Sam The Studio Man

When I prepare a tricky shot, I tend to use  stand-in model while I work on light, so the model does not need to stand there for half an hour while I adjust and move lights.

But these stand-in shots are often good, which is why I use them. While preparing to shoot model Danielle, I shot Sam Taylor, who runs the studio I teach in (see www.cameratraining.ca and click on “Schedule”).

I set my exposure for the window: 1/60th sec, f/5.6, 400 ISO. Then I added a strobe with a softbox, and I moved Sam far enough from the window so the strobe would light him up (from 45 degrees above), but would not light up the reflective inside of the window too much. And then I set flash power according to my camera settings. Finally, I did a little desaturating in Lightroom. Result:

Short lighting, great grunge, serious expression, rule of thirds, good balance of background and foreground. A tricky shot, and one I am delighted with.

One of my students remarked on how refreshing it was to see the problem solving process, and to realize that photography is in fact problem solving, yes it is. When I set up a shot, I do not have all the answers, but I see what I want, and I know how to solve problems “step by step” until I get that result.

And sometimes you change your mind. In the final model shot, I could not move the model away from the window, as she sat on the sill. Hence I could not get rid of a shadow cast by the snooted speedlight I ended up using. So then the shot changes entirely: if you cannot beat the shadow, embrace it! To spare those of you who are sensitive, I shall not show you that shot here (it’s a nude),  but if you are interested, click here to go to my tumblr feed.

(By the way: have you considered being photographed this way? if not: consider it. Some beautiful shots of yourself like this are worth making. If you don’t, you may well regret it later in life).

 

Self portrait

The other day I decided to do a quick self portrait. And instead of the normal “traditional” portrait, I did the following:

Moody, dark – I don’t smile much in pictures and life is serious! And as you see, lighting is all about what you do not light.

I made this picture as follows:

  1. I put up a grey backdrop.
  2. Using paper tape, I put a cross on the floor where I was going to be standing.
  3. I put a light stand there.
  4. Having put the camera on a tripod, I aimed at the light stand and focused on it; then set the focus to “manual”.
  5. I set the camera to self timer.
  6. I selected 1/125th second at f/11 (you want f/5.6 – f/11 for these shots normally).
  7. Using my light meter, I set my main light, which I fire with pocket wizards, to these values. That main light is a Bowens strobe with a softbox.
  8. I added a background light: a speedlight with a Honl Photo grid and a Honl Photo Egg Yolk Yellow gel. I set this to quarter power (experience). The speedlight was also fired via pocket wizard; if you have a Nikon speedlight you can use SU-4 mode (cell).
  9. I pressed the camera shutter button and took the exact place of the light stand. 10 seconds later: flash!

And that was that – simple once you know. Now you try!

 

A simple lighting setup?

What one person finds complicated, another finds simple.

And vice versa. A friend who visited the other night reminded me of this, when I talked about the simple four-flash light setup I was using for a headshot:

And as he said that, I realized that perhaps it’s not simple.

But if you want to take portraits, then it should be. In other words, without knowing how to do a “traditional” portrait setup, it is hard to do creative portraits. No, that does not mean you need to make all portraits traditional – you can do great stuff with one off-camera speedlight and a grid.

But you need to know how a traditional portrait is made. Which is with:

  1. A backdrop (paper roll, here).
  2. A main, or “key” light, in this case a Bowens strobe with a softbox.
  3. A fill light (Bowens strobe with umbrella, in this case).
  4. A hair light (speedlight with Honl Photo grid and egg yolk yellow gel).
  5. A background light (speedlight with Honl Photo blue-green gel).
  6. A way to drive them: Here, I used one strobe and two speedlights fired by pocketwizards; one strobe by the light-sensitive cell.
  7. Metering: I used light meter to arrive at f/9.0 at 100 ISO and 1/200th second.
  8. Ratios: I set the fill two stops darker than the key. And the hair and background light by trial and error (I got them right first time – done it before).

A note about those gels: colour makes a difference. I love the blue-green gel on the background, to contrast with the red hair – contrast is good. That’s why the butcher uses green plastic between the red meat – to make it look redder. (Oh wait – butcher? We buy meat at the supermarket now, in neat little packages. Dumb me.)

Anyhow – parsing makes things simpler. If you are faced with a complex situation, parse it, i.e. take it apart, one thing at a time. Analyse each layer until you understand it, then go on to the next layer. And before you know it, you will be saying “that’s simple”.

That’s what you learn when I teach you: how to make complex situations simple by understanding the elements, then building on those. Deductive learning, if you will.

And what does the setup above produce? Portraits like this:

Headshot (Photo: Michael Willems)

(Canon 7D at f/9.0, 1/200th sec, 100 ISO)

A plug, if I may: if you, too, need an updated headshot, and live in the Greater Toronto Area, do call me. For Facebook, your resume, LinkedIn, or your web site: a good headshot helps, and Headshots Specials are on during the month of September!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple portrait with background

A simple portrait recipe for a portrait with background:

Find a background. Then, using manual mode, set your ISO, aperture and shutter to expose for that background – like here:

Balwinder (Photo: Michael Willems)

As you see, the outside is well exposed. The inside part will come later.

Now:

  • Remember to keep the shutter below your sync speed.
  • Exposing for the background means your subject is dark, if it is inside. So you will need flashes to light up that subject.
  • First,  add a main light, diffused – in my case through an umbrella, on our right. Measure that, and ensure its brightness is good.
  • Then add an edge light – in my case, a rust-coloured edge light, using a Honl Photo “Rust” gel, and a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid.
  • Remember, an umbrella does not have to be all the way open.
  • For the main light, shoot-through is best.

All that gives me this:

Balwinder (Photo: Michael Willems)

Note the curtain.

And the finished image.. now crop judiciously. Avoid reflections. And note the use of the rule of thirds in my image here:

Simple, takes a minute to set up. You can meter, or you can use TTL (I used TTL, with an A:B ratio).

The point here is not that kitchen portraits are the thing to aim for – the point is, a background adds (both the curtain texture here and the garden), and a portrait like this is easy to set up and quick to do.

 

High-key black and white

One of my favourite photo styles is this: high-key black and white, against a simple white background. This reduces the clutter to a minimum and starkly emphasizes the subject. Like in this image from the 20 November Mono, Ontario all-day workshop:

Tara, by Michael Willems

What I would say if I were to discuss this:

  • The image screams out “black and white”.
  • Clothes (white)  and wall (white) both disappear. I like the emphasis this gives the subject and the pose.
  • I like the 1970s feeling. I added a little grain to this image in Lightroom to emphasize that.
  • Slight, very slight, soft beautiful shadows are important.
  • Light is simple: one flash bounced behind me.
  • Of course you use exposure compensation and the histogram to check your exposure. But you knew that. Hit the right side (just).

Try a portrait like this! All you need is a white wall, a camera, an on-camera flash, and a model in white.