Portraits without Flash

Having spent several hours on post-processing more images from my latest attempt at portraiture, I thought I would do a second post from this shoot.

I mentioned some of the challenges I was unprepared for in my previous post on this topic, but what I didn’t talk about was the flash.  Several month ago, I had the realization that I needed portable lighting while shooting the same couple.

At the time, I had recently invested in some studio lights.  When, however, the couple who volunteered to model for me wanted to shoot outdoors, I was stuck with nothing but the built-in flash on my Canon 40D.  In other words, no lighting at all.

So, I invested in an off-brand, all manual flash and started learning how to use it on a flash stand.  But, when I subsequently upgraded my camera, I got distracted relearning the things I thought I already knew how to do and the flash sat in a corner, unused.

I had started taking an online course on flash photography and learned that maybe my off-brand manual flash wasn’t the best equipment to start with.  That led to me delaying purchasing radio controllers for the flash, thinking I might end up buying the latest, built-in radio flash unit if I figured out what I was doing and decided it made sense.

All of this led to me continuing to use a long cord from the flash stand to the camera when I wanted to us my flash.  And, in case you thought I was never going to get to the point, led to an accident involving knocking over my light stand with the cord when I was attempting to light a mimosa tree a couple months ago.  What I didn’t know was that the adapter broke when the stand fell over.

Having put off scheduling this follow up shoot for so long, I hadn’t had my flash unit out for many weeks.  And, of course, we had a last minute invitation to have dinner with friends before they left to go out of town.  So, in a nutshell, I was rushing to get ready for the shoot before racing off for an early dinner with our friends and then racing back to meet my models for the shoot.

Which means, I didn’t discover the broken adapter until I got to the location and was trying to figure out how to make it work.  After fiddling around with it enough to get it to mount sideways with the flash twisted back to the front, I realized I wasn’t going to have enough power to light both of my subjects from far enough away to shoot wide enough to capture the setting, which my models wanted in their images.  So, after waiting months to shoot them outdoors with a flash, I was stuck with natural light after all.

This is a really long way of saying being prepared might be a good idea.  🙂

Take 2 (or 3)

Imagine this:  A white sheet with two pieces of $1.75 metal conduit running through folds in the top and bottom hangs from the ceiling, suspended by pieces of nylon twine tied to a large nut.  Loops in the twine tied in random places indicate it took more than one try to get the sheet the right height.

To the left of the sheet, a light stand points towards the center of the sheet with a large white umbrella.  It stands about 7 feet high.  Underneath the umbrella light, centered in front of the sheet, sits a small, black ottoman daring a passerby to take a seat.

Barely to the right, almost in front of the ottoman, stands another light.  This one is covered in a giant rectangular box, black on the sides and translucent white in front.  There is something ominous about the way it leans in towards the ottoman, suggesting it’s a trap poised to spring.

In front of all of this sits a low, half-moon of shelves, loaded with electronics that appear to be unrelated to the lighting set up except for one item:  a laptop.  On top of what appears to be a large projector, an old Macbook Pro sits with the screen facing the sheet.  A cable runs from the laptop to a camera.  The camera sits on a large tripod.  The tripod straddles a low console that sits in front of a large sofa.

The room is large and should be spacious, but it’s run out of space.  What isn’t occupied by furnishings and photography equipment seems to be covered in cables.

Two cables come from the camera, the second going to the large light with the rectangular shade.  It’s as if the camera has a history of getting up and leaving and someone wanted to make doubly sure it couldn’t get away.

Along the floor, a mess of cords squiggle their way in a multitude of directions.  Following one cord reveals a vacuum cleaner sitting at the ready in a shadowed corner.  The rest seem to be associated with the lights, the laptop, and the collection of power strips going to the rack of electronics in the middle of the room.

A black and white dog lies on the couch taking it all in, but with insufficient curiosity to justify moving.  Perhaps he knows exactly what kind of trap it is.

Then, in comes me.  I sit on the ottoman, control the laptop using a bluetooth touchpad, and get up and down, up and down, adjusting the camera.  I find myself getting the urge to search Amazon for a remote controlled tripod.

I learn several things during this exercise:

  1. Being a model is extremely boring.
  2. Being over exposed is like a virtual peel–your skin looks younger, but you’re left a funny color.
  3. Predicting shadows from 4 lights sources is challenging.
  4. Focusing from a touchpad is less than ideal.
  5. Hair is a pain; next time, I may shave my head.

The Other Side of the Lens

Today, I planned to spend some time shooting portraits with off-camera lighting.  However, I have the challenge of needing a model.  My trainer at the gym agreed to model for me next week, but I’d like to have some trial runs before then.  Since Pat and Tisen are strobe intolerant (I think it’s linked to the lactose intolerance gene), I decide I should try doing a self-portrait instead.

I get as far as installing the live-view software on the big computer so I will be able to see myself, but once I get the camera tethered to the computer and start remembering how to use the software (it’s been years since I tried this), I get distracted.

Tisen has hopped up on the sofa with Pat and, as usual, I cannot resist him as a model.  I take a few shots of Tisen laying next to Pat’s legs, then I decide to try to put myself in the frame.

Since I’m shooting with my 100mm lens in our living room, I manage to get my throat in the frame by sitting on the floor in front of the sofa.  Tisen appreciates having my shoulder to rest his head on–he was starting to slide of the edge of the couch.

While there are a lot of shadows, I like the natural light and the way it seems to highlight Tisen’s face.  I also like that Tisen doesn’t run away when I shoot in natural light.

I discover it’s very difficult to come up with a pose that captures both my face and Tisen’s in the same frame without causing some rather frightening looking twists in my neck.  (I won’t mention how quickly I delete most of the photos when I see the folds in my skin!)

It’s a bit awkward to readjust a camera when you’re the model, especially when you’re counting on a dog to lie still so he’s still in the frame while you get up, go over to the tripod, adjust, sit back down, try to get back into position, and then, finally, shoot some more.  Tisen is amazingly complacent.  He looks somewhat miffed when his head rest gets up and walks away, but as soon as I sit back down, he snuggles his head in deeper against my neck.  How could anyone not love this dog?

I realize that if I’m going to do a self-portrait with the studio lights (which will be tomorrow’s exercise since we’re not hang gliding), I’m going to need something to focus on.  If only Tisen were 5’ 10”.  Well, maybe not.  Pat is working tomorrow, which is why we’re not going hang gliding, so he’s out.  Perhaps I can figure out how to attach Mr. Beaver to a broom handle and prop him up where my eyes should be?  That should be interesting!

The other thing I realize is that I need a white background.  Looks like I’d better go figure out how to hang a sheet.