Neil March 5th, 2008
This last week I was in Texas with my wedding photojournalism friends at Foundation Workshop. I was a mentor to five awesome students in a group led by Greg Gibson, a two time Pulitzer prize winner and also mentored by Jennifer Dominic, also a professional photojournalist expat working in the wedding industry also. Our staff to student ratio at the workshop is nearly 1:1 and so our team assistant was Tina Carter who was a student last year. As the first day, we assigned the students to shoot portraits of each other as an icebreaker and learning exercise, so I got to shoot Tina as part of our team.
Here’s the final image, illustrating Tina’s new business logo and her dramatic pose, read on to get the full details of the creation of this shot in the bright springtime sun. Last time I posted on overpowering the sun, this time we’ll skirt it, and flirt with it.
So in the formation of the idea for this picture I was looking for a nice tree to illustrate her new logo. From there, Tina wanted to get some sense of the power she feels when doing yoga or rock climbing. I needed to incorporate the natural feel, with some sort of outside element giving the shot mystery and power. So to accomplish that I though a kiss of light across the sun, would lend a otherworldly glow to her face and allow her frame to contrast the golden field. The trick is always how much kissing to do, the quality of light always defines success.
I used my canon 1ds with a 50mm lens for this shot light by a Canon 550EX shoe flash from my traveling photo gear bag, it was on an Impact Air cushioned stand with a PhotoFlex Shoe Mount Multiclamp allowing me directional adjustment of the LumiQuest Snoot attached to the front of the Canon 550 shoe flash. From there I used the LCD to assure that my positioning and power output of the flash were providing the right amount and quality of light. Simple as pie, here’s the diagram…
The orange oval has the details on camera and positioning for the 50mm shot which turned out to be Tina’s favorite, and the best shot of the shoot. The yellow oval contains the information on the shot posted below with the lighting overlay.
In this image I used the PhotoFlex XS softbox and held it in my left hand while holding my Canon 1ds in my right hand with the 24mm lens on it to change the perspective: diminishing the tree and magnifying the subject and sky. I was album to include the sun in the frame and positioned it just behind Tina’s hands in an attempt to draw a visually literal connection between Tina’s hands and the sun’s power. When we include a light source in the frame, it makes it easier to use a creative overlay as we can draw upon that light source when applying some extra creativity. If you like this look of overpowering the sun, you’d also like this post on working with more flash than sunlight.
I chose not to use the snoot in this image because I felt it would be dramatically irrelevant – meaning it wouldn’t have any context. By illuminating her somewhat evenly we can accept the artificial light source as the primary source and see the sun as the ‘artificial’ or secondary source. The flat planar light in this image also helps me to break her out of literal photographic space with the lighting overaly allowing for a sort of hovering feel when the overlay adds it’s visual effect.
When working in broad sunlight with photo flash like this, you must continue to remember that your eye’s natural education is what all your photographic images will be judged upon. Meaning, you have to fake something that looks believable. In my last post on managing photo flash I talked about bending the strobe light to match the sunlight. In these pictures, I used a different approach in the bright mid-day Texas sun. Let’s take a look at some of my warm-up shots before I got to using flash…
Straight out of the raw converter^.
One little Photoshop trick, can you tell me what it was?
Here you can see me working with the sun as my primary light source, but notice how consistent and uniform the images can be seen?
Seeing is seeing friends.
Warm up your eye and compositional brain using the sunlight properly, then convert to using your strobes to make a composition that you need for your concept or for drama. You must first understand the importance of balancing your subject and background brightness/contrast before you go blazing in with a photo flash! When you understand the TE of balance, you can achieve it with any means you choose. Lights are not lights for creativity – creativity comes from within your spirit. Lights are your action if your creativity calls for it. It is good to go out and play so that you do not have any fear of your gear, but you must come back to your creative center after learning to break down your technical fears.
Let’s go back to my lead image and talk about it from the point of view of what is not possible….
Because when you create, sometimes ignoring all that you know to be impossible can help to free your mind to focus on what will work. In this image I was looking for a better balance between the subject and the tree – so I had to pick a longer lens than the 24mm. I had already chosen a field to work in that had several samples of trees and so it didn’t take much energy to go from the super wide perspective to the normal perspective. To light her whole body could have been cool, and I wished I had done it for fun and a broader shoot overall, but I had a limited amount of time, and two simple shoe flashes. Meaning that the shoe flashes probably wouldn’t have given me enough output to put her in a complete pool of light. So I pared down. Simplify. The sun provides the rim light and back light on the field of grass, darkening the tree to an outline just like I needed. If I lit her body overall the shape of her body would be in conflict with the back light on the grass and tree. Look closely at how the pattern of light on her face relates to the obvious rim-light on her upper arm and hand. The fall off continues dramatically from there down her torso giving the sense of the light wrapping around from the top. (a good reason to start to learn lighting with a reflector)
If you’d like to do some further reading on balancing your photographic flash with daylight and sunlight here are some links where the concepts are talked about in quantitative terms: