Thursday, June 14, 2007
Robert Polgar - Simple Elegance
Breaking into the next tier of professional fashion photography takes perseverance and a whole lot of testing
The emphasis on experimentation is refreshing in an industry where a lot of photographers stick to tried-and-true techniques. Part of the drive to try new things can be explained by a curious fact in Polgar's photography background—he has never worked as an assistant. While most professionals have come through the ranks as assistants before striking out on their own, Polgar never felt the need to do so. Naturally, he's had to learn some things the hard way, but he's also instilled with a certain independence of thought and approach that might not ever have come out had he worked as an assistant.
Polgar isn't self-taught in the techniques of photography by any means. He's a graduate of the University of Southern California, where he studied International Relations and Film. Since graduating, he has worked extensively in the film industry and as a graphic designer. Years of work with Photoshop and Illustrator have served to make the retouching second nature to him.
Says Polgar, “I do all of my own retouching. At this point, I can do it really fast. I enjoy working on images in the computer—it can be creative and fun, but it's important not to go too far. Most of my fashion and beauty work has only light retouching.”
The sensibilities that Polgar demonstrates in his use of Photoshop are a direct result of his early experiences in a conventional film darkroom. His father was an editor on a local newspaper who did a lot of the photography for the paper. There was a full darkroom in the house, to which the younger Polgar naturally gravitated. He became an accomplished printer, mastering traditional dodging and burning techniques as well as contrast manipulation in a traditional darkroom.
“A lot of people who don't have some kind of a film-darkroom perspective tend to overdo things in Photoshop,” says Polgar. “It really helps to have a foundation in the darkroom.”
Continuing about the potential pitfalls of trying to do too much with Photoshop, Polgar adds, “There's an obvious trend in digital photography to go crazy with sharpening tools—unsharp mask, high-pass filter, nik Sharpener, etc. I've found that with shooting beauty and editorial-style shots, it's nice to soften it up a bit without giving shots the total airbrush look. Of course, you have to measure application and your own personal style. I love really sharp portraits with every pore showing, too—if that's the mood and feel you're going for. Testino's recent shoot of Lindsay Lohan in Vanity Fair is a perfect example—nice to see all those freckles. Or even better—Martin Schoeller with his Kinos; I have two Kino Flo lights that I normally use for film production, but they're fantastic for portraits, too.”
Having a film background has directly influenced the lighting techniques Polgar employs in his photography. His study of cinematography has enabled him to create a sense of 3D in his imagery.
“I like to create depth with the light,” he says. “Using light on a background or adding lit atmospheric effects does a lot to add that kind of dimensionality. Structural perception is very important to develop strong shots. When you close your eyes and open them, do you see shadows first, shapes, light? Find out for yourself. See if it changes from environment and frame of reference. Find out what shapes guide the eyes and create a visual harmony.”
Polgar's enthusiasm for photography is infectious. Talking about being on the set with a model, he says, “The photo shoot is a dance. I love the work and the energy and working with the models.”
Maybe that attitude has something to do with his successes in all of his endeavors. One thing is perfectly clear: Robert Polgar has definitely mastered the art of breaking through.
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