A couple of months ago I made the decision to shave my head for charity.
It had been almost 15 years since the last time I had short hair, not long before I started university. Most of the people in my life, outside of my family, know me as a guy with long hair, even more so the people at work who only met me after the growing out process was completed.
Six weeks of half-arsed fundraising efforts on Facebook followed, and finally two days ago I shaved my head as scheduled in support of Macmillan Cancer Relief.
Of course, I’m not about to let something like this happen without documenting it in some way. Photographing the event itself was always going to be very difficult, so instead I decided to log before and after images.
A couple of days before the shaving, I set up my camera and started playing about with lighting options, so that I didn’t have to spend too much time figuring out setups on the day itself. My plan was to go for a white background, rather than the deep black I usually end up with. I have a white sheet bought to try such things but I’ve not had much luck in the past with it, so this time I started out by firing a flashgun at the cream curtains in the room, themselves backlit by daylight from outside. For a front light I broke out my ring flash adapter and mounted it to my camera, and used a cable remote to fire the shutter.
For most of these shots I’ve processed them with some tonal contrast to make them pop.
As you can see, I had my hair down and pulled forward a bit to emphasise it compared to the usual portraits I take of myself. After all, it would be my last opportunity to do so for who knows how long.
I soon decided, admittedly based only on a back-of-the-camera assessment, that the ring flash was producing images that looked flatter than I was intending, so I set up an off-camera flash in a soft box.
This, to me, works much better. I set the flash on a second tripod just to the right of camera and proceeded to take some shots.
I tried a wider shot to show more of my hair, but as you can see the curtain backing started looking quite a lot like a curtain.
I smoothed it out a bit and repositioned the back flash, and set it to a slightly higher power. I also set the camera to timer mode so I could take shots with both my hands in frame.
This is the shot I had in mind – sans hair, of course – to put out after the shaving was done. As it happened, I edited this picture and put it on Facebook on the day I took it to try to get some last minute donations.
I continued to play about with expressions, because that’s part of the run of selfies such as these.
I called it a day and went to check out some of the photos to see how they came out.
On the day of the shave, which was last Saturday, I got up and washed my hair, part of the requirements for donating it to the Little Princess Trust to be made into wigs for cancer-stricken children. I wanted to also get some shots of me with wet hair since it looks cooler wet and I have very few photos of my hair like that.
This time I set up the white sheet over the window for a whiter background. It was a bit creased, however, and so didn’t give a smooth background initially.
As you can probably tell, for a lot of these shots I’ve been playing about with Color Efex and Analog Efex to get some interesting results.
I had at least one shot in mind to get onto Facebook for a last minute donation push – me and the clippers that would be doing the deed.
In post I discovered a few ways to improve the background, for which I had returned to using the cream curtains but with the flash turned up a bit more. Firstly, I could push the exposure up in Lightroom to blow out the background, and then pull down the shadows in order to bring my face back to the correct brightness. As a backup, I used an adjustment brush to paint in an exposure boost to the areas of the background stubbornly holding shadow.
As an added unintended bonus, the rear flash, being an unimpeded source of light place to camera left, served as a great subtle backlight.
This would serve to be one of the last pictures of me with hair. Once the deed was done, I returned take some ‘after’ shots. Initially I didn’t do much with the background…
But soon I fine-tuned the camera position and the folds of the curtains to get a decent result.
From there, the usual sorts of portraits of me.
Then, almost by accident, I stumbled on a pose which, in post, I loved, and has now become my main social media profile pic.
And in a slightly different tack, the first post-shave photo I put out to social media.
I think I look a bit like Dobby in that picture.
As you can see, things were a bit hit-and-miss with the background. I switched to my 50mm f/1.4, and with the increased aperture came a more washed out background.
For one shot, I decided to turn off the flash to get a silhouette of my newly exposed head.
Otherwise, it’s plenty of shots with a familiar face, but with no hair and a white background instead of a black one which is a major improvement for me.
Will I be keeping my hair short or growing it back? Honestly, I don’t know at this point. I’ll see how I get on with it whilst it’s short and as it grows back. It’s interesting to me, during the time that I was promoting and fundraising, three separate people, none aware of my impending appearance change, declared that they’d figured I was a metal head, presumably based solely on my appearance. I don’t know what they’d think now. I guess my point is the loss of all your hair doesn’t really change anything about who you are as a person, which is an important reminder for anyone who has lost their hair as a result of cancer treatment.
The donation page for my head shave is still open if you want to donate. I’ve far exceeded my original fundraising goal but everything counts.