Subject For a Day

Photo ©Mark Heayn

I had the tables turned on me a few weeks ago when Baltimore photographer Mark Heayn shot my family. It was for a marketing campaign for the company that converted our house to solar energy.

As much as we tend to dislike it, staring down the barrel of a camera occasionally is a very good perspective swap for a photographer. I learned some stuff watching Mark shoot -- and even discovered a cool new (old) piece of gear.

Mark lit us against full sun with three speedlights -- and could have done the same thing with two if not for wanting a faster recycle time.

The brief was to photograph families who had gone solar with Greenspring Energy in nearby Timonium, MD. We are really happy with the output of both the photo voltaic and solar hot water systems they installed. Our energy costs had dropped to about $50 a month.

So Mark stuck us in the shade in front of the house, with the solar panels getting full sun. Working with a Canon 5D MkII (translation: a real sync speed of 1/180th of a second) he lit us with two SB-800s in a large (~5 ft) shoot-thru umbrella at camera left.

The SB's were both on 1/2 power, meaning he could have done it with one on full blast. But this way he could shoot much faster if needed. The umbrella was pretty efficient as a light source, but was very efficient as a sail. In just a modest breeze that thing had a mind of its own -- even with the sand bag Mark had on it.

Fortunately, I have a few sandbags of my own lying around. So we bagged the crap out of it. That umbrella wasn't going anywhere.

Fill on the camera right side of the subjects (well, us) was courtesy an on-camera Canon speedlight. This also triggered the SB's in the umbrella which were set to slave. It was a nice, clean setup that looked like a much more powerful light source. And the detail from the on-axis fill allowed him to place the ambient level wherever he wanted without losing detail.

Which brings up a point. I like how he left the background ambient just a little hot. It is easy to dial the ambient down into Forbes-cover-from-the-'80s levels, but this is a much more natural look, IMO. (Also, it makes life easier on him with his limited Canon sync speeds.)

It is a credit to Mark how effortless the whole process was. Shooting a family and managing four expressions is not easy. Especially when one of them is a ten-year-old boy, with all of the goofy face-making temptation that entails.

Before he left, Mark showed me a cool Lowel stand topper from way back in the day. It is hinged, ready to plop on a 5/8" stud and will hold just about any kind of gobo at any angle. It is shown here impaling a sheet of 4mm Coroplast. But you can hold, for instance, poster board by alternating the spikes on each side of the thinner sheet.

I have found the tilt / mount on the Lowel site, but it looks as if the gobo impaler itself may be out of production.

Shame, as it is a neat idea. And if you ever find yourself in a dicey situation on a shoot, suffice to say you are prepared to get all Wolverine on them.

Just sayin'.


:: Mark Heayn Photography ::
:: Greenspring Energy ::
:: Lowel Lighting


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Grab your passport: Strobist Destination Workshops