A couple of weeks ago I got a call from another photographer asking me if I would shoot a tattoo’d friend of theirs. They didn’t have a studio and felt I had the equipment and experience necessary to shoot some pics that did their friend justice. Not thinking much about it, I said “sure”. I always like shooting interesting people and I figured someone with some good tattoos had to be at least somewhat interesting.
A few days later I got a call from Joe Capone. He said he was the friend and needed some pics for magazines. He had won a bundle of tattoo contests but had never really been featured in any tattoo magazines because he didn’t have any great pics. So we negotiated a price and scheduled a meet at my studio for the following Wednesday.
When Joe showed up he was just a normal looking guy, since he had long pants and a t-shirt on. We talked a bit and he changed into his clothes he uses for competing and boy, was I in for a surprise. I had no idea of the depth and detail of his tattoos! No wonder he had won so many competitions!
I had never really photographed someone with that many tattoos. My first plan was to shoot on white so the magazine could easily clip the pics out. We proceeded to shoot on white for the next couple of hours and the pics turned out pretty good and Joe was happy, but in the back of my mind I was NOT happy. I felt we could do better and was not sure why. I did some research on how other photographer shoot tattooed people and while most of what I saw was on white or just in an environmental setting, what I figured out was the best pics were low contrast versions. I prefer to shoot men in a high contrast way and that just didn’t work quite so well with Joe. The lighting was competing with the tattoos for attention. I like to use contrasty hard edge lighting on men to help define their shape and structure, but in Joe’s case that just didn’t work that well.
So I invited Joe back the next evening to shoot on black with much lower contrast lighting – no charge. I still used 7 monolights to highlight his form, but I lowered the contrast ratios substantially from what I did the previous evening. This worked out MUCH better. Instead of a 2-1 or 3-1 contrast ratio, I was closer to 1.5-1. This still gave form and shape to my subject (Joe) but didn’t compete with his tattoos for attention.
Enjoy the photos below. Whether you like tattoos or not, you have to admit the work is quite amazing in detail.