On Assignment: Tenor Luke Grooms

We talked a few weeks ago about maintaining a file of good public shooting locations. But the longer you have been shooting/living in an area, the more likely you are to have built up a stash of good private locations, too.

One of my local favorites is this courtyard, which can pretty easily pass for Europe. Not surprising, as it was modeled after a courtyard in Assisi, Italy.

That's the benefit of having a collection of good private shooting spaces, which is usually a combination of active searching, luck and serendipity.

Just as when finding public spaces, it helps to consider yourself a full-time location scout. Always being on the lookout for great environments—and making notes for later—will no doubt get you a good selection of spots over time.

The difference is, once you find a private location the work has just begun. I like to reach out in person first if possible, complete with an iPad portfolio and a business card. (This is the only time I ever use the latter.) I follow up with en email—and links to more pictures if appropriate.

If someone graciously allows you to shoot on their property, shooting and emailing them a nice image or two afterwards is always a cool way to say thank you. It will also help if you might ever need to shoot there again. So I try to do that whenever possible.

Such was the case for this shoot of tenor Luke Grooms, for the HCAC. Long-time readers will remember I also shot here for them in 2010. The thank you pictures and post-shoot contact definitely helped for this shoot.

There was no power, so we arrived with a collection of Einstein and Profoto AcuteB flashes. (And, of course, some speedlights.)

There are actually three light sources (in addition to the ambient) in this photo, all layered front to back to create a subtle sense of depth.

The key, at upper camera right, is an Einstein in a Photek Softlighter. It is on a C-stand arm to keep it out of the frame.

The separation light is an Acute in a regular zoom reflector, all the way in the back. The pack was out of frame behind the far wall at back left. That left a cord which, like the stand legs, was out of focus and easy to clone out.

All of the depth along the length of the arched corridor comes from this flash. It is firing back at the camera, painting the inside walls and arches with a little extra light. It's also creating the highlight on the floor that separates Luke's legs.

The ambient exposure is set not too far below the shooting exposure, so it is more subtle than dramatic. Even so, it makes a big difference.

The final light is an SU-4'd SB-800, just sitting on the ground under the flash in the back. It's aimed upwards and fired at the back wall, giving a some tone to separate Luke from what would have been a very dark background.

We also worked against the wall behind us for another look. I liked the pattern in the stones, but even more so the stair-step effect of that interior corner.

Luke's jacket was very dark, so we wanted to add a little light to bring out detail. We tried a direct speedlight splash on his jacket, but that didn't work. Fortunately, the return on a large, on-axis fill (the 60" Photek) was enough to being back a little detail.

That also ensured detail everywhere else in the frame, and allowed us to sculpt Luke's face with a gridded dish without worrying about the falloff:

(Photo by Dave Kile)

The fill is directly behind me, just out of frame. In addition to filling the shadows—and adding detail to the jacket—it puts a little pop into Luke's eyes. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.

The brothers at this particular friary all wear the traditional robes. So I am very much hoping to get back there to do a series of portraits of them using what is far-and-away the largest light modifier I have ever concocted. Or attempted to concoct, anyway, as it is still a little conceptual.

But that's for later.

For now, a little sexytime! culture to close out today's post.

Namely, Luke Grooms, singing Questa o Quella from Rigoletto, with the St. Petersburg Opera.

Next: On-Axis, On-Budget


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Blogger Vivek said...

David, I have been reading your blog for some years now and it is amazing how every post is still as refreshing and new. Techniques, thoughts, DIYs you have it all. Thanks for teaching me so much. Cheers!

June 25, 2012 5:38 AM  
Blogger JS said...

Beautiful. These images have a nice ratio of restraint-to-drama; a look that makes people think, "Oh, anyone would look good in THAT location. You don't even need lights."

June 25, 2012 9:57 AM  
Blogger Rajiv Sarathy said...

You say "There are actually three light sources (in addition to the ambient) in this photo, all layered front to back to create a subtle sense of depth." Aren't there four: Profoto in reflector behind subject, speed light on floor, Einstein in Softlighter, and gridded dish?

June 25, 2012 11:25 AM  
Blogger Wrenched Photography said...

David, I've been reading Strobist for years, but today seeing Luke was great. We went to College together and was wondering what was happening with him.

June 25, 2012 12:21 PM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

What I really like about the first photo is the impression one gets that the key light is just natural light. I also like that the separation is limited to a glow on the flow and back wall without a rim around his shoulder and head. Very nicely done.

June 25, 2012 1:06 PM  
Blogger Wells said...

Nice Caddyshack reference there toward the end. Love the blog.

June 25, 2012 2:07 PM  
Blogger Justin B. said...

Wow, looks like you had excellent ambient light. Why not shoot with that? Do you shoot natural light as well?

June 25, 2012 2:16 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Nope, no gridded dish in the top photo. That was only in the second.


Holy crap, what a coincidence!

June 25, 2012 6:53 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Thank you very little.

June 25, 2012 6:56 PM  
Blogger diegonyc said...

very clean and subtle light. almost goes unnoticed...

DH strikes again!

June 26, 2012 4:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wonderful images, as always. I would love to hear your impression about the Einsteins now that you have used them for a while next to the Profoto.

June 27, 2012 2:58 PM  
Blogger Kristina Jacob said...

Love the patterns as well, creates a great contrast with his dark coat and features. What a cool location!

June 28, 2012 2:29 AM  
Blogger Sodabowski said...

Wow, the dude can sing!

June 28, 2012 6:58 AM  
Blogger live, laugh, love, Linda said...

Thanks for this particular lighting scenario. I've been interested in strobist for a few years, but am getting much more serious and into it now as I shoot senior portraits on location. My primary lighting has been ambient light and reflector, but sometimes it just doesn't work. Don't know if I'll ever get this complicated, but I keep striving. Great add on of seeing Luke in action. Such talent! Oh, him too!!!

June 29, 2012 4:05 PM  
Blogger Icepick said...

Great location, we shot prom pictures there this year. Lots of texture and atmosphere. It's quite nice of them to be so accommodating.

I like the tight shot in the corner.

July 06, 2012 10:45 PM  

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