We’ll be kicking off this blog with some backlogs: older photos (not that old, a few weeks at the most) that I feel I want to talk about for one reason or another. The one shown on the left is from my first proper photo shoot, featuring my lovely wife (who you’ll be seeing more of) as the victem model. Unfortunately a fair few future posts will probably have you looking at my rugged (just trying to flatter myself) face.

Right, I would like to discuss the process of creating this photo, what I learned, what went wrong and what I would do differently next time. So hit the jump to keep reading.

When I first conceived this photo I had a quite clear idea what I wanted it to convey: a quiet, sombre feeling with muted colours. I also knew that I didn’t want a completely even light, it’s more interesting with some shadows in there. So with that in mind I set up my key light, an lp160 in a shoot through umbrella from high right. I wanted the light high to give it a bit of a holy feel. There was, however, a couple of problems with this. First problem: I was lighting the model a bit too evenly, not getting many of the shadows we just talked about. Second problem: there was a lot of spill light on the background. I have to shoot pretty much everything I do in our living room and it’s not that big of a room. This means that the subject will usually be quite close to the background and, obviously, the background will be close to the light. Why was this a problem? Because I wanted to light the background separately.

Problems are made to be solved so lets use that grey matter between our ears. How to restrict the light? One way to do it is to move it closer to the subject. That would mean we use less power and get a faster falloff. The problem was that I was already pretty much as close as I could get with a big umbrella. A small softbox would have been the perfect solution, just get it in really close, possibly gobo it to keep some light off the background. But I didn’t have a softbox (still don’t) so the next thought was to put a snoot on the flash. However, I didn’t want hard light for this scene (quiet, sombre and muted, remember?) so I put a snoot on the flash (made from a cereal box, Kellogg’s corn flakes, and some tape) and left it in the umbrella. Not ideal, I would have liked the light even more restricted, but at least it kept the light soft and reasonable well off the background.

Next, I set up the background light (my second lp160) with some ctb gel on it. The reason for cooling the background light was to provide more separation for the background and also add to the overall tone I was going for. The last thing to put into place was the fill light. I wanted shadows but I wanted them controlled so you could still see inside them. So I put my SB-400 in an umbrella and connected it to the camera with a SC-28 extension cord. A bit clunky but it actually worked surprisingly well to handhold the umbrella just under the lens for on axis fill. I was quite happy with that since those are the only three lights I have at the moment.

PortraitI shot a couple of different poses and overall I’m happy with the result, especially when you consider that it was my first try at something like this. Is there anything I would do differently next time? Definitely. For starters I would try collapsing the umbrella for the key light in order to restrict it more, I think that might work. I would also have liked to take down the background light a bit, giving it more falloff after separating the edges of the subject from the background. The final thing I would do would be to vary the intensity of the fill light more, trying some different ratios. I was working pretty fast, my daughter was complaining that she wasn’t getting any attention and my wife, whom I love very dearly, was also getting impatient (rightly so, of course). But all that is for next time, when I can coax one of my girls into some more modelling.

As a final note I would like to point any readers who have trouble understanding some of the things discussed here (gobo and snoot comes to mind) to this excellent site: Strobist. You’ll find everything explained there a lot better than I could manage, so I’m not going to try. I hope this first proper post has provided some entertainment and maybe even some useful information for those, like me, just starting out. Stay tuned for the next entry.


Portrait Portrait