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Saturday Light: Kelly’s Headshots

Kelly Krieger poses for headshots outdoors at St Ann's in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 28 January 2012.

Tuesday’s missed post was brought to you by a nasty viral cold. After several days on the couch, I’m finally back on my feet. But if this post doesn’t make sense, you can blame it on the cold meds.

I almost feel like this shouldn’t be a “Saturday Light” post, since there aren’t any strobes involved. This edition was shot wholly with ambient light. I can tell you two things about this right off the bat: this is the first time I’ve shot portraits with only ambient lighting and, second, it’s a lot easier than you might think.

Here’s our scene: it’s an overcast, windy day, mid-afternoon, outdoor location. We’re on a tight timeline, with only about 20 minutes to get the shots we want. It was either haul a flash along (and enjoy all the fun that goes along with using an umbrella on a windy day) or work with the ambient.

I went with the ambient. It’s a new look for me, but one that I’ve been studying. I’ve long been impressed by other photographer’s abilities in working with the light that’s already there. The images have a very different look from those created with flash, a softer, more subtle look. Equally important is my ability to shoot with much wider apertures, since max sync speed is no longer a limiting factor in the light-balancing equation.

So I’m going with the theme of “make the most of what you have.” And what I have are some great open shadows to work in. Open shade is like shooting inside a giant diffuser. The light is very soft and maintains only a little directionality. Ideally, open shade should be continuous, without breaks and splotches of hard light that can ruin an exposure. In this case, I’m working in the shadow of a church. It’s the perfect mix of interesting background texture and great light.

As you can see, however, I’m not taking it entirely as it comes – I’ve got a VAL with me, and have traded in the lightstand for a reflector. This was also my first time working with a reflector – or rather, having my VAL work with one. Fortunately, it’s easy. Unlike flash, a reflector is a constant light source, so what you see is what you get. Which makes it easy to steer the reflected beam to wherever I need it.

I was given a collapsible 5-in-1 reflector for Christmas, through the Google+ Secret Santa exchange, and this was my first time using it. Suffice to say, it worked really well. And since this was a shoot of firsts, it was also my first time shooting with my newly-repaired Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. I’ve been wanting one of these as a portrait lens for some time and was finally able to pick up a good used one before the holidays – unfortunately, USPS trashed the focus while it was en-route (more on that another time).

Kelly Krieger poses for headshots outdoors at St Ann's in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 28 January 2012.

I’ll wrap up this utterly random Saturday Light post with a few final thoughts:

  • I enjoyed shooting ambient-only and will definitely be working more with it. It’s nice to be free of the constraints that Speedlites impose. And I really like the ambient-only look.
  • A reflector is a great piece of gear to have in your kit, and especially a 5-in-1. It can be used for both ambient and flash reflection/diffusion, or as a flag to block light.
  • Even in open shade, a reflector will help focus/direct the light onto your subject, although the effect is much weaker than in direct light.

Kelly Krieger poses for headshots outdoors at St Ann's in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 28 January 2012.

Brent Pennington

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