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On Assignment: Open Air Home Studio

I don't shoot in a studio often enough to merit owning one, and renting one is usually more of a pain than it is worth. So I usually cobble something together at home.

Downstairs works for head shots and table tops, and the garage is used for stuff than needs more space. But as often as not, it makes more sense to cart a light and some background paper outside and just work in the driveway. Such was the case for Ramona and Jessica, who I shot to promote a fundraiser for a local domestic violence center.

A 3/4 shot of two people needs too much space to shoot downstairs. And I could shoot it in the garage, obviously. But if the weather cooperates it is easier to move less stuff than I would need in the garage a few feet further and just shoot outside.

The main reason is that outside your fill light is already in place. I shoot on the shady side of the house, which means out back for the morning or in the front driveway for afternoon/evening.

In the garage, which has very little ambient light, I'd need fill boards and/or a second light. Outside, the sun does the heavy lifting and I can finish it off with a single dish or umbrella.

So here's the open-air studio we used for a quick shot of both of them. (We did head shots, too, but I needed to be set up with enough space for both.)

The background stand kit all fits in one small case. I actually own two now, so I can have multiple backgrounds set up for quick changes. They are silly cheap and will handle full-width paper as shown, or wider (muslins, for example) when needed.

I sandbag everything, especially outside. But since the sandbags live in the garage (for easy loads to the car) they are no big deal to move either within the garage or right out front

The flash is a Profoto Actute2 1200, out of the frame and not visible here. It makes a lot of sense to use a big light in this instance, even though a speedlight can overpower shade if you are close enough.

But a big light gives you front-to-back space to work with. I can back it up enough to light Ramona and Jessica evenly, and ensure that the full exposure will cary back to the paper. If I use a small flash, I have to bring it in close, which means it will fall off more before it gets to the background.

Second, I can do this on a pretty low power setting, which give me very fast recycle. A speedlight would need to be at 1/2 to full power, and need more recycle time.

From this position, they are in open shade. By this I mean that they are in the shade of the house but they can see full, lit sky. So from their perspective, the ambient (AKA my fill light) is about a 90-degree sweep from horizon to nearly straight overhead. This approximates a giant, on-axis soft box and makes for very flattering fill.

We want to nail that down first. So I set the camera on 1/125th of a sec, and adjust the aperture until (what will be) the shadows look the way I want. Why 1/125th? So I can easily adjust the fill level a stop either way on the fly while we are shooting by moving the shutter speed up or down.

Being at a 1/125th instead of a 1/250th means that I will have to close down one more stop on the aperture to compensate. So I'll need one more stop of power out of the flash than I would have at 1/250th. This is another reason to use a big light in this case — you have power to burn.

So with the aperture and shutter chosen (and my shadows already placed at the level I want before the key was ever added) the key light is added last. Just walk it in and dial the power until they are exposed properly at the chosen aperture.

The key light modifier was the FTX white beauty dish I talked about earlier, which is less specular than a silver dish. (But the silver one is more efficient.)

Between the white dish and a giant, ambient fill light to combination yields a glamorous look with very little gear.

Next: Tweaking Dusk


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