Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Senior Portaits: Part Two

A couple weeks ago I stumbled across a couple John Michael Cooper videos about one of his shoot's and his post-production for that shoot. It was a new idea for me, and one I wanted to try asap. Take a look if you'd like to see him walk through his shoot. Or, you can continue on and get the ten peso version (I don't have a cameraman just yet) of my own first effort at this lighting technique.

The photo above (click it to see it larger) is the big idea we went out with when we headed to shoot Haleigh's senior portraits. I knew we'd shoot something more conventional afterwards (see previous post), and would probably even shoot again the next day (just for fun), but I wanted to shoot this idea whether or not she decided to use it. She was excited about it too.

And she had a great location in mind. Several old concrete and steel buildings, or what was left of their tumbled remains, largely hidden from view in a narrow span of trees tucked between one city and the next. After we arrived I wanted to stop and shoot everywhere along our way as we walked to the place we ultimately decided to shoot. The place isn't great because it's pretty. Because it's ugly. But cool ugly.

Here's the quick rundown of the shot. Camera set two stops under the ambient during a cloudless mid-afternoon (in the photo above you can see that it was actually bright and sunny outside). Lit using only one strobe. Twenty frames, put together in post with Photoshop. If you're a quick study, the picture, and the previous three sentences are all you need to know to go and try it out yourself. If you're still not quite sure, read on.

Once we picked a specific location, I spent a few minutes composing the scene precisely. Which was different than my usual perpetual exploration of the composition throughout a shoot, as I explore the interaction of the subject and his or her surroundings, getting different angles and looking for something that works. But this particular shot required sticking the camera on a tripod and sticking with the one composition.

Next we decided on a pose. Important to get this right too, since we were essentially taking one shot. In a way this is restricting, but also refreshing to be able to make the choice, and be done with it, and focus on other things besides choosing different poses throughout a shoot.

Light the Face
Then we took several different shots of Haleigh as I held a speedlight to light her face. I was in frame, but that would be taken care of easily in post. Dang it if she couldn't sit still! She did maintain the same general pose, but she's so animated that she kept leaning forward and back up again as we tried getting several different expressions to choose from for the final image. I was concerned that her movement would make it a pain to blend her face into the final image, but it was cake, largely thanks to the darkness of much of the image, which made it easy to hide slight shifts in her overall posture.

Light the Scene
After that, she maintained her pose as I went throughout the scene and popped the strobe wherever I felt like would be a good place. Note in the photo above that I was actually in frame as I did this, but I'd be easily removed in post because I only used the flashlit portion of each frame. We took about 35 shots (some redundant it turns out), but didn't like all of them and ended up with nineteen or twenty frames that went into the final composite. As we shot, I came back and checked the camera screen after I took several shots, then shot some more.

In post, I selected the images to put into the scene, and with layers in Photoshop combined the flash lit portions of each image all into one composite image. Some of the flash pops were too bright, so I didn't layer them all in at 100% opacity. I also darkened the sky some, to help keep the high contrast of that area from being a distraction. Although I went for a low-key image, this technique could very well be used to create an image full of light.

Some notes
You can do this any time of day. Noon, sunny, whatever. Just manually set the camera under one or two stops, then an unmodified speedlight is more than powerful enough at close range to overpower the sunlight. You'll need something to wirelessly trigger your strobes (click here to learn more about speedlights, how to trigger them, and to learn a great deal more than you bargained for).

We shot again the next day, without any strobes. I think I may talk briefly about that in another post.

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