The title today sounds like something out of a tabloid but it’s actually about a couple of photo shoots I did with my grandmother and dad this weekend.
Most of my family lives on the West coast of Sweden and it’s been a while since they last saw Alyzza (our daughter for those of you who aren’t keeping up). So when the time came to pay them a visit, obviously I had to bring my camera gear, because, well…it’s obvious, isn’t it? I brought all my flashes, an umbrella, softbox, two grids and one light stand. It might sound like a lot but it’s actually a rather compact traveling kit. I only left my large stand and some bits and pieces behind.
First stop was at my grandmother’s place and I had some vague idea of what I wanted to do. Once we got there I did some location scouting. Initially I had plans for the living room since it’s quite open with lots of big windows. My plan was to use the windows with drapes and over expose the background and then throw in some extra rim light and a main light in umbrella. However, the angle of the sun wasn’t cooperating so instead I settled for the bedroom after finding a nice chair that helped set the mood for the shot.
I still wanted to use a rim light since it’s a technique I really like but at the same time I didn’t want the photo to appear too lit. There was light coming in from a window to the right in the frame and I wanted to use that as a fill light for the whole room. As luck would have it, there was a conveniently placed floor lamp in the room and, even better, it had dimmer switches, awesome. I turned on the lamp on pretty much the lowest setting so it didn’t really contribute that much light to the scene. I then placed a gridded LP160 next to the lamp and just out of frame to the left. To balance the flash with the light from the lamp I also put 1/2 cto gel on it. Now, what all this accomplishes is to give my rim light a natural reason to be there without adding crappy light to the rest of the scene (thanks to the awesome dimmer switches). The light you see on my grandmother’s face on the right side (her right) is all flash but I don’t think it looks out of place because of the lamp, it simply gives the viewer’s eyes a source for the light. Could I have achieved the rim light by just using the lamp? No, not really, I would have had light spilling all over the place in the scene. Also remember that the flash is gridded, giving me very precise control over what it hits.
For the main light I solicited my wife as my assistant and had her hold my second LP160 in a softbox to camera right. The reason for using a softbox instead of an umbrella was again to get more control over the light. Remember, I was using the ambient to control the overall brightness of the scene (which I wanted to be slightly under exposed) and an umbrella would have added a lot of spill light. With the softbox I could feather the light off the subject to avoid spill light on the background while still getting nice and soft light.
My first idea for this shot was to add my grandmother’s cat after everything was set up and to my liking. As you can see we did try that but the cat was less than cooperative. It’s a shame since it would have added that final, regal touch to the image – though it would have been ever better with a long haired, white cat. You can’t get everything you want.
Is the result perfect? Of course not, we already mentioned the cat but there are other things that could be improved. The main thing I would have liked to do would have been to vary the ratios a bit. In particular I think the main light could have been a bit stronger (just moving it in a bit closer should suffice) or the ambient a bit darker to give a bit more separation between the subject and background. Varying the ambient is simply a matter of changing the shutter speed to take in more or less light. The flash only cares about aperture so that won’t be affected. Another thing I would have liked to experiment with was to add some on axis fill. By doing that I could have given the shadows some more detail and also make them less prominent.
Speaking of shadows: most of the shadows in the scene makes sense if you consider the main light (both ambient and flash) that’s coming from the right side of the frame. However, when I placed the flash for the rim light I placed it lower than the lamp, something I didn’t really think much about at the time, and as a result you can see some slightly odd shadows on the subject’s neck from the ruffled collar. It’s not a big deal but it’s definitely something that could have been improved upon.
Post processing was as usual nothing major, just some tweaking of contrast and curves and some desaturation to give it a tone that I like and brings out the mood I’m after. I have to say that I’m quite pleased with the final results, especially since this is my first environmental portrait like this, as opposed to the usual headshots I take.
This has turned out to be a rather lengthy post so instead of discussing the second photo shoot in the same post I think we’ll divide it into two parts. Hope you’ve enjoyed it so far and hopefully I can post the second part (which should be shorter) tomorrow.
Update: You can now continue reading part two.