Shoot Report: Night Portrait of a Taxi Driver

light painting photography

Taxi Cab Portrait (click to enlarge)  - Jim Harmer

If you follow @ImprovePhoto on Twitter, you may have seen the photo featured on this page two weeks ago when I tweeted my shoot.  A few of you asked questions about the shoot, so I thought it would be an interesting article for today.

First of all, I was a bit disappointed with the shoot.  The cab driver only gave me about 15 minutes for the shoot of his car and he only wanted to stand in for a couple photos.  This made the whole experience… difficult.  I think I could have perfected this shot with more time, but the shot still turned out okay.

As soon as I started shooting, I tried about 5 different angles to decide which composition was best.  I used a wide-angle lens to draw the viewer into the photo and I got very close to the car’s headlights to make that the central focal point of the shot.  I also stopped down my aperture to f/16 so I could get the streaky flare coming from the headlights.

Once I had my initial shot set up, I started light painting.  In all, I took about 20 photos in the short time period I had to take the shot.  The photo below is a single-exposure of the scene so you can contrast it with the final composition that is featured at the top of the page.  I think the light painting really added a lot of flavor to the photo.

Is this the best picture I’ve ever taken?  No, but it was a lot of fun.  One of these days I’d like to re-do this shoot and see if I could get it right.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    It’s a dramatic shot, but if I were him, I’d not be happy with his placement in the ultra wide angle shot. It emphasizes his least flattering feature – the protruding belly which protrudes even more because of the lens distortion. Maybe it would have been better to have im stand on the driver side, behind the car, leaning over the hood or something – not so much on the edge of the frame? I understand you had little time, and you used elaborate lighting (light painting takes a lot of time to get it right), but I don’t see it as an example of a particularly successful environmental portrait (and since you linked to it here, I thought I’d leave a comment.

  2. says

    Heather Spillers – Love, Love, Love, these pics of Judi. She looks so graceful in these pics and you boghrut out her beautiful eyes. I like the picture with the bright green door. I love those colors working in that picture.

  3. says

    Hey Jim,
    I’d love to see the single exposure shot you said you’d include. The final is a great shot btw.
    Also, if you stopped down to f/16 how did you get the background so well lit? I’m assuming you didn’t light paint all the buildings in the back too and you didn’t mention if you used a tripod and longer shutter speed to get the ambient light correct. Thanks

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