Lester Cannon: Shooting Portraits During the Golden Hour


All images by Lester Cannon. Used with permission

Photographer Lester Cannon hails from the California Bay Area. His job as a Sergeant in the US Army has allowed him to do lots of traveling–and for the past five years he’s been based in Germany. “Portrait and Photojournalism/Street Photography are my what I love the most. I enjoy traveling all over the world and photographing as many beautiful and interesting people I can find.” says Lester.

Lester is a true Renaissance man: he sometimes shoots digital, but has mastered the art of modern film photography like few other photographers have in this digital age. He shoots the photos that we all wish we could get with film.

And as he tells us about his portraits, it’s all in the eyes and the face.

Be sure to follow Lester on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Vimeo.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Lester: I took photography in high school (Class of 99′) in the good ole film days and loved it. After graduation I always loved taking photos but mostly basic stuff with disposables and later a Canon digi 7 megapixel point and shoot. In 2011 I was in a music video and I was amazed by the image quality the videographer was able to get from a simple DSLR (7D & 5D MK II). A few days after the video shoot I got my hands on a Canon 400D and never looked back.

Phoblographer: What attracts you to shooting portraits?


Lester: I think what draws me to portraits is that I like to show people how beautiful they are and how they look in my eyes. I love faces and people fascinate me. I swear that for a brief moment I fall in love with every person that looks back at me in the viewfinder.

Phoblographer: Many of your photos seem to be done during the golden hour and with the most beautiful natural lighting. The Golden Hour obviously has its benefits, but what inspires you to make your images stand out even more?

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Lester: Well I sort of stumbled onto golden hour. I’m not sure when I started aiming for golden hour but I live for it. I’m like a vampire, I know exactly when the sun is going down and plan all shootings to start about an hour prior. The light is just so beautiful. The subject is front lit, back lit, or back lit with a reflector bouncing the light back on them, you just can’t go wrong. I live here in Germany and in the summer the sun is gone at 10pm so it’s heaven. In the winter its brutal though, sun sets at 4pm. Even better than golden hour is those 15 minutes of twilight when the sun has passed the horizon and there’s that soft cool illumination, nothing can beat it.

Phoblographer: Your portraits are very close up and intimate, talk to us about posing and composition though: what do you feel makes you unique as a photographer to get this particular look and how do you work with your subjects to get the best photos that you can?

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Lester: The face and eyes are everything so I always want to be close. I struggle with fashion and full body photographs because photos seem lacking to me when the face isn’t the center of attention. Composition is a constant challenge especially when shooting 6X6. The wannabe cinematographer in me likes dramatic looking images. I try to make my photos look as if they are a cinematic still from a movie.

I’m a friendly person so talking, having fun during shoot is a must. A simple chit chat on the way out to a location can lighten the mood and loosen everybody up. If its possible to have some good music during a shoot that is a big plus!

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use.


Lester: Gear is a problem for me. GAS had me tight in it’s grip so I have vowed not to buy anything new in 2015. Nowadays I shoot 80% film. For portrait shoots my go to 35mm SLR’s are a pair of Pentax MX’s with a Pentax 50mm f1.2 and Rokinon 85mm f1.4. Sometimes I switch it up and use a Vivitar 250SL to use some awesome M42 mount lenses like the Helios 40-2, Vivitar 200mm f3.5, or the Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm f1.8 Pancolar (best 50mm lens ever). For medium format usually I use a Rolleiflex f2.8 Tessar and f3.5 Tessar or Mamiya RB67. When I do shoot digital I use a Canon 5D Mark II. I usually adapt those m42 lenses I listed above plus the Rokinon 35mm f1.4 and Canon 85mm f1.8.

Phoblographer: You totally focus a lot on the eyes and put lots of emphasis into them when shooting. But what do you do in post-production to make them pop so much?

Lester: Like I said, the eyes are everything. I use only the center focus point on the 5D and put it right on the the eyes. In Lightroom I try to enhance the eyes a bit but I’m careful not to overdo it to the point that it looks fake. I like my images to have a natural look and not over processed, at times its difficult to find that balance.


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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.