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Quick & Easy Location Lighting

Quick & Easy Location Lighting

I’ve learnt virtually everything I know about lighting from three people: Joe McNally, Zack Arias and David Hobby (aka The Strobist)

It was David that made me realise you could use lighting to lift your photography in any circumstances, not just pre-planned location shoots or studio work. Through his blog and DVD’s he made me see that with a combination of knowledge and using the right gear you can apply light in any situation.

At the time it was harder to source the right gear in the UK but eventually, and with some help from MPEX, I was about source what I needed: Two Manfrotto Nano 001B folding light stands and a pair of Westcott 43″ double fold umbrellas. With the addition of a strap and a ball bungy, you have all you need to fly an umbrella in seconds in a package you can throw over your shoulder and carry anywhere. Just add your flash.

As as case in point, let’s take the Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC. You never know what opportunities will arise, it’s busy, and the lighting in the exhibition halls is nothing short of horrific. The perfect place for a bit of nimble off camera lighting!

So here’s Faye, working for a client of mine at ASI2013, lit with my Strobist kit.

What we have here is a single Canon flash in manual mode, being triggered by a simple radio trigger. No ETTL cleverness here, I like to keep it simple.

So step one is to get a base exposure and there no science here. My camera was already at ISO640 so I left it there, shutter speed is 1/160th, just below my camera’s max sync speed and aperture is f8 to tame the horrible ambient light. Shutter speed was my only hard limit here – I could have traded ISO and aperture a little but f8 was a save depth of field and there’s no noise at ISO640 on the 5DMkIII.

Next up was flash power and the way I set this is even more low tech. I put my hand where my subject will be and take a shot. I have hundreds of photos of the back of my hand in various locations now. There’s a gallery show in it one day, I’m sure.

If it’s over exposed I drop flash power, under I raise it. That’s it. With enough practise you can get it dialled in with 2 or 3 tries. I think in this case I was at 1/8th power.

Now you have the camera and flash settings locked in, as long as you keep the flash the same distance from your subject, you can move around as much as you like.

Here’s a wider view to show the position of the flash. If you look towards the rear of the Lamborghini Aventador, where my flash isn’t lighting it, you can see just how yellow the ambient light was.

And here are a couple more and a little behind the secenes video.

Candice Collyer Cubed

Candice Collyer Cubed

I talk a lot of about being different on this blog. If you are just shooting and sharing the same images as everyone else , you’re are never going to elevate yourself above the background noise.

That’s all well and good if you are driving the shoot. If you have creative control and some sort of exclusivity. But what if you’re covering an event, in this case, for a magazine or website? Is it still possible to produce something that differentiates you from everyone else there with a camera?

Yes!

Candice Collyer

This is Candice Collyer working on the Victory Bikes stand during Motorcycle Live at the National Exhibition Centre. Nice motorbike, pretty girl posing for photos. Click. Job done. Picture in the can. Move on? Only if you want your image to disappear into the sea of literally thousands of similar images.

Now I am not saying this this is a unique idea. It’s not. Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir has been very successful with this type of ‘multiplicity’ image and her work has a much stronger story telling element. But is is different, certainly under these circumstances.

It may have taken some time in Photoshop (see the video below), but I’d rather spend an hour on a single standout image than post 100 unremarkable ones that could have been taken by anyone.

 

Sunset Shooting

Sunset Shooting

Sunset is my favourite time to shoot, not just because of the “golden hour” light you get, but because it’s the time adding flash to an image can change it the most. You can take a photo of your subject, under what looks to the naked eye to be pretty dull conditions, and then show them something on the rear screen of your camera that they can’t believe hasn’t taken hours in Photoshop.

It’s all about colour balance: Using a mixture of white balance settings on your camera and coloured gels on your flash will enable you to really bring out colour in the sky, especially useful when you don’t get the apocalyptic, fire and brimstone sunset you were hoping for.

So for this set of images I gelled my main flash (camera left in a beauty dish) with one full and one half cut CTO gels. A CTO gel is a sheet of translucent orange plastic that’s designed to bring your daylight balanced flash up to the same colour temperature as a standard Tungsten light bulb. A “half cut” is a sheet that’s half strength. The “proper” use would be to match your flash to the ambient light, but it’s often used by photographers such as David Hobby (from whom I learnt this tip) to warm up skin tones to flatter your subject. A half or a quarter cut (an even less tinted sheet) on your key light will give your subject a healthy glow.

What if you add a full cut and a half cut to your flash, making it a really warm orange colour? If you don’t change your camera white balance to Tungsten you’ll have an over-tanned subject. You are adding one and a half cuts of orange to the light on your subject, then effectively taking the whole scene down by a full cut but changing your camera’s white balance. Tungsten mode on the camera will bring the full CTO light back to daylight colour temperature (plain white), leaving just the half cut left to gently warm your subject’s skin.

Here’s where it gets good! By setting your white balance to Tungsten you cool the colour temperature of the whole scene down. That brings the very warm light on your subject back to just above normal, but it also cools everything else in the scene. The areas not being lit with your super warm flash, go extra cool. In this case, the grey clouds turn blue.

1.5 cuts of CTO gel, camera on auto white balance
1.5 cuts of CTO gel, camera on auto white balance
1.5 cuts of CTO gel, camera white balance set to Tungsten
Same 1.5 cuts of CTO gel, but now with camera white balance set to Tungsten

So in less words: Light subject with very warm light. Adjust white balance to compensate. Get slightly warmed subject and cool blue background.

Want to take it a notch further? How about adding a second, un-gelled flash as a rim light? Position it directly opposite your main light and, because it’s un-gelled and therefore cooled down by your shift in white balance, it’ll appear to be throwing cool light in from your artificially blue background.

Behind the scenes

The image above was taken early in the shoot, before the sun dipped out of view and before I gelled the main light so there’s no colour shift in the sky, but it does show the layout of the lights. Soon after the sky began turning grey so the CTO gels were called into action. You’ll be able to see when in the slide show below.

Enjoy the behind the scenes video, and as usual if you have any questions, post a comment.
Jen Goes To Hollywood

Jen Goes To Hollywood

If you have followed me on Facebook or Twitter, or been a reader of this blog for a while, you’ll have seen Jen before. Last week we finally got the chance to work together properly on a Hollywood glamour-themed shoot in a local cinema.

Once I had the location arranged it was obvious a mix Film Noir and classic Hollywood glamour was the way to go so I started researching. Google Images came up with the classic portraits of Dietrich and Harlow while Flick and 500px gave some examples with a modern twist. A quick flick through those images on my iPad over a coffee gave Jen a clear idea of what I had in mind and gave me a last minute refresher of the look I was going for.

As usual, I started simple. Jen in a long black dress with one light. (OK, this image is from slightly later in the set so there are 2 lights in play here). The key light is a grid spot, high camera right aim at Jen’s face. The second is a speedlight tucked away on the floor to camera left to thrown a bit of light on the black dress and pick Jen off the dark  red velvet background.

A quick wardrobe change while I span the lights 90 degrees resulted in this. Hard, gridded light from an Elinchrom Quadra on Jen again from high camera left and some low fill to add some details to her legs from a speedlight camera right. Then to create the spotlight effect on the red velvet above her, another gridded Quadra firing straight ahead from high above camera.

Another wardrobe and location change resulted in this image. Moving away from the hard, Hollywood glamour lighting to my Deep Octa softbox in beauty dish mode. It’s positioned camera right and feathered off the background to keep the wallpaper dark and make it match Jen’s hat and the stripes in her jacket. There’s a speedlight getting in on the action again – low camera left, behind the chair adding a little kick to separate the dark suit from the background.

When presented with the chance to shoot in a luxury screening room you take it, even if it means going off the plan and shooting something a bit more lifestyle. Jen’s bottomless suitcase had something suitable so we set up this shot. One gridded Quadra lighting Jen and a second, added after a few tests, to light the seats further along the row so the background didn’t fade sharply into darkness and loose the sense of where we were.

On the way in to the  screening room we walked down this corridor and I noticed the spot lights raking down the stripped, grey wallpaper.  I used the gridded Quadra again here, dialled down as low as it would go so as not to over power the lights and gelled CTO to match the colour temperature.

I’ve also put together a behind the scenes video for those who want to see a bit more. This is my first foray into video and Final Cut Pro X editing so I’d love to hear what you think.

Massive thanks to Jen Morgan, Daniel Barrett and Yvette Singer at The Showcase Cinema de Lux in Bristol. Enjoy the rest of the images in the gallery below.

Anatomy of a Location Shoot

Anatomy of a Location Shoot

I’ve known Emma for a few years and while we’ve done a few things at car shows, we have never shot together properly. Last weekend we put that right.

Not only did Emma make the trek up from the Portsmouth but I was lucky enough to have my long suffering assistant/producer/gopher/other-half Helen on hand to help as well as good friend and fellow photographer Darren “Skids” Skidmore to shoot some behind the scenes video and stills. Quite a crew!

So after the obligatory coffee and a snack it was on to location number one. If you follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page, you’ll know I’ve been out and about location scouting recently so I already had a few versatile spots I knew would work. The First of those was under Valentine Bridge for a little urban portraiture. I exposed for the buildings in the background which left Emma around 2 stops under exposed in the shade of the bridge so a Quadra head and the Deep Octa were brought in for fill.

Midweek this area is bustling with office workers on breaks, especially on such  a beautiful day, but on a Saturday there are just a few passers-by…

…which Emma soon tuned out!

Over zealous security guards are always a concern when working on privately owned land like this so we kept everything hand held.

And no, that wasn’t a comfortable shooting position!

As the gear is already unpacked, I always like to get as many looks as I can while at a location so Emma got changed into another outfit and we turned everything around and shot against the red brick wall behind us.

A completely different look for about 5 minutes work. Note to self – Buy a better belt!

 On to location two – another bridge a few minutes walk up river. Known locally as “the cheese grater”. Admittedly more by luck than judgement, the sun was in the perfect position to light Emma directly and provide its own fill for the shadows by reflecting off the side of the bridge.

With some solid images in the can it was time to move to the far end of Bristol’s floating harbour and the old red brick warehouses on The Cumberland Basin.

Nothing fancy here, just natural, direct sunlight which worked well with the bright graffiti.

A short walk and a swift outfit change later and Emma’s is rocking the American high school kid look on a rusting iron bridge.

This is a fairly busy short cut for dog walkers, joggers and cyclists but it’s quite surprising how respectful people can be when they come across a scene like this. Many were reluctant to walk through the scene, even if I didn’t have the camera to my eye.

Simple lighting on this one again, just a Quadra head with an 18cm reflector to give a sharp fall off of light and draw the viewer to Emma’s face. Such a hard light source wouldn’t work for every subject but Emma has great skin and can carry it off easily.

Just around the corner was another pre-scouted location that I’ve wanted to use before but it’s always been too muddy. I find it easy to fall in to the trap of thinking a good location needs to be large, like an epic view or impressive structure, but this patch of ivy in the middle of an industrial landscape works brilliantly.

As you can see, the Deep Octa came out again for this shot, and again the front diffusion material stayed in the bag – I wanted a slightly more specular light to bring out the shine in the leaves.

We’re were on a mission by this point – we just had one more location and one more look to shoot but the call of a beer and some food was strong! Emma is great at choosing outfits to match locations and as soon as she saw the weeping willow, she pulled yet another dress from her seemingly bottomless suitcase.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about locations, it would have been easy to have turned 90 degrees to the right here and shot with Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge as a background, but the branches of the willow tree on the river bank made a much more suitable setting for the innocent look we were after. By now it was beer o’clock so we took a break for a few hours.

Up until we trekked out to the banks of the River Severn, the weather had been perfect without a cloud in the sky so we were pretty confident we’d get a beautiful sunset to finish the day off… fail. Epic fail! Just at the last moment clouds bubbled up from nowhere and we were left with this:

Ok, not quite the Ibizan vista I’d envisioned but it’s Severn Beech and you work with what you’ve got! After raving about how good this location was going to be after the previous nights location scouting, I knew I had to pull something out of the bag now I’d dragged everyone down there. The sun had let me down, but what I did have was a willing model, some warmth in the rocks and my own portable sun. So while brave Emma donned her bikini, I set about creating sunset with a Quadra head mounted high on a light stand and a CTO gell. With the cameras white balance on Tungsten and the flash head firing in warm light, the dull grey, post sunset sky turns blue. (I’ve written about this concept before called Working the CTO)

As Emma herself said, “it’s amazing what you can do with a big sweet wrapper”!

With 8 distinct looks in the can, the call of the bar became too strong and we called it a wrap!

Sunday was vampire day! This was the original reason Emma came to Bristol so I had to get something good. Luckily, with Emma in costume and in character that was never in doubt. With the fangs in place and the fake blood flowing I knew I could get theatrical with the lighting. The key again was the Deep Octa as it gives a rapid fall off, lighting just what I wanted it to. I could then play with a few ideas for the background including letting some ambient burn in spookily or go all out Hammer Horror and use a red gelled flash.

I’m just pleased Emma was cleaned up and de-fanged before the PCSO came along to send us on our way!

So there you have it – a behind the scenes look at what a location shoot with me is like. If any photographers reading this would like to work with Emma (and I highly recommend you do!) check out her website and her PureStorm portfolio.

Thanks also to Helen and Darren for being able assistants and taken the behind the scenes photos.

If you have any questions, as always hit the comments.