After a bit of a roller-coaster summer where I found that I had a brain tumor, had some pretty scary surgery and then spent the last four months or so getting my strength back, last Sunday marked my full return to being a working photographer with a location portrait shoot for a family that I have been photographing each year for the last three years.
The worst part of my recovery was the first month after the surgery which was tough at times, but after that I’ve been working full, often long days in my studio and gotten a lot done with my time, so I really don’t feel as though I’ve lost much time at all, but I’ve got to tell you, it was great to get out and do a full shoot again. It wore me out, for sure. I need to do much more regular shooting to really get myself fully back into shape, and I’m heading out to the gym again now, which is great, but still, I think I can safely say that I’m back!
So, today, I’m going to walk you through a few of the things that I bore in mind as I set up for the shoot, and we’ll take a look at some of the resulting images. to help illustrate some of my points.
The main family that hired me for this assignment have just had their kitchen and lounge refurbished, and wanted to celebrate that at the same time as get their family shots for their year end cards, and to document their family each year as their kids grow up. This is the third year that I’ve been asked to photograph them, which is great, because they are a wonderful family to work with.
This year they decided to ask the two sisters on the lady’s side of the family to come to town with their respective families, and their mother was also going to be there too. Also the man of the house’s mother lives nearby, so we wrapped a shoot of grandma with the grand kids into the mix too, so we had a full shot list, and three hours to shoot it all in, with a hard stop at three and a half hours, as they all had to leave for lunch at 1:30pm at the latest.
I use an app called Second Shootr on my iPhone to make a list of the must have shots in a shoot. Once you have got the shot, you just tap the item in the shot list, and it moves to the completed list, so as you work through your shoot in the Not Completed view, your next shot will automatically make it’s way up to the top of the list. I actually prefer to use the To Do section for my shot list, because this also gives me a text field for notes, into which I type the names of family member, so that I can take a sneaky look if I should forget someones name during the shoot. This isn’t so important for people that I’ve shot before, but I’m not good with names, so I like to list new client’s names just in case.
I did the shoot with just my wife as my assistant, and as there was so much to do, I wasn’t able to get loads of behind the scenes footage, but I did get a couple of shots that we can take a look at. In this first shot you can see that I used a Westcott 7′ Octabank to throw light into the kitchen, which was the main location for the shoot. These large doors open up wide enough for the majority of the Octabank to be able to pump light into the room and there was a little space to the left of it for me to stand and shoot.
To light the living room area, which was to be the background for many of the shots, we used a 3×4′ Profoto softbox, again right up against the second window. To maximize the light that entered the room, we removed the bug screen from the right side of the window, and I also used a boom here for two reasons. The first and main reason being that the deck on which we perched the light stand ran out a few inches short of where I would have liked to have the light stand. To get the softbox in the middle of the window I need to be a little bit further to the right, so the boom allowed me to do this. Also, having used the boom like this, we didn’t have the light stand smack in the middle of the route off the deck and out of the gate there.
As we can see in this next photo, there was a third window out on the road side of the room, which we pumped a third Profoto D1 Monolight into, not just to add extra light to the room, but also to stop that window from falling dark, as it would without the extra light here.
Finally, in this next shot we see a fourth monolight inside the kitchen, to fill in what would have otherwise been pretty harsh shadows on the side of the faces of people in the kitchen for some of the photos I shot. These second two behind the scenes shots were actually from a little later in the day, as I tested the lights for another family shoot, but it’s very similar to how we started out.
In this next portrait of the three sisters, I’d actually got that fourth monolight closer to the doorway, just to my left. I was literally standing in that little gap to the right of the octabank. If you are wondering why we even used studio lighting for this shoot, we basically needed to overcome the sunlight, which only hits certain parts of this room, even at mid day, and model the light for a more pleasing look.
The idea is to fill the room with enough light to make it possible to shoot with an aperture of F5.6 at ISO 100, for 1/160 or 1/200 of a second shutter speed. When I needed a slightly deeper depth of field, I went to F8 and changed my ISO to 200, so that I didn’t have to change my lights. I purposefully turned off the Profoto Air Remote that was on the top of my camera to stop my lights from firing and exposed one frame to show you how dark it was in this room without the lights, but there’s not much point in posting it here, as it was almost completely black. There were just a few shapes in the shadow that you can just about see, so pretty much all of this light is coming from my Profoto monolights.
With the large softbox to my right as I shot this, I had some beautiful soft light coming in and hitting the side of the three sisters faces, and the light to my side filling in the shadows just enough to reduce the contrast, but not so much that it destroyed the shadows on their faces, as you can see with the shadows of their noses and cheeks etc.
Note too that I have the monolight inside the Octabank fitted with a glass dome from Profoto, made for the D1’s, which basically spreads the light out much wider to really fill the Octabank with light, so it really does give me a wide enveloping light source, with very little light falloff at the edges of the front diffuser panel.
Ideally I would have liked the Octabank to be a little bit higher, but with the restriction of having to shoot in through the doorway, it couldn’t be lifted up any more. Later in the day when this did cause a bit of a problem, we poked the Octabank inside a little, and raise it up maybe a foot, but that was about all we could manage. Still, I’m quite pleased with the results here.
As I also mentioned last week, in my review of the ThinkTank Photo Airport Security V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag, I took some wide angle lenses to this shoot, as we’d hoped to try and get some wide environmental portraits of the three sisters in their kimonos in the newly refurbished kitchen. First, here is one of the resulting shots (left) at 16mm, which is has so much distortion that it’s really not a flattering image at all. To overcome that to a degree, I grabbed my 24-70mm lens, and shot three vertical images, which I later stitched together in Photoshop.
Of course, this now has barrel distortion, because I panned around from the same point, as I couldn’t really move across the scene here, but the faces in the shot are much more flattering in this version. Neither are really very good, but we tried at least. Luckily this was not on the must have shot list. That was covered by the image we looked at before these.
Once we’d bagged a nice shot or two of the three sisters in the kitchen, the plan was to have their mother join the group. We moved the sister who’s house it was around to the inside of the counter, and had the Mom sit between the two younger sisters, and I asked if they had a magazine or something for them all to look at together. The big sister grabbed one of her photo albums, which got them all in stitches looking at old school photos etc. as we can see here.
I really like this shot. The three sisters with their Mom in the middle, and they’re all having a great time. Of course, they would almost never all be in kimonos like this, but that’s what makes it so special. It’s as though they are all together for a special occasion, and reminiscing over something, which in many ways, they were.
Before the ladies changed out of their kimonos, we had an idea for one last shot, which we see here (right).
We were able to go up onto the balcony of the house next door to shoot down onto the wooden deck that they’ve also just had built. We pulled the bug blind across to darken down the kitchen and and focus our attention on the sisters in their kimonos.
This was lit with just the Octabank, and we do have a problem in that the sky behind me looking down in very bright, with the sun just hidden behind the balcony I was standing on, but still causing the sisters to squint a little as they looked up. I was also shooting between two slats above the deck, which is why we get a slightly forced rotation, but I still quite like this shot. It was probably the best of this batch from the deck, though we got a few nice head and shoulder shots too.
It’s important to plan the flow of the shoot to make the most of the time that your client’s are paying for, so while the ladies changed out of their kimonos for some casual clothes shots, we grabbed the octabank and 3×4′ softbox to go to the man of the houses mother’s house, where we shot her with the grand kids for his Mom’s year end cards. We got the standard shots to feed the shot list, but personally, this next image is my favorite from this location.
The young guy here is remarkably relaxed here, for him, and I captured a tender moment for the family. None of their eyes are visible in the shot, but that isn’t always necessary in my opinion. This just works on a number of levels.
Again, the main light here is the Westcott Octabank pushed up against the outside window, and the 3×4′ Profoto softbox is in the room to camera right, to fill in the shadows a little, but not too much. I was also conscious here to ensure that Grandpa, who’s unfortunately no longer with us, was able to be in this family shot via his photograph in the back there.
Having used the time well, we went back to the main house and had more sessions with the sister’s families. I’m not going to include shots from each session, but here are a few more to finish with. For example, here’s a nice normal portrait of the main family…
That was actually one of the last shots that we got though, after bribing the boy with a Macdonalds or something. Up to that point, the son had other ideas. He’d actually brought a wooden sword to the shoot, and spend most of the time pretending to be a samurai…
Which earned him a bit of friendly frustration from Dad, as we can see here.
After this session, we did a few more shots back out of the deck, as the families wanted some photographs with the garden in the background. Here’s one of the youngest sister with her new husband, shot with the 50mm F1.2L lens.
There are some hotspots in the background where the sun is catching the trees, and I’m not fond of the drainage pipes that form shapes on the wall to the right, but we got what we were asked to do here, and the clients are happy with the results. I was happy to get some nice natural expressions too.
To finish up, we shot the three sisters out on the deck together, for this last shot.
I’m actually breaking a whole bunch of rules here, because I actually have these three ladies standing directly in front of the softbox, and that’s the only light, so you’d think we’d have really flat light, but I actually split the light into two, by standing directly in front of it myself. If you click on the image to show it full sized on my blog, you can make out a horseshoe shaped catch-light in their eyes, which is basically me standing in front of the huge Octabank. Because I did this, we still got some nice shadows and definition in the faces, and I of course had balanced the exposure so that the ambient light in the background was just overexposing where the sun hit some of the foliage, so there was also more natural light hitting the subjects too. All in all I think it turned out quite well.
This family had booked me with my Gold Package, which basically includes a two hour session which we extended for the additional subjects, and it also contains a bunch of prints that I’m going to start working on as each family decides which of their respective photos they want me to print for them.
I don’t just give my clients a DVD with all of the full sized images on, as I want to be in control of the quality of any prints made. They each get a Web album with the images numbered, so that they can let me know which they want printed. As including portraits like these in New Year postcards is popular here in Japan, I do provide the clients with a DVD with images resized large enough to be able to print a postcard at 300ppi, and these are also a good size for computer desktop wallpaper etc.
To provide this image data, I also create a DVD that I send to each family. I try to select a nice shot from the shoot to put on the label as you can see here. I’ve blurred out the names for privacy sake, but you can see that these are usually quite a nice memento from the shoot.
I received an email earlier today that these DVDs had arrived and the client is very happy with these and the overall experience. It makes me so happy to be able to help people to create memories like this. Although I love my nature and wildlife work, this side of my business is incredibly fulfilling, and I’m really looking forward to doing more and more now that I’m officially back to taking on assignments again.
How’d the Profoto BatPac Do?
I did also want to update you on the fact that I had two to three monolights working from the Profoto BatPac for the majority of the shoot, and at some points I had all four lights running off of it. I had them all set in battery mode, to purposefully slow down the recharge time, so that they didn’t try to suck too much energy out of the battery after firing, but apart from the odd time when I’d inadvertently take two shots consecutively and making all of the monolights scream as they warned me that they were not yet up to power, the BatPac held up very well.
I shot some 570 frames over the three and a half hours, all of which had a minimum of two monolights on the battery, usually three, and sometimes four, and it just kept going. I think Profoto have purposefully under stated the potential of this battery in their specs. It certainly outperformed them, so I’m very happy with this unit.
How About the Airport Security V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag?
As I said last week, this was also the first assignment on which I used the ThinkTank Photo Airport Security V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag. You can check out the full review of the bag in Episode 309 of the Podcast, but just to close the loop on that, the bag totally lived up to expectations. It’s tough, holds a ton of gear, and although the security measures make it a relatively weighty bag, the fact that you can roll it around makes it really useful for this kind of shoot.
Before we finish, I’d like to say a huge thank you to this family for allowing me to make these memories with you again this year, and for allowing me to share the resulting images here on my blog and Podcast. And of course, thanks to all of you for listening.
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