Who Shot It Better? Idris Elba: Peter Yang or Craig McDean

Who Shot It Better? Idris Elba: Peter Yang or Craig McDean

Fans were in a tizzy when rumors started to circulate that Idris Elba might become the first black James Bond. Unfortunately, they turned out to only be rumors. But Elba has nevertheless carved out quite a resume that includes everything from “Luther” to “Thor.” His latest outing is in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and for that, Elba found himself on The Sunday Times Magazine cover. Shall we?

Peter Yang took this image of Elba in Brooklyn, and the Times picked up the image from Yang’s syndication partner, August Image. The cover is a crop of a slightly looser frame. Here’s the original without the faux duotone tint:

You like shallow depth-of-field? This image has it. The eyes and corners of the lips are in focus, but not much more. We’re talking maybe a couple of centimeters of focus. The catchlight in the eyes is interesting. I don’t see a huge softbox or octabank – could be a rooftop – but Yang’s shadow creates almost a cat-eye effect in the eyes. Gorgeous tonality, and I like how the t-shirt doesn’t compete with the face. It also provides a middle value between Elba’s face and the whiter background. Elba’s expression has a slightly furrowed brow, but the corners of his mouth are also slight upturned – is he about to smile? I like the mystery. The image looks almost like it could have been shot on large format, but Peter recently told me that he’s switched to shooting everything on a DSLR (Nikon D800 for you gear nerds) because it has more than enough resolution and is very hand holdable and portable. A gorgeous high-key image.

By way of contrast, we have Craig McDean’s image for Interview magazine from last year. What an amazing image to compare to Yang’s! This low key image still has a relatively shallow depth-of-field, but most of his visage is in focus, and you start to see some blur in the ear. You can see the octabank in the catchlight of the eyes, and the evenness of light is much more apparent in this image. It might be the make-up for the retouching, but there is a little less shine on Elba in this image as well which flattens out the luminance variation. Gazing off into the distance, the expression is more calm and relaxed than Yang’s.

Verdict: As you can imagine, Elba has graced many magazine covers. I purposely selected two tight headshots, and by chance, they happened to both be fantastic images with no clear winner. In fact, I can’t even build a credible argument in one direction or another.

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Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the “I Love Photography” podcast on iTunes.

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