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.

Photographer’s Lighting Workshop

    Sarah, Bart & Ronny

  Ronny & Candice

Sarah & Dave

Candice & Bailey

Bailey & Bart

I have just finished my first day of leading another Photographer’s Lighting Workshop. I will admit that a day spent guiding excited and, I must remark of this session, very talented photographers, does tire me out.

Participants that are willing to express opinions and aren’t shy about getting shoulder to shoulder in a process of experimenting, exploring, and learning are hard to keep up with, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I try to stand back and watch analytically, but every animated smile draws me in.  Multiply times seven each fired up photographer I was working with and there is quite an energy drain.

After over 40 years as a photographer I do have a pretty large chest of experiences in just about every aspect of this exciting medium and I was employed as a photography teacher for nearly half that time. I can easily sit a group of learners down and lecture about pretty much anything photographic and, particularly the lighting workshops that are currently all the rage for photography keeners.  My knowledge is on par with most experienced portrait professionals, and I teach so that beginners and intermediate learners can keep up with the jargon and the concepts.

I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when a student of photography makes the decision to participate. My job is to present information on the subject at hand and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on a stage, and rarely pick up a camera. That’s left to participants.

Sure, they tired me out, but in the recent daylong workshop on Lighting and Posing I was fortunate to be leading a group of surprisingly skilled and very energetic photographers, and I must add, two lovely and creative young models that in my opinion were willing to work hard in a demanding environment for modeling.

The workshop was held in a rural studio minutes outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. I like this studio because it owner, Dave Monsees, has filled it with quite an assortment of lighting gear. I think there are at least eight studio strobes to choose from, all setup for wireless connection with a drawer full of senders. There are soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusion screens, reflectors and a great selection of wall-mounted backdrops.

There was even a fully equipped kitchen at the back that we made good use of, with fresh brewed coffee, pastries, and a large pot of chili for lunch. It can’t get much better than good food, great people, and photography.

Monsees is regularly adding props and stools to sit and pose on, as well as a growing selection of light modifiers.

The large, well-equipped space is a great rental studio and a perfect environment for an instructional session like mine. We started the session with one light behind a reflective umbrella, and moved on from there adding a large softbox, a shoot through umbrella, and a rim light to give depth to our subject when we used a black background.  We changed backdrops and light positions regularly. And those creative photographers really kept our models active and, heck, made my day.

Regarding portrait photography, Famous portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh, once said, “I try to photograph people’s spirits and thoughts. As to the soul taking by the photographer, I don’t feel I take away, but rather that the sitter and I give to each other. It becomes an act of mutual participation.”

The first of our two-day workshop is over. I prefer two days because on the second we can review and reinforce what happened on the first. Now I am looking forward to spending another day and preparing to lead workshop participants into new territory.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Metering to Achieve the Right Exposure

I was leading a workshop about off-camera flash and had been discussing lighting. I paused and to make sure everyone was following and asked if there were any questions. One participant responded, “I don’t know what you mean by metering each light differently?  What is a meter?”

Caught off guard, I replied, “It’s how you get a proper exposure”.  He blankly looked at me, but fortunately, before I confused him more, another in the class said, “no, he means in his camera”.   I realized he had just asked a question (maybe one of the most important of the day) I should have anticipated early in my lecture.

Today’s high tech cameras are wonders at balancing all the light in a scene and many photographers unfortunately choose one of the programmed modes, point their cameras, release the shutter, and never look at anything on the camera but the LCD again.  Even using a flash, just the right amount of light almost always seems to be perfect. However, if we want to control and master light, whether it’s the sun, a reflector, a camera mounted flash, or off camera lights, we need to understand how that light is bouncing off the subjects we are about photograph.  Why would we bother when these newfangled cameras are marvelous?

That photographer in my lighting workshop had never used his camera on anything but the Aperture priority mode. That means he selected the aperture and the camera’s computer selected the shutterspeed.

In this workshop we were directing one flash to brighten the background, one to create a highlight on the subject’s cheek, and another high to the front as main illumination. Each of those lights had different intensity, and it’s the meter (consider it a tool) in the camera that we use to easily tell us what each individual exposure is so we can control the image.

Here is an example of critical metering I wrote about on 6 September; “The guest had a perfectly good camera, but criticized it, and said he wished he had a better one because the backlighted couple we were photographing were being recorded as silhouettes.”  That photographer had his camera set on a program mode and was of the belief the camera was capable of solving the high contrast lighting.

The camera’s computer couldn’t determine correct exposure with a strong changing backlight, and since he didn’t know how to use the camera’s meter all he could do was claim it was the camera’s fault.

On that day I began by metering to determining the overall exposure. I started with an ambient exposure, and by reading my camera’s meter, I decided to stop down enough to make the ambient backlight an underexposure, then added a flash slightly off camera which brought up the luminance of my subject so that, unlike that confused photographer that didn’t use or pay attention to his meter, I ended with a very usable photograph that didn’t need to be saved in postproduction.

I prefer using my camera on manual, but in both situations those photographers could also have used their camera’s Exposure Compensation (EC) feature. EC works great, and worth reading the instructions to learn, but for the application at my workshop, and at that fast moving outdoor wedding I prefer the “M” or manual mode. However, I must admit that although I like using exposure compensation, as it is fast and efficient, I get involved thinking about other things and forget to reset the EC. Staying on manual, and using the meter display at the bottom of my viewfinder helps me to remember.

Using the metering tool determines how the camera sets exposure, and today’s cameras make it easy for the photographer to choose a metering mode for the shooting conditions. Understanding the meter tool allows for control over the different exposure modes that determine how the camera will set the shutter speed and aperture.  I can only stress that readers who have DSLR cameras learn to use the meter.

Everyone’s comments are welcome.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com