My model looked at me like I was crazy when we drove to a grimy alleyway behind an Italian grocer because I wanted to shoot 'a pretty summertime editorial look'. While I can hardly blame her, I live and work in Seattle, which can certainly live up to its overcast and rainy stereotype. So, I sometimes find myself in a certain mania to use the sun while it's out.
In this article, I'll walk through a quick and simple look where minimal lighting and a bit of color were used to turn our spot in the grocer's alley into a fashionable set - no studio required. In particular, we will look at how the shot was built up to allow creative control in a mixed-lighting situation, using a combination of external flash and available light.
There were a few challenges for this shoot. The location was certainly not 'naturally beautiful'. I was shooting in a sedan, which is a fairly constrained space. It was late afternoon. As daylight time was short and I didn't have an assistant with me, the lighting equipment needed to be simple and easy to set up.
|As locations go, this is about as un-glamorous as they get.|
Why this particular location, sandwiched between a dumpster and a crooked cyclone fence? To build up this look, I wanted to start with 'open shade' - a location that was open to the sky but not in direct sunlight. This gives the background a soft, even light. This was important because I was using external flashes as the main light source; having even light in the background meant that I could set my exposure without worrying about blowing out parts of the background scene.
I was also planning on shooting with a wide aperture to allow the background to blur nicely. The fence, when shot out-of-focus, would provide a fairly interesting visual texture, and the rest of the alley wasn't even going to be in the shot. Most importantly, however, this alley is not a high-traffic location, so I would be able to set up the car and lighting without disturbing anybody or getting passers-by in the photos.
|This is a test shot showing the look using only available light with no |
f2.5, 1/80 @ ISO 200.
In the image above note the difference in exposure between the model's arm, which was near the window, and her face, which was in the full shadow of the car. This would be difficult to adjust for without external lighting. Ideally, aside from edge lighting, the model's face would be as bright or brighter than the parts of her body that are in the background. If I hadn't augmented the available light with an artificial light source, the images would be very soft and flat, as in this example. Recall that I was shooting inside a sedan that itself was in open shade. This is an environment with very diffuse, low-contrast light. By the same token, however, this provided an excellent palette for constructing my own lighting setup.
To maximize the effect of the available light and throw the background out of focus, I was shooting with a very wide aperture, f2.5. This can be dangerous territory when photographing people. At f2.5, depth-of-field gets very shallow, particularly for subjects that are close to the camera. Slight movements by the model or the photographer can be enough to throw off critical focus. However, as this was a candid and fairly casual look - one that probably wouldn't be printed at 24 plus inches and hung in a gallery - coming away with something less than an absolutely tack-sharp image was not going to be a deal-breaker.
My lighting kit for this shoot was a pair of Metz Mecablitz 60 CT-4 flashes that I had borrowed from an assistant. This is a 2000's era flash system which has some very handy features for situations like these.
Most significantly for this shoot, the units can be hooked up to regular sync cables without requiring expensive adapters. This meant that I could fire the flashes using standard radio triggers - the kind that I already had lying around the studio. This gave me a tremendous amount of freedom in placing the flash heads. I could set one unit behind the model to provide backlight and one unit behind myself, facing the model as a key (main) light.
This is an arrangement that could be very difficult to trigger using a line-of-sight infrared system such as those built into dedicated speedlights. Additionally, the Metz flash units provide an audible recycle indicator - they 'beep' when they're ready to fire again. This was a useful feature since I was placing the flashes behind my back and behind car doors, where it would be difficult to see visual LED recycle indicators on the flashes themselves.
A car can be used as a quick and easy set, but photographing a person inside a car does present some difficulties. There are a limited number of places where the photographer can go. Using a large car or one with very adjustable seats can give you more possibilities for situating yourself. There are likewise a limited number of locations where lighting can be placed - nominally, pointing in through the car's exterior windows. To get around this, lights could be boomed in through an open window or held by an assistant if necessary.
For this shoot, I wanted the background light to be directly behind the model, pointing towards the camera. I put the light on a stand aimed through the passenger-side window, behind the model and about two feet away from the car. This created a strongly backlit image, picking up color in the hair and putting lighting artifacts (glare) in the frame.
In order to avoid the temptation to zoom out and capture more of the model in my frame, I used a 50mm prime lens for the shoot (65mm equivalent focal-length after crop factor on my APS-H sensor). This was wide enough to get an acceptable amount of the environment and create some separation between the subject and the background, but not wide enough to cause unflattering wide-angle distortion of the model's features, which would have been a risk if I was using a zoom lens and zoomed out too far.
The background light alone did not help to open detail in the model's features, so I added a second flash as a key light to illuminate the model. This flash was about 3 feet behind my shoulder, firing through the open driver's side door of the car. However, the raw flash looked too flat and harsh for my intended treatment. Further, I originally set the flash to be about a stop brighter than the ambient light. This gave the image an obvious 'artificially lit' look.
To remedy this, I lowered the flash's power relative to the ambient light and covered the raw flash bulb with the unit's built-in diffuser. I also moved the flash closer to the model. This slightly increased the size of the flash relative to the subject, which further softened the quality of the light. This diffused light was gentle and closer in intensity to the ambient light, which made the lighting look more believable and natural.
Note that I introduced the background light before adding the key light. The background light has a less significant overall effect on the image; I often find it easier to visualize the contribution of lights going from darkest to brightest. The dim lights take back stage after the big lights are added; if I had started with the key light in place, I might have mistakenly tried to adjust this image by lowering the background light.
The main light has been corrected.
than the ambient light. At this ratio, the key light is providing a strong
fill without overpowering the natural light.
I had fairly limited options as to where the key light could be placed. If the key light were aimed through the windshield or rear window of the car, the model would have had strongly defined shadows on her features. This would not be appropriate for the mood I wanted to achieve. Placing the light so it was facing the model directly provided even illumination with few shadows. This suited the intended mood of the shoot.
It is worth noting that I metered and adjusted the lights manually, rather than relying on TTL (through-the-lens) metering and exposure compensation. This allowed me very precise and deliberate control over the relative power of the key and background lights, even though the background light was sometimes firing directly into my lens.
As I wanted the lighting in the image to look natural, I also needed to make sure that the background light (our proxy 'sun') was coming from a plausible angle. This meant raising the light to a location where it didn't seem to be shining through an unlikely gap in the fence, which was otherwise backed by solid vegetation.
|The final look, with post-processing applied. The lens flare artifacts were deliberately left in the image. f2.5, 1/60 @ ISO 200|
Finally, I added some color in post-processing to give the image a warm, pink sunset tone. This was done using a split color filter in Nik Color Efx Pro 3.0. Nik's software allows filter effects to be adjusted in selected areas of an image, such as the skin, with far fewer clicks than traditional masking. In this case, I reduced the effect of the filter on the skin in order to keep the model from getting an atomic suntan.
Beginning to end, this look took about 15 minutes to set up and shoot. Keeping the lighting simple, thinking about the environmental lighting and paying attention to lighting ratios between the flashes and ambient light allowed me to establish a consistent and predictable look very quickly. Best of all, this isn't the type of lighting set that sometimes shows up in photo magazines, where a small truck full of lighting gear and grip equipment is required to get the look. This can easily be done with a pair of external flashes and your neighborhood specialty grocer's alley.
Thomas Park is a fashion / fine art photographer and educator based in Seattle, Washington. To find out more about his work and workshops, please visit http://www.thomasparkphoto.com
Model: Ira Z
All images © 2011, Thomas Park
Apple has updated its professional video editing app Final Cut Pro X to version 10.4.6. The update brings full 64-bit support, a new feature that helps convert older formats and much more.
Tonight's episode of NBC's Tonight Show, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, was filmed entirely on Samsung's flagship smartphone the Galaxy S10+.
Camera Bits has released the long-awaited update to its photo ingestion software in the form of Photo Mechanic 6.
SmugMug Films has shared its latest film, Streets in Mind, which takes a look at the life and work of London-based street photographer Alan Schaller.
We were in Japan earlier this month for the annual CP+ show in Yokohama, where we sat down with senior executives from several camera and lens manufacturers, among them Nikon.
Sony has released firmware version 5.0 for its flagship mirrorless camera, the a9. The update brings AI-driven autofocus modes, an improved menu structure and other updates.
Night Sight, Portrait Mode and (surprisingly) wide-angle selfie mode are features that we're currently loving about the Pixel 3's camera.
The Auschwitz Museum has asked visitors to be more respectful after an upsurge of pictures posted on social media showing people posing on the train tracks that lead to the main gate.
This week Chris and Jordan take the new Leica Q2 for a spin, and while most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are welcoming spring, they head even farther north than usual to visit ice castles. Because #Canada.
Harvard is facing a lawsuit over profiting from 19th century daguerreotypes that captured the portrait of a slave and his daughter on a South Carolina plantation.
From the detailed textures in rural landscapes to the incredible lighting inside futuristic buildings, the photorealism of Unreal Engine 4 is blurring the lines between fiction and reality...you know...aside from the spaceship.
Facebook has sent out emails to affected users requesting they change their passwords following a discovery that over 20K Facebook employees had access to 600 million passwords.
We've added Panasonic's new Lumix S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras to three of our buying guides. If you're looking for a quick summary of each model, then have a read.
YouTube channel Photoshop Cafe has shared a video detailing ten tips and tricks you can do to both fix and speed up Photoshop when it's running slow and sluggish.
It's not going to be the banger of the year, but it'll get a few laughs.
DJI has confirmed its drones won't be affected by the GPS 2019 week rollover.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has teamed up with Kodak to release a beer that's capable of doubling as a film developer.
The Diana Instant Square is a retro-inspired camera with manual controls that's fun to shoot in good light, but largely unpredictable in its operation.
Residents of a Paris street plagued by Instagrammers, selfie takers and music video crews are asking the city government for a weekend and evening ban to give them some peace.
The adapter plugs into the Osmo Pocket's USB Type-C port and features a 3.5mm TRS jack to plug in various external microphones.
Checkout allows Instagram users to select products for purchase and make payments directly in the app.
GauGAN as it's known, can create photorealistic images from basic drawings using the power of artificial intelligence.
The EOS RP is Canon's latest full-frame mirrorless camera, with diminutive dimensions and a diminutive price. Find out how it stacks up and get our thoughts in our early review.
Montana judge Dana L. Christensen has ruled the Republican National Committee did not infringe upon the copyright of photographer Erika Peterman after they took a photo from a Democratic candidate's Facebook page without permission and altered it to use in a derogatory promotional mailer.
Nikon has launched updates for three of its programs to address various bugs and glitches that could cause crashes and unwanted results.
LEE Filters has launched the LEE100, its next-generation filter holder that improves the design and looks in all the right places.
With the arrival of some much-needed sunshine and final production firmware for the Panasonic S1, we've been able to get outside and really start putting the camera through its paces.
Importing, culling and tagging photos is about to get a whole lot faster and look a whole lot better with the impending arrival of Photo Mechanic 6.
On its own, the FTZ adapter retails for $250 and when bundled it dropped the cost to just $150. Now, Nikon is offering it for free with all Z6, Z7 purchases in the United States.
Profoto said it spoke with Godox back at Photokina 2018 and continues to contact Godox in an effort to stop it from marketing its V1 light.