Winter is here and we all need to keep warm. When I saw the coat that our daughter got from her grandfather, I immediately knew I had to shoot her in it; it just seemed to match her perfectly with that pink, fluffy hood. The idea I had was for a very flat, soft and frontal light, with some editing to match it and give it a cool, wintery feel.
The setup I wanted to try was completely new for me so I planned for a backup, in case it didn’t work out at all. Said backup would have been a fairly standard beauty light, possible with some extra fill to flatten things out some more. However, it turned out that my setup worked pretty much the way I had intended.
Perhaps I shouldn’t call it “my setup”, since I took the idea from Joe McNally, though I’ve scaled it down considerably. Luckily I have a small subject, so a scaled down version can still work. Here’s the thing: I wanted, as mentioned, a soft, flat and frontal light. Soft means I need a big source, preferably a lot bigger than my umbrellas or the trigrip. Flat also suggests a big source but it also tells me that the ideal position for it would have to be on axis with the camera, i.e. behind the camera, which ties into the final point of making the light frontal. So, what do we do? Putting an umbrella behind the camera won’t work very well, I would cover a rather large portion of it. Wait a minute, what’s that below? It couldn’t be, could it? It is, I actually remembered to take a setup shot, hurrah for me.
I included some very nicely drawn arrows to better illustrate the path the light travels – I know, I have many talents – and some text to clarify…everything (almost). The idea here is to soften the light in two stages before it reaches the subject from a very big surface. I’ve written before about the boards I used to bounce the light; they’re from an old bookshelf so it certainly isn’t anything fancy or expensive – anything white will do. My boom served a different purpose this day by holding up the bed sheet that became the final light source. By the time the light reaches the bed sheet it’s already quite soft, so by bouncing it again it gets very soft indeed. The source also gets easily big enough to wrap around me as I sat down in the middle of it all to shoot. To smooth things out even further I also put my trigrip with silver cover on the floor in front of the subject. Probably doesn’t add all that much but it still picks up some stray light and fills the shadows from below. The result is light that washes over the subject and envelop her like a blanket of…eh, light.
The benefit from the setup is clear, a ridiculously soft light, but what’s the downside? The downside is that it eats a lot of light, requiring more power from the flashes. I’m working quite close to the subject and shooting at f2.8 but I still needed two flashes, each at 1/4 power to get the exposure I wanted. You can see this loss of power illustrated in the setup shot, which was shot a couple of stops below what I shot the actual portrait at. The background light is actually firing but it’s difficult to see, yet that was enough to completely blow out the background in the actual shot. You can also see that very little light reaches Mr. Bear compared to what hits the boards and the bed sheet.
I’m pretty happy with the editing I did this time around. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual style but it’s more in line with the vision I had going into this shoot. I used Perfect portrait again (still trial version, it expired shortly after) and I just might have to add it to my workflow if it’s going to be this useful. Most of the editing consisted of changing the tone and colour and of cleaning up the little muppet’s face (she doesn’t have the best table manners). You can see the before and after above.
The end result is one of my favourite portraits so I hope you like it as well. Btw, she only gave me 6 frames before I had to give up, she wasn’t in the mood at all. At least that made it very easy to pick out the best shot.
I’m planning to take a little break from the blog over the holidays and this seems like a fitting end for a year during which I’ve improved every aspect of my photography. I need some time to just relax now and also a chance to find time and inspiration to shoot some new stuff to start off 2013.
Happy holidays, I’ll see you again next year.