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On Assignment: The Soprano

No, not Tony -- a real soprano.

And not to be underestimated, as soprano Erin Holmes could probably stand in your front yard and let loose a note that'd break all of your front windows. I had heard her in concert the night before, and hers is a voice not to be trifled with.

So to play it safe, we shot in the garage…

Okay, maybe it also had something to do with the fact that the headshot area in The Cave can't really handle 3/4 shots. It's pretty much a seated, head-and-shoulders type of place because of the low ceilings.

We were scheduled to shoot for HCAC long in advance, with no rain date. The weather was looking very iffy to be dragging flashes out to a location, so we decided to improvise in and around my garage.

So I dragged my flashes upstairs to the garage, put some Pandora on the iPad and luxuriated in a high-ceiling space. Have to say, I actually like the pullback shot of the garage. When I first saw it big, I really loved the crispness of what the two hard lights on the 45's did with the stuff in the background.

They were meant to light the white paper, of course, with each aimed at the opposite side for evenness. But the overspray looks cool to me, and I will definitely use that look to light a three-dimensional background soon.

Mind you, I would not do that to a person. Lights on the 45's don't really do it for me. Olaf Blecker can pull it off, but I can't. But I loved what they did to the stuff on the wall. Never know when you are going to learn something, right?

So, the challenge would be to get a few different looks out of one cluttered garage. And given the weather was holding off for a bit, we went just outside the door for our first shot.

The girls have the green thumbs in my family. Ben and I could probably kill a plastic plant. But thanks to Em and Susan, we live surrounded by plants. Don't ask me the plants' names -- I haven't a clue. I am more like, "plants … prett-ey…"

So we stuck Erin in front of a large, leafy bush right next to the garage door. It was low, so she sat down so it would be at the right height for a backdrop. It was appropriate, too, as she tends to play roles of nymphs and midsummer-night-dreamy stuff, etc. So earthy was good.

It was a cloudy day, so we had nice fill from the get go. We underexposed for that and brought in a big, soft light source -- a Profoto Acute in a 60-inch Photek Softlighter II. It's an umbrella with a diffuser on the front, and very cheap way to get into massive octa-ish territory.

The Softlighter is getting some real competition lately from the new (and more efficient) Paul Buff PLM system. They are both well under $100, and I use them each for different reasons. I have an upcoming post on the PLM, and another comparing the two. Long story short, if you want serious square inches for not a lot of money they both deserve strong consideration.

Anyhoo, that big light source allows us to tailor a soft bank of illumination from any direction that we want. With the underexposed cloudy light acting as fill, it's a subtle combo that does not call attention to itself.

This is mostly because we set the fill exposure pretty tight. Not much lighting ratio going on there. We could definitely drop the shutter speed, kill some ambient and make it more about the key light -- it's your choice.

Here is an ambient-only setup shot. The flash is coming in from high camera left, in very close. I clamped a large piece of cardboard to another stand and used it as a gobo to keep the flash off of the leaves on the left.

The light was a single Profoto head, dialed way down in the Softlighter. The ambient was cloudy (read: friendly for photogs) and we were working in close. This could have easily been done with a single speedlight.

So fifteen minutes in, we have our first look in the can. Next it was back into the garage, to scrounge another backdrop before we moved to the seamless.

If you look at the garage pullback shot big, you'll see a little ledge of foundation wall at the far lower left. Bingo. I love scrounging a completely different backdrop a few steps away.

The garage was dark, so we had to manufacture our own fill here. Cue the Softlighter again, this time positioned right behind the camera. It is big -- so much so that I can sit right in front of it and it still makes a great, on-axis light source.

Same principle as using a ring light for fill, only this thing is huge and leaves even less of a ring shadow signature.

As you can see by Erin's shadow at camera right, we had the fill light set very tight. Maybe one stop down. Easy process -- expose correctly for the fill light, close the aperture down a stop and bring in the key. Dial the key's power until it looks right. Done.

The key in this case was a beauty dish with a white nylon diffuser over it. Bonus: The garage door did not extend all of the way to the wall, so we had a little outcropping of front wall (camera left, just out of frame) with which to gobo and tone down the key light at camera left. (The key was coming from just out of the frame, so it would have been hot at left otherwise.)

We could have done the same thing with the stand and cardboard seen above, but it is somehow more satisfying to scrounge a mod built into the location. At least to me.

I love that we went from earthy to gritty in just a few steps of travel. That gave us a nice set of bookends, so we moved to the artificial backgrounds last.

The setup shot up top shows the lighting for the seamless white shot we did next. We used clamshell light on Erin. The Softlighter made a gorgeous key, but I had it dialed all of the way down. That meant I could not get enough underexposure on the umbrella I wanted to use as the bottom half as fill. As I said earlier, I am still finding my feet with the Profotos.

No biggie, tho. Since I was working at the low end, a speedlight on 1/8 power in a shoot-thru served nicely as a bottom fill light.

I love clamshell light. I am starting to experiment more with hard variants of clamshell, which is something that I find very interesting. But not today.

With those same two front lights, we shot the final look -- a 3/4 shot -- in front of a gray, Botero #023 backdrop in the same location. The collapsible backdrop is 5x7', subtly mottled, and lighter on one side than the other -- one very versatile backdrop, IMO.

For this shot, we used the Softlighter high and to camera right, turning Erin away from it to let it fall across her face. This shot is designed loose and with plenty of room for type to be added. Heresy, I know, to a newspaper shooter. But it can be very helpful to think ahead for a designer -- especially if you do not know how it might be used.

Since the key light was high and to camera right, I brought the speedlight/umbrella in low and to camera left -- almost 90 degrees form Erin. It is dialed way down, to just keep things from going to black without giving the appearance of another light source.

It is probably three stops down, and helps keep the hands from going black as they wrap around her body. Honestly, most of the fill on her face is probably coming from her own torso -- which you can also tell by the color.

Next: STB: Sian Meades


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