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Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt

I recently decided I wanted to freshen up my portfolio so I gave myself a kick up the arse and arranged a studio day for myself. Living in the South West, when most of the models I want to work with live in the Midlands and the South East, is a pain when it comes to arranging and funding travel. So, in a flash of inspiration, I booked Saracen House Studio, just outside Milton Keynes for the day, lined up 3 models and even a professional make up artist. It made more sense for me to travel to the people I was working with than have them all travel to me individually. My goal was to get 6 portfolio worthy shots. I feel I came up short, but I did learn a few valuable lessons which made the whole day worthwhile.

Timing

When hiring out a studio for 8 hours my immediate thought was to shoot for 8 hours to get my money’s worth, so I arranged the arrival times of the girls to overlap. That way, when one was in hair and makeup, I was still shooting the previous model. This causes two problems; Firstly I don’t get to greet the model, sit down, have a chat over a coffee and talk thought what we are about to try. It all becomes a bit hurried and there’s no time to build a rapport before she’s in front of my camera. Secondly, and it didn’t even cross my mind when planning, there was no down time for me. I was working nonstop from 11am to 7pm. Admittedly that’s only 8 hours, a normal working day but even in the worst day job you get a lunch hour! Besides having no breaks, I was “on” constantly with no chance to freewheeling, even for a minute. I was driving the bus with everyone looking to me for what to do next.  This is what really took it’s toll. It might be just me, but I can’t stay creative under those conditions. I can’t force it. I got tired, my creativity waned and I started doing safe things. Nothing new, just simple setups, things we have all seen a million times and that’s just not the sort of work I wanted to produce.

Sets

This is a simple one. I won’t use sets in a studio again, because even in a quality place like Saracen House, they still look like, well, sets in a studio. I’ll stick to a classic white/grey/black seamless. If I want to shoot in a bedroom, I’ll  book a nice hotel suite and take my own lighting. The best images were the day were the ones shot against seamless.

Working with other creatives

Most models can do their own hair and makeup. In fact they’d be pretty limited if they couldn’t, but they will generally have a go-to look that they turn to. That’ll mean that most shots you see of them will be somewhat similar. That’s why I booked a make up artist (or MUA) to be on set all day. This is something I’ll definitely do again. Emma Stroud and I bounced a few messages and images of the models back and forth before the shoot and she was able to decipher my rather blokey descriptions of looks and come up with a style to suit each of the girls. Emma’s styling had a sizeable impact on the shoot and led things in directions I probably would not have thought of on my own.

Preparation

I went in to the day with quite a few loose ideas and concepts thinking they’d be jumping off points and things would organically evolve as the shoot went on. To some degree that worked, but you burn through more ideas in 8 hours than you’d think. I’m not sure what would have worked better. I should have either come up with more of those jumping off points or I should have taken along fewer, but more fully formed ideas. I am erring on the side of the latter as the last time I shot at Saracen House, I had a detailed concept in mind for my hour shoot and came away very happy with the results. 

So next time…

I won’t shoot non-stop all day.

I won’t try and simulate locations in a studio.

I will definitely work with other creatives like MUA’s and stylists.

I will prepare more. Either more loose ideas, or a few fully formed concepts.

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 Girls of Autosport International 2011

The Girls of Autosport International 2011

Another weekend, another show at the NEC and another two days under horrific artificial lighting.

The most popular way to work around it and get some good photos is to use on camera fill flash as you run and gun. But as each hall has a different flavour of lighting, you don’t stand much chance of gelling your flash to match so everyone’s shots tend to look the same. You see ringflash adapters, various brackets and all manner of Tupperware to try and avoid the rabbit-in-the-headlights bare flash look but I decided to even further and make it through the weekend flash-free!

The 5DMkII is pretty happy at high ISOs so I spent most of the time at or above ISO1600, wide open on either my 50mm f1.8 or my 24-105mm f4. As the backgrounds are so varied in the NEC, I found centre-weighted metering was the best bet.

If you read this blog though, you know I can’t resist a bit off off-camera flash in a bid to get something a bit different.

This is Jen with a Nikon SB-28 on about 1/8th power in the passenger seat firing toward her head. Without that kick of light, the interior of the car was pure black and her dark blue outfit just blended in.

Then we have Michelle lit by what looks like a big softbox camera left, which in reality is a full power SB-28 bouncing off a white trailer on the neighbouring stand.

And then there’s Sara and Kirsty with Podzilla, the Santa Pod monster truck. Dozens of other people got basically the same shot, and while they did, I ran around to the back wheel, placed a flash and came back to quickly grab this. Natural light from the skylights (you can see some in the background) acted as the main light while my flash provides a bit of a kick from behind, seprating the twins fro the dark background.

Clothes Show Live

Clothes Show Live

Just a quick update today to showcase some of the photographs I took at the fashion show held at Clothes Show Live. A little bit of a break from the norm but surprisingly good fun!

On the technical side, these were all shot with a 70-200mm f/4 lens so I had to take the ISO up to around 2500 to avoid camera shake. The combination of the 5DMkII’s high ISO performance and the noise reduction in Lightroom 3 is outstanding.

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!