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In Camera: Portraits of the musicians


Luke Winsolw-King and Esther Rose of The Ragtime Millionaires, in a portrait by Jason Kruppa

As a personal exercise, last year I assigned myself a project to shoot 30 portraits in 30 days, the only rule being that no portrait could be lit like any of the others.

Among those I asked to sit (or in this case stand) for me were New Orleans-based musicians Luke Winslow-King and his girlfriend, Esther Rose, who sings and plays washboard in his band, The Ragtime Millionaires. Luke’s sound is a combination of pre-war blues, traditional jazz, folk and rock and roll, and I wanted to shoot portraits that reflected this sound.

Jason Kruppa’s inspiration: Orville Cox and Georgia O’Keefe, by Ansel Adams (1937)

For inspiration, I looked to Ansel Adams’ 1937 portrait of Orville Cox and George O’Keefe against a backdrop of brooding clouds in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. (If you’re looking for inspiration, go big.) This is a photo that Adams himself chose as one of his best works, and I thought the mood suited my subjects well. Luke and Esther liked it too, so we were set.

Luke Winslow-King, by Jason Kruppa

I don’t know anything about how Adams created this particular image, but to get that darkened sky I knew I was going to have to bring a studio light on location. Armed with a Vagabond lithium mini battery pack, an Alien Bee 1600 and a 24×36 soft box, I headed for my favorite location in New Orleans to do big wide-open sky photos like this. I arrived with my assistant about 15 minutes before Luke and Esther to determine the best spot to set up in relation to the sky.

I shot these images around 4 p.m. in early October, meaning the sun was still very bright. I knew I’d probably have to crank my light to full power, and after a meter reading and a couple of camera tests, my suspicions proved correct. In order to get the sky dark enough to establish the mood I wanted, I had to stop down to f22 and keep the soft box very close to my subjects (my iso was 50, the lowest setting on my camera).

Esther Rose, by Jason Kruppa

To add a little more drama to the shots, I worked from low angles with my 24-70mm lens zoomed out to 40mm, which introduced subtle distortions. Fortunately, because of the angle of the sun relative to the camera, I look like I have a two-light set up here, but that rim light on the shadow side of these photos is actually the sun giving me a little extra help.

tech stuff:
Camera: Canon 5D mkII
Lens: 24-70 L f2.8 at 40mm
shutter speed: 1/200
aperture: f22
iso: 50
Fine art and fashion photographer Jason Kruppa writes about photography for NolaVie. Read more about him at


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