UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


On Assignment: Reed Quintet

I shoot a lot of individual artists for the Howard County Arts Council. But when Bassoonist Eddie Sanders (center, above) asked if we could instead shoot his military reed quintet, I jumped at the chance.

Really, how often do you get a chance to photograph a reed quintet?

One condition: we'd have to do something cool, and with a little attitude…

As we usually do with HCAC shoots, we worked through sunset and into dusk. The variety of beautiful light you get in such a shot amount of time yields so many possibilities. I hear it happens at sunrise, too. But that's like, really early.

For this shoot, we decided to cover ourselves with a more standard musicians' group shot using available light at golden hour. We would work fast, use the twilight to swap sets and then strobe into the afterglow/dusk for the other group shot.

Here is the "safe" group shot, done without flash. Not that we did not use light, though. The sun was still above the horizon, and shining over the musicians' camera-right shoulders. We were in my favorite field for evening and sunset shooting—at a nearby middle school.

My assistant, Lisa, was bouncing that sun right back into them with a California Sunbounce Micro-Mini reflector.

She is actually out of frame at camera left, but the reflector is so taut it can send a beam of reflected light a long way. In this case, she is mostly using it to hit Eddie on the right. You can see the setup with Lisa closer in here, afterwards, when we went to the head shots:

Photo ©David Kile

For head shots we raked the sun over the camera left shoulder and threw the highlight from the Micro-Mini onto the same side of their faces. It sometimes seems kind of default to put key and rim on opposite sides, but there is no law that says it has to be that way.

Here is the head shot from the BTS above:

It is quick and easy, instantaneous recycle, and you can shoot at any aperture. (Kinda like McNally, working with 37 ganged SB-900s in FP mode, but way the hell cheaper.)

Once we had the safe group shot and head shots done (which took all of ten minutes) we moved over to set up the shot we really came for.

So lets take a look at the shot up top, which was done into post-sunset light with speedlights. Those instruments are a combination of dark wood and chrome. And they will be absolutely black in terms of ambient when shooting into that sunset.

So, fill light—and in particular the specular quality of it—gets top priority here. we wanted a gigantic fill light, to put smooth speculars on both the chrome and dark wood. Detail without harsh glare.

Also, we wanted a little color contrast between the fill and key, so we would gel the fill with a full CTB.

We hung a bedsheet on a background stand and put three speedlights behind it on a triple bracket. This was fired from right behind me, and would ensure nothing on the people or instruments would go pitch black.

If you remember the motorcycle shot from a little ways back, this is very similar. That's because, like the bike shot, we are going for creamy highlights from curved metal.

The key was a 60" Photek SoftLighter II in a table-top position just in front of the group. It also got three speedlights, all 1/4 CTO'd for color contrast with the fill.

Here is a BTS of the setup:

Photo ©Lisa Dierolf

The fill flashes are unseen here, behind the sheet at camera left. As you can see, I am triggering all of the lights with my reversed, on-camera flash—which is also CTB'd.

So there are really only two light sources here: Key and fill. Why three flashes on each? Speed and power. If I have the flashes to put in there, I want faster recycles. So why not.

The lights in the background were headlights from the cars of the group members. I originally thought about hiding the lights behind their legs and using them as hidden rims, but with the attitude we were getting out of these guys it ended up looking better with some headlights showing.

And speaking of attitude, that is a big part of this shot. This is sort of "movie poster" light, and needs a little attitude from the subjects to pull it off.

To that end, my car was parked right behind the fill light with doors open and stereo blasting. I love having my iPhone and car near a shoot, because in 30 seconds and 99 cents on a whim you can have any soundtrack song you want.

I got a kind of "Young Guns" vibe from this setup, so we went with Bon Jovi's Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Seemed to work, as they look pretty badass for a group of reed players. Which was exactly the idea.

UPDATE: And here's the photo, used as lead on their site (other photos from this shoot used throughout):

Next: Hiding in Windows


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