Back in November I had an opportunity to photograph Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. After spending nearly 3 years in Lynchburg working for the News & Advance, I am quite familiar with Liberty, their comms staff, and of course Jerry Jr., but I never had a chance for a portrait session with him until now.
Mr. Falwell is beloved by the Evangelical community and is known outside of that community for his allegiance to President Donald Trump. He was the first spiritual leader to openly support Mr. Trump and is well aware of the criticism that comes along with that.
The assigning editor’s guidance was for a “power portrait,” and he let me interpret that as I saw fit. I’d have 10-15 minutes with Mr. Falwell, and I’d have to set up lights and whatnot. I brought a grey seamless backdrop and stand and my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS two light kit with two flash heads and my 48″ Westcott Rapid Box.
I got there a little later than I had hoped, heavy rain slowed my drive, but with help from their comms staff, I was able to load in and get set up with no problem. In a large conference room with one giant window, I set up against a wall with the backdrop, and had a secondary position planned that would involve a quick repositioning of my lights.
A great thing about the Elinchrom pack is it’s 1100 watt/seconds in two channels split asymmetrically with a 2:1 ratio. Basically that means there’s less math involved in setting up when you don’t have much time. I put one light behind Mr. Falwell aimed at the background, and the other in my Westcott 48″ Rapid Box elevated above Mr. Falwell (who’s 6’2 btw) and at a down angle and 45 degrees to my right.
When you point a light at a background you get a fading circle behind your subject. If you look back at a lot of medieval and early Renaissance portraits of Jesus, often you will see a golden or lighter color circle behind his head. My goal for this portrait was to create an homage to that while getting an engaging expression with Mr. Falwell, and then a secondary image with him seated.
I find Mr. Falwell absolutely fascinating. I have great respect for him while also reviling his alignment to the President. He is so different from his father, while remaining true to his father’s mission and values, whether or not you agree with them. He has overseen a HUGE expansion of the University; the campus has been continuously under construction for years. During the shoot I suggested he build a velodrome; cycling is an Olympic sport, after all, I assured him. I told him it’d be a huge hit. I congratulated him on the completion of the football stadium, something I documented during my time in Lynchburg. He was easy to work with and open to direction. He’s a delight to photograph.