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


On Assignment: Cellist Carolyn Rosinsky

I love shooting at mix. Especially when there are epic clouds on the move. And even more so while monitoring my Dark Skies app to know exactly when the rain will start falling on a OMGHowMuchDidThatThingCost? cello.

Just keeps things interesting, you know?

Location, Location, Location

Every photographer should have a go-to location for shooting outdoor portraits. Mine is the Howard County Conservancy, who are smart enough to both recognize that they have a great place to shoot and to bend over backwards to work with photographers who like to shoot there.

It is really worth spending a little time to find locations like this in our area, be it private land (with permission) public land (find out your local park policies for photography) or hybrid areas like HCC.

In this case the HCC hosts, among many other cool buildings, a 1700's-era heavy timber barn that was moved, plank-by-plank, to enjoy its golden years on the grounds of the Conservancy. I love this backdrop and often start there while we wait for the cool light to arrive.

Because the barn has four sides, at least one of them is always going to be in full shadow. That's an easy thing for a couple speedlights to overpower, and speedlights was exactly what we were using to light Carolyn this evening.

I have pretty much ditched my Nikons for shooting people, unless they are running full speed on a full-sized soccer field or the like. Just like Zack did, there is a huge DSLR garage sale coming soon…

This is mostly because I have fallen in love with the compact size and color palette of the Fuji X-cameras. Check this: mixed with speedlights, I can carry three bodies, six lenses AND A WORKING STUDIO in a little Domke F-6 bag and a short sling case.

Photo by Dave Kile

Here's the full lighting gear pack we used for all three setups that night. The lights are LP180's—we're basically using two speedlight starter kits, now that I think about it.

My friend Erik Couse is acting as VAL on the key light. His job is to stay on axis and rotate the light to follow her face. As a photographer himself, he has a strong intuition about the latter which makes him much better than a C-stand.

Plus, he is way taller than me. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.

The fill is from a second umbrella'd LP180 (slaved, with the key light being triggered by a hot-shot-to-⅛" cord.) I have since switched to a 30-foot coiled version to simplify things.

This is all flash, which is to say we are totally overpowering the ambient that is seen in the BTS pic. Key light was full exposure, fill was about two stops down.

I love the monochrome palette of the photo, and the texture of the barn as opposed to seamless or a painted backdrop. I want to cut out a section of this barn and keep it in my garage. Sadly, HCC is not that accommodating.

Dark Sky is Your Friend

After we shot some headshots against the post-sunset light, we went for something a little more contextual. The sky was, like, epic-opera cool. But that also meant approaching rain, which is a HUGE no-no for the expensive instrument of a concert cellist.

To cut it right down to the wire, we used my favorite shooting weather app, Dark Sky. It knows your exact location and aggregates a plethora of real-time weather data to tell you exactly your time-based weather profile.

You can look at real radar maps, etc. But what I like is the time-based way in which the rain data is presented. There is a timeline for your exact location and a graph of rain intensity expected over time. It's wavy and constantly updating as location-based radar location is absorbed and crunched.

Best yet, you can set it to sound an alarm when [light/medium/heavy] rain will be starting in your exact location in [x] minutes. OMG. Where was this thing when we had to cover the Preakness horse race with al those damned remote cameras? It's awesome.

So, skies were threatening but Dark Sky told us we were cool for 15 mins. We just walked our same lighting kit over to a nearby field and Carolyn uncorked an amazing soundtrack while we shot. I love shooting cellists.

Just as before, Erik is skying the LP180 key light over her, paying attention to the orientation of her face. He is off to high camera right, from my perspective. I am in the grass on my belly with a Fuji X-E2 and a 14mm f/2.8 (21mm equiv.).

To my left, down low, is the fill light: the other LP180 in another umbrella on a collapsed compact stand. This light does not appear to be doing a lot, but you would miss it in its absence.

It is picking up detail on the side of the cello and pushing light out into the near camera left grass. It's also painting a specular highlight down the black chair, which gives it form without lots of detail. This is a dark picture. A ton of detail in the bass clef would kinda ruin it.

The fill light is sync-corded to the camera; the key is optically slaved. We are working really fast here (rain's a-comin') so we ballparked the key light exposure and had Eric tweak the distance if we needed to alter it. Also, I could do that with my aperture and tweak the nearby fill to compensate when needed.

The sky was all over the place. It was changing quickly with the clouds rolling in, so the shutter speed was changing, too. But mostly I just let the ambient exposure roll and adjusted when/if it got too far out of whack.

Fuzzy Logic

A good selection of epic sky photos in the can, we went for something a little different. I pulled the 14mm and replaced it with a (follow the bouncing ball here) Diana 38mm plastic lens, on a Nikon adapter which was in turn fitted to an N-to-X-Mount adapter for use on the Fuji. The result: a normal-length, plastic squishy goodness.

I like to stretch for something different, especially when I am happy with what I already have. For Fuji portraiture I love the Diana 38mm just as I have used the Holga 60mm with full-frame Nikons in the past.

Pixel peepers hate this kind of stuff. Somewhere, there is a guy reading this whose forehead is starting to throb. (Embrace the anger, my DxOMark friend…)

The further I travel down this path, the more willing I am to go for evocative at the expense of [sharpness/exposure/focus/you name it]. Heck, I spent three days shooting in Paris in May without once putting a "real" piece of glass on the camera. I regret nothing.

I used to worry about what I was giving up. ("But it's not sharp!") Lately my concern is not for missed technical perfection, but more for the unexplored path.

In the end, this was my favorite image from the shoot. Plus, that look that she is throwing over her shoulder: I love that, too.

I am not married to Diana. But I sure won't mind hanging out with her for awhile. And in the context of a small camera bag full of possibilities and a dinky lighting kit, I'll be happy to follow where she leads.

Discussion, via Twitter: use hashtag #StrOA165, and add "@Strobist" at the end of the tweet if is important that I see it.

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