RF Cookbook: David Lipnowski's Year of Portraits

by Jacqueline Tobin

March 20, 2014

On January 1, 2013, Canadian photographer David Lipnowski embarked on the first day of his self-assigned project to shoot one “high-quality, editorial-feel” portrait every day for a year; he then posted each day’s image to his website in a section set up just for those images. The initial intent of the project, as the portrait, corporate and wedding and events photographer explains, was “to achieve growth as a photographer. I had already won a few awards for my portrait work before I started this, but I wasn’t really getting as many jobs to specifically shoot editorial-style portraits as I wanted, so I decided to do something about it.”

And though building buzz was never a conscious part of his plan, by Day 6, Lipnowski had quite a following. That morning he photographed the Toronto Blue Jays’ José Bautista (a Major League leader in home runs since 2010). Bautista then retweeted Lipnowski’s post of the portrait that afternoon; by that evening, thousands of visitors were checking out the project online.

Everyone from celebrities to the homeless were willing subjects, most of whose portraits were shot in Lipnowski’s hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. To keep the “one-a-day” commitment intact, though, he did shoot and post when he was out of town, like the time he was on assignment at the Tour de France during the month of July. He also has a week’s worth of images from Montreal.

“Although I’ve been a professional photographer for nine years, this was the first personal project I’ve ever attempted," Lipnowski says. "At least four hours each day were devoted to it (about 1,500 hours for the year)—finding a portrait subject, shooting them (usually the quickest part of the whole process), editing and then writing a story to go with the picture on the project’s blog.”

One year and a few months later, Lipnowski says it still boggles his mind that he was able to “walk up to total strangers on the street and have those people be kind enough to not only agree to my portrait request but also, on occasion, to agree to my sometimes crazy requests.” These requests include asking a young woman to lie in a flower bed in a sidewalk planter on a local street in Winnipeg, and photographing an 80-year-old retired pediatric nurse (Colleen, featured at below) in minus 20-degree Celsius weather in a parking lot.

And while the project was successful, yielded an array of impactful and moving images (see the complete archive here) and accomplished Lipnowski’s goal of growing as an artist and pushing himself, he says his next undertaking will definitely not be a daily one.  

Ingredients for Above: 
Camera: Nikon D7100
Exposure: f/5 at 1/80th of a sec
ISO: 100
Lens: 70mm
Lighting: One flash in shoot-thru umbrella camera right
Comments: “Colleen, age 80, spent many years working in small northern communities. She regaled me with stories of working with the dog teams in Gods Lake, Manitoba, that functioned as an ambulance service to pick up patients and take them to the hospital. This image was shot in a parking lot in Winnipeg, at 4:24 p.m., and we were slightly sheltered from the wind. We missed the setting sun by about 5 minutes, so I had to use a wall as a background. The entire shoot was 2 minutes, 5 seconds long, but by feathering the light of the umbrella, I was able to create a more painterly look to the portrait.”

Ingredients for Above: 
Camera: Nikon D3S
Exposure: f/4.5 at 1/125th of a sec
ISO: 100
Lens: 35mm
Lighting: One flash in a softbox camera left; one bare flash camera right behind Ariel, and one flash in a silver umbrella on axis for fill.
Comments: “Ariel Posen is regarded as one of the top Winnipeg guitarists and musicians, well-known on the local and national music scenes. We have been great friends since we were very young but I hadn’t seen him recently. Fortunately, we managed to schedule this shoot just a few hours before he left for his next tour. I went to his condo, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but when I saw the steam streaming outside of his window, I instantly knew what I wanted  the background, and the shot, to be like.”

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