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Saturday Light: In the Woods

Nick Pennington poses for an outdoor session in the woods near Lefferts Pond in Chittenden, VT, on the afternoon of 29 December 2011.

Stepping back to Vermont during the holidays (the same day that I shot the sunrise photos in the freezing cold) the afternoon temperature reached a balmy 23* and I headed to the woods with my brother, Nick.  The goal: to make some portraits that were all about him.

Nick is like most people when it comes to having his photo taken: he’d rather not. Over the past several years we’ve shot together just a couple of times, some sports shots and his high school senior photos. They’ve been good, but for the most part they were photos that someone else wanted, and so he had to conform to their expectations, instead of simply being himself.

This is the problem with most portrait sessions. There’s always someone – a parent, school, team, business, etc – who expects the photos to look a certain way, for you to dress a certain way and smile at the camera, so that no matter how good the resulting photos are, they aren’t truthful to the subject himself.

My brother is well on his way to being a woodsman. He’s a Wildlife Management major, he loves hiking, camping, and archery, and has been a junior counselor at his conservation camps for several years running. When I think of him, I think of his outdoor nature. It’s who he is. And it’s what we agreed his photos should be, complete with the coonskin cap I gave him for Christmas.

Nick Pennington poses for an outdoor session in the woods near Lefferts Pond in Chittenden, VT, on the afternoon of 29 December 2011.

Nick Pennington poses for an outdoor session in the woods near Lefferts Pond in Chittenden, VT, on the afternoon of 29 December 2011.

The lighting here is simple, because we’re in the woods. Granted, we’re within sight of the park driveway, so it’s not as if we had to bushwack our way to the outback. But still, there’s no sense in complicating things, especially on an environmental shoot. I’m using the ambient here as background fill and the 43” octa as key. My sole criteria for location was a creek; Nick is on one side and I’m on the other, shooting low across the ice. Mandy is playing VAL, holding the octa to camera left.

I’m shooting at SETTINGS, so the ambient light is knocked down between 1 and 2 stops. There are two YN-460 II Speedlites inside the octa, both firing just one level down from full power. The light is quite a bit father away than I normally position it, due to the creek, and that distance eats up some of the power. The upshoot is that the octa’s light illuminates not only Nick, but also feathers out across the environment around him. The downside is that fast recycle times are out of the question.

We did a whole series: Nick posing, stalking through the woods, drawing an arrow for his quiver, aiming intently at an imaginary target, and even (Darwin help me) shooting arrows into the ice not far from me. I had hoped to catch the moment of launch, a blurred arrow just starting to leave the bow, but they moved too fast and the timing was too short. Oh well, we still got some keepers.

We switched places near the end of the session, Nick climbing up onto the big rock that had been next to me (and which I’d climbed up on) during shooting. On the rock, there wasn’t any room for movement, so we put Nick in a series of dramatic looks poses as I shot from below. This is my one regret, that I didn’t think to raise the light up so that it was still coming slightly from above. Chalk it up to an hour in the cold (and a radio slave transmitter almost lost in the creek), but I didn’t think of it until we were breaking down.

Nick Pennington poses for an outdoor session in the woods near Lefferts Pond in Chittenden, VT, on the afternoon of 29 December 2011.

The shots turned out good anyway. They weren’t what I had envisioned while I was planning the shoot, but that’s okay – I’m happy with them and, even more importantly, Nick loves them. Mission accomplished.

Brent Pennington

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2 Comments to Saturday Light: In the Woods

  1. January 31, 2012 at 19:12

    In the first photo, it looks like Nick is trying to double his future inheritance.


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