GPP 2016: Dubai, Feb 5th-12th Schedule is up!

On Assignment: Betty Allison

See that black blob?

It's not a mistake. It's the first frame of any consequence on a quick biz portrait of Betty Allison, the woman who runs our local wholesale food market. Her job is to make sure the fresh food supply runs smoothly for the state of Maryland and surrounding areas. And we have to shoot a quick portrait of her for a local business paper.

So, c'mon -- hurry up. We only have a few minutes to get the light worked out before we shoot her between appointments…

Okay, the black(-ish) blob is there for a reason. That is a knocked-down, ambient-only exposure. What I am looking for is an exposure that is dark, but not excessively so.

Reason is, I will be adding lights to this in just a minute. And since I am using speedlights I also want to be conscious of not cranking down my exposure excessively. That would mean I would have to ask for more power from the strobes to compensate.

Okay, that was easy enough. Those refrigerated room barriers are translucent. So all I have to do is to stick a speedlight behind them to get a cool background. Should be a piece of cake. Be right back with a test shot.


That kinda sucks. Apparently, the doors are more transparent than diffused. The bare strobe is too... point-sourcy.

No prob -- I'll add a shoot-thru umbrella to make the light source bigger and that should do it. It'll cost me a little power, but no worries -- I am only at 1/8 now.


Close, but no cigar. I need the light source to be bigger yet.

The problem is the umbrella is the biggest light modifier in my bag. I was not expecting to use a big light source, and now I need one.

Alright, let's kill the umbrella altogether and turn the flash around. We'll use the whole fricken' wall as the light source.

That oughtta do it.


And the lines in the door flaps hide the flash, too. I'd rather be lucky than good, any day. But still, needs more cowbell.

I could vary the exposure a bit, walk the aperture up and down to see how it looks. But no, the exposure looks fine. That's not it.

Hmm… cold…

I know:

A 1/2 CTB gel on the flash cools it down a little.

This will give me some nice color separation from Betty, and it connotes the cool temperature. Full CTB woulda been a little too much.

Plus, that wall and the gel combined to force me to pump the speedlight up to 1/2 power. Remember, it has to go thru the gel, bounce off the wall and go thru the door flaps.

All of that costs light. And 1/2 power is my effective upper limit when shooting people. I'm not so big on a 4-second recycle. Much rather cut that in half.

Here it is without the doors. That whole wall is my light source. Little hot in the center, but that will probably work for me as a framing device.

Okay, let's set up the front lights.

I already have my working aperture and shutter speed, so I'll have to adjust the power on the key and fill lights to match. (Oh, and subtract a couple stops for the fill...)

Since we started out on the threshold of ambient black, we can bring up the ambient very easily at any point by opening the shutter speed. Or we can make it a flash-only exposure by leaving the shutter alone.

Here are the front lights -- including some ambient dialed in so you can see them better. We'll add the blue background light back in a minute.

We're using a fairly harsh key to give her some pop in the cheekbones, and some nice on-axis fill to tame the harsh shadows. The key (a Lumiquest SB-III) is feathered up and away from her to let the light fall off nicely. Add a 1/4 CTO to the key to give her a little color, and you're golden. Or she is, anyway.

She will hide the fill light's reflection in the doors. The key light is small, and that reflection looks fine. Okay, good to go. Bring her in.

Hmm… need something to do with her hands to keep her from looking stiff. Most people are not used to being photographed this way, and it is harder than it looks.

Does she have a Blackberry? Of course she does. That'll give her something to be doing, and a natural look for her hands.

A couple minutes later:

All set, and good to go.

Only took a couple of mins for her, and she is off to her next appointment a little bit early. It's a bread-and-butter biz portrait, done just about as quickly as if we'd used natural light -- only it has a lot more pop.

Okay, let's tear this down, throw the gear into the car and get some breakfast -- it's your turn to buy.

Next: Cellist Caleb Jones


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