Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Peter Yang: Master Of Ideas & Light
Peter Yang builds perfect portraits out of props, concepts and lighting
Punk rock legend Iggy Pop in Miami for Rolling Stone.
Yang’s portraiture is fairly conceptual even if the concept doesn’t always draw an overt connection to the subject. Amy Poehler wears a single feather in her headband. Matt Lauer sports a Ron Burgundy-esque mustache and polyester suit. Michael Cera sits contemplatively on his roof, wearing a tinfoil hat.
Then-Presidential hopeful Barack Obama for Rolling Stone, June 2008.
“I used to have the energy to bring all these ideas to the shoot,” he says, “and then try to figure out what they will or won’t do. But by the time we’re ready to shoot, the production costs have been raised and everything is more involved, so I really need to know ahead of time whether or not they will do something. The hardest thing is preparing a ton of ideas on an editorial budget and having them shot down one by one. It doesn’t matter how much of a hot commodity you are in the photo community, they all look at you as the photographer. Everyone gets turned down the same way.”
Christopher Walken for Esquire, March, 2009.
Most clients don’t think Yang has come up with many terrible ideas. Regardless, his other forte is lighting, so he’s able to make riveting portraits without props thanks to sheer photographic aptitude. This came to him early through constant exploration and innovation, and these days it’s the kind of thing he still works to refine.
“If you look at my pictures and you don’t see a lot of lights,” Yang says, “that’s kind of the goal. For any kind of outdoor shot, there’s almost never fewer than three lights, and there’s usually more than that. I like to re-create the look of an early-afternoon or high-noon sun—basically, where you have sun on your shoulder, on the top of your head and a shadow on the ground. But it’s not like a big, long shadow; like a little circle on the feet. That accomplishes a few things. Indoors or outdoors, it adds another dimension to the pictures. You start lighting the tops of things—the top of the ground, the top of the shoulders—it adds dimension and it pulls the person off the background.
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