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On Assignment: Brian England

I shot a job last month for a story on the downstream impact of the new Jobs Bill (as in small business, not Steve.) Local auto shop owner Brian England, above, was one of the voices in the story.

It's your basic talking head. And just about anything would suffice for this kind of story in the local biz publication. So I always see these kinds of job as a perfect time to try on a new lighting style for size. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by experimenting -- as long as you cover yourself in case it doesn't work.

Brian is a great guy, a very smart businessman and a long-time community leader. So it certainly is not inappropriate to light him with painterly, Leibovitz-style lighting. Which is exactly what I had been wanting to try out.

This is something I really don't play with very much. And a practice run on a safe, low-risk job will make me much more comfy the next time I pull it out. Especially if it is in a high-pressure environment.

Similarly, that's why I always liked getting the dreaded "mug shot" assignments for The Sun. It was license to play, and no one would ever question the result. Mug shots were my sand box for nearly every lighting style I ever wanted to try.

For this shot of Brian I used two Profoto Acutes in large light mods. Which is pretty much overkill, and very unusual for me. The light mods were both Paul C. Buff models, with one having been adapted to fit the Profoto mount. This is ridiculously easy and cheap to do, and it is a good way to soften the sting of the transition from one brand to another. Which is where I am at right now.

One of the things I loved about the Paul Buff gear was his foldable soft boxes. They are cheap, very well-made and open/close like an umbrella. And, they use a universal speed ring mount, which means you can swap the fitting on them cheaply and easily.

You just remove the innermost fitting, which marries them to a Paul Buff light, and swap it for an off-brand Profoto speed ring. (The branded Profoto speed ring will not fit the Buff mods -- cheap FTW.) I used one made by SP-Systems, which was less than $20.

I got that tip from JoeyL's second video tutorial, which meant the videos more than paid for themselves as compared to the difference in price for buying Profoto boxes. Joey did the same hack and actually prefers the PCB boxes to the much more expensive versions.

The key light, a 10x36 strip box with a grid, was converted from a Paul Buff mount to Profoto. I have since converted all three of my boxes (two strips and a 47" octa) in the same way. It was a no-brainer.

One caveat. If you are gonna do this, measure and make sure the lip on the new adapter will fit the speed ring on your soft box. There are a couple of different sizes, but the Paul Buff soft boxes tend to match up with the 3rd party ring inserts pretty well.

The key light is coming in from close, high camera left and the grid keeps it off of the Snap-on toolbox background. (You think lights are expensive? Try buying an armoire-sized Snap-on tool cabinet.)

In most cases like this, I would have used a ring for fill. But it would have created a blown-out, donut-shaped specular on the metal box and that would have been much more distracting. So I used a medium (64") Silver PLM with a front diffusor for an on-axis fill, and placed it right behind the camera. Exposure for the fill was about 1.5 stops down from the key. Pretty tight ratio for me, but I am still experimenting with that big PLM as a fill source.

This gave me a specular that was both larger in size and lower in intensity on the metal. So I can see the texture without blowing it out, as a small light source like a ring would have done.

I like the tonal range on Brian's face with this lighting setup -- crisp and 3-D without being too contrasty. And the contrast range thing was important, as this was going on newsprint.

But the look itself almost has a medium-format vibe to it. I'll definitely trot out this two-light technique for something more involved in the future -- maybe something outside in full daylight. And will do so with a high comfort level, having tried it first in the talking head sandbox.

Next: Inside the Black Box


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