Back from my short hiatus while working on my other site [link], here’s another edition of Saturday Light with Lauren, who has become a familiar face here over the course of her three-part senior session. It was really supposed to be a two-part session, but due to some scheduling troubles and a bit of miscommunication, we extended it to three. It was an easy solution and I’m glad we did it, since this last batch of shots is stunning.
Although I usually setup my shoots outside, we retreated indoors for this one and setup the white seamless. (Reminder to self – order more seamless!) Believe it or not, this is a shooting style that has frustrated me for years and I’ve only just figured out how to make it work.
The solution for shooting white seamless in a small space is actually simple. Mine was a four light setup (although you could do it with three): two Speedlites in reflective umbrellas for the backdrop, one on either side in a one high/one low setup for an even spread of light across the background. The other two Speedlites were mounted to shoot-through umbrellas configured for clamshell lighting directly in front of the model.
The real trick is, as always, keeping as much separation as possible between the subject and the background. Ideally you want several feet in between, so that you end up with two separate lighting planes. In practice, working in living rooms and basements, this is hardly ever possible, and even using whatever distance you have, your foreground light will contaminate your background.
Okay, so in terms of lighting this shoot was straight-forward and I didn’t change anything until the very end. Lauren’s final outfit was a killer black dress. We started shooting on white like before, but quickly decided that the pure white background wasn’t quite right. I killed the background lights and moved Lauren to the very edge of the seamless, for as much separation as possible, and continued shooting with just the clamshell lights.
The results were awesome! This was the look we wanted, where the gray background forms a more subtle contrast against the dress, and Lauren’s skin tones really popped. Definitely a good way to end a shoot – on a high note. From a lighting standpoint, this also shows the power of a white backdrop – throw lots of light at it and it’s pure white, but start removing that light in increments and you end up with deepening shades of gray for an entirely different look.
Shooting against seamless always has a few issues in post. First off, if you’re looking for pure white backgrounds, you’ll almost always need to do some dodging. I’ve found that Photoshop’s dodge tool is best for this, set for highlights. In instances where I’ve overlaid two sheets of seamless for extra width (I did here), my very first step is to clone/heal away any showing seams or imperfections, and then dodging afterwards, if necessary. Against a gray background this is actually a little harder, since your clone/heal job needs to match perfectly – there’s no way to dodge away the evidence.
The bigger problem, at least for me, is getting the right white balance. Even with the WB set to Sunny in-camera, it isn’t quite right. Unfortuantely, clicking the eyedropper tool against the white background isn’t a quick fix, as it either comes back as too overexposed for a reading, or adds an undesired color cast. My theory is this: there’s so much white and so few reference points that the computer can’t calculate a good white balance on it’s own. I end up doing a lot of little adjustments to the sliders before I’m happy.
It’s a PITA that leaves me a little paranoid when I’m done. I’ve stared at white for so long by then that I’m not even sure it is white anymore… The only solid solution I can think of is getting a white balance target and shooting the first frame of each outfit set with it. That’s what they’re made for, after all. One more piece of gear for the wishlist…
This ended up being my last portrait session of the year. I am thrilled with the results and feel that these are some of my best portraits yet, which surprises me a little since this isn’t be preferred style of shooting. But what the hell – what a great way to finish out the year!