We recently took a trip to the most southern part of Sweden to visit my sister and attend the opening of her first solo exhibition. Of course I had to bring lots of camera gear as well since…well, obviously, right?

Since we were traveling by train I had to limit myself somewhat but I still managed to bring an impressive amount of stuff (was rather heavy) and I also had hopes of soliciting a VAL or two to help me out. Before reading any further you might want to check out some of my sister’s art, which you can find it here. It’s in Swedish but there isn’t much text anyway, though you’ll miss the rather interesting titles of the paintings. As you can see, I’m not exactly the artistic one in the family (I am the awesome one, however).

The above shot was taken on the second day we were there and it was the last thing I shot. I would like to walk you through the process that led to the final shot so that you can see how an idea might evolve and that this really isn’t very difficult – anyone can do it, just don’t go around telling people that or they’ll stop being impressed by our photography.

So, my sister wanted a shot with her head wrapped in string, just like her paintings, and she wanted one of her paintings in the background. The first shot here is available light only and straight from camera. Looks ok but not too exciting. However, it’s always a good idea to check the ambient levels before you start adding your own light. Actually I had already checked that with my mom as a stand in while my sister wrapped things up (get it? I’m hilarious) but due to incompetence the flash didn’t fire.

Here we go, now we have some flash going and we can see more shape to the subject. At this point I didn’t really have any clear idea where I wanted to take the shot but I knew I didn’t like the light on the wall. For another portrait this light could have been just fine but here it just didn’t fit.

So I pulled my subject away from the wall a bit to keep the light off it. Hmm, better, still not good but definitely better. This still feel a bit bright though, we want the mood to better match that of the paintings. By moving away from the wall we’ve also ran into the problem of the background painting being a bit too out of focus. No worries, we can solve two problems by simply closing down the aperture – it kills the ambient and brings more focus to the background. All we have to do is to increase the flash power accordingly.

Now we’re getting somewhere. The mood is starting to come through a bit, we’re getting some darker shadows and…we’re losing the background again, not to focus but to darkness. Never had a problem that an additional flash couldn’t solve (well, maybe a couple).

Bam, now we’re talking, things are finally starting to look good. What happened here was a gridded LP160 with CTO gel aimed at the background. Thanks to a lucky coincidence this light also works really well with the match the character is holding in the painting. I didn’t really think of that but we probably couldn’t have chosen a better painting for this light. I also love what the warm light does to the brick and wood on that wall.

I shot a few more frames, added just a touch of CTO gel to the key light – which, by the way, was a YN560 in softbox on a boom that was held to camera left by my lovely wife – pulled down the ambient a bit more, edited a bit in Lightroom and the result is, I think, pretty good (straight from camera above, final edit below). Total time spent was 12 minutes, from first failed test shot until the final frame.

Could anything be improved? Always. We were running out of time since I had to pack everything down and we needed to get some food before catching the train home. With more time I would have liked to take down the key light a bit and maybe angled it differently, nothing drastic, just small tweaks to see what it would do to the subject. Since I was already killing most of the ambient anyway, it might also have been a good idea to close the aperture yet another stop to bring even more focus to the background. I could also have tried a completely different composition; I’m thinking of something like having my subject sitting on the floor to show off more of the wall and room. Something for next time.

I still have a couple more shots I want to discuss from this trip, one of which wasn’t very successful so we’ll see what can be learned from that. Stay tuned.


Wrapped up Wrapped up