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On Assignment: Designing a Backdrop

The Baltimore Sun's Christopher T. Assaf leads a bit of a double life, working both as a photojournalist for the paper and an art photographer during his free time.

His ethic as an art photographer frequently shows up in his newspaper work. He is known for producing photos which combine elegant composition with nuanced light.

This photograph of a local prep track star for The Sun's Varsity section is a good example.

He showed up to photograph the long jumper at practice only to find out that she was nursing an hamstring injury and would not be practicing that day. So he pulled out his shoe-mount flash and light stand and produced a series of portraits, one of which was used on the cover and another for an inside lead.

The photo above combines strong, 45-degree light with a carefully chosen background. The ambient is coming from the opposite direction, as seen by the shoulder highlight and fence pattern on the leg at camera left.

Chris used a Nikon SB-800 flash (at 1/2 power on the 105mm zoom setting) on a small light stand to light against the ambient sunlight at 1/250th at f/16. The light was aimed at the upper half of her body to allow it to fall off towards the bottom of the frame.

What brings the composition together was choosing the shooting position to use the hill as a background behind the fence. This could also have been done without the light, of course. But adding strong, directional light gives the photo two different planes - front and rear - which can be controlled separately by altering the aperture and/or shutter speed.

Chris stood on a stool to get the height needed to line her up with the better background.

Using light gave him the ability to quickly create three strong portraits (this one, and two others) in a short time. The one shown here was his favorite of the three he turned in, but did not run.

Chris said that he made a mental note to consider only giving them his strongest cover prospect next time.

I think he's on to something there.

Next: Lighting for Detail


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