As I mentioned in my last post, I spent most of this past weekend behind a camera. It was great! Whereas I started photography afraid to work with people, I’ve come to love portraiture. Spending a few hours with great subjects and good light and then coming home with kick ass photos is the best thing I can hope for.
This was the second session for both Kristen and Lauren, both high school seniors (and cousins). And for both of them, this weekend’s sessions were simpler and closer to home; in the first sessions we did some wilder stuff – jumping shots, horses, prom dresses – so this was a change to take a quieter approach and craft some more intimate portraits.
I was able to work with Kristen in the late afternoon and Lauren in the mid-morning and in both cases had lovely, semi-soft sunlight and clear blue skys. Since nature was already on our side, it made sense to work with it and keep that soft Indian summer look, which meant keeping the lighting simple as well.
With the exception of a few experimental frames, I shot both sessions with just a 580EX Speedlite in a 24” softbox, hand-held by my charming assistant:
This is a setup that produces great, soft light. It’s also simple to keep track of the output from a single flash, and keep it balanced with the ambient. And from Mandy’s point of view, it’s small and portable and, unlike an umbrella, doesn’t try to carry her away every time the wind blows. In short, it’s a setup that lets me focus on the subject and on making images, instead of on the gear.
Of course with a single Speedlite, power is a concern, especially against sunlight. Here’s the solution: keep the subject in the shade. Yep, as easy as that, although it still took me ages to figure it out, even after hearing it from other photogs. Setting your subject in the shade and then filling with the strobe lets you balance the flash exposure with the ambient in a very pleasing way. Or have your subject face away from the sun – their face falls into shadow, which the flash can bring back up, while the sun itself acts as a back light.
Here’s the last trick I used in both shoots: I kept the camera white balance set to Daylight, with a ¼ CTO gel on the flash. The light is just warm enough to give a little extra life to the subject’s skin tones, but not so warm that it clashes with the sunlight. Just that extra bit, like using a gold reflector instead of silver.
And alright, I lied – I used a second Speedlite a couple of times with Lauren, like this shot in her grandfather’s tack shop, where I gelled it with a full CTO and set it behind her, raking against the wall of bridles in the background:
Kick ass photo, and full props to Mandy, since the location was her idea. This was one where, as soon as I fired the frame, I knew I had made something good. It’s a great feeling to get on a shoot.