Saturday, March 14, 2009

Senior Portraits: Part One

Haleigh wasn't interested in what is typical for senior portraits in the area she lives (often cheesy). So I presented her some photo ideas that weren't the norm, and we went and played with a few of them. In the end, she did choose to have her guitar in some of them so as to appease mom with a symbol of her talents without cheesily holding a paintbrush.

These photos here are actually not one of the original ideas I presented to Haleigh. But, after the first part of the shoot, which was more involved, I quickly scouted out this location to make a lighter and cleaner portrait from the more dramatic and moody image we shot first, thinking these would be more to the taste of Haleigh's mom (in my next post I'll cover the first part of our shoot, which I think turned out pretty cool). The series of photos in this post were shot pretty quickly, only a handful really, and we stopped when we had something that worked since she had an appointment to keep.

For both series of photos we were at an old abandoned building, what was left of it, and the wall-less second level is raised up on concrete slabs and covered in dirt and soot. Nature was reclaiming the place, and I used the upraised level of the building to get a shot of tree, sky and mountain in the background, so as to avoid the grungier post-earthquake-rubble-fifty-years-later look that surrounded us.

Being mid-afternoon without any clouds, I tamed the hard light by bringing the ambient down with my exposure settings, and filling from the opposite direction with flash. Because I was using flash, my shutter speed maxed out at 250 (the max sync speed of my camera), so I took the exposure down the rest of the way by closing down my aperture. The trick was to stop down far enough to prevent blowing out of the mountain behind, while still being able to have enough strobe power to get through my smaller aperture. To offset the sunlight coming down from camera right, I stuck three speedlights in a silver umbrella, each at half power, coming in from camera left. (I ended up at about f/11 at 1/250 sec.) Since the strobes were close to Haleigh, they were a close match to the intensity of the sunlight.

I could also have gone a bit faster with my shutter speed, which would have the flash taking no effect on the edge of the frame where Haleigh was not standing, but that's a trick I have yet to try and it wasn't on my mind at the time.

I used three light stands, one for each light. The tri-legs of the lightsands were closed up, and they were all clustered together and held by my lovely assistant, as they fired into the umbrella. If I had one, I'd have used a TriFlash bracket, just to un-clumsy the set-up.

Time for a confession. The original images were darker than these, but I pushed up the exposure in post. The slight darkness was a mistake on my part, but fortunately a small one which shooting in raw helped to be amendable. My error was in not shooting either my hand or the subject or a stand-in up close, which would have allowed me to get an accurate meter reading for the light that reflected off only her skin. Instead, I mistakenly metered from far back, thus metering for the whole scene. My histogram gave me a good read, but the mild nagging unease about whether or not the exposure on her face was bright enough didn't get through to the part of my brain that should have told me to go meter up close on her face and use that histogram to tell me how to adjust my camera and/or lights. Later, when I got the images on the computer screen, I saw I had a good exposure for the background (having taken the mid-afternoon light down to an early evening level of light), but her face was a touch underlit from what I wanted. I had adequately balanced the strength of the ambient light with the strength of my strobes, but what I really needed was to either have the strobes be a touch brighter, or to have the whole scene brighter (by opening up my aperture to allow more light in from both sources, or by increasing the ISO). A wider aperture or higher ISO would have threatened to blow out the lightest parts of the mountain, which I'd prefer to avoid. So, increasing my strobes to full power, or adding another light would have been my preferred first option at bringing up the light on her face.

In the end, with the top photo, we got something fun and that showed a bit of Haleigh's personality, while being a bit different than what she normally thought of as a senior photo. In the next post I'll talk about the first photo we made just prior to this series. It's a bigger idea that was even further from typical, and I think looks pretty cool.


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