Bjorn Stopped By the House on the Way Home…
I first met photographer / retoucher Bjorn Holland in London a few years ago, just before he was to head out on a little motorcycle ride. Eighty thousand miles later, he stopped by my house for a visit on the last leg of his round-the-world trip.
Given that he did not have an official portrait from the journey, we decided to fix that with a trio of speedlights -- and one very big light mod…
The three-year trip started and ended at The Ace Cafe in London. Along the way he traversed 50 countries and collected countless experiences.
When he rolled up into my driveway on his heavily modded BMW F650GS Dakar, the first thing that popped into my mind was Mad Max. Bjorn is a pretty handy type of guy, so his bike had everything from frame-mounted metal cases and racks to a hacked inner tube cruise control.
When his radiator blew a leak 500 miles from nowhere in Alaska, he fixed it with a little epoxy smeared together in his hands.
A stock and assignment photographer, of course he took his camera, tripod and flashes with him. You can see some of his gorgeous panorama photos at Panomoto.com.
I wanted a shot of him on the bike in low ambient light, with directional light on him but full detail in the mostly dark metal BMW. So I knew I wanted some extra-large sized on-axis fill.
Solution: an el cheapo queen-sized sheet from Wal-Mart. It's so thin it only has one side, but it transmits light Like A Boss.
Bjorn and his bike were lit with two SB-800s, each on half power. The key (gelled with a Rosco 1/4 CTO) was in a 60" Photek Softlighter II, boomed above him. The fill was fired through the sheet which had been suspended from a LumoPro backdrop stand. (At $150, it is probably the most versatile piece of grip I own.)
That sheet increases the area of the fill light from two square inches to over 9,000. Huge difference. And that means the intensity of each square inch of the light reduced is reduce proportionately.
Result: rich fill light to reveal into the bike's innards keeping the specular reflections nice and soft. Even if his bike was all chromed out, the reflections would still be under control.
It's a poor man's solution for a big-ass lighting mod. But there are some caveats, the most important of which is wind. I bagged the stands (mandatory here) but you still have to allow for the fact that your light mod is essentially a sail.
Here are some solutions (in order of effectiveness) when using it in wind.
1. You clamp the bottom of the sheet for extra weight.
2. If there is a slight breeze, do not clamp it to the bottom of the stands, and let it billow in the breeze.
3. For more wind, you can swap out a sheet with slits and pockets sewn in (you buy two sheets, cut and sew).
4. You can cord-and-stake the tops of the background stands.
5. Combination of any/all of the above.
My shooting position was tucked right up under the sheet. I was laying on the ground behind it and shooting underneath. This creates gorgeous fill.
Finally, a third SB (also at half power) was scraped across the background from back camera right. This accentuated the middleground horizon line.
Afterwards, we had some good pizza, homemade peach cobbler and talked photo and RTW biking well into the night. Some notes from Bjorn:
• Best food: Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia.
• Most hospitable people: Iran and the US. (If only they could be hospitable to each other)…
• Best Landscapes: Bolivia and Tajikistan. (I can sure vouch for the amazing pano print of La Paz he left with me.)
If this is giving you the urge to pack up and head out all Easy Rider style, you'll want to spend some serious time over at HorizonsUnlimited.com, where all of the intrepid RTW bikers share up-to-date info and tips.
To see more about Bjorn's trip -- and definitely to see his stunning panoramas -- head over to Panomoto.com.
See you next time around, Bjorn. I tip my hat to your epic sense of adventure.