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On Assignment: Dealing With a Difficult Subject

(Photo by Ben Hobby)
You do enough assignments and soon enough you'll have to photograph someone who is (a) picky, (b) knows exactly how they think their photo should be shot, and (c) is not exactly giving you very much raw material to work with, if you know what I mean.

Such was the case for a young-but-enthusiastic Ben Hobby, 5, when I asked him to help me with my profile photo for the new Flickr Strobist Group.

It's Friday night and the missus is off on an overnight Brownie camping trip (big fun) with my daughter, Emily, 7. So it's just us guys. And we have full license to rearrange the living room. (As long as we fix it back exactly the way it was before the girls come home.)

This lighting scheme is a little unusual for me as I used no less than four SB-strobes for this photo. Which is about three more than my lazy butt usually drags out.

It is a continuation of my theme-du-jour, first explored in the Women's Lacrosse Portrait in the last On Assignment.

The kicker here is the background, which is a blank wall lit by an SB-24 (on a stand in a snoot) shot through a ficus tree. I love shooting strobes through houseplants to make interesting light. Luckily, my wife is a certified Green Thumb, or I would shooting light through a plastic house plant.

Technically, this is called using a "cookie," which is short for "cookaloris." And if this technique just got you wondering what else you could shoot a little strobe through to make funky light, well, you are starting to get it, my friends.

Anyway, here is just the background, which was lit by a strobe in a snoot high and to the right (as seen in the bottom photo below.) The pattern is always cool and infinitely variable, depending on where you place the light. Go wild.

(For a quickie one-light portrait, you can fire a single strobe right through the plant and stick a person in that funky light pattern. Just make sure they can see the light through the leaves. Then their eyes will be in the good part of the light, and not in a leaf shadow. Get them away from the wall to get their shadow out of the frame, though.)

And we could have done this with one light, too. But since Pizza Hut for-some-reason takes 45 minutes(?!?!?) to deliver to our house, we had time to do something more complicated.

Ben was a big help, moving the camera around and firing off plenty of test shots as needed while I set up the lights.

Then I would stick him in the chair and adjust the lights further.

If this looks a little 1940's Hollywood, that is because it is similar to the studio-mill "glamour-style" lighting of that era. It's totally cool/retro now (IMO) and a little edgier because a tight snoot (and no fill light) is used for the main light.

This wide shot shows everything. We have one light firing from high right at 1/4 power, through a tree to the background. A snooted SB on 1/16th power (slightly high and at camera left) on the face, and two snooted SB's at 1/64th power as back/rim lights (as in the lacrosse photo.) Click on the photo to bring up a big copy in a new window so you can see what all is going on.

The camera's shutter is set at 1/250th (for the top photo) to minimize ambient light contamination. (I shot at a slow shutter speed for the wide photo to bring up the ambient so you could see the light placement.)

One big mistake: The right backlight (the strobe, itself) cast a shadow in the ficus pattern that I did not notice until just as the pizza was arriving. I could have easily fixed it, but the pizza was hot and us boys were hungry.

Priorities, you know.

Camera: D2h
Lens: Nikkor 85/1.4; 17-35/2.8 for the wide shot
Exposure: 1/250 at f/8; 1/4 @ f/8 for the wide shot
Strobes: 4 (various model) SB units, on manual, on stands
Triggers: 2 on Pocket Wizards, and 2 (SB-26's) used their built-in slaves

Top photo © Ben Hobby - AKA "Strobist 2.0"
Other photos by David Hobby

Next: Lacrosse Cover, v2.0


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