Traditional Japanese Dress Portrait Shoot (Podcast 415)

Traditional Japanese Dress Portrait Shoot (Podcast 415)

At the end of March I did a studio shoot with two families in traditional Japanese kimonos, and was able to get some behind the scenes shots of the professional kimono fitter actually dressing some of the subjects. Today I’m going to walk you through the studio set up and a few of the resulting images from the shoot.

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I don’t do a lot of this kind of work, but there are a few families that have asked me to do portrait sessions with them a number of times over the years, and I really enjoy working with them. This year the main event was to document something that is a tradition in some parts of Japan, which is to dress the 13 year old girl of the family in Kimono for a visit to the local shrine. Unfortunately, the weather closed in just as we were getting started, so the shrine visit went out of the window, but the shoot went ahead.

Studio Setup

My wife, who’s become a very competent assistant, and I went to the family’s home on the Saturday night before the Sunday shoot, to set up our studio. They have a large enough living room that by removing the sofa, we had enough space to shoot a small group, up to five people or so, though this still required some Photoshop work to remove the sides of the background for some of the wider shots.

Once we got into the shoot, I took a step back and grabbed this photo of the room with my Profoto Lighting in place, so I’ll walk you through that first. As we can see, I had some white seamless set up as a background. I know this can look a little sterile, but I’m really into the simplicity that a plain white background brings to an image. I’ve used a number of different coloured muslin backgrounds over the years, and they just seem dated to me now.

Profoto Studio Gear and White Seamless

Profoto Studio Gear and White Seamless

My lights are all Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S Monolights. These are not the most powerful D1’s available, but they are powerful enough for my needs. I bought these around four years ago now, and added a second pair of D1s around three years ago. I might choose some of the newer Profoto Lights if I was buying now, but I don’t do enough of this type of work to warrant replacing these, and probably wouldn’t anyway, as they still do everything I want them to at this point.

To the right, you’ll see my main or key light which is a 3×4′ Profoto Softbox, and to the left, I have a 2×3′ Profoto Softbox, adding some light to the other side of the subjects face. To light up the seamless background, I used the two umbrellas that came with one of my D1 Monolight kits. I won’t go into detail on all of the lighting stands etc. but I’ve embedded a B&H widget below with all of the studio gear I use included, and of course you are supporting the Podcast/blog by buying with these links.

I did this shoot with my Canon EOS 1D X tethered to Lightroom with a USB cable. Although the Profoto Monolights and Softboxes are pretty much Daylight white balance, I can recreate the exact colours in my subjects, especially the beautiful kimonos I’d be shooting on this day, by calibrating the camera with an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.

I included the ColorChecker Passport in one of my early images, and created a camera profile, which I applied in Lightroom, then created a Develop Preset including the profile, and I was then able to assign that Develop preset to every image that was automatically imported to Lightroom via the tethering cable. As you can see in this screenshot (below) I had the preset that I created called “Profoto Studio” assigned right there in the tethering window. (Click on the image to view it larger and you will be able to read the text more easily.)

Profoto Studio and Lightroom Tethering

Profoto Studio and Lightroom Tethering

You can also see from this screenshot, that I was using the Profoto Air USB dongle, which enables me to control all of my Moonlights from my computer, and save my settings etc. I set the group on each of my lights to something different, so that I can control them all individually. The Key light was Group A, which you can see was set to 8.1, my second softbox to the left set to Group B with the power at 5.2, almost three stops less than my Key light, so that there was an obvious main source of light, and the second softbox just filled in shadows.

I positioned my two umbrellas at the same distance from the background, so I could have used just  one group to control both of them, but there’s a chance that I might have wanted to move these around during the shoot, so I called the Group C and D and set the power of them both to 6.5.

Some people like to angle the background lights more towards the background, but that can leave the centre of the background a little dark, especially when you have a group blocking out the spill from the main lights, so I like to have the angle quite shallow. The light from these two umbrellas also spills over onto the subjects, and reflects onto them from behind off of the white background, but I actually quite like that effect, which is why I set up like this.

To set the power of each light, I used a hand-held light meter, recording the brightness of each light and adjusted the power so that I was getting f/8 at ISO 100 at 1/200 of a second exposure, which is what I was going to be shooting at. Once you have the light meter set to your ISO and shutter speed, it basically just tells you your required aperture based on the light it reads as you fire your lights, so it’s really easy to get your lighting all set in a few tests.

Of course, the reading changes as you move closer or further away from your lights, but this is where the positioning comes into play. I moved my key light a little further away and turned the power up, so that it would provide a wider light that was already tapering off some by the time it hit the spot that I would place a single subject, but because it was further away, I’d be able to increase the number of people in the group, with some closer to the light, without it getting too bright and over-exposing the closer subjects. As the members of the group are placed further away of course, they start to pick up more light from my second soft box, and the entire group is nicely lit.

Once I was all set, I saved the settings of each light with the Profoto Studio software, so that if anything should change I could easily get back to these settings during the shoot. Another great thing about this software is that you can if you want, change the power of all of your lights and have them stay in sync. Say for example I wanted to shoot with a second camera with a different aperture, as I did a few times, I can change all of the lights by a few stops and they stay proportionately synched together, which is very handy.

Another thing I sometimes do is just use a neutral density filter on my second camera. Say I’m going to shoot at f/8 on one camera, and f/2.8 on a second camera, that would let in three stops more light, so I can put a three stop ND8 on my second camera, and just shoot away without adjusting my lighting. I actually find this much easier than messing around with the setting during a shoot.

The Kitsuke Shoot

We left the gear setup on Saturday night, and then went back bright and early on the Sunday morning to photograph the Kimono fitting, which in Japanese is called Kitsuke. The lady that we see in these Kitsuke photos is a professional and actually very well known kimono fitter, as well as a number of other traditional Japanese activities like playing the Koto and the tea ceremony.

In this first photo, we see the Sensei with her arms all the way around one of the young girls, wrapping the large belt around her. This is more of a documentary shot to show you what’s happening, but I was conscious to try and capture nice movement in the long furisode sleeves, and a theme through many of these photos was the sense of abandonment as the young girls just seemed to trust the sensei quite a long time as the fitting progressed. It actually took around 45 minutes to fit each of the girls, and I ended up with almost 100 photos of each session.

Kitsuke #1

Kitsuke #1

Kitsuke #2

Kitsuke #2

To the Japanese, the tying of knots is quite significant. I suppose it is with most cultures, as it represents finalisation, and a binding of people or things together.

The final touch to the kimono is the tying of the silk rope that goes around the Obi, or belt. After this last knot that we see here is tied, the lose ends are tucked under the rope so that, well, there are no loose ends.

As we progressed to photograph portraits of these girls with their families, whenever the ends of the rope would come loose, the sensei or a mother or grandmother would run in and tuck it back in.

I should also mention that the kimonos that these girls were dressed in actually belonged to their grandmother’s, and so have a lot of history and significance to their families. I was honoured to be able to photograph these kitsuke sessions in this way, with the beautiful simplicity that the white background and soft lighting provides.

As we progressed through the Kitsuke sessions with the second 13 year old now, I was mindful of composition of course, and tried at times to focus more on the actual dressing, and at times used a more dramatic composition such as this one, where I cut off the faces of the girl and sensei mid-way.

Kitsuke #3

Kitsuke #3

Kitsuke #4

Kitsuke #4

The tying of the bow on the back of the Kimono is of course another significant aspect of the kitsuke session, and because we are usually drawn to eyes, removing them kind of takes away from the weight of the eyes, freeing us to look around more. Of course, we still go back to the human faces, but not with so much immediacy as we would with the eyes in the shot.

Also note that although I’ll often have to ask people to look at the camera or look at a certain point, I didn’t request eye contact at any time during the dressing. I literally just wanted to document it, as though there was no photographer in the room.

Here again we see the sensei rounding up the length of silk belt into what would become an even more beautiful work of art in position on the back of the kimono.

Another thing that you might have noticed that I was really happy about, is that the kimono fitter also wears full traditional dress, including a beautiful formal kimono with it’s own obi and bow, and tabi, the toed footwear that most people probably associate with Ninja, although these are common here in Japan.

After a photo session, I usually provide my clients with a CD or USB memory stick with a selection of images resized for them to browse or use as the desktop wallpaper on their computers, and a smaller size that they can post on Facebook etc. Once I have my selection of images down, I also batch convert the set to black and white, using a Silver Efex Pro preset and the batch processing functionality in Photoshop. I know that you can batch process right there in Silver Efex, but when you have some 400 files to process it isn’t as smooth as Photoshop.

Kitsuke #5

Kitsuke #5

Although I usually do straight untoned black and white, for this shoot I just felt sepia was going to be a better option, as it seemed to match the timeless feel of the traditional clothing much better. This next shot is an example of how the images looked in Sepia. Note too that I was careful not to use an colour filters in Silver Efex too, as there was a wide range of colours in the various kimonos, and I needed to batch this work to save time, so I wasn’t able to go through and inspect and adjust each conversion before applying it. The results were just what I wanted anyway, so there was time saved and all was well.

On a business note, I wanted to just mention that I did not request payment to photograph the kitsuke sessions. I provided photos for the families, but I just really wanted to make these photos for myself, and I had each of the three young girls’ parents and the kimono fitter all sign model releases, and I’ll be submitting some of the images to be considered for inclusion in my Offset stock library.

Family Portraits

Getting a Son to Smile

Getting a Son to Smile

So, more than two hours after the Kitsuke sessions started and having dressed three young girls and two men, we were ready to start the family portrait sessions. In a meeting a week before the actual shoot, we’d already established a list of poses that each of the two families wanted, and we worked through each pose, shooting a number of possibilities for each, getting various facial expressions for each as well. I’m not going to go through the details, but we’ll finish by looking at a few of my favourite shots from these sessions.

For example, although we of course get the straight family shots, to me, I actually often prefer moments like this, when a mum tries to get a rebellious teenager to smile for the camera. Something else to note here is how I cropped this down to an 8×10 aspect ratio.

Although it was possible to shoot some groups photos vertically without including a bit of the floor in front of the seamless or over the top of the roll on the background supports, sometimes I just went in closer, or wider for full body length shots, and either cropped the image down to exclude the edges of the seamless, or I selected the messy areas around the seamless in Photoshop and used Content-Aware Fill to clean up the edges.

I could of course have extended the background support up a little, but as we messed up the seamless we cut away the messy part and rolled out more paper to clean it up, and I needed to be able to easily get to the clips that stop the seamless from unrolling, and this is as high as I can reach without using steps, so I generally just deal with this in post, as it doesn’t affect many photos, and it makes the shoot more efficient, which is better for the customers.

As Big as Dad!

Almost as Big as Dad!

Another way to give a teenage boy a reason to smile is to pitch him against dad, and give him a chance to prove that he’s now almost as big as him.

Note that the Dad here was wearing a traditional man’s kimono, and the son was wearing his school uniform, something that is often done for traditional portraits here in Japan.

I thought it was fun to get the two of them in this pose though, acting a little bit tough, but still obviously enjoying the shoot.

Note too that we now had people wearing shoes, which meant that the seamless got messed up pretty quickly which is why we had to cut it a few times.

This also caused me a lot of extra Photoshop work cleaning it up, which couldn’t really be avoided, other than changing the seamless more often, which again slows down the progress of the shoot so I try to wait until it’s getting pretty bad when I can.

The dad of the other family that we photographed on this day is actually from England, and has lived here since he was nine years old. One of the few people that I’ve met that have lived here longer than me. He speaks good Japanese too of course, so it was fun being able to communicate fluently with him in Japanese when necessary. Here we see a straight family portrait.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Again though, my favourite of the entire family here is one of those moments when they aren’t posed, as we see here. It’s not just me that likes these photos of course. I often find that although we need the standards, the families generally enjoy photos like this more too, so I also ensure that if I capture something like this, I include it in my selection.

Affectionate Preparation

Affectionate Preparation

There are lots of other photos that I’d love to show you, but let’s finish today with one last fun shot that we finished the shoot with, where I got everyone back on the seamless to go out with a bang. Remember that because I was shooting tethered, every photo I made appeared on my laptop screen a few seconds later, and the entire group was in stitches when we looked at this one come through, and we finished the session with a huge round of applause, not for me of course, but for all that were involved.

Grand Finale

Grand Finale

I wanted to finish with a thought here, that although I don’t do this sort of work often, I really do enjoy it when the chance arises. It’s not only great fun to work with people like this, but we really enjoy watching the children of the families that we shoot grow. In an ideal world I’ll still be photographing these families when the kids are all grown and have kids of their own, but I guess we’ll just have to see how that one pans out.

If you are interested in seeing more images from this shoot, I’ll probably share a few more over on my Google Plus account, so please follow me over on G+ if you don’t already, and check these out as I upload them.

Studio Gear

If you do this kind of work yourself, and end up buying any of the gear used if you click through with the below links, you’ll be supporting this podcast and blog, at no extra cost to yourself of course.


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Podcast 310 : Location Portrait Shoot – Behind the Scenes

Podcast 310 : Location Portrait Shoot – Behind the Scenes

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 Shoot

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.

Making Sun

Making Sun

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.

More Lights Outside

More Lights Outside

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.

Ligthing Shot

Ligthing Shot

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.

Three Sisters at Breakfast Counter

Three Sisters at Breakfast Counter

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.

Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights

Profoto Glass Dome for D1 Monolights

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.

Heavily Distorted 16mm Shot

Heavily Distorted 16mm Shot

Three Shot Pano

Three Shot Pano

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.

Three Sisters and Mom

Three Sisters and Mom

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.

Three Sisters on the Deck

Three Sisters on the Deck

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.

With the Grandkids

With the Grandkids

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…

Happy Family

Happy 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…

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Which earned him a bit of friendly frustration from Dad, as we can see here.

End of the Road

End of the Road

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.

Happy Couple

Happy Couple

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.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters

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.

Client Deliverables

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.

Client's DVDs

Client’s DVDs

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.

Car Loaded - Ready to Go!

Car Loaded – Ready to Go!

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.

Thank You!

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.


Show Notes

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


Audio

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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

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