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On Assignment: Dahlia Flute Duo

Whenever possible, I scout not only location but also time of day when planning an outdoor shoot. Especially if that shoot is in the evening.

When does the sun set? Where does the sun set? When is golden light? Where will it come from?

So in this case, the I knew the ideal pop of tree-filtered backlight would happen at about 7:22pm. And at that time we were ready and in place, waiting for the light.

Shame about the sun not showing up.


Plans Are Great

Look, it's always better to have a plan than to not have a plan. You can always ditch your plan. But if serendipity doesn't smile upon you, it's better to have a safety net than not.

That said, I'll quote the great philosopher Mike Tyson, who says, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

In our case the forecast was crap. The clouds came, and just kept building. Halfway into the shoot we knew the sun wasn't coming and were just hoping the rain would hold off long enough to get what we wanted.

Cue the Stand-In

The sun being a no-show, we placed an Einstein mono with a standard head and a Rosco #08 straw gel about fifty feet back into the woods. The #08 gel is like a ¼ CTO, but without as much red component. (And if your warmed flash portraits tend to come out too red, you may wish to swap from a ¼ CTO to an #08 as a fix.)

That warmth is critical to pass this light off as late afternoon sun. As is the considerable distance back to the flash.

On top of that, the flash is pointed up at about a 45-degree angle to disguise the location. Otherwise, the area right in front of the flash would be super-hot, revealing that the light is coming from inside the frame. The fact that the flash is pointed up also helps it to reach further up into the trees, adding depth to the illusion.

It's not perfect, of course. The light would need to 93 million miles away to be perfect. But it's convincing on first pass, and that's what counts.

(Note that the BTS pic was shot later, after a change of clothing.)

In front, I used a simple clamshell light setup, with a speedlight in an umbrella both above and below Melissa and Mary. The umbrella/flash on the ground has been taken off of the compact stand (which is still visible in the foreground) and placed directly on the ground. This gives me the visual room to shoot a nice three-quarter view.

Clamshell is often my go-to light because (a) it's soft and flattering, and (b) you can tweak it from full-on glamour all the way over to light that is there-but-isn't-there. So a setup like this is a great place to start.

Next, Into the Studio

When working quickly, it always helps to have light set up for a different look so you can do a quick-change if needed. So from here, we walked a short distance over to the studio to do singles with a little more of a formal feel.

The light here is very similar. Mostly because it is the same light. I say "short distance" a little tongue-in-cheek as it was more like, "Mary shuffled half a foot to her left…"

Here's our studio:

Unseen, Melissa is holding a $7 30"x40" piece of black foamcore from Staples as a backdrop. I love these as headshot backgrounds because they are matte and have a little bit of pattern to them. Not shiny, not seamless. Just kinda … there.

And super lightweight, too. We just swapped subjects and background holders and took advantage of our in-place speedlight clamshell light as we lost the ambient that we had not really been able to use anyway.

(In the BTS frame above, the back flash is still firing but it does not contribute through the opaque background.)

So we did these looks and a few more in less time than it took the mosquitoes to find us. Which this time of year is a decent accomplishment in itself.

Having a versatile key-and-fill light set up and in place, you can quickly and easily control the background with light—and then swap it out all together.

Next: Poet in a Hallway


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My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto