Ok, so here we are again! It's my intention to keep these articles as relevant to all EPZ members as is possible. So for this article we go back to the most simplistic of equipment, third party speedlights, and an image that has relevance if you shoot wedding imagery, portraiture, fashion or even commercially.
This image was captured on one of my training workshops, the bridal fashion and portrait day to be precise. The intention being to create an image for the “bride” that is more than the average wedding picture. Something with more depth, creation, feeling and artistry than the mainstream wedding tog supplies... in fact the sort of image I feel I bride deserves for the biggest day of her life!
Oddfellows is an independent, boutique hotel that is eclectic and quirky in its concept and design. It is important to me to therefore create an image for the “bride” that utilises, reflects and shows off her choice of venue. The large candelabras are iconic of the venue, as is the large empty frame, to me the scale of the decor was crying out to “frame” my subject in a beautifully lit portrait.
||Oddfellows boutique hotel, Chester.
|What was in the bag:
||Olympus E3 with the Olympus 50mm f2 (100mm on ff)
2x Nissin Di 866 Speedlight
2x Elinchrom Universal Skyport
1x 36” McGillicuddy BIG dish multi modifier.
1x barn door from the portaflex kit.
Sekonic L-758D light meter
||Image captured in RAW
ISO 125, f4 @ 1/60 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1.3
So what did I do and why did I do it?
The first thought I had to give to this image was to consider how I was going to draw the viewers eye to my intended focal point, the subject. The trouble with using the decor compositionally in my image was the fact that scale wise it dwarfed my subject!
Now there are many ways to “pull off” this trick but for this image I decided to combine my two favourite. Firstly I’d use a shallow(ish) depth of field to stand the subject away from the background then I’d isolate Charlie further by using light! When different intensities of illumination are present in an image the eye is automatically drawn towards the brighter and lighter tones. Now, stacking the odds in my favour, I’m going to use that information to separate the subject from the background using that fact, I’m going to light the subject so she stands out. Now this in itself is a fine balancing act, too much flash on the subject and not the right amount on the background will give us that terrible flash set to auto, “nuked and nothing” look... not enough flash and I don’t control the direction of light and I might as well not have bothered!!!
Ok where to start? I need to choose a light modifier that will allow me to cast a soft directional light, to give me an attractively lit subject, but with enough control not to have soft light “spilling” everywhere and contaminating everything. The ideal tool for the job is the trusty old strip light. Now this give me my first dilemma! It's imperative that the photographic artist is able to control and manipulate the light in just the way he or she wants it for the feeling and effect intended in the imagery... but, and it's a big BUT, I don’t have the time, resources or frankly the inclination to carry every conceivable modifier out onto location!
I like lots of “bang” for my hard earned buck and it is of paramount importance to me that I carry the minimum amount of kit to give me the versatility my creativity desires. That's why my 36 inch BIG dish multi modifier
is never far from my shooting side. It literally takes no more than two minutes to strip it of its beauty dish deflector, fit an inner baffle to spread, even out and diffuse the light source and pop the strip light outer diffuser in place and hey presto, a highly controllable “slice” of soft light - totally different light from exactly the same modifier with the minimum of fuss - can’t be bad!
You can see from my behind the scenes image that the “Key” or main light is positioned to camera left, about five foot from the subject. It's then “feathered” back across the subject to give depth and dimension to the subjects face. The light is positioned to give a pleasing “loop” pattern on the subjects face.
Now Charlie is beautifully lit but we can still go further and add greater dimension, depth and further separation to the image by pressing a second speedlight into use.
Our second Nissin Di866 is fitted to a light stand and is triggered by Elinchroms universal skyport as is the main light. The flash head is “zoomed” to about 70mm, this way the flash projects a narrower beam of light, I’m artificially constricting its throw, to ensure it lights only where I want it to light.
Now if you look at my behind the scenes image once more you can see that the second speedlight when positioned approx. six feet from the subject and “zoomed” to 70mm the speed light produces a “box” of light about four feet by two feet. The really observant amongst you will also notice that the unit is fixed to an umbrella bracket. This allows me to rotate the flash through ninety degrees, this way, I can choose if the orientation of the flash should be portrait or landscape dependent on how I want to distribute the light.
Now because I’m all about control, some would say a control freak ( they wouldn’t be far wrong) I’ve once more stacked the odds in my favor by attaching a “barn door” from the Portaflex kit to the Di 866. Positioned as it is between the flash head and the lens it blocks any chance of light straying towards my lens. Using the black side towards the flash tube also kills the chance of light straying where it's not wanted. You can see from the detail images that it literally velcro’s to the side of the supplied rubberised strap and can be positioned anywhere the photographer desires to block and restrict the spill of light as the artist sees fit ;0) The second speedlight is aimed at the subject to light from the top of her head to her hip, striking the shadow side of her face etc that the “key” light has created and giving a glancing accent to lift the subject further from her surroundings. A simple but very effective trick! Unbelievably this light was metered to be approx EV +1/3 to the main light. It's a simple quirk of physics that it appears to be brighter than it is, that's because it's coming from behind the subject towards camera.
Now we must acknowledge the third light in our mix, the inclusion and manipulation of the natural ambient light. It is this light that is the glue that holds the whole creativity of the image together! This is where the use of an independent meter is priceless. I’ve used it in flash mode to determine the manual output desired from each of my flash, it's a simple action to switch modes to measure the existing levels of natural light that exists in the image. At f4 I would have required a shutter speed of approx a 1/15 of a second to achieve “correct” exposure. I didn’t want “correct” exposure I wanted to burn the daylight away to darken Charlie’s surroundings. This was easily achieved by selecting a faster shutter speed. By going for 1/60th of a second I was burning up about two stops of light. The trick here was striking a balance! I wanted to darken those areas of the image that were mainly lit by ambient light but I had to maintain enough light to register the candle flame and the warm glow it cast off. The chosen shutter speed of 1/60th gave me the compromise I needed.
Charlie was posed to obviously flatter her but also to give a relaxed, easy, elegant and confident semi sexy pose. How you manipulate the client within the frame will have a great impact on how the image feels, so due consideration should always be given. Remember if it is within your frame YOU are TOTALLY responsible for how that element is viewed in your over all piece, it's up to you to direct the model to bring out how they interact within your creative vision. It's never the models fault if the image doesn’t work... if you're going to take the credit you also have to be prepared to take the criticism.
Again a very simple, measured approach pays dividends by the time we come to the impact of the final image. I’ll look forward to your comments.
PS: I got so excited at my shoot, apart from the behind the scene image, I forgot to take images of the equipment used... D’oh! Please forgive the fact that these pictures were taken at a later stage. They are represented accurately and the fact that they were shot in the studio has no impact on their use as an element of explanation in this article.
Any post production?
As ever image enhancement is key... image rescue... well lets not even go there. This image was processed with Aperture. All imperfections, skin, stray hairs, damage to the surroundings were cloned away. The skin softening brush was given a quick “gloss over”. The usual contrast tweak were made and a slight vignette was added to hold the viewers eye within the frame. It's the little bits of enhancement that gives an image its “top coat” of professional gloss. All in all an image I’m happy to put my name to. Less more often than not ends up being more.
Until next time, Damian McGillicuddy
You can read the other parts to Damian's guide here: