Replicating a Prominent Portrait Photograph

If you’ve never challenged yourself to recreate another photographer’s photo, you’re missing out on a priceless learning opportunity. The exercise forces you to dissect all elements of a photograph to figure out how it was made.

In this humorous video, the DRTV team attempts to replicate Chase Jarvis’s Twitter profile picture, which was taken by Mitch Moquin:

As the crew in the video bumbles through setting up the shot, there are mishaps with stubborn spray paint cans, creased wallpaper, and inadequate background size. But the team is light-hearted and carries on with the task at hand.

After a close look at the original photo, the team started the trial and error process. Based on the lighting in the Jarvis portrait, they placed the main light at a 45 degree angle to the right of the subject and pointed it down. The copycat photographers used an Olympus PEN mounted on a tripod and a FUQ 690 flash shot through a white umbrella on a tall light stand. The subject stood in front of a backdrop made out of cheap silver wallpaper. To enhance the shadow on the subject’s face, a black card was placed to the model’s left.

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In the end, the crew in this video relied on Photoshop to get their final image looking more like the original photo. But their work paid off, and the shot ended up looking similar to the original:

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“Not a 100 percent exact replica, excluding subject, in terms of look of image, but we had fun making it.”

Just as with the photographers in the video, your recreated images might not always come out how you’d like. But some careful planning and attention to detail can get you on the right track. To replicate a photo, you must first take time to study the original. Pay attention to these details:

  • quality of light
  • placement of the light source(s)
  • background
  • shadows
  • the subject’s pose
  • angle of view
  • wardrobe

With these specifics in mind, you can start experimenting until you get just the look you want.

Watching other photographers attempt the feat of copycatting the style of a prominent portrait will remind you that mistakes are part of the learning process. Challenging yourself to mimic an image gives you newfound appreciation for the photographers behind professional images.

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