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On Assignment: Mark Edwards

A suburban community nestled between Baltimore and Washington DC, Howard County is not exactly known for its exotic location backdrops for shoots. But if you are a little creative, you can usually scrounge something up.

Such was the case for a recent HCAC shoot of classical guitarist Mark Edwards, for which we borrowed access to the courtyard of the Franciscan Friars in Ellicott City, MD.

The Friars are caretakers of an actual relic -- AKA, a part of a human body -- a practice which is common in Europe but much less so in the United States. The Franciscan Friars' Shrine of St. Anthony houses a relic from the saint of the same name.

The relic looks about as you would expect a centuries-old piece of human flesh to look, but the building itself is beautiful. It was designed after a similar structure in Assisi, Italy and is a great location, considering the relative homogeneity of the surrounding areas.

My standard M.O. for getting access to a neat area for a shoot is to call well in advance, compliment the heck out of the location, and be very flexible and deferential to their schedule.

I generally do not promise so beforehand, but afterwards I almost always email some images of the location itself and give the owners the rights to use them on the website, etc.

Some will chafe at the fact that I am giving away the use of photos, but I am also getting a great location for free. It's a win/win, as we are both essentially getting something for next to nothing.

It's also great karma. Thinking every transaction has to be of the monetary kind -- not-so-great karma.

Expose for The Sky, Light for The Subject

For the shot at top I completely underexposed the shaded, interior hallway around Mark, dropping the exposure to just below that of the full-daylight sky and sunlit background.

That means going to a 250th of a second shutter speed right off the bat, to give myself a friendly aperture against which to light. The shutter speed gives you the aperture (adjust your aperture until you get the background tones you want). Then you match that exposure with your flash and you are good to go.

For these photos I was using one light -- a Profoto B600 battery-powered flash in a Paul Buff PLM. I love the 64" version. I cannot imagine the big one, as the middle-sized one I use is humongous.

It is similar in theory to the 60" Photek Softlighter II (which I used here) but significantly more efficient due to its parabolic design.

Both of those light mods offer wonderful value for money -- truly a poor man's Octa, IMO. They both have some advantages over the other, but for less than $100 it is hard to go wrong either way. I am using both of them quite a bit lately, and hope to have a good comparison post up before long.

Give Yourself an Edge

So, why even use a PLM or Softlighter? Why not just a Zack Arias Special 60" umbrella?

Simple -- I love what that optional front panel does for me. It gives me a light source that has a flat front, and that means it has an edge you can feather.

Sometimes you want a big, bulbous light source to flood the area. And for that an umbrella is great. But the PLM, for instance can give you a beautiful, efficient, soft light source with an edge that you can use.

Take this shot, for example. See how the light falls off as it heads up the wall? That makes Mark pop a little more, and it is very difficult to do with an umbrella. You could flag it, I guess. But that would involve another stand, a big gobo and some clamps.

The outcropping on the wall also falls off a little differently than does the recessed wall in the back. I like that variety and texture.

Here is a side view of the light, and you can really see how the light falls off at the edges with the PLM/front diffusor combo.

For reference, Mark would be at the outcropping portion of the wall at left, and I would be shooting from camera right.

I nearly always shoot setup shots, and I usually learn something new from them. (And yes, I did use that gorgeous hallway in some of the other shots.)

In this case, you can see the hard tilt I have applied to the PLM. It's such a big light source that I still get a nice wrap on the vertical axis on Mark, but I have a nice fall-off edge against which to work, too.

In this setup shot you can see an even harder vertical fall-off on the camera right side than the one on the left. The light is actually pointed away from the wall, but is still hitting near the bottom. And you can really see the edge happening as it goes up.

The other thing you can see is how cool it looks to drop a big light source into the middle of a frame. Say you were shooting a photo from the point of view of this setup shot, looking back into the hallway. The light would bathe down on the subject and fall off as it came towards you, making for a very 3-D look in that space.

If you needed detail in the shadows of the subject, it would be an easy fill with some ~2-stop down on-axis light. If you did not want to fill the walls at the edge of the frame, you could flag the fill light on the sides or use a gridded, on-camera flash to fill.

You may remember Mark from a previous post in which we blew out the background with a little high-speed, focal plane sync. That photo (here) was shot at this exact location and direction, yet looks totally different because the shallow depth of field melts the background detail away.

But we spent most of the time working with that big, 64-inch PLM. Paul Buff is still trying to keep up with demand -- and with good reason. They are efficient, gorgeous and amazing value for $77.90, including the front diffusor.

Next: Betty Allison


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My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto