On Assignment: Hero Fan

Basically, my job is to travel all around the Baltimore/Washington area at my leisure, with people just waiting in beautiful environments for me to show up and spend hours trying out new lighting schemes.


My days are tight, just like yours likely are if you are a shooter. And I get handed some primo environments, if you are into mixed light and backlit, cluttered backgrounds. As for time, well, suffice to say that these days I am happy if the assignment doesn't have an "XMIT ASAP" notice, so they can throw it out on the web before the 1's and 0's are dry.

So today, I am gonna walk you through a quickie portrait for the features section. It was in the middle of a four-assignment, 150-mile day.

The assignment said:


What I am now thinking:

Well then, my busy day is looking up. I wonder if he is an "A-list" blogger? Wonder if I can learn something from him? Wonder what platform he uses?

Well, turns out he is not really a blogger (he has a MySpace page) but he does at least use a computer to learn about the show. There's a new experience. A photo of guy at his computer.

Environment: Computer on a cluttered desk, right in front of a window. Guy's back is to window when he sits at the desk.

Lighting: Something for everyone. By that I mean window light, tungsten and fluorescent, all mixed together. (What, no sodium vapors?) Thank you so much Mr. or Ms. Lighting Designer. No, really.

First things first: I kill the fluorescents. Next, I close the window blinds. This gets me from three light colors down to one in 15 seconds. I can nuke the tungsten with flash. If it bleeds through, no problem. (With the green, it'd look like sh a weird, greenish tint.)

So I stick a flash on a stand in front of the guy's desk and set it to 1/4 power.

At this point, I grab a test shot with a 24mm lens to start to zero in on the exposure. Not in focus, not even bringing the camera up to my eye. Just working quickly to grab my working f-stop. It's already close. I have done this a couple of times before.

I start to shoot the Guy At His Computer shot.

(Sigh.) Even with added light, this is what it has come to. A guy sitting at desk with "Heroes" web page up on his screen, talking to me. I shoot it, capturing the moment for all eternity.

(Has a reader has actually ever been bored to death by a photo? Would the paper be liable? Would I be personally held responsable?)

My standards as to what will make an acceptable photo from this assignment start to dip noticeably. We'll do better next time.

(I wonder what I should get to eat for lun - OMG! He's pointing at the screen! - click - We're saved! He pointed at the screen and I got it! )

See what I mean about the standards thing? Don't lie to me, either. I know you play those games with yourself, too. We all do.

Then a horrible thought pops into my head:

This is for features. What if they need it as a lead photo?

And another:

What if they need a separate photo for the jump?

Crap. Welcome to my life.

During this time, no fewer than two of the guy's managers wander by. They are not giving him the "This is exciting! Take all the time you want!' look, either. I make eye contact with the subject and the exchange is basically a nonverbal, "Uh, let's hurry this thing up, okay?"

So I move the flash over to my left - same setting, same exposure - and shoot it, bare, up into the ceiling. Same as in the first shot. I pull the monitor up to the counter to shoot a portrait of him next to it. (Hey, it was easier than getting him to lay up the desk, okay.)

Alright, this is a little better. Or maybe a little less bad. I dunno.

As long as I am doing this, I figure I should grab an ambient-only shot to choose the shutter speed for the monitor to burn it in correctly. Even though my soft strobe-off-the-ceiling light will glare on it pretty badly.

Bingo. Now, we're talking.

This photo never occurred to me. I was just grabbing frames to check various exposures - flash and ambient - just like I always do. I find this method to be quicker (and more serendipitous) than using a flash meter, and this image is a good example of how you can benefit from this technique.

We now have a photo that is lit by only the two ambient sources - the monitor's glow and the tungsten flood falling on the wall. The guy is in total shadow.

If I can get light on his face without it contaminating the wall or the monitor, then I'll have a pretty neat photo.

(PAUSE BUTTON: How can we do this? Think about it a sec before going on.)

If you said "snoot," you were close. Right idea, but still too much light spill. A gridspot, however, will do the trick just fine, thank you.

I slip a grid on the flash and aim it at the guy's face.

One quick shot, taken from the light's position, confirms my aim and gets me in the ballpark on exposure. I am hurrying now, so as not to get the guy in too much trouble with the bosses. Close is good enough. I can fine tune the exposure in Photoshop.

And here is the shot from next to the monitor. I should have probably cranked up the flash power to buy myself some more aperture to bring the monitor more into focus. (I would have had to lengthen the shutter speed to balance the available light, remember.)

But I was already stretching the guy out, and I did not want to cause trouble.

Here is the setup from behind the flash. I was just to the right of the monitor when I shot the actual photo.

The point is not that this is a great picture, because it ain't. The point is the difference between where I started and where I ended up - with bad ambient, a cluttered environment and short working time.

That, and to clue you into some of the weird crap the pops into my mind during the daily grind.

Oh, and after this small, hurried, relative, moral victory, the shot ran about three inches across inside the section, in black and white. Next time, maybe I just pop the guy with an available light shot.


NEXT: Spring Desserts


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