I’m pretty sure that I’ve at some point mentioned on this blog that we’re going to Indonesia in August – if I haven’t, I just did, so I have…confused yet?
Short family bio: I’m from Sweden, my wife is from Indonesia. In August we’re finally going to Indonesia again, something I know my wife has been looking forward to for a long time – and so have I. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to it – other than seeing the smile on my wife’s face when she meets her family again – is that it should provide me with some excellent photo opportunities. That’s why I’ve already begun the preparations for the photography related parts of the trip; I’ve been thinking of what I want to shoot and how I want to shoot it. In particular there’s one series of shots that I’m really looking forward to taking, but I’ll keep it a secret until we get back at the end of September, just to make sure you lot come back here for more (cunning, eh?).
As you know, I’ve been wanting to explore a new style and, as you also know (because you’ve read the previous post, right?), I’ve just gotten a new softbox. One of the main reasons for getting the softbox was that I wanted a portable modifier for soft light that I could easily pack and move around with on this upcoming trip – it fits the bill perfectly. Today, in anticipation and preparation for the trip, we’re putting the new style and softbox together, hopefully creating an effective technique that can be easily used on the fly in different locations.
I should perhaps mention that I’m getting quite a bit of inspiration from Sam Barker, who’s travel photography really appealed to me when I first saw it. I really like the idea of being on location and still produce a studio feel to the shots. So, let’s talk a bit about the actual shots. What I wanted was a darker tone for the background so I can then separate the main subject with flash. This is where the softbox comes in. In these shots the flash was off to camera left (an lp160) so it was actually relatively far away from the subjects. Even though far away, the quality of the light is quite acceptable, avoiding much of the highlights and hot spots that a bare flash would most likely give us.
It might be difficult to notice but there’s actually a 1/4 of cto gel on the flash. The overall image has been cooled down and desaturated in post because that’s the look and feel I want for it. Therefore I think it works quite well to warm the light for the main subject just a tad. If gelling it like this is something I’ll be doing fairly often, I think I’ll have to come up with a better solution for attaching it to the flash, other than using a rubber band like I do now. It’s a bit fiddly and not very secure so it would be far from optimal when you’re traveling. I’m considering attaching some velcro to both the flash and the gel for fast and easy attachment and removal out in the field. Of course, some situations will work better without gel, it all comes down to experimenting.
As always, this was a rather quick photo shoot. I think I took a total of 12 frames, from the first test shot to the final pose. But that’s a good thing; since I’m planning to use this technique on our trip, it’s important that it doesn’t require too much time, I want to be able to whip everything out and take a few shots with good results in 5-10 minutes (just need to optimize my gear a bit, as mentioned).
Let’s talk a bit about the technical aspects. This wasn’t very complicated, just underexpose the scene until you get the desired look and then light the subject independently. I’m actually not sure which look I like best, the one to the left or the one at the top of the post (click through to my flickr for better comparison). Since the one to the left is brighter I could use a larger aperture (f2.8 instead of f4), resulting in a nicer separation from the background. However, the top shot is more in line with what I had in mind from the start, though it might have ended up a bit too dark. A middle ground might have been perfect – I’ll simply have to try some more until I know what ratios work for my look. Another aspect I should play around more with is the direction of the light, maybe light the ground a bit to let the subject stand in a pool of light, just as an example.
After giving this technique its first proper test drive I’m feeling very excited about the possibilities it will give me – no more flat and boring snapshots from the holiday. I’m especially excited about my secret project where I plan to use this style to create a consistent, uniform look for all shots and I think (or at least hope) that you’ll like it. For those of you who read this blog mostly for the macro shots, fear not, I hear they have plenty of bugs in Indonesia as well. Until that time however, I’ll try to keep fine tuning my technique so I can work faster and be more consistent when I don’t have a lot of time to spare for an impromptu photo shoot.