UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


On Assignment: Found Backdrops, Pt. 1

NOTE: Just a heads-up that I will be altering things a bit. Starting this weekend, I am moving the POTW to the weekend to better fit with my Baltimore Sun schedule. Henceforth, it'll pop on on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on my assignment load. -DH

At The Sun, we include zoned prep sports coverage in our sports section. In addition to game action, we do "Varsity Features," which are profiles of standout athletes.

That means that each week we do an athlete portrait which will run large and needs to have a little impact. That's all well and good, but frequently time constraints (either from our end or because of the team's practice schedule) mean that you have to bang one of these off pretty quickly.

Like, say, five minutes, door-to-door.

One of my favorite techniques in a situation like that is to make use of any nearby vertical surface that is sporting the team colors. These can be found in just about any gym or practice room, and make an easy color key on which to base your photo.

This is a run-and-gun, quickie technique. The two photos in this post were shot last week, and are typical of what we do.

I start off by setting my background light first, and power the flash down until it gives me a nice-looking backdrop at f/4 or f/5.6

At my max synch speed of 1/250th, this means my subject (who is not yet lit) will be in silhouette. From there, it is an easy matter to bring the subject up to the proper exposure with a second light to match the background exposure.

In this photo, I used what is probably my most common two-light setup - umbrella on the subject and a hard light on the background.

In this case, they were folded up bleachers. But there will almost always be something - painted walls, pads that protect the players from crashing into the wall, etc.

These backgrounds are neat because (a) they give a strong visual theme to the photo - ready made - and (b) the color is an appropriate school color.

I usually make sure the player knows to wear at least a game (or practice) jersey, and that way I know I can tie the color scheme together easily. As a bonus this monochromatic environment really makes a person pop, IMO.

In the top photo of the wrestler, I did a little something different, deciding to go with hard lights all around. There's a snooted flash (camera left) on the background, a snooted flash from camera front right on the guy and a snooted flash with a 1/2 CTB gel (CTB is the reverse of CTO - a cooling gel) acting as a kicker from back camera left to define the shadow area of his arms.

(If any of the above is Greek to you - and you are not Greek - hit Lighting 101.)

If you are used to working with a bag of small lights, even a three-light shot can be conceived and set up in five minutes. I plan on having five minutes to actually shoot - people usually do not have the nerve to schedule less than five minutes for a newspaper photo. If I get more, fine.

Teardown is even quicker than setup, because there is no thinking involved.

Next in this "found background" two-fer, we will look at how to expand a small area of color-keyed background to fill the frame of a photo for a more dramatic look.

Next: Macaroni and Cheese


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