Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Assignment: HCAC Dancer



I am working on several projects this summer, the most enjoyable of which being a series of portraits for the Howard County Arts Council.

I photographed Kassi, a dancer, for this series and got a chance to play with one of the two-light techniques we talked about earlier. This was also the first chance I got to use a new boom setup that is a little heavier duty than the one featured earlier this week.
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Riaz Redux

I normally like to play around with new lighting styles before trying them out on an assignment. In this case, I used the small-flash lighting class in Dubai earlier this year as the guinea pig for this shoot. You might recognize the top photo as being lit similarly to that of Riaz, the first example in the two-light portrait series.

There are a couple of differences, but the grid key / umbrella fill was a common denominator for both. In shooting Riaz, I had the umbrella squished right up under the lens. With Kassi, I put the umbrella on the floor with a flash mounted to it but with no stand.

I used an umbrella swivel adapter to attach an SB-800, and stuck the assembly on the ground. The umbrella rests at about the correct angle for uplighting a low-to-the-ground subject by itself.

Ratios were done without a meter and without regard to any absolute settings, as usual. I positioned the fill light first and altered my flash power and/or aperture until I saw a nice baseline exposure for the frame.

Generally, I like to get it to a full exposure, and then drop my power level on the flash or close down the aperture until I get a nice looking floor to the fill light. The idea is to use the fill as a sort of safety net, to lift the shadows that will be formed by the key light, lest they get too dark and contrasty. If you are coming from off axis with the fill, you'll also introduce a second angle to the overall light.

I really liked the look of the low-in fill, as it gave its own shape to the subject -- much more so that would an on-axis fill. But as much as I liked the shape of the fill, I was going back and forth on the shadow that it threw over Kassi's head and shoulders.

In the end, I wanted the direction of the light, but not the shadow. So I toned the latter way down in post. There is definitely a procedural learning curve for me, even two full years after leaving the tightly controlled Photoshop environment of The Sun.

I have to remember to loosen up, as my default is typically to "do it the newspaper way." But then I remember if I were personally doing everything the newspaper way today, I would be drowning in debt and arbitrarily lopping off perfectly good body parts in a misguided attempt to get a "good return on investment."


Oh well. Back to the light.

The key, as you can see, is a gridded SB-800. We have already locked in the fill level and shooting aperture, so the key level is set by altering the flash's power level. (We can also move the flash closer or further away, but that would change the look of the light.)

Unlike the grid on Riaz, I wanted to catch Kassi's face and body with the key but mostly miss the wall on the leading edge. This way I could control the tone in the white wall, even though she was leaning against it. To do that, I didn't aim the grid at her face, but rather out in front of her face a little bit. So her face is nearer to the edge of the beam than in the center of it.

A grid on a speedlight is a very small light source and thus produces very hard shadows at this distance. But I know they won't fall too far off of the table because I built my fill light first. The combination is soft vs. hard, high vs. low and tight light vs. everywhere light brings a lot of different contrast layers into play. If I wanted, I could have used a 1/2 CTB on the fill and a 1/2 CTO on the key to add a neat color contrast in there, too.


A Bigger Boom

For another look, we wanted to do Kassi dancing. She is very athletic, and incorporates that into her routines. So we set up to light a photo of her leaping.

I knew she would be looking back over her shoulder at me, and wanted to light her face from a flattering angle. To do that, you have to find the position of her face and then get the light wherever it need to be to hit that angle.

In Kassi's case, to three-quarter light her, we'd have to be above, behind and camera-right of her face when she looked over her shoulder. So we were going to need to get the key up pretty high -- especially considering we'd be going through an umbrella, too.

For that I used a bigger, heavier-duty boom than the Interfit model we talked about earlier this week. I used a Paul Buff counter-weighted boom arm attachment on a 13-foot light stand. I got this to be able to get my bigger flash heads up high. And while it is not super heavy duty, it is sufficient for that kind of work.

You buy it in two pieces -- the stand and the boom arm. The stand is a heavy-duty, 13-foot stand, which is also a great thing to have kicking around when you need it. The boom assembly includes a two-section extension pole, a multi-angle clamp and comes with an 11-pound, slide-able counterweight. They total up to $160.

Needless to say, this is rock solid for a speedlight, and I also have been happy with it in a supporting role for both my SB's and my WL's.


So, here's the setup. The key light is above/behind/camera right, through an umbrella. There is a back/separation light (an SB-800) hiding way back at camera right on a compact, 5-section stand.

The key light location was trial and error, done as Kassi worked through a few practice leaps. In the end, it was a perfectly logical location, given the position of her face. Kassi's leap put her about two feet in front of, and to camera left, of the umbrella.

The fill was a bigger problem, as we could not just open the shutter to let if build up the ambient. By balancing that way, we would have lost the shutter needed to freeze the leap. So it would all have to come from flash.

It had to be soft, come from close to on-axis and reach back to light the back wall, too. So I needed a physically big light source, coming from the camera's direction and pretty far back. Fortunately, our room was a neutral, light color, so the wall 15 feet or so behind me became my modifier.


I fired a WL 600 into that wall, building a nice, soft, directionless fill that would be far enough back to reach back to the background wall without losing too much oomph. My shooting position was about three feet in front of the light.

If you are in a neutral room, always consider your walls as possible huge bounce surfaces that you can employ as everything from a soft key to a humongous soft ring-like fill. But you'll need some power if you are going to use it over a large area.

This is one of many examples of a way in which you can use a monobloc with smaller flashes. Ironically, the SB is my key and the WL 600 is the fill. This doesn't make a lot of sense, unless you consider how much more efficient a close-in, umbrella'd light is than another light bounced way back off of a wall and having to carry another 30-40 feet after that.

Having a big light in your back allows you wallpaper fill light over a large area while accenting with speedlights.
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Read More: On Assignment


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24 Comments:

Blogger Kris said...

Another excellent and informative post David.

And congrats on the new house! All the best!

June 18, 2009 3:47 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Hey, this is really cool. Thanks for posting this! A friend just directed me to the Strobist blog and this is just what I've needed. This is the first article I've read, and it's right up my photographic ally. Thanks again! I look forward to learning from and participating in this scholarship. Cheers.
-Brian

June 18, 2009 4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be drowning in debt and arbitrarily lopping off perfectly good body parts in a misguided attempt to get a "good return on investment."

lol - I see the paper management went to the same school of business as the executives at the automotive companies I used to work for.

Congrats on the new house. I hope you have many good times making it into a home.

J.D.

June 18, 2009 7:27 AM  
Blogger Saad said...

Great post, and photo, and a very beautiful subject!

Its amazing how such a seemingly simple technique produced awesome results. Ive been playing with it after the Riaz post - haven't quite nailed it, as the face keeps blowing out, but working on it!

June 18, 2009 8:51 AM  
Anonymous PJD said...

Newbie here, so be kind.

Great blog learning all sorts of stuff. However a couple of quick questions on this setup:

What is the purpose of the SB800 back/separation light?

And does the bounced light of the wall behind you not give you shadow prblems as is passes over round you?

June 18, 2009 9:10 AM  
Blogger Joel Bischoff said...

David, I tried a similar setup for a high school graduation forced inside by rain. We had a Speedotron brown line strobe pack with a 400w/s head that we put on a 12' stand and aimed at the back wall of the gym. It produced just enough light to travel the distance of the B-ball court and reach the commencement speakers, as well as stay fairly even for the graduates 30' closer. Using the ambient as a fill we got some nice shots. Great post as usual.

Cheers

June 18, 2009 9:31 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I got that Ray Charles / Basie CD last year after hearing it on our local public radio jazz station here in Denver. That CD absolutely swings.

June 18, 2009 9:32 AM  
Blogger photoshopabuser said...

Thanks for the ideas David. Kids are much more adaptable in new environments aren't they? I hadn't even completely moved into this place when Kieran was introducing me to his new buds and budettes.

June 18, 2009 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Gary said...

good stuff! it was interesting to see your house for sale blog. i have never seen anything like that - did you end up getting the lead via your site?

June 18, 2009 5:31 PM  
Blogger Dan Korkelia said...

Aha, so that's how you done these. Interesting.... (rubbing hands together) :)

June 18, 2009 7:45 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

Nice shots of the dancer. I got the Ray Charles/Basie Orchestra album and love it.

June 18, 2009 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Pete said...

Nice, but isn't this a repeat?

June 18, 2009 11:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

The photo ran here, in a post referencing the project. But this is the first time I have done any lighting tutorials from this shoot.

-D

June 19, 2009 1:21 AM  
Anonymous Aashith said...

Used this method with a couple of elinchrom fxr 200's for a shoot i did yesterday for an apparel brand based outta my city. Worked like a charm!!

But, after you set your fill do you drop it down more than two stops? Cause i was doing a lot of bringing the boom down and taking it back up to get the right exposure.

June 19, 2009 2:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'd been thinking about a boom-stand, but several people on on flickr who claimed to normally be devotees of Paul Buff gear made complaints about their boom arm.
I ended up with a used c-stand, which I don't regret, except that it is rather big, does not fold up so well, and probably heavier than the Buff stand (good and bad).

June 19, 2009 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Ranger 9 said...

Re the second shot -- I know it's tough when you have to time your subject's jump AND catch her in a relatively small pool of light, but...

...doesn't this angle make her look kinda fat? The line through the thighs and torso is so nearly parallel to the lens axis that the limbs look shorter and bulkier than I'll bet they really are.

I realize you were sort of stuck with it because you already had decided on the look-over-the-shoulder thing, and she had to hit that in a pretty narrow "cone" of light.

But if you had it to do over, would you have done anything differently? Just curious...

June 19, 2009 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Nikita Buida said...

Very cool shots and explanation as always! Thank you. I find this especially useful as I'm shooting a lot of dancers lately :)

June 20, 2009 6:51 AM  
Blogger Eric Duminil said...

Okay, I know it has been said again and again, but David :

thanks for everything you wrote. I'm just impressed by your teaching abilities, your humor, your great insight and the passion you manage to spread.

I cannot find any Paypal donation link, do you have any?

Thanks again,

Eric, France

June 20, 2009 9:23 AM  
Blogger bobusn said...

My wife loves the wrap-around porch on your new digs. Beautiful place. Congratulations!

Great thought & result on the dance lighting. As always, thanks for sharing.

And...if you think Ray Sings, Basie Swings sounds great on CD, you should hear it on SACD in surround. Michael Bishop did the surround mix. WOW. Stop by for a listen!

June 20, 2009 12:45 PM  
Blogger David said...

Eric-

You are more than welcome, and thanks for the kind words. I used to have a Paypal link when I first started. But the community now has grown big enough to where there is now a very symbiotic three-way relationship between the blog, its readers and the site's sponsors.

I have taken special care to nurture a sponsorship community that actually adds value to the site and readership, as many of them have gone to great efforts to specifically support the community.

So, thanks for reading -- and enjoy.

Best,
DH

June 20, 2009 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Dave Kee said...

As always a great on-assignment post. No matter what was done to the shadow on the wall in post I still found it a little distracting. Wouldn't amping up the fill a little have toned that down a bit as well as soften the dark shadow of her nose?

June 22, 2009 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Digital Dreamspace said...

Excellent set up... (drools)

June 29, 2009 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Ed Maruyama said...

hi Dave, folks! Once again, awesome post... Thanks a LOT for sharing all this info with us...

If you folks have a chance to check out www.alianait.ca , or even better, drop a few lines on it's
Facebook page , it's a summer festival held up here in the great white north, canadian arctic, Iqaluit, Nunavut! :) So lots of dancing & music ! :)

I've been shooting for them for the past few years, and although I know "strobes" might kill the "mood", I try to keep them as weak as possible: 2 SB26's triggered by Pocket Wizards :)

Enjoy! and Thanks once again for yr great work!
Ed

July 07, 2009 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Uwe Noelke said...

Hi David,
I like your Blog very much. It's always very interssting to see how creative your work is with the SB-800's. This time I like the dancing shot most.
Best regards
Uwe

July 27, 2009 4:22 PM  

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