Words and images by Damian "The BIG Dog" McGillicuddy.
As this is our first photo adventure together I want to start off with good intentions, and not alienate any EPZ member by "wheeling out" barrow loads of kit. I wanted to show you that with good photography it's all about the idea, good technique and application - it is seldom about the "gear". So this shoot uses the minimal of lighting kit to hopefully prove this point and make this image accessible to all if you wish to get your kit out and give it a go.
Visually my intention was to create a slightly sexy, edgy, grungy, urban, fashion edged environmental study with as little fuss as possible.
||Down by the canal, Castlefields, Manchester.
|What was in the bag:
||Nikon D700 fitted with Nikons 85mm f1.8
1x Nissin Di 866 Speedlights
1x Elinchrom Universal Skyport
The "bare bulb" enhancer from the DMLS Portaflex kit.
Sekonic L-758D light meter
||Image captured in RAW
ISO 200, f5.6 @ 1/100 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1.3
So what did I do and why did I do it?
I think that creating good photography is more than just good lighting and posing! To get the most out of this image it is important in this shot that the location and the models styling (clothing and accessories) are harmonious in their message. The location needed to have that "tired" urban decay and Nic’s outfit needed to look contemporary and feel right in the location.
As I’d scouted the location out previously and knew where I was shooting I could even choose clothes for Nic that complimented the colours within the scene, her coat picking up and echoing the colours of the flora in the location. Just a little indication that the slightest bit of preparatory work in your image making can go to great lengths and pay great dividends in adding that special dimension to your imagery that can go towards elevating your photography to the next level.
My "Key" light, the light that creates the main direction of the prevailing light and adds shape and depth to the image, was a simple third party speedlight - Nissin’s Di 866 to be precise.
As you can see in my "behind the scenes" equipment picture above the speedlight was fitted to a stand to enable me to place the unit precisely. The "bare bulb" enhancer from the Damian McGillicuddy Portaflex kit was the modifier of choice and fitted to the speedlight courtesy of the kits rubberised velcro strap. You can also see from this image that the speedlight is to be triggered with Elinchroms universal skyport, I’ve found this to be a very useful, reliable and cost effective combination.
Now the most important question is where did the light sit to create the look I was after? I had decided for simplicity that I’d go for the “loop” lighting pattern. If you look closely at the subjects face you can see that there is a shadow projected to the side and down from her nose on the opposite side of her face from the “key” light, the “key” light being to camera left and hidden out of frame. It looks like a little loop shaped shadow, hence the term "loop lighting"... cunningly named eh!
As you can see from my second "behind the scenes" set up picture we can see the speedlights placement in relation to the subject. The easiest way to understand the light placement is to imagine that the way the models nose points is "zero degrees", the light is approximately 45 degrees to her right and approximately 40 degrees above her eye line. The flash was about 6 to 8 feet away from the subject to camera left. Please be aware these are approximations, the length of the subjects nose and depth of the ocular cavity will ultimately dictate exactly where the light needs to be placed to create a pleasing pattern of shadow on the face and catchlights in the eyes.
The "bare bulb" enhancer pushes a broad, slightly contrasty, expanse of light (a little like sunny window light) towards the subject. It's super quick and easy to use and as you can see from the finished image very effective at what it does.
We can’t ignore the other light source used to create this image as its manipulation and inclusion to the picture was every bit as vital to the result as was the use of the speedlight. "Hang on a mo" I can here you cry, "the equipment list clearly states ONE Nissin Di 866!" Absolutely true readers, but lets not forget the ambient light in the scene, it plays more than one major part in how this image renders.
If possible I always use an independent hand held light / flash meter to determine the exposure of my photographs. In this image as we are blending flash and the ambient light together to create one overall exposure the independent incident meter is vital!
My first action in creating this image and determining the exposure I wanted to use in this image was to measure the ambient light, the meter gave me an empirical measurement of 1/60th of a second at f/4.0 - great, I now have a starting point!
I wanted the flash in the image to be the dominant light source. The Di 866 are powerful little beasts so set to 1/4 of its total manual output easily achieved f/5.6, so that was the daylight trumped by one stop, whilst maintaing an f-stop that gives me a shallowish depth of field. The differential focus created, subtly dropping the decaying wall out of focus so it "feels" like a "grungy", decaying environment - not a tack sharp image that shows the need for a re- pointing and pulls the eye away from the subject the intended focal point of the image.
I further enhance and isolate the subject by further darkening down the ambient light. This is easily achieved by upping the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second, further "killing" another 2/3rds of a stop of light. The result is easily seen by the way the wall darkens behind the subject "standing her off" the background.
Incidentally it is also the ambient illumination that plays the part of the "fill" light in this image. The more ambient light I allow into my image the less dense the shadows are. By speeding up or slowing down the shutter speed I can determine exactly the contrast ratio within my image - neat huh!
The image was created with two compositional tricks to add drama, strength and dynamism. Firstly Nic is positioned roughly on what it termed the "golden intersections" of the image. In other words if you divide the frame vertically and horizontally into thirds, where those lines cross or intersect become an area of visual captivation. This is a very powerful compositional tool to draw the viewers eye to your intended primary point of focus within the frame.
Secondly Nic was posed with lazy, sexy "S" shapes. This has two effects on the image, firstly it gives her a languid sexuality, then it contrasts her shape against the architectural linearity of the brick work and the sharp vertical lines as the planes of the brickwork change angle and depth. Yet another way to draw attention to and enhance the subject in the image and make certain that she is the primary focal point of my image.
It's surprising how much goes into an apparently simple image, but it's all these little "items" that add together to turn a snap into something that becomes greater than the some of its parts.
Any post production?
I’m a firm believer in image enhancement not image rescue... The more I can get in initial image capture the happier I am! That said, all images can benefit from a little "something". I did the usual cloning out of stray hairs and spots. A quick "gloss over" with Aperture 3’s skin softening brush was followed by a quick tweak of the colour balance to slightly "cool" the image. Finally I ran the image through OnOne softwares Photo tools 2.6 and added the "fade edges to black" routine to hold the viewers eye within the boundaries of the composition... Et fini!
The final image:
You can read the other parts to Damian's guide here: