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Learn To Shoot In The Style Of McGillicuddy - 10

Learn To Shoot In The Style Of McGillicuddy - 10 - Damian McGillicuddy takes you behind the scenes of another one of his shoots to share some of his secrets on shooting portraits.

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Portraits and People

Baby its cold outside

In the famous words of Coca Cola: "The holidays are coming"! Now, I have a GREAT Christmas inspired image for my last article of 2011 but I thought I’d whet our appetite for it with another seasonally inspired shoot.

This image was shot on a Team McGillicuddy training day, so pressure on with delegates watching! I also wanted to "swing" this article back to a minimal strobist approach it really is just a couple of third party speedlights pushed through some high performance modifiers.

It's always about the idea, application and knowledge, sure good equipment makes life easier but the bigger the budget the better the production doesn’t always follow...

Location:   The members bar, Oddfellows, Chester
Subject:   Nic H
What was in the bag:   Nikon D3 fitted with Nikons 85mm f1.8
2x Nissin Di 866 Speedlight
2x Elinchrom Universal Skyport
DMLS 19 inch collapsable beauty dish
The Portaflex snoot
Sekonic L-758D light meter
Camera settings:   Image captured in RAW
ISO 200, f/3.2 @ 1/40 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1

So what did I do and why did I do it?

This image was shot during one of the Team McGillicuddy “boudoir” days. I’m having a rekindled “love affair” at the moment with my prime lenses and it’s hard to stack an argument up against using primes! They are light, the IQ is generally magic and in this crazy world they even represent a cost saving over the latest f/2.8 wonder zooms. Now that's a lot of words just to tell you I selected my favorite 85mm f/1.8, but why select the lens, what is it going to do for me?

The short telephoto gives me access to two effects I like to use in my imagery very much. Firstly, it compresses perspective. Which, in essence, means “stacking up” the various planes within the image closer to one another with the by product of it being great for flattering the human body and face. In simple terms “pushing” the subjects nose back into the mask of the face, flattering the subject.

Secondly, by selecting a large aperture, in this case f/3.2 the compression of perspective enhances the use of differential focus in other words, the ability for me to select the area of the images that appears sharp. In this image it gives us the “pop” of the subject out of the background, isolating the primary focal point (Nic) from an otherwise distracting and cluttered background. We want a feeling of Christmasy warmth, not a view of every needle on the tree!

The 19 inch collapsable beauty dish was used as the key light, I just love the crisp, sculptural light it gives me. I set it camera left, approx 45 degrees up and away from the median of the mask of the subjects face. It was then “feathered” so I could achieve the most pleasing “Rembrandt” lighting pattern possible.

My second speedlight was fitted with the snoot from our Portaflex modifier kit set to its widest aperture and placed approximately 10 to 12 foot behind the subject to camera right. It was carefully aimed to throw a slice of light past the tree, highlighting some of the baubles, and accent Nic’s curves and hair creating back lit accents to again stand her off the background!

Getting the flash to sync together was easily accomplished by the use of Elinchroms Universal Skyport transmitter and receivers. I just want the speedlights to flash at the power I meter and determine, I don’t want the equipment to “think” for me, just do my evil bidding -  mwhahahahah!!!

Ok, so why the Christmas tree? In point of fact the inclusion of it other than compositionally alludes to the choice of our third light. The f/3.2 aperture selection is achieved by the careful metering of the speedlight chosen as the “key” or main light and contrast controlling “fill” light is supplied by the ambient light present in the scene. The level the ambient light is allowed to record is determined by the selection of the shutter speed, the slower the shutter speed the more the ambient light plays a part. So an initial incident light meter reading is made on my sekonic which would probably have read about a 15th or 20th at f/3.2 but I don’t want to set that as my shutter speed because I don’t want to balance the lights, I want a ratio between the flash and ambient so the ambient just reduces the contrast within the image, and that is a how salty do you like your soup question!

Finally our beautiful model was posed deliberately to enhance her feminine curves but as it was a boudoir training day we used her positioning within the chair to show the delegates how props can be used to either a, spare a brides modesty or b, hide any aesthetically unpleasing lumps, bumps or creases.

Her positioning as the foreground of our composition enhances the directness of her projected beauty to the viewer, it is indeed all about her. Allowing the tree to climb up the image compositionally gives both a second area of interest and scale to the image. It also means that to enjoy this composition, the client isn’t really going to get away with just buying a 10×8… always thinking eh guys, we can’t do this photography lark for nothing.

So there we go, hopefully you have enjoyed the walk through the madness of my mind as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. So, what now, go CREATE and enjoy, that's my suggestion.

What about post production?

This bit is getting a little boring as I’m all about doing the majority of the work in the camera. That said, every digital file needs a little post. As usual all skin imperfections, stray hairs and distractions have been cloned out. Apertures “skin softening” brush works its deceptively easy to apply magic and the burn tool adds a subtle vignette... compulsory sharpening and job done.

Baby its cold outside

Until next time,


You can read the other parts to Damian's guide here:

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dathersmith 10 559 12 England
11 Dec 2011 11:10AM
Great work again Damian, thanks for the insights.

nsutcliffe 11 90 United Kingdom
11 Dec 2011 1:03PM
Thanks once again Damian. Hugely enjoyable series.
11 Dec 2011 10:25PM
my pleasure fellas, I'm glad you find them of use


Podmore 8 20 United Kingdom
13 Dec 2011 11:55AM
great stuff, again thanks for sharing

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