshop, in addition to a general tidy up of the image. Firstly, I changed it to a black and white, as this seemed to suit the style of the portrait. Then, I cropped it to a wide format, as it felt to me a little like a still from a film, and I wanted to enhance that effect further.

Lastly, I added a simple vignette (darkening around the subject), to further emphasise the focus on Kai.

All-in-all, it’s a simple shot, but – to my mind – they are often the best.

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 80mm
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Shutter speed: 1/180 sec
  • ISO: 140