Select Page
Balancing Act

Balancing Act

If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you’ll know I like shooting on location. I love all the choices I get when it comes to balancing strobes with the available light – juggling all the variables is so much more fun than shooting in a studio where you have complete control over the lighting.

Shooting at night takes that to the extreme. Capturing what little ambient there is can be tricky when your flashes want to nuke everything with light.

I came up against such a situation a couple of weeks ago, so here’s what I did to stop my model, Sarah, from floating in a sea of under exposed blackness.

The image above was taken out by Pendigo Lake at the NEC near Birmingham in pitch darkness. So dark in fact that I had to ask friends to light the area with mobile phones while I set up. Without some artificial light on her, Sarah wouldn’t register at all.

Before the Quadras got powered on though, I found my ambient exposure. If I went straight in with flash, I’d have ended up with a good exposure on Sarah but a dark background. I wanted the coloured lights on the other side of the lake as my background so I left the strobes off for now, slowed my shutter speed and cranked up my ISO. The sweet spot turned out to be 1/20th second, f/4 at ISO 1600. Obviously shooting 1/20th handheld is usually a no no but when using strobe, the very short duration of the flash will freeze anything it hits. Plus, as there was no ambient light falling on her, I knew Sarah was going to be free from any motion blur from camera shake.

Then came the lighting on Sarah: A Westcott 50″ Apollo softbox (review of this coming soon) camera right and a gridded strobe camera right, slightly behind her.

As you have to start somewhere I set both packs to 1/4 power and fired off a test – let’s just say it was a little over exposed! Even at minimum power (25 w/s) on the ‘A channel’ on the packs I was still going to end up with a glowing Sarah if I wanted to keep the detail in background. I could have closed my aperture or lowered my ISO 2 stops to restrict the amount of flash getting in but that would have forced me to go to shutter of 1/5th of a second – slower than I was comfortable hand holding.

So instead I switched my Quadra heads over to the packs “B channel” and dialled all they way down to 8w/s – just enough power to balance the ambient light and produce this set of images.

The Marangoni Girls at USC

The Marangoni Girls at USC

Ultimate Street Car is one of the biggest weekenders on the modified car show scene and title sponsor, Marangoni Tyres had the busiest stand at the show. And on their stand they had Jen and Sarah who you may have seen on the blog before along with Torrs. I’d spoken with Sarah in the week leading up to the show and arranged to make a few pictures, but I have learnt that you can’t plan too much at shows like this. It’s a case of seeing what you have to work with and coming up with ideas on the spot.

In this case the idea was pretty clear on arrival. Marangoni were promoting the fact their tyres are available from KwikFit and to the side of the stage was a fully kitted out mobile tyre fitting van. I think you know where I am going with this…

The Van/Studio

If the people running the stand and paying the promo girls are going to let me take their girls away from their main job for a while, I need to try and give some value back. In this case, producing some images emphasising the Marangoni/Kwik Fit connection worked for Chris, the man in charged, and the KwikFit fitters on site.

Five minutes later, the KwikFit guys were tidying the van, I was unpacking my Quadras while the girls wielded lip gloss and hair brushes.

I’d passed the van a few times and had already formed an idea: A CTB (blue) gelled light filling the van, with a CTO (orange) lighting the girls, gridded to stop the spill drowning out the blue. Then by setting the cameras white balance to Tungsten (the same colour temperature as the CTO gelled flash) I brought the girls skin tone back to normal and sent the interior of the van an even deeper shade of blue.

So after a quick explanation of what we were trying to achieve (while Jen warmed up!)…

The Briefing

The Briefing – Phot by Darren Skidmore 

…it was time to test the lights. (The photo above is also a good indication of how different the ambient light was to the light in the final images). I do this one at a time to simplify things, getting one right before moving on to the next. I this case I set my camera about 2 stops below ambient to stop daylight spilling to the van too much and set the power on the blue gelled Quadra in the back of the van. It only needed to be set just above minimum power to get a nice rich blue colour – any higher and the colour got paler.

Background light

That’s a bare Quadra head back there (no reflector) as I wanted light bouncing around in the van to fill in the shadows and the sheet of blue gel is held on with… chewing gum! Finally, before I show you the finished images, a quick shot of the CTO gelled main light positioned outside the van. There is a 30 degree grid spot in the standard reflector to keep it from overpowering the blue interior of the van. This light was moved quite a bit during the shoot to make sure it was aimed correctly and to maintain the flash-to-subject distance as the girls moved about the van.

Shooting Sarah

And finally… the resulting images, the first of which was used in an upcoming Marangoni/KwikFit flyer.

Death of a Cover Car

Death of a Cover Car

Ash Manton’s Type R Civic has been part of the UK modified car scene for several seasons and keeps coming back with a fresh look each year. It’s current stripped out, carbon clad, airbrushed look has just won it the cover feature in Max Power.

As it’s had the Max photo shoot treatment, I wanted to try something different. Enter Georgia Graham, Ash’s girlfriend, showing that hell really does hath no fury like a woman scorned! 

So Ash assembled some props, Georgia put together a suitably OTT outfit and I got to work on the lighting.  The plan here was to go for a dark and moody midnight feel so out came the Quadras again to enable me to stop down far enough at my max sync speed to over power the daylight. We had the car in a shady spot and it was 4pm in September so I wasn’t fighting bright sunlight so f/9 at 1/200th did the job. 

One bare, CTO gelled strobe was positioned camera left adding a rim light to both Georgia and the car to separate them from the dark background and a second strobe, in a 70cm Deep Octa in “beauty dish mode” as the main light. I’ve cranked up the exposure in Lightroom in this shot to give you an idea of the layout. 

Enough talk, on to the pictures! 

Shooting the Ripraw Girls at USC

Shooting the Ripraw Girls at USC

Another weekend, another car show and this time it was USC (Ultimate Street Car) at Santa Pod.

I wasn’t lucky enough to have any secluded barns to shoot in this time so it was a case of making the best of a bad lot. And at car shows, it’s a very bad lot – even when your subjects are the Sextons Direct / Ripraw girls!

You’ve got cluttered backgrounds, harsh mid afternoon light and crowds.

First of all, I toured Santa Pod looking for a location without people, cars or fairground rides lurking in the background. Luckily Santa Pod is out in the middle of the Northamptonshire countryside and backs onto some open fields and I was able to find this on the edge of the showground.

I chose this partly for the view but also as facing in the this direction the sun would be coming from behind my subjects – about 2 o’clock from this view. This way, the girls weren’t squinting into the bright light and I’d be able to add my own soft, diffused fill light from camera left.

Which leads nicely onto Problem Number 2 – the harsh sunlight. As it was coming from over the left shoulders of the girls it served as a nice separation light which, if I under exposed the background slightly, would make them really ‘pop’. But that would also leave faces in shadow, so out came the lighting.

Working in manual mode, I set my 5D MkII to sync at it’s max sync speed (1/200th) but in order to get some detail in the bright sky I was having to shoot at f/10 which meant needing to drive the flashes hard. So hard in fact that in order to keep a decent recycle time I had to gang 3 SB-28 at 1/2 power though a single shoot through umbrella. Think Joe McNally‘s speedlight tree on a budget! Not pretty, but effective.

With lights and locations sorted, it was time to bring on the car and the girls. This always draws an instant crowd at car shows but thanks to the location, apart from a few passing cars, the onlookers were behind the camera.

And onto the results. Punchy images that stand out from the norm at one of these events. Well worth a bit of location scouting and 5 minutes of set-up I think.

Georgia Graham Location Shoot

Georgia Graham Location Shoot

Last weekend, FHM Holiday Honey and car show regular, Georgia Graham made the trip down to Bristol from the North East for a shoot. We’d been planning for a few weeks, so by the time the day arrived I’d compiled a list of locations to go with her styling ideas and although nothing was set in stone, we had a good idea of what we were working to achieve.

For the gear heads; we were travelling light as we had to carry everything with us so all the shots below were lit with speedlights, using everything from Westcott umbrellas to home-made grid spots. Two Manfrotto nano light stands did the bulk of the work while my assistant for the day, Helen, acted as a VAL for the 3 light setups. Camera-wise, I used my 5DMkII with my 24-105MM L F4 and 70-200mm L F4 lenses.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

Thanks to Georgia for making the trek down to Bristol and for being such a pleasure to work with. You can find out more on her webiste www.georgia-graham.com or follow her on Twitter.