Photography is a challenging field, there are so many factors to take into account for any given shot, often things that are outside the photographer’s control. However, there is one aspect that is by far more troublesome than anything else.
People, I’m just not a people person, which can be rather problematic when one of my favourite things to shoot is portraits. Usually I can get away with shooting my wife or daughter and I don’t have to feel shy with them. However, on our trip to Indonesia (yes, we’re still working through the backlog from that) I had the opportunity to shoot other family members as well, none of which speaks much English and all of which I’ve only met once before. Today we’ll take a closer look at the shot to the left, a shot I’m not very happy with at all. Pretty much nothing about this photo shoot worked out the way I had planned.
My mother in law is a teacher and when my wife suggested that I should take a portrait of her at school, I was very excited. I immediately had ha vision of what I wanted to shoot and started planning things in my head. My impression was that we were going to the school after classes so that it would be mostly empty, which would give me some time to set things up and try some different things. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder when I’m doing something, so this was pretty much essential. However, when we got there it turned out that it wasn’t at all the end of classes, the place was packed with people, both kids and teachers. I’m of fairly average hight but Indonesians are pretty short so over there I’m more on the tall side. Combine that with towing around some camera gear and being the only white guy around and you can imagine I got quite a few people staring at me.
So, not off to a good start; I was already feeling uncomfortable when we got in to an empty classroom where I started setting things up. Things weren’t helped by the fact that half an army of kids was peering in through the windows and door. I set up a gridded LP160 pointed at the wall and my wife was holding a second LP160 in softbox to camera left. The light didn’t work out at all. For some reason I was getting a lot of spill light from on the background from the key light. In hindsight I think the flash setting might have been zoomed out instead of in but I never got that far at the time. I started by trying to vary the ratios a bit but the results weren’t much better. After I set things up and took the first test shot to check the exposure I only had five minutes until we were told that they needed to use the classroom. I checked the time stamps on the photos and it literally was five minutes; just enough time for me to realize that what I was trying to do wasn’t working. I was very disappointed at the time.
With more time I would have tried killing the background light and gone in for a tighter crop with just the key light. It might also have occurred to me check the zoom settings on the flash. Another thing I would have liked to try would have been to kill the ambient; there was a light bulb in the ceiling and it definitely wasn’t adding anything good to the scene. I really wish I could have had more time with this shot because it’s exactly the kind of scene I love shooting.
After being shooed out of the classroom after the completely failed photo shoot, half the school staff wanted a group shot. It wasn’t something I was that interested in and I could easily have taken a quick snap with just ambient light. However, my flash was out and I’m not one to waste an opportunity to use my gadgets. I did have both my flashes with me and to do a proper job I really needed to use both of them but I would have needed another assistant for that. Besides, they all seemed kind of stressed so I wanted to bang something out as quickly as possible. The result is that the whites on the right hand side of the shot are a bit over exposed while the left hand side is a bit dark. I shot it with a bare flash to get as much spread as possible. With one flash from the left and one from the right, the exposure would have been much more even. Anyways, it was nice to make some other people nervous as well, I’ve seen rock formations less stiff than some of them.
There you have it, a photo shoot where pretty much everything went wrong and nothing turned out as planned. Had I known about the time restrictions I would have kept things a lot simpler and would probably have been able to get some decent results. Instead all the time went to a doomed concept. We live and learn. I’ll try to be better prepared next time and perhaps have a backup plan as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my failure but hopefully I can show you something better next time.