Light the Portrait workshop part two.                                              

 

 

 

The second of my two day off-camera lighting workshop is now over and I am pretty sure I have converted a few more photographers to using off-camera flash indoors and out.

The session we just finished was all outside. I would have been happier with a warm, sunny day that had deep shadows and harsh light, but what we got was a cold, slight overcast day instead. Oh well, at the end of the last session I told everyone (yes, our model too) to come prepared for a cold wet day.  As it was, the rain came at night with a wind that dried things out by morning, so all we had to contend with was a cool October, and fortunately, windless day.

Whether one is shooting under a bright sun or overcast conditions, the goal should be to balance both the ambient and the light from the flash. The subject shouldn’t look like a deer-in-the-headlights and the background shouldn’t be unusually under or over exposed.

I began by discussing TTL flash and how to set up and use high-speed sync. Then progressed to demonstrating manual flash lighting. I will say that TTL is wonderful for fast moving events and high-speed sync allows the photographer amazing control over ambient light.

Our first location was in the middle of a field where I had set up a backdrop and two flashes. The 15X15 foot backdrop was a well-used old painter’s tarp that I had found when sorting through the garbage at a house vacated by some tenants who snuck out during the night to avoid paying rent. A drag for the landlord, but an excellent find for me.

Painted backdrops are expensive, especially if they are large and seamless. However, for budget conscious photographers I suggest purchasing a painter’s cloth from the local hardware store and dying it grey. All those that want to be creative need to do is work on the dyed cloth with some spray paint or a large sponge dipped in paint. Instead of spending the extra cash on a seamless cloth, one just employs the cloning tool on the seams in post-processing.

After using different light modifiers at the backdrop location we moved to the edge of the meadow with it’s colourful background of fall leaves. Then we all carefully climbed down into the deep shadowed creek for some photos. After that our model, Sarah wanted to pose against a discarded Cadillac resting in the field. That Caddy was caked up to its bumper in mud from a spring flood that washed out the bridge and almost damaged the studio. From there we posed our model against an old rail fence and finished with a setup using flash and reflectors in a large open barn.

I know that between the very active day and all the handouts I gave those in attendance everyone was dealing with a bit of information overload. Hopefully they will review their notes and remember how we set up the pictures they have on their memory cards. After a few days and a bit of practice everything will come into focus. Pun intended.

Flowers as Portraits   

Easter is about a month away and I expect a few readers will be getting flowers from someone or giving flowers to someone. Those flowers will be a great photo-opp.

A portrait photographer’s studio set-up usually includes a backdrop and lighting equipment. The lighting, from small, or large flash units, is controlled by an array of modifiers that can include reflectors, umbrellas and softboxes. And the backdrop is chosen not so much because it is a flat surface but because it is a background to flatter the subject seated in the foreground.

The lighting illuminates the subject and separates it from that background as well as creates depth and dimensional form.

When producing an outdoor portrait most experienced photographers will begin by placing their subject in front of a neutral background or sometimes erect a backdrop and use either flash, or reflectors, to control the light on their subject and create depth and interest.

However, if I asked those same photographers to make me a good picture of a plant they would likely just kneel down next to some pretty flower and snap the picture with little thought to background or lighting.

After years of doing just that to lazily document some plant that caught my eye, I decided that I wanted more from my images. I realized that it was the shapes and plant forms that drew me to gardens.

During my quest to make my plant and garden photos more than flat, lifeless documents, I discovered the flower photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. His portraits of flowers are always posed and include the kind of dynamic lighting one would expect in photographs of beautiful people. His spectacular and thoughtful compositions of flowers, like orchids and calla lilies, convey moods that to me reveal more with each viewing.

When I photograph people I try to be both creative and flattering with my lighting, remembering that a good portrait should have lasting power. I want future generations to see a portrait of their parent or grandparent and still like it. If one gets too edgy, or trendy, the portrait will not stand the test of time and be discarded when trends change.

I have come to think the same way about photographs of plants. Flowers, of course, are so much easier to photograph than people, especially potted plants. Select a good location, turn the pot until the pose looks good and add light. Plants don’t get tired, nervous or jittery. Maybe that’s why I like photographing flowers, they (almost) always cooperate.

Photographing a plant in the garden or in a pot should be more than quickly pointing a camera at that flower in a garden or a windowsill and releasing the shutter.

Put that boring iPhone away, and take the time to make it more than just a repetitive, unimaginative record. Don’t be in a rush; take time to develop a plan, don’t take the lighting for granted, work with it, and above all, be creative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having Fun Lighting Flowers With Off Camera Flash

Spring Crocus    Crokus5

The snow has finally, and at last, left the north side of our house. It’s barely been gone about two weeks, however, that means two weeks of new growth in my wife’s garden.

I had been making notes in preparation for a workshop on using flash outdoors that I will be leading the first two Sundays in May, when my wife mentioned the crocuses were coming up everywhere, and I thought I would take a look to see if there were any left after a weekend visit from our two granddaughters who like to pick flowers, and I thought it might be nice to walk around her garden.

As it turned out the girls hadn’t got them all, and, anyway, there were many more coming up thru the ground every day. Discovering there were lots remaining I decided I should select a couple plants to photograph before the bloom was over.

Keeping in mind that I have been thinking about the upcoming outdoor lighting class I thought why not photograph the flowers just as I would do a portrait of a person.

I got out my small 2’x2’ backdrop and placed it behind some of the flowers. That small backdrop, especially constructed for flowers and other small items, is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.

I mounted two Nikon wireless flashes on light stands, and put a 40-inch umbrella on one that I placed shoulder height to my right, and a 30-inch on the other positioned low to the ground and to the left.

Needing to shoot low, I used my favorite garden tripod, the uniquely flexible Benbo. The Benbo tripod allows each leg to be independently positioned, and instead of a vertical center column configuration most tripods have, the Benbo has a column that fits off center and when the legs, that go in almost any direction, are splayed out flat, the camera can be positioned just off the ground.

I mounted my 200mm macro lens on my camera. That focal length let me situate the camera several feet away from my subject crocuses, and I wouldn’t have to put an end to the new growth coming up everywhere in my wife’s garden while still letting me have a close focus.

The exposure was made exactly the same way I would have made it as if photographing a person in an outdoor studio; slightly underexpose the ambient light, reposition the flashes for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got the lighting that would flatter the subject.

Lighting a subject with off-camera flash is fun, and putting up a backdrop ensures that it is even more so. It doesn’t matter who, or what, the subject is. There isn’t really a choice when I have a chance to use a flash because I use a flash always. For me it is all about adding light. It was also really nice to spend some time outdoors in the garden and see it coming to life in the spring.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com