Thursday, December 31, 2009

On-the-go lighting set-up

Merry Xmas (a bit late) and Happy New Year (a bit early)!

My partner and I drove North of Perth for Xmas, to the Pinnacles and Kalbarri to be precise. I was hoping that the unusual and beautiful landscapes along the way would give us an opportunity for nice portraits. Turns out that I didn't make so much use of the landscapes due to my strong emphasis on the models when shooting portraits, as usual. Nevertheless, we managed to pull some good shots at the Pinnacles. What is so special about these shots? They were all set up within minutes with a couple of lights. Here is how we did it.

First stop was at the Pinnacles. For those who are not familiar with this place, it is a small desert located at about 250km North of Perth which is filled with these weird phallic looking geological formations coming off the ground. Could be fun for a background. It was morning and the sun was already quite high up which led into a very bright and harsh light. Nothing less than full power would be needed out of my strobes to balance for the ambient. I have used 3 different set-ups in the following shots:
- 1 light full power through white umbrella
- 1 light full power as main, 1 light full power as rim
- Same as above + 1 light 1/2 power as fill
Then it was really a matter of moving my lights further away or closer to my subject which is set-up in seconds.

For the first stop, I decided to give a go at the shoot through umbrella. Because of the loss of light due to diffusion, the light source had to be very close to my subject. Also, the rock would provide some reflection used to fill the shadows. As you may have noticed, I am shooting in the shadow side of the rock.

Then off to another location, a couple of meters away from the location above. Here, I wanted a wider framing so the use of the shoot through umbrella was excluded. I simply used 2 bare flashes: one as a main light on the right side and the other one as a rim on the left side behind the subject. For the shot with both of us, I simply used the timer and a tripod.


The following image used the same lighting as well as a tripod and timer. When going wide angle, it is fairly easy to set up a self portrait as it is hard to go wrong with the focus, especially with the small aperture used on the day. However, I used the help of a passer-by to pinpoint my focus.

My partner was of very good help when trying to get shots of myself by stepping in the shoes of the photographer. I basically set up the lights and directed her on how I wanted the image to be. For the image below, I used the same cross lighting as the 3 images above but also added a third light to fill the shadows. Looking at the shadow on the ground, the scene was very contrasty.

Still using the same technique, we managed to pull out the following shot in Kalbarri (which could have been shot anywhere really). However, there is a little motion blur which shows the limits of the max sync speed of the 5DMk2 (the max sync speed is the fastest shutter speed that can be used with flashes, in this case 1/200 second.). I also learned the hard way that the Five Fingers do not offer the best cushioning when jumping.

Last shot was in Kalbarri in the rocks by the shore (could have been shot anywhere once again):

These images are not perfect, of course,  but this basically just shows that it is possible to set up a decent image very quickly with minimum preparation. Because these images were taken at different time, I had to pack up and set everything up again each time which was the most time consuming. However, whenever I had the chance of just storing my stands with my lights fitted on them directly in my car, it just became very easy. I just wished that the weather was not so hot which would have made the posing a bit more enjoyable.

And of course, thank you Desty for being such a helpful, patient and beautiful model (and future wife). :)

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