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Shoot: Kristen H.

August 22, 2011

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Shoot: Kristen H.

No two shoots are ever the same. Different subjects, locations, weather, and available equipment at that time. Even if you are using the same light setup, there is always something new and revealing that you learn from each shoot. This shoot was done back in early April this year, but I wanted to come back to it to highlight some of the lighting schemes that worked, and some that didn’t. I’ll be reflecting back to three of the images from the shoot, including the one above.

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Mimicking Sunset

The shot above was taken in a local forest preserve. We found the perfect branch just off the trail with a seat, and even a foot rest for Kristen. This was our second stop for the evening, and although the sun was still somewhat up it had already fallen behind the tree line. Before setting anything up, in my mind I had this general image in mind. I figured I can put a speedlight on a stand and place it directly behind Kristen to mimic the rim light created by the sun. Another would be high and to the left, shooting through an umbrella, pointing down at Kristen from a 45 deg angle. With the sun going down, I would try overpowering the ambient light by maxing out my sync at 1/250 sec, and using a high f-stop of f/8-f/11, and an ISO of 100. I planned to create a spotlight look where Kristen was the main focus of the image.

Unfortunately this was where I hit a wall with the lack of adequate equipment for the shot I wanted. Even though the sun was going down, it was still strong enough that I wasn’t able to darken the background while staying within the sync speed. I could darken it by narrowing the aperture way up to f/18 or so, but then my speedlight was too underpowered to properly expose Kristen. In this situation, a Neutral Density filter wouldn’t work since the speedlight is still underpowered (it would have kept me around a more preferable f/8-f/11 though). When working with manual speedlights, Hyper Syncing was out of the question as well. The only solution would have been to rely upon a high output studio strobe….which I didn’t have available at that time. So what can one do? Well that’s why digital photography is great. Photoshop can do wonders.

I shot the image with priority on exposing Kristen properly. The background was still relatively bright, and I wasn’t able to create the spotlight look I wanted. So in post I selectively darkened the background while leaving Kristen untouched. Same end results (or similar), but the editing added numerous unnecessary hours if I had the studio light available.

One hurdle when using artificial lights is that often times it can look…well artificial. While I don’t mind the artificial look most of the time because that’s what I’m going for, I did want the “Sunset” to look more real in this image. Since the speedlight was placed directly behind the subject, I wasn’t able to recreate the rim light around all of the trees in the background. The image could have had a more wholesome feel if the background had the same corresponding lighting scheme as the subject (The feeling of the subject and the background trees being lit by the same light source). One thing that I could have done to improve this, was to have done the shoot a little earlier in the evening so I could have used the real sun. Or have used a studio strobe and put it very far back into the background on a very high stand, behind the subject AND the tree lines.

So the take home message from this shot: If you plan on overpowering the sun outdoors, more often than not you WILL need a studio strobe with high output, or speedlights capable of Hyper Syncing. Another message is, if you are looking to create a bit more wholesome look in your image with your subject and background, position your lights so it looks as though both were lit from the same light source.

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Motion Capture and Side Lighting

One of my most favorite things to do is to capture “motion” within a static photo. So what better way for someone with long hair to convey motion? Hair whipping. The sun in this image is actually the sun. This is a single speedlight image, and it was placed camera right with a shoot through umbrella almost directly to the side of the subject. This was towards the end of the shoot at this location, and I believe we were just packing up to move on to the next. I found just a sliver of light passing through the trees so I took the opportunity to take this shot before we left.

I probably gave Kristen whip lash with the amount of times we tried to get this shot, but I think this is one instance where the end did justify the means. The side lighting created a dramatic feel to the image, and the whipping hair added a sense of motion and activity. The fact that her left eye was shadowed by her own hair added to the effect, as it drew more attention to the only eye. I added a touch of cross-processing to add to the mood.

If you are also photoshop savvy, it’s always good to keep in mind some certain shots that would otherwise not make the cut, but would have some components that can be compiled to another to make THE shot. In this case I was fortunate enough to get this one perfect shot, but I did keep an eye out for certain shots where her eyes might have been closed or looking elsewhere, but the hair whipping was perfect. I could photoshop just the hair from that into an image where her expression was perfect, but not so well in the hair whipping department. Motion shots are hard to get everything right in one shot, so it’s nice to keep the compiling option in mind while doing the actual shoot.

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Night Time Shots + Flash Freezing

I need to improve managing my time during the shoots, as I always seem to miss the sun? I was hoping for a sunset backdrop, but we were only able to get the very last tidbit on top of this hill just down the street from the forest preserve.

When the sun is down and you are relying purely on artificial light to expose your subjects, you can run into problems with one light especially when doing a full body shot. You might find yourself with a properly lit face and upper torso, but the legs might be in complete darkness. Since the ambient fill light is no longer available, you need to be extra meticulous about providing that fill light yourself.

In this case I combined two speedlights, both in shoot through umbrellas. They were placed subject left, stacked on top of each other to create a very large source of light, thus softer lighting on Kristen that encompassed the full body. You don’t necessarily need to own a very large softbox. If you have multiple umbrellas with small speedlights, just orient them all tight together and you could be looking at a quality of light similar to an 8 feet Octabox.

The image below is the behind the scenes setup that shows the two umbrellas and speedlights that I stacked on top of the other. My excellent assistant for the evening is holding both umbrellas in place. The top of the hill was rather windy that evening. For these shots, I still wanted the background in the image but the light was failing fast. It was getting to the point where the autofocus was beginning to have trouble. To compensate, I switched to manual focusing, then upped the f-stop to f/8. The narrow aperture would allow me the leeway to be slightly off focus with a deep depth-of-field. I decided to shoot at ISO200 which put my shutter speed at 1/60 sec. It’s a rather slow shutter speed, but since the flash duration on the subject is so short and will “freeze” the image, I could have probably worked with an even slower shutter speed if needed.

One thing I did notice when doing a “Slow Shutter Speed” + “Flash Freezing Motion”, is that synchronicity amongst your flashes become crucial. Back then I was using the Cactus V4 Wireless Triggers to set off my speedlights. They were very frail and wouldn’t recommend them (I’ve upgraded to V5 since, which is considerably better build quality and reliability). When the shutter was released, sometimes the speedlights would be set off at different times. The difference was minuscule, and not perceivable by the naked eye on location but it showed in the photos especially with fast moving objects. In the image below, her left hand seems to be blurred. It looks like motion blur, but it’s actually the photo double exposing to the two lights that went off at a different timing. The entire image is double exposed, but it just so happened that her left hand was moving fast enough that the overlap is noticeable. If you plan on doing “Flash Freezing” with fast moving subjects/objects, and plan on using multiple speedlights to be set off wirelessly, I wouldn’t recommend doing them with cheap Ebay wireless triggers. You may end up with lots of images that have double outlines. But if you only need to set off one flash, have at it! No problems there.

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