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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blair Bunting: Boy Wonder

Young photographer Blair Bunting is wise beyond his years

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Lights, Not Pixels
“I’m using 18 lights because the shot needs it,” Bunting says. “Do I think I could get it with less, to the exact detail of the shot? No. Compared to most photographers, my postprocessing skills are inadequate, so I try to do everything with lighting. I don’t know Photoshop to save my ass. On my site, there’s only two or three images that have more than one file to them. Everything is out of camera as much as possible. But I kind of wish I was a little better at Photoshop.

“You have to think about how much density you need in your highlights,” explains Bunting, “and then you go for surface textures. If you want to take out speculars and you cancel lowlights, what you end up doing is taking the contrast ratio and dialing it a little bit up where it’s starting to take out your midtones, and your highlights can actually be what your exposure is based off of. So you don’t even have a key at the end of the day. Lighting is really my big thing. I love lighting.”

Is This Lens Sharp?
Bunting’s natural affinity for technical lighting also translates into a love of gear. Maybe an unhealthy love. Certainly an expensive one.

“I’m a very secretive and insane gearhead,” he says. “There are certain lenses that I’ve had 30 or 40 different copies of the exact same lens. I’d just buy a different one every few months because I wasn’t confident that the one before was sharp. The 45mm tilt/shift from Canon; I had 30-something of those. Now it’s the Nikon 24-70mm; I’ve had eight or nine of those. It’s me. It’s 100% a confidence issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the gear. I treat it really ridiculously well. If someone asks to see a lens, I clean it before putting it back each time. I can’t stand to see people beat up their gear. That’s your tool that keeps you in the job!

While his work may look like the result of heavy image processing, Blair Bunting’s keen mastery of dynamic lighting allows him to produce most of his effects in-camera, with little post work at all. At only 26 years old, his dedication to learning his craft has led to a stunning portfolio of hyper-stylized imagery, a style well suited to the high-impact, action-oriented shots for which he’s known. Famous athletes, superfast cars and dramatic shows like Deadliest Catch, Mythbusters and Future Weapons have all been well served in front of Bunting’s many lenses.
“For a long time, I was building my own lenses,” Bunting says. “I actually had a 106mm ƒ/.65 lens that was really cool. I made it out of a projector for a TV, just screwing around. I really liked shallow depth of field more than anything before I learned lighting. It was a progression. Your photography is all about drawing your viewer’s eye and telling them what you want them to see, so there’s a number of different ways. At the very beginning, it’s very easy to show them shallow depth of field and say, ‘Here’s what I want you to see, it’s in focus.’ Nowadays, you have to close down for ads because there’s a lot of stuff going on, but you still want to draw their eye—so you have to do it through lighting.”

Shoot Every Day
Bunting learned lighting just as he learned photography: the old-fashioned way. He experimented a lot and was able to learn quickly thanks to the instant feedback of a digital camera.

“What an LCD will teach a kid who just wants to learn,” Bunting says, “we’re talking exponential growth that’s immeasurable. Between shadow contrast, Kelvin, color density, contrast ratio.... I forced myself to shoot 100 shots a day. I know that’s kind of a random mark, but that’s something I was very strict on. If that meant I had a long day at school and I had to go out until 3 a.m. just to shoot my 100 shots, I’d do it. It’s not that I shot anything to keep; I only shot to learn. I taught myself how exposure worked, and I think that might be what helped my photography. I never had anyone who said, ‘This photo is good because of this or bad because of this.’ I had me looking and saying I like this or I don’t like this.”


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