Quality of Light with Darlene Hildebrandt (Podcast 451)

Quality of Light with Darlene Hildebrandt (Podcast 451)

Today we bring you a great conversation with photographer and educator Darlene Hildebrandt, with lots of advice on the quality of light, making the most of shooting with natural light, and some great off-camera flash tips as well.

Darlene Hildebrandt

Darlene Hildebrandt

Here are a few bullet points from our conversation, but you need to listen to get the rest this week.

  • Darlene shares a little about her background and education in photography 
  • We discuss Darlene’s new Portrait Lighting on Location course
  • A discussion about the quality of light, and what this means to Darlene
  • Using natural light, off-camera flash, reflectors and diffusers
  • Darlene gave us five tips for seeing and utilising the best light
    • Find the “good” light, get out of the sun
    • Look for a good background
    • Examine the direction of light and use it to your advantage
    • Look for “open shade” whenever possible
    • Work smarter not harder

The Portrait Lighting on Location course is 25 videos and over 240 pages of course notes, and it’s all incredibly well produced and laid out, to help you make the most of the content.

It usually retails for $149 but will be on sale at $99 from Dec 8 (from 9am PST) to Dec 12, 2014, for those of you that pick up this episode early.

If you miss the sale, you can still get a 25% discount off the regular price by using the code MBP25!

You can also view a free lesson on Portrait Lighting Patterns here.

You can find Darlene online on these social networks…

Facebook: digitalphotomentor
Google Plus: +DarleneHildebrandt
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dpmentor

And here are a few example portrait photographs from the course.

Virtual-lighting-course-August14-0265 Virtual-lighting-course-August14-0385 Virtual-lighting-course-August14-0390 Virtual-lighting-course-August14-0458-1440px


Show Notes

You can find Darlene on Facebook here: digitalphotomentor

And Google Plus here: +DarleneHildebrandt

Darlene on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dpmentor

See details of Darlene’s Portrait Lighting on Location course here: https://mbp.ac/plol

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Some Cool New Profoto and Westcott Light Modifiers

Some Cool New Profoto and Westcott Light Modifiers

I love it when a package arrives from B&H, and today was no exception. When ordering some 24″ rolls of Hahnemuhle Photo Rag a few days ago, I checked my Wish list, and found that the Westcott 7′ Octabank was down in price by a couple of hundred dollars, and I have been hankering after this beautiful softbox for some time. With the Yen also being really strong against the dollar at the moment, I figured it was time to get my new baby.

There’s also the thought that if I spread the postage over multiple items, it makes it cheaper per item, so I dropped the Profoto Zoom Reflector 2 and 10° Honeycomb Grid into the cart too, and I didn’t want to just drop the Octabank straight over my flat frosted glass front element of my Profoto D1 500W Monolight, so I grabbed a Glass Dome too, to spread the light out inside the Octabank.

Now, unless you already use these tools yourself, or you’ve already been looking into this, you’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about, so I shot a few images of the new gear as I had a play this afternoon, and thought I’d share them here.

Note that this isn’t a Podcast, so there’s no audio player below, and nothing new in iTunes. It’s just a quick ad-hock post.

So, first of all, here’s the Profoto D1 500W Monolight. I work with two of these, and some Canon Speedlites for my portrait and commercial work. Note the flat frosted glass on the front of the Monolight. This is the standard kit, and works well. I’m leaving one of my lights like this, and will use that inside my Westcott Asymetric Strip Softbox, that I use for a hairlight or kicker. I’ll also use this unmodified Monolight with the Zoom Reflector 2 that we’ll look at next.

Straight D1 Air 500W Monolight

Straight D1 Air 500W Monolight

To widen my creative options, I really wanted a spotlight, so I grabbed the following two items. First, the Profoto Zoom Reflector 2 that you can see on the front of the Monolight here.

Zoom Reflector 2

Zoom Reflector 2

This restricts the spread of light from the D1 Monolight, but more importantly for me, it is an adapter to easily drop in the Profoto 10° Honeycomb Grid that you see here, with the modelling light turned on, so that you can see the structure of the grid.

10° Honeycomb Grid

10° Honeycomb Grid

Note the little tab on the front of the grid. This tells you that this is the 10° grid, so that you can easily tell it from the 5° and 20° grids, which I don’t yet have. If I find myself wanting a narrowing or wider spot than this though, I’ll pick them up later as necessary, making this tab even more important to me. This tab also gives you something to pull on, to remove the grid from the front of the Zoom Reflector 2.

This is what happens to the light from the D1 Monolight with the 10° Grid fitted. This opens up some great creative doors for me. Think dramatically lit portraits, front or side lit, or maybe even back lit.

Light Spread  from D1 Air Monolight with 10° Honeycomb Grid

Light Spread from D1 Air Monolight with 10° Honeycomb Grid

Next, let’s take a look at the glass dome that I fitted to the front of my second D1 Monolight, to help spread the light more smoothly inside the Octabank. It was a bit fiddly getting the frost glass plate out of the front of the Monolight, but once I’d got that out, it was pretty easy to drop in the new Profoto Frosted Glass Dome.

Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights

Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights

Of course, this means that unless I take this out and put the flat frosted glass plate back in, I can no longer use the plastic protective cover that comes with the D1 Monolights, which is a shame. I wish Profoto would ship this Glass Dome with some kind of cover too, but they don’t. I had to cut the packing in my Monolight case and remove some of the padding so that I could get this Monolight in with the Glass Dome attached. I don’t intend to try and switch these out in front of a client.

Here’s a shot of the dome with the modeling light turned on. I can imagine that even just the way the light spreads out from this glass dome, there will be creative uses. I imagine standing this up behind a model will throw light all over the place, giving a great backlit look.

Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights

Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights

Back to the main reason that I bought the Glass Dome though – Here you can see it inside the Westcott 7′ Octabank.

Glass Dome in Westcott '7 Octabank

Glass Dome in Westcott ‘7 Octabank

It looks kinda puny in there, and I didn’t even shoot to the edges of the Octabank! You can see though that the dome will spread light around the inside of the Octabank much more efficiently than just the flat frosted glass front that comes with the D1 Monolight as standard.

Also to help diffuse and spread the light around, is the inner baffle, as seen here, again with the modelling light turned on.

Inner Round Baffle

Inner Round Baffle

Then, to finish it off, you have the outer diffusion panel, as you can see below.

Westcott 7' Octabank

Westcott 7′ Octabank

My office studio, which isn’t all that big to start with, has never looked so small! Obviously, I didn’t buy the Octabank to use in this room. 🙂

Here’s a shot of a Canon PowerShot S95 that I shot for a review Podcast that I’m putting together. I swung the Octabank around to about 45° to the table, and grabbed a few product shots like this. Totally overkill of course, but I’d already got it set up, so what the hey!

Canon PowerShot S95

Canon PowerShot S95

I used some white background paper taped to the wall and the table top for this, but otherwise, it’s just the Octabox at 45° right. I think this will give you an idea of how soft and enveloping the light is. Don’t worry though, as soon as I do a portrait shoot that I can share the images from, there’ll be a Podcast on this new Westcott 7′ Octabank.


Podcast 275 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 2

Podcast 275 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 2

On December 17th 2010, I did a portrait shoot at a Xmas party, where I set up my studio in a large room in a restaurant here in Tokyo, and ended up shooting nine groups of people. Last week we looked at the Studio setup and I talked about some of the other considerations and logistics of the shoot.

Today I’m going to take you quickly through the actual portrait sessions, looking at an image from each and anything that comes to mind that might be of use if you do similar shoots yourself.

The Portrait Sessions

Before the Christmas Party at which I was shooting, an email was sent out to all of my old colleagues with an offer to book their slot in advance, so that they knew exactly what time to turn up, making planning their evening easier. Three families took us up on this, so I knew that I would have at least some work during the evening. To be honest though, unless we got a minimum of another three groups, this was not going to pay a whole lot for the amount of work that we put into the shoot.

Now, any work of this kind is helpful in getting my name out there, and also building contacts, as any one of the people that were at the party is a potential future customer, so I don’t want it to sound as though I’m being totally mercenary about making money from this event, but we do also need to keep in mind that this is now my sole source of income, I am being conscious to put my energies into work that will help to forward my business, either right away, or in some way in the future.

I did a little bit of canvasing, walking around the party, saying hello to old friends, and a few of them came to look at the studio we’d set up, and ended up having their portraits shot. I had also created a large banner using Canon’s Vinyl Scrim, which is a very durable poster paper, and that was visible from the main hall where the party was being held, so some people just stuck their heads in the door out of curiosity, and some of them ended up having their portraits shot as well.

 

The MBP Studio Banner (© Jesse Davis)

Number Each Shoot

I've Got Your Number!

I’ve Got Your Number!

A quick logistics tip here is that so we could keep track of each group that had their portraits shot, we had each group hold up a piece of paper with their number on it. This was my place marker in Lightroom, and I used this number while fulfilling print orders etc. It would have been possible without the number, just using the family’s names, but there were order forms and other things to keep track of, so I thought it would be easier to assign a number to each group.

On the order forms for each session I had the clients indicate whether or not they minded me using the resulting photographs in my marketing activities and sign the form if they are OK with it. It’s not quite a model release, but it certainly gives me the ability to publish the photos here and on a new portraiture web site that I will put together very soon. Although we started off a little slow, we ended up doing nine sessions, and eight of the nine groups agreed for me to use their images, so let’s take a quick look at some of these now.

This shot (below, right) is of the first family, and is actually the image that I chose as my favorite from the batch, but was happy when the family also chose this out of a relatively large batch of images that I presented them with, as their A4 Baryta print that I would put into a mounting board for them.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

As I shot, there were times where I would have to raise or lower the Key light, or move it closer to the subjects etc. We also had to reposition the reflector a number of times, but generally apart from these adjustments the lighting is pretty much the same for seven of the eight groups. I would like to have gotten a little more experimental and tried a few more things, but with the subjects generally being at a party, we really only had 10 to 15 minutes with each group, so I just concentrated on getting a handful of nice shots for each group that they would be able to select a photo from that I would print and put into a matte mounting board. The largest challenges came with the larger groups, like this family of five.

It soon became obvious that we were going to need that large reflector, to pop some light into the front of the subjects, and we move that in a little to ensure that the light was nice and soft on everyone. You can see here though that everyone has a nice shadow along the left side of their faces as we view the photo. The Kicker light from the left is ensuring that the side of their faces is highlighted too, giving the look I wanted.

Why White?

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

By the way, I chose a white background for this shoot for a number of reasons. Firstly, most Japanese people have black hair, so I wanted to ensure that didn’t blend into a black background. Also, the images would likely be used on the Year End postcards that the families would send out, so white would probably give more options there too. Although I do like the dramatic look of a black background, I think in this case, the white background gave the images a light and airy feel to them. Black can be a little heavy sometimes, so all in all I was happy with the decision to go with white.

Next up we have a father and daughter shot. We had a lot of fun here too, and when I asked the dad to put his daughter on his shoulders, she promptly mussed his hair up, and having done so gave me this beautiful cheeky “look what I did” smile. This is actually the image that this guy chose for me to do a 13×19″ gallery wrap of, which looks great. We’ll look at that a bit later.

These first two sessions were ones that had been booked, and things had been a little slow between sessions up to that point, but then a bit of canvasing on my part brought in the first impromptu clients that we can see here.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

Now, I know this guy very well, and I have also met his wife before. I went to their wedding party actually. But many Japanese men put on a very serious face when having their photos taken. To get him to lighten up a little, I asked his wife to tickle him a little, and I personally ended up liking this shot the best out of the set, because of that human interaction, not just between the couple, but also between me and them.

On a technical side, also note that I raised the Key light up to about 10′ for this shot to remove the reflection of the light in their glasses. It’s totally important to keep your eye out for small details like this while shooting, because it can be very easy to miss something like light reflecting in spectacles. Keeping your wits about you and remaining flexible throughout the shoot is highly important.

The next image (below, right) is of a family that I photographed in 2009 as I started to prepare for my portrait business. They’re a great looking family, and here I captured a quite personal moment as they got ready for the shoot. We went on to shoot a whole load of frames, but I really liked this image as I was going through the batch, and so I included it in their gallery. I was really pleased when they actually chose this for their mounted print.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

This just goes to show that you need to shoot opportunities like this, not just for yourself, but for the family you’re working with. It also reinforces the theory that I have that people will quite often select the image that you least expect them too, and this helps to keep us, the photographer, open minded when editing the results of our shoots down.

Note too that only the daughter’s eyes are visible in this shot, which is also something that you would not expect of a portrait, but it works, again, because of the human connection element. You can almost sense the affection for the young daughter in the parents, and also the patience of the older brother who is used to his kid sister getting all the attention.  🙂

The next family (below) was great too. Note that before I created the galleries for people to select their images from, I created a Silver Efex Pro preset that worked well with the lighting and created a Photoshop Action that applied that preset to the images, then I ran that action in batch against all of the images I had selected to show the clients. This makes it easy to present them with both a color and black and white version of each shot. Around half of them selected the black and white version for their mounted print.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

A hint on posing that I recalled from this shot is that exaggerated positions usually look better in the photo. I usually have to ask people to get closer together, and then closer still. The reason that I recalled this on this particular photo is because again there is so much motherly love in this family I didn’t have to direct them at all. The mum just pulled in her two daughters and we grabbed a whole bunch of images in which I think they all look great.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

This next image was also a pleasure to shoot. The little boy has a great little smile, and he uses it a lot. He seems very happy and content, which is hardly surprising because again, I know his dad well, and he’s an amazing person. There are fewer people that can think through situations and do exactly the right thing every time, as well as this guy. I have known him since before he met his wife and of course before they had their little boy, so again, it was a pleasure to make their photographs. This was another couple that I brought in following a bit of a walk around the party, and I’m happy I did. I love this photo, and again, this is the one that they chose for their mounted print.

By the time I photographed this next group (below, right) it was after 9PM, and we’d been at it quite a while. This was probably the most challenging group to shoot though, just because of the number of subjects. Again we had eye glasses to watch out for reflection in, so the Key light went high again. Also though, there was not enough light making it into the center of the group, so I had Jesse hand-hold a third Canon Speedlite shooting it into a 45″ shoot through umbrella, and we popped that into the middle of the group at 1/8 power, just to fill in the shadows a little.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

The other thing that was a problem now was keeping the white backdrop clean and uncreased under the subjects. In fact, as you can see it wasn’t really possible, but it’s going to stay that way. I removed most of the small black specs that had gathered in Lightroom, but apart from that it’s staying like this. There’s also a bit more room to the right of the group than the left, but I’ll shift the image over to the right a bit when I mount it, so that won’t be a problem, at least for now. I could have reduced the right side a little of course, but I figured I’d show you my mistakes as well as what I really like.

There was one couple that I have skipped because they didn’t want me to use their photos. Although we as the photographer own the copyright to our images, I think it’s still a common courtesy to at least ask your clients if they mind you using their images in your marketing. When possible, a signature somewhere, is nice too, or even a full blown model release when possible. Of course, if you intend to make images you shoot available for purchase from a stock site then a model release is essential, but that’s a whole other subject.

These next two photos are from the last session of the evening. It was 9:35 by this time, and we were certainly starting to flag, which is probably why I ended up standing on the USB cable tethering the camera to my laptop and pulling it out, but I made sure I didn’t panic in front of the client, and calmly worked around the problems.

The little boy here was really tired at this point, so it was a concerted effort from my wife and Jesse, my assistant for the evening, to keep him smiling, as of course I was trying to do as well. He’s a great little lad though, and we managed to get some nice shots.

The shot to the right below of just the Dad and Son is one of my favorites too. This was something that I shot after we’d called it a wrap, but I couldn’t resist shooting just dad and son as we relaxed after the shoot.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

 

I’m not sure if the families that were kind enough to have me photograph them will listen to this Podcast episode or look at this blog post, but I did just want to say publicly that it was a pleasure to photograph each of them, and I really hope that they enjoyed the experience even half as much as I did.

Mounted Prints

As I mentioned, eight of the nine families photographed opted for the package that included one A4 print created on Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta paper. I snapped a few of the prints in the mounts that I used, as we can see here. For each family I created a Web gallery for them to look at and select the image that I would print for this.

4 Mounted Portrait Prints

4 Mounted Portrait Prints

No Full Resolution Images for Clients

As a general policy I do not provide my clients with full resolution images without adding a significant cost for that service. The reason for this is because I don’t want people making crappy prints of my work, and then showing them to other people. When someone sees a Martin Bailey portrait print I want them to say “wow!” and I have no control over that if I allow people to print their own images.

As a special service for this particular shoot though, I created a medium size image that could be printed at 300dpi on the New Year postcards that are customary to send in Japan. Now, the problem with this is that the client can, and probably will actually print these out pretty large, which of course will look worse than something they could have printed had I given them the full size data. This is a problem in and of itself, but still, in general I am going to try to stick to my policy of not giving full res images to my clients.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The only way I am going to be able to convince people though that my prints are beautiful and worth the additional cost, is by providing one, so usually, all portrait work that I do includes at least one A4 Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta print in a mount like this. This way even if people don’t understand about the quality based on looking at samples or just my explanation, hopefully once they see a print of the quality that I produce, they will order more prints, which of course will increase the overall profitability of the shoot. I’m taking these mounted prints to my clients tomorrow, so I’ll see if my theory works, and I have only done a few other shoots other than the one we’re looking at today, so I’m still testing this strategy, but  time will tell as I do more of this sort of work if my strategy is working or not.

Of course, I can’t pretend that my entire reason for not wanting to give the full resolution images up is based totally on quality. The other reason I don’t want people making their own prints is because I want to be paid for doing so. I enjoy printing and making gallery wraps now, and because of the equipment I now own, and my skill as a printer, which I believe is now pretty good, I know that I can provide a quality service, but I also want to charge as a quality service. If people want average prints of their precious new portraits, or they absolutely definitely require the full sized image data, but they aren’t prepared to pay extra for that, then they will have to find a different photographer. It’s my plan to continue to build my brand of quality to the point where people will come to me for their portraits, even if it costs a little more than the next guy. If they don’t understand my quality proposition, sure, I won’t win the job, but it’s their loss too. Plus, I’ll have more time to concentrate on working with the clients that get it.

13x19" Gallery Wrap

13×19″ Gallery Wrap

Gallery Wraps

As I mentioned earlier, one of the clients ordered  a 13×19″ Gallery Wrap of one of the photos from his session, in addition to the A4 mounted print. This is the first gallery wrap of a portrait that I’ve done for a client, and this was very satisfying for me too. It makes me incredibly proud to know that now that, in addition to my nature fine art work, my portrait work is also now being displayed on peoples’ walls. There have been people that have told me that I’m making a mistake trying to make a living from two totally different photographic genres, but in the coming years, I think I’ll be able to prove them wrong. It takes more than one revenue stream to make it these days, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have no intension of becoming a poor photographer, complaining “how difficult it is to make a living these days”.

So, before I totally jump on my soap-box, let me finish there. I hope you’ve enjoyed this two part series, and found some of the tips that I interwove in here of use.


Podcast show-notes:

Studio Diagram: https://mbp.ac/studio

Product Links:

Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S 2 Monolight Studio Kit

Profoto Air Remote Transceiver

Profoto Air Sync Transceivers

Westcott Illuminator Collapsible 52″ Reflector 4-in-1

Music created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


Podcast 274 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 1

Podcast 274 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 1

On December 17th 2010, I did a portrait shoot at a Xmas party, where I set up my studio in a large room in a restaurant here in Tokyo, and ended up shooting nine groups of people. Today I’m going to take you through the idea behind all of this, and some of the logistics, and then next week in Part 2 we’ll take a look at some of the resulting images along with a few tips that might help you in similar circumstances.

During the Shoot (© Jesse Davis)

During the Shoot (© Jesse Davis)

Firstly, in the spirit of keeping you fully informed in the background of what I’m up to, the company that allowed me to do this portrait shoot is the company that I left in September last year. It’s my old day-job employer, which felt a little bit strange in some ways, but it was also great to see many of my old colleagues again.

So, as we will see, this is actually a pretty good model for a portrait shoot, but I can’t take credit for the original idea, as my old employer contacted me to do this. At first, I was concerned that my old colleagues would think that I hadn’t fully cut the cord, and I discussed the opportunity with the people in charge at length before agreeing to do it. I am so pleased that I did agree to do it though, as we had a lot of fun, and it turned out to be quite a well-paid gig in the end.

The plan was that I would set up my studio in a space in the corner of a restaurant that they were chartering for the entire evening, for their Christmas party. I would then charge people a minimal fee for a 10 to 15 minute portrait shoot. The cost varied depending on the number of people in the group, and I also added an option for them to pay a little extra and get an A4 sized Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta print of their favorite resulting image, and I would put that into a matte board. I also provided a price list for additional prints that people can order, and I did receive a few orders from that too, increasing the overall profitability of the evening.

This was quite a big job, and just setting up the studio was going to take some time, so I asked a friend of mine from the MBP community Jesse Davis, to come along as an assistant. Jesse had actually asked me to let him know when he could be of help, and he sure was, so it was great to have him on board. I’d also like to let you know that some of the behind the scenes photographs that we’ll use in today’s Podcast were shot by Jesse, so thanks not only for helping during the shoot, but also for helping to document it for us Jesse. I really appreciate it.

The Studio Setup

Let’s start by taking a look at the studio itself. I threw a quick diagram together on a great new web site, just for creating studio diagrams, called sylights.com. I created a short link to my diagram which is https://mbp.ac/studio if you want to take a look, but you are also able to export the diagrams as PNG files, so I’ve done that, and embedded the diagram into the Enhanced Podcast and my blog, so you can take a look there too.

MBP Studio Setup Diagram

MBP Studio Setup Diagram

I used two Canon 580EX Speedlites, and two Profoto D1 500 Air Monolights for most of the shoots, though there was one large group shot towards the end for which we had to use a third Speedlite to pop some light into a dark area of the shot, simply because of the large number of subjects. The standard setup though, as you can see in the diagram was two Canon Speedlites firing into a reflective 45″ umbrellas pointing across the white backdrop, to keep that nice and bright, and to stop the background from doing dark.

Profoto D1 500W/S Monolight (© Jesse Davis)

Profoto D1 500W/S Monolight (© Jesse Davis)

In the front right, I had one of my Profoto Monolights firing into a 60″ shoot through umbrella, that would act as the main or key light. Then I had the second Profoto Monolight firing into a Bruce Dorn 18×42″ softbox from Westcott as the Kicker or hair-light.

I don’t think I’ve spoken about these Profoto lights yet, so I’ll just give you a bit of background on why I chose them. I initially wanted to get a set of Pocket Wizards, but unfortunately they use a radio wavelength that does not conform to Japanese radio regulations, so I can’t use them here. Pocket Wizard did create a Japan compliant version of one of their older generation units, but they had to cripple them so badly to comply that they weren’t much more use than a long sync cord.

So, I started to look into other options. I was looking on and off for quite some time actually, but finally came across the Profoto system. The Profoto D1 Air Monolights have Profoto Air wireless functionality built in, which means that I can fire them wirelessly using a Profoto Air Remote unit plugged into the hotshoe on my camera, for a range of up to 300m. The Air Remote also allows me to turn the Monolights on or off, increase or decrease the power, turn on the modeling lights and change the modeling light power too, among other things.

The other important factor for me was that I can also use the Profoto Air Sync units to fire my Canon 580EX II Speedlites. They can’t be controlled like the Profoto Monolights, and you have to shoot in full manual mode, but that’s the way I like to work anyway, so that certainly isn’t a deal clincher for me. You can also plug the Air Sync units into the camera’s sync cord, and use them as a remote switch to fire the camera at up to 300m too, which I’m sure will come in handy at some point.

By the way, here’s a photo of the Pelican Case that I customized to fit my three Profoto Air Sync and two Profoto Air Remote units. I also pinched out a space to put two full sets of Eneloop rechargeable batteries in and the sync cords that I need to connect the Air Sync units to my Canon Speedlites.

Profoto Air System in Pelican Case

Profoto Air System in Pelican Case

I bought the two Profoto D1 Monolights as a kit that came with a case, two light stands and two 45 inch umbrellas, and one Air Remote that you use to control and fire the Monolights. If you are thinking of buying into the Profoto system this kit is certainly the way to go. It costs around twice as much to buy all of the individual components separately, and it’s even cheaper to buy this kit than just one standalone D1 500 Monolight here in Japan. I’ll put links to B&H in the show-notes if you are interested, and they are also affiliate links, so you’d be helping to support me and the Podcast if you buy using these links.

One last thing to note is that there are 1000W/S, 500W/S and 250W/S versions of these heads, and I went with the 500W/S as I thought at just over $2,300 they were a good balance between the cost and power. So far I’ve been very happy with them. They are incredibly powerful, and can keep up with a pretty fast pace shooting.

Obviously my Speedlites don’t recharge as fast, even with external power-packs attached, so there were a number of shots where the background fell dark, or just one Speedlite fired, which results in some nasty shadows caused by the creases in the backdrop, as you can see in this image. This helps to show the importance of lighting the background as well. If I was to not light the background at all by the way, it goes very dark, so you can actually use a white background as a grey one, if you have enough distance between the subject and the background.

Example of Right Speedlite Not Firing

Example of Right Speedlite Not Firing

Also note that we had a large reflector in front of the setup, bouncing some of the light from the Key light back at the subjects, so kill any harsh shadows under their chins etc. You can see the main elements of the setup in this photo of me messing around in the set. You’ll also note that I’m wearing my OneLight Workshop t-shirt, so I have to publically apologize to Zach Arias here for using up to five lights on this shoot. I haven’t actually attended this workshop, but I did buy the OneLight Workshop DVD, which I can’t recommend highly enough. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they pack the DVD with the T-Shirt, and I have hardly been able to take it off since it arrived.

Me Having Big Fun!

Me Having Big Fun!

Anyway, the reflector is one of two reflectors that come in the Westcott Illuminator Collapsible Reflector 4-in-1 reflector kit. These are 52″ Square reflectors, one being silver on one side and gold on the other, and the second that we see in this photo is basically a 52″ diffuser, but if you position it like this, it reflects enough light to be a normal white reflector, hence the 4-in-1 name.

So, I spoke about why I positioned the two speedlites in the back there to light up the backdrop, but let’s talk a little about the positioning of the two Profoto Monolights here too. The main or Key light that we see to the right in this photo is to throw a nice soft light across the face of the subjects. I use the 60″ umbrella here and get it nice and close to the subjects to get a very soft wrap-around light. If you aren’t into this sort of photography it’s kind of counter intuitive but basically the closer to you place your light source to your subject, the softer the light gets. Of course, it does also get brighter as you move it closer, but you manage that with the power of your lights and the aperture that you shoot at. The shutter speed only controls the exposure of the ambient light with flash photography.

I would like a large softbox or and octobox to use instead of this 60″ umbrella sometimes, but they are quite expensive, and I really need to make a bit more money from my current setup before I pull the trigger on that purchase. Plus, as I hope you’ll agree when we take a look at the resulting images next week, this setup does produce quite nice results.

I generally set my Key light about a stop brighter than the Kicker light, which is the strip softbox that you can see to the left in this shot. You can go lower, and play with the balance of these lights of course, depending on the look you are trying to get. If you want a more dramatic look you can move the lights further away and maybe also turn up the power, or take the difference between the light’s power further away from each other etc. For this kind of shoot though, I was looking for nice light, but somewhat orthodox.

Shooting Tethered

As you can also see in the photo of me in the set, I had a cable running from the camera to a laptop, as I was actually shooting tethered, with the images going directly into Lightroom. This had its advantages, but it there were some critical issues that I still need to work out.

The advantages are that you can create a preset, including a profile created with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, and then apply that preset as you import the images, so you know you have color correct images right there on the laptop as they come in.

Tethered Laptop and Projector

Tethered Laptop and Projector

Another thing I did was create a 20×30″ gallery wrap that was just plain canvas, with nothing printed on it, and I projected the screen of the laptop to that as a screen, to allow the subjects to see their images as they came in. Now, this was great for the adults, because they were able to see how well the shoot was going, and get a feel for what we were doing. The downside that I hadn’t expected was that the kids would become fixated on the screen, and I couldn’t get them to look at the camera. To stop this, I actually had to turn the projector off while shooting groups with children, and then only turn it on when I wanted to show them the photos. Overall I thought the advantages outweighed the disadvantages, so I’ll continue to do this, but there was a lesson learned here.

Major Problems with Tethering

There were a few major issues with tethering though, that made me think twice about doing this again, at least until I’ve had a chance to retest and overcome this issue. The first problem was self-induced, though a problem all the same. While shooting the last group, I stood on the USB cable pulling it out of the camera. After I plugged it back in again, I had to restart Lightroom because it had frozen on the last image that was transferred, but then from that point on, for around thirty frames, the Monolights didn’t fire. I of course was looking through the viewfinder, so I can’t see if they are firing or not, and I only realized when I chimped at the LCD. Some of the best expressions on the family I was shooting last were lost, which gutted me, but it really drove home the need to listen out for those audible beeps that the monolights give out when they are ready to fire. I don’t recall if they were beeping or not, but I’m sure they weren’t, so I really need to train myself to listen for this while shooting in a studio setup.

The second problem though is a total showstopper until I can figure out what happened. While trying to salvage some of the images that I shot just before I pulled the USB cable out of the camera, I imported the images from the CF card that was in the camera into Lightroom. There were a few frames that I was able to pull from the card, but as I went through the images, I realized that some photos that I remember shooting were missing. This got me curious of course, so I compared the two sets of imported files and it turns out there were 105 images from throughout the evening that simply did not make it to the camera’s CF card. They only existed on the laptop’s hard drive. It happened so often throughout the evening that I’m pretty sure it will be reproducible once I get time to test it, but it’s very disturbing to think that the two batches of images didn’t match. I did find that there are some cameras that don’t support writing to both Lightroom and the CF card, but I shot most of the evening with the 1Ds Mark III by the way, with the 5D Mark II as a second body and both of these should write to both.

Anyway, that’s just something to watch out for yourself if you shoot tethered, and I’ll be sure to report back if I find the reason for this happening. Luckily though, apart from the images that were too dark because the Monolights hadn’t fired after I pulled the USB cable out, all of the other images from the shoot were on my laptop, so all was not lost.

So, let’s finish here for today, but remember, in part two next week we’ll talk about how the actual portrait shoots themselves went and take a look at a photo or two from each session, as well as touching on a few of the techniques used that were specific to some of the sessions.


Podcast show-notes:

Studio Diagram on Sylights.com: https://mbp.ac/studio

Product Links:

Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S 2 Monolight Studio Kit

Profoto Air Remote Transceiver

Profoto Air Sync Transceivers

Westcott Illuminator Collapsible 52″ Reflector 4-in-1

Music created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


Pet Portrait Shoot with Speedlite Studio Lighting (Podcast 151)

Pet Portrait Shoot with Speedlite Studio Lighting (Podcast 151)

About three weeks ago, I did a portrait shoot for a client, with a difference. I was to shoot the client’s pets, namely two small dogs, and two ferrets. Today we’re going to look at some images from the shoot, as well as discuss some tricks we used to keep the pets in the frame, and I will also go into some detail about the portable studio I used for the job. This will include a bit of information about the lighting setup, and I have created a simple diagram to show my lighting, which I’ll add to a forum post to accompany the Podcast. There’s a link to the post in the show-notes if you want to take a look.

Pet Shoot #1

Pet Shoot #1

So, this was an interesting shoot for me, as it was my first time shooting pets. I’ve done some client work shooting portraits, but never pets. It’s also the first time I’ve spoken about this sort of stuff here on the Podcast, so I’ll try to go into some details about my gear and lighting. To set the stage, let’s bring up the first photo for today, which is image number 1858. This is one of the dogs, obviously, as it looks nothing like a ferret, and this was actually taken just as we got the background in place, but before I’d set up the lights. I had taken my wife with me as an assistant, and literally just set the background up, and the white dog of the two, just came right on in and made herself at home on the muslin sheet.

I wanted to show this first for a few reasons. Firstly, this is the only shot from the shoot made with natural light. The client’s living room was small, pretty standard for a Japanese apartment, but had a large window to my left while shooting this. We can see that in the catch-light in the dog’s eyes. The point I want to make here though is that this was shot with an exposure of 1/30th of a second at F4, with an ISO of 800. You can understand from this that a 30th of a second was not going to be fast enough to hand-hold successfully for many shots, and ISO 800 is too high for this kind of work, so it was obvious that I was going to need some extra lighting. I also just wanted you to see the colour of the background that I had chosen for the shoot. I own two backgrounds, both from Lastolite. They are machine washable muslin backgrounds, 10 feet wide, by 24 feet long. Of course, in this small living room, I was not going to use anywhere need that size, but my background support system by Impact can be adjusted from 6 feet wide, to 12 feet wide, in three stages, and here I was using just two of the four poles between the stands, so we’re talking the minimum width for the stand, which is six feet. This was all I could set up, and although I would have preferred a little wider, it would be enough for the shoot, as long as I was careful not to include the sides of the background.

This colour is called Wyoming and my other background is like a light beige colour, which is called Dakota. I took both with me, but with the colour of the dogs and ferrets, I figured I’d use this blue/grey background to set off the colours of the pets, as opposed to being very similar, with just the black and grey dog that we’ll see later standing out. To expand on the equipment explanation, I also have two Photoflex weight bags that you can fill with sand or water, I use water, so basically I can take them along very light, and if they are necessary, I can fill them with water at the clients place, and then empty them before leaving, keeping the kit as light as possible.

Pet Shoot #3

Pet Shoot #3

In the next image, number 1860, we can see the other dog, and if you look closely, you’ll see we now have two light sources in the catch-lights in her eyes. From the EXIF data of the image, if you are viewing in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com, you’ll also be able to see that I am now shooting at ISO 200, for 1/125th of a second, with an aperture of F5.6. This is because I’d now set up my lighting, so let’s talk a little bit about that. I use my old Canon Speedlite 550EX and the new 580EX II mounted on tripods, with Photoflex convertible umbrellas. Convertible means that they have a black cover on the outside of the dome of the umbrella, which can be removed, to reveal just the white underside. With the black cover on, the umbrella will behave as a reflector, so you have to bounce your flash into the umbrella, and the soft light will be reflected back out onto your subject. The umbrella that I use like this is 60” across, to give me a large soft defused light source.

My second umbrella is 30” across, and with this I take off the black cover, and face the dome towards the subject. With the cover off, the light from the flash goes through the umbrella, which now acts more like a diffuser or soft box. You may ask why I don’t just use a soft box then. Well, I find umbrellas easy to carry and set up, and they’re versatile, especially these convertible ones. And to be totally honest, I would have bought a soft box, but if this kind of work increases, I’ll probably find myself wanting better light sources than my Speedlites, and so wanted something that I can still use later. The soft box would have been basically for my Speedlite, and so I found the investment a little restrictive.

So, as I say, the light source is my Canon Speedlites, and to attach these to the tripods, I use two Shoe Mount Multiclamps, again from Photoflex if I recall correctly. The fit onto the thread of the tripod that I would usually attach my ball head with, and the pole of the umbrella fits through a hole made for this purpose, and is clamped into place with a screw threaded clamp. I probably should say before I go on, that I am by no means an expert in what I’m about to tell you, but having played around with the setup a bit, this is what works for me. As usual, take away what you find helpful, but if you have any better ideas, by all means come along to the forum at my Web site and share them with the community. So, what I do is I take control of the angle of light coming out of my strobes by setting the zoom setting manually. I set the angle to 24mm, so I get a nice wide spread of light, and I set the 60” umbrella so that it is clamped close to the end of the umbrellas pole, this gives me a nice large diffused reflected light to fill in shadows on my subject. For the 30” umbrella that I am using as a more concentrated light, I set the zoom to 50mm and clamp the pole to the stand at about a third of the way from the bottom. This seems to give me a more concentrated light source.

I attach Compact Battery Packs CP-E4 to each Speedlite to keep them firing faster and longer. I want to avoid the flash not recharging quickly enough for me, which would result in missed shots. I attach these to the tripod legs with the straps on the cover that comes with the battery packs. By the way, I use tripods simply because I have them. I have not yet found it necessary to by light stands, but they would obviously be fine if you are out buying this sort of kit.

To fire the Speedlites I use a Canon Speedlite Transmitter, ST-E2. To make sure I have a line of site to the camera I actually mount the flashes sideways, and then turn the heads 90 degrees to point into the umbrellas. I find though that I can get way forward, with the Speedlites actually behind me, with no real line of sight, and the strobes still fire, so it’s a reasonable solution. I’d probably use some sort of a radio transmitter like Pocket Wizards as opposed to infra-red if I was buying this kit from scratch. I control the output of my Speedlites using the Ratio control on the ST-E2. This allows me to set one strobe to fire brighter than the other. I changed this slightly through the shoot, as the ambient light from the window dropped, but basically, to enable me to use the small umbrella as the main light, and the large umbrella to fill in the shadows a little, but not too much, I set the 30” umbrella to fire 4 times brighter than the 60” umbrella. To see how this lit the subjects, I’ll also include a close-up, at about 70% of full size, of the white dogs eyes, which luckily include visible indications of the brightness of the light sources. There’s a link in the show notes, but you can just go to the MBP Podcast forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and look for a post on Episode 151, and you’ll see not only a diagram of the setup, but also this close up of the eyes. In the eye to the right of the shot, you can see the smaller umbrella without the cover, being used a diffuser, and the main light source, and you can see a dimmer umbrella in the eye to the left of the shot, which is the 60” umbrella at 1/4th the strength of the other, to fill in shadows and prevent the main light source from getting too harsh. You can also of course see the overall effect of the lighting, with the rights side of the dogs face as we look at the shot being much brighter than the left, which is sufficiently lit, but in more shadow than the other side.

The Lighting setup diagram was created using a Photoshop file from Kevin Kertz, created and distributed for this very purpose, so thank you to Kevin Kertz for making this available. You have made my job much easier in preparing for this Podcast. I should say having just looked at the diagram as well, that I was shooting handheld for the entire shoot. This was possible because I was shooting with relatively fast shutter speeds, thanks to the lighting set up.

Let’s move on now to take a look at some more images. There’ll be a link to all 16 shots in the show notes. I actually made 138 shots available to the Client using a Lightroom Flash Album. This enabled the Client to select which shots she wanted prints of relatively easily. These 16 are selected as a very small selection to give you an idea of what I shot.

I created a work list for the shoot, and listed all of the shots that I wanted to try and shoot, based on the Client’s requests, and also things that I thought would be good to try. In shot number 1861, we can see one of the types of shots that the Client suggested, which was to dress the dogs in Japanese Kimono dresses. I provided the client with a number of options for this shot, and they went with the one with the tongue out, which is pretty much as I thought. This was shot with an aperture of F8, to ensure both dogs eyes are sharp, and also to capture the detail in the dresses. Note that once you have the lighting set up, and your camera set to Manual, you’re strobes will pump out as much light as necessary too light the shot. I should also note that I made sure the Speedlites were in ETTL mode for this. Also, you’ll see that the corners of these shots are slightly darker than the main area. This is not a lighting issue. Actually the lighting was relatively even across the frame, but I felt that these essentially portrait shots warranted a vignette, so I used Lightroom to add a vignette to all of the images that I put forward to the client.

Pet Shoot #4

Pet Shoot #4

Pet Shoot #6

Pet Shoot #6

In image number 1863, we see the white dog with a nice red China dress on. This is another prop that the client prepared for the shoot. I like the nice catch-lights in the dogs eyes here from the umbrellas, and again we can see here how natural the lighting looks, with a nice shadow on the left of the dogs face as we look at the shot. This white dog was actually pretty sleepy most of the time, so we had to keep on waking her up throughout the shoot. I haven’t included any shots in the Podcast from this, but another trick I used to get the dogs to look up, was I had my assistant (read wife) blow air on to the dogs with my rubber blower. Not only does the air bother them, but the sound of the blower got their attention too. The only problem with this ploy is that after a while it gets tough on the forearm to keep squeezing those big blowers, but it worked for what we wanted to do.

Of course, for pets, it’s important to get the animals in poses that look cute or what the client can relate to. In image number 1866, we can see a close-up of one of the ferrets, rolled on her back and looking up. I can’t quite remember, but this might have been reacting to the blower too. By the way, I used my new 24-70mm F2.8 L lens for most of these shots. As I knew I was going to be shooting the pets close to the ground, I had the Angle Finder C attached to the camera for most of the shots too. This allowed me to get a very low perspective, without having to lie on the ground. To follow these guys around I had to be pretty quick, and so I didn’t want to commit myself to one spot, which is what lying down would have started to do. I found that I could sit on the floor, then shuffle around quite easily to get my shots with the angle finder. Again in the eye here you can see one bright and one not so bright light source, and a bit of shadow under the chin because the light source to my right was more focused and physically four times brighter than the one to my left.

Pet Shoot #9

Pet Shoot #9

In shot number 1867, we have a nice cute shot of the two ferrets lying next to each other. The focus is on the front ferret and the back one is slightly out of the depth-of-field, but I still think it makes a nice shot. I have another where the front ferret is yawning, showing his fangs, and looking quite menacing, but this one is cuter and cuddlier.

Pet Shoot #10

Pet Shoot #10

One of the other requirements was to get all four pets in the frame at once. In image number 1869, we can see that I achieved this, as well as a few other shots. It was actually really difficult, as the ferrets have a very short attention span. As with here, if you feed them, they will stay for a short while, but it was hard to get them to look up or at the camera. There are a few other shots that I uploaded that capture this better, and some that I provided the Client with that do it even better, but as photographs I prefer this one, so I thought I’d share this with you today instead.

Pet Shoot #12

Pet Shoot #12

One of the other lenses I used was my 16-35mm F2.8 II L lens. I used this because it enables you to get up close to the subject and with dogs, this will emphasize their noses, making them look bigger and cuter, as we see in image number 1870. You have to be careful not to get too close though. This dog was already very nervous when I was this close to shoot this photo. On my list I’d actually got a few other shots that were not possible. One was to bring the client’s sofa into the set and have the animals all sit on the sofa, but the sofa was gold and scratched by the pets, to the extent that it would really not have made a nice prop. The other thing I wanted to try was to get the dogs looking out of the window, but again, the room was not going to lend itself to this, so I gave up on it.

Pet Shoot #13

Pet Shoot #13

Having nailed all of the required shots though, I threw on the 100mm F2.8 macro lens, and had a bit of a play around. One of the resulting images is shot number 1871. I got in pretty close, and so even at F8 with this lens, the dog is slightly out of the depth-of-field, but I was looking for something more artistic here, so I was not going to try to extend the DOF any more than this. The ferrets head popping into the frame from the bottom works OK here, and this is another shot that the client requested prints of.

Pet Shoot #14

Pet Shoot #14

I was also trying to capture sweet moments, like the one we can see in image number 1873, where the white dog was muzzled up to the lighter ferret. This was towards the end of the shoot and the light from the window was now very dim, so I’d upped the ISO to 320, so as not to push my Speedlites too hard.

Pet Shoot #16

Pet Shoot #16

I had priced the shoot for a 3 hour session, and I shot some 1600 photos. I provided just over 130 shots for the client to choose from. In the package, I’d promised to provide the full sized digital data for the client to have a bag made with two of the images. This is a service I’ve found here in Japan which seemed to go down well. The bag was very high quality apparently, though it cost the client around $220. I did the order for her, but had it delivered direct to the client, and they paid on delivery, so it was very easy for me. I also of course gave the client the option to buy prints, which I priced the same as the prints on my Web site, but with a 20% discount for more than one print of the same size. The same size thing doesn’t really make a huge difference to my workflow, but it’s a way to allow the client to choose something and get a discount, and that will probably get them selecting more than one large print, which is where most of the money is. I offered to frame the prints with good quality prefab frames or mounting boards. I was going to charge a service charge for this, but they actually selected so many prints that I waived this charge. I was going to be bordering on overcharging, which of course won’t help me to get more custom by word of mouth from people that this client might know. As it is, the client was very happy with the resulting images and the service, which of course makes me feel like I’ve done a good job at a fair price.

In addition, it was really just a lot of fun. The pets were as sweet as can be, and the dogs very well trained, which made it a lot easier than it could have been. They were literally like little dolls when the client was dressing them. The ferrets too were amazing. You could pick them up and mess them around and they just didn’t seem to care. They had very good temperaments and not a hint of them thinking about biting you.

As I say, the settings for the lighting work for me. There may well be better ways to do this, although I have spend some time checking the Strobist Web site, I can’t see any indication that I’m doing things wrong either, and after all, the results are what matter’s and I like the lighting I was able to create. So, I thought I’d talk about it all here today, to see if there’s anything that might help you out as well. Remember the key points to flash photography are basically taking control over the exposure by putting your camera in Manual mode, which I pretty much use all the time already, and bang your strobes into ETTL mode, and allow them to pump out as much light as you need to make the shot look right. You can also use your strobes in manual mode, but only do that when shooting birds with my BetterBeamer, something that I’ll get into at some point as well. Either way, as usual, you’ll want to keep an eye on the histogram, and make sure you are not blowing out your highlights, unless that’s what you want to do. If you do start to get any unwanted hot-spots, just use the Flash Exposure Compensation. You can do this on the individual strobes, or via your camera, which will turn the strength up or down for all of your strobes by the amount dialed in. You can turn them down by a third or two, or maybe even a full stop if necessary if you are blowing out some highlights. And of course, you can use the ratio feature on your remote transmitter to make one light source brighter than the other. I had mine set up with the left strobe as group A and the right strobe as group B, so I could simply make the ratio 1:4 in favour of B, which of course makes it four times brighter than A. This gave me just the right amount of shadow on the left of the subjects, but filled in enough to still look nice and natural. Oh yes, and remember that I also manual set the zoom on my strobes to 24mm for the big umbrella and 50mm for the smaller umbrella used more like a soft box.

So, I hope you enjoyed that and that it was useful to some of you. If you are real strobist yourself you’ll now doubt have some ideas that you want to share with the community, so please do come along to the forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and enter your comments into the thread that I will start with the lighting setup diagram and the shot of the crop of the eyes that I mentioned earlier.

Remember too that the current assignment with the theme of Shadows will run until the end of Sunday the 7th of September, 2008. So please do get out there and see what you can make of this assignment. Or of course, you could use a few Speedlites to creatively make your own shadows in the comfort of your own home. Whichever way you do it, I can’t wait to see what you come up with again. In the meantime, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

The Lighting Diagram was made with the Lighting Setup File, courtesy of Kevin Kertz, which you can find here: http://www.kevinkertz.com/

Music in this Podcast created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.