On Assignment: Cookie Ride

Having lit a full-sun outdoor group shot with a Fuji X100s and a couple speedlights, I had been itching to see what a couple Einstein e640 monoblocs would do.

Way too much, as it turns out. The leaf shutter of the X100s and the insane t.1 times of the Einsteins are a match made in heaven. We had to dial them down quite a bit for this shot of a local food truck scooter operator...

More specifically, we had to dial our Einsteins down three and almost five stops respectively to replace the sun at a typical loose portrait working distance. Which means instantaneous recycle and more shots than John Wayne has in a western. You could literally shoot all day — thousands of shots — in the sun with an e640 and a VML.

But before that, please consider this very important message:

Yeah, local cookie-preneur Casey Dyson might be cool and all, selling her wares from a retro-looking red scooter named Stella. But the cookies are the star of the show. Which is to say, they're awesome.

Dyson has been wrecking the daily calorie counts of kids and adults alike in Columbia, MD for the last year. I wanted to photograph her on Stella (her scooter) for a piece on HoCo360, and I thought it would be a good excuse to play with the X100s and a couple big lights.

So we found a location with a good patch of sky in the background and a very conveniently parked panel truck. As it happens, panel trucks make excellent sun-killers when photographing women on scooters. It's a gobo on wheels. So now we had our shade.

The Mike Test

Next order of business: would the e640s overpower the sun? Let's give it a real torture test. Put the 640 in a 60" Photek Softlighter, dial the power down to midrange and set the camera to way underexpose the daylight. As in, far past what I'd probably do here today.

Yeah, that oughtta work. That's Mike Stog, my VAL for the shoot and a local photographer in his own right. He's probably putting aloe gel on his face today.

But I mean, holy crap. This is way more of an exposure stress test than I will be typically be using, and the Einstein is not even breaking a sweat. Think of the possibilities.

For our shot at top, we are still over an hour before sunset, so while the sunlight is at a low angle, the sky is plenty bright. We have Casey and Stella behind the truck, and at this sky exposure they are in pure silhouette. So the first Einstein will be for fill and legibility, especially in the underside of the scooter.

The second light is the key light. And I have grown to think about the key light as the second light as the fill lays a much-needed foundation upon which to build the key. But that's another e640 in a smaller Photek Softlighter, all being VAL'd by Mike. That light has a spill kill to make it easy to gel with a Rosco 08 straw warming gel.

It's really hard to see how much we are owning the environment until you get a little off axis from the lighting and view it from the side:

For the original image, I am tucked in just to the right of the fill light. Since the key is coming from my upper right, I'll get full coverage on Casey and the scooter. And both of these lights — even though bounced, diffused and gelled (key light) — are dialed way down. The fill is at one-eighth power and the key light is at just above 1/32 power.

So you could definitely key her with a speedlight. The fill would be a little tougher because we are using a little more power than a speedlight offers. But more important, a speedlight's t.1 time at full power is going to be about 1/200th of a sec — not enough to hit that high sync speed. But you could gang a couple speedlights and shoot through a sheet (more efficient than bounce-then-diffuse) and that'd do it.

(By comparison, in action mode and at 80ws, an Einstein has a t.1 time of ~1/6000th of a second.)

Speaking of a sheet, I wish I'd used that for fill and a rectangular soft box for the key. That would have given me much better specular highlights in the scooter. They're pretty easy to remove, but still. Live and learn.

About Those Cookies

The difference in visual scale between Casey, Stella and the cookies was such that I decided to split them into a hen-chick, which was what we always called a portrait-and-detail shot at the first paper where I worked. Otherwise, you are forcing the scale and everything looks graphically compromised. Shoot the cookie separately and let the designer play.

Something I learned quickly: make friends with, and be nice to, the lady who lays out your photos in the paper. Shoot the cookie on white and she can do damn-near anything with it, graphically speaking. So I would always keep printer paper with me and shoot my detail shots thusly.

In this case, I used an Orbis Ring as my fill light and a bare LP180 speedlight propped up on my camera bag as the key. The key light gives the texture; the Orbis gives detail — insane detail, actually.

Not surprisingly, chocolate chip is the runaway favorite from among Casey's many offerings. And if you think they look good, they taste even better.


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