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Saturday Light – the Fearsome Foursome

The "Fearsome Foursome," creators of NEPA BlogCon, gather for a portrait session at Nay Aug Park in Scranton, PA, on the evening of 21 June 2012.  Present are Karla Porter, Leslie Stewart, Mandy Boyle, and Michelle Davies.

Thursday night, while Scranton’s heatwave was still in full-swing, I met up with a quartet of ladies known increasingly as the Fearsome Foursome. They’re some of the local movers and shakers – including my own girfriend and sometimes-assistant Mandy – and they are the driving force behind NEPA Blog Con, a regional blogger’s conference scheduled for this September.

The Foursome is anything but regular, which is fine by me – the more interesting the people in front of the lens, the better the photos come out. So when I heard that they were interested in some promotional photos for the event and it’s website, I threw some pro bono time their way, with the caveat that they had to channel their zaniness during the shoot. No boring group photos allowed!

The "Fearsome Foursome," creators of NEPA BlogCon, gather for a portrait session at Nay Aug Park in Scranton, PA, on the evening of 21 June 2012.  Present are Karla Porter, Leslie Stewart, Mandy Boyle, and Michelle Davies.

We met at the Nay Aug Park to shoot in the Tree House (it’s just what it sounds like). The sun was starting to set, the light was warm and lovely, and the trees around the platforms gave us some great shade mostly free of direct light and hotspots. I shot with the E-M5 + Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens in manual mode, f/3.2 – f/5.6, ISO 200. I kept the aperture a bit smaller than I usually would because I was shooting a group and needed the extra DOF to try and keep them all sharp(ish) when they were in staggered lines. The shutter speed varied based on the exact shot, but was always below 1/160 to accommodate the flash sync speed, and was usually set to keep the background exposure at -.7 to -1.

With the ambient light knocked down, the key source was a pair of YN-460 II speedlights on a single stand, diffused with a shoot-through umbrella. Both flashes were dialed up to about 85-90% power and were triggered via RF-602s. (Since my assistant was in the shots, I used a single sandbag on the lightstand; with hardly any breeze, it was enough to keep it in place.)

At the very end of the Tree House session, I switched to the Canon FD 35-105mm f/3.5 lens and removed the umbrella, punching some hard light across a 20’ gap between the Tree House pathways for a slightly different look. Wasn’t as happy with this set, actually. But I did keep the lens on for some individual portraits that we shot next, in front of the Everhart Museum’s gardens.

The "Fearsome Foursome," creators of NEPA BlogCon, gather for a portrait session at Nay Aug Park in Scranton, PA, on the evening of 21 June 2012.  Present are Karla Porter, Leslie Stewart, Mandy Boyle, and Michelle Davies.

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The umbrella is back on the light stand for these and is just barely out of the frame to camera-right. I’m shooting directly into the settling sun with the telephoto (which made manually focusing rather difficult), at f/4, ISO 200, and 1/125. The flare and golden light are both all-natural. It’s not your typical portrait setup, but both the Foursome and I loved the way they looked.

We finished out with a few more group shots on the steps of the Everhart. Same lighting setup as the others, and back to the Leica 25mm lens. We tried to finish on a zany note and I’m pretty sure we succeeded: the Foursome, and all of Blog Con itself, has something of a squirrel theme. The ladies closed the night with their best rodent impressions and we called it a wrap:

The "Fearsome Foursome," creators of NEPA BlogCon, gather for a portrait session at Nay Aug Park in Scranton, PA, on the evening of 21 June 2012.  Present are Karla Porter, Leslie Stewart, Mandy Boyle, and Michelle Davies.

I cannot stress enough the benefits of having dynamic, engaged subjects. Portraits, commercial, weddings, it doesn’t matter – if the folks in front of the lens have this kind of energy, you’re sure to get good captures. Their energy and enthusiasm transfer to the images and make them dynamic and interesting. It makes the photog’s job infinitely easier, and the final product is always better for it.

Final note:

Here’s the rain on my parade, the point where this story becomes embarrassing to me: I did my preliminary edit on the images that same evening; downloaded them to the computer, made a few passes to weed out the obviously bad, then narrowed the duplicate poses down to the best one or two. I went through and cropped where necessary, looked them over again, and went to bed happy.

The next morning I got up and started making some actual exposure adjustments in ACR and happened to look up at the metadata display to check the aperture on one of them when it hit me. I’D SHOT THE WHOLE DAMN SESSION IN JPG!

I used my 2nd E-M5 body for the session, which just arrived. This was it’s inaugural shoot. Before hand, I spent 15 minutes matching its settings to those on the 1st body. And yet somehow, amid everything else, I forgot to change the files from JPG to RAW. (And to make matters worse, the picture mode was set to Vivid, for the improved AF performance – so my JPGs are extra juicy to boot.)

I asked them to pose like rock stars…and this is what I got.

Alright, deep breath, because the fact is that it doesn’t really matter. Except for my own wounded pride at being an idiot, the photos are fine. The clients Foursome is thrilled with them and because I’d gotten the lighting and exposures right the during the session, there wasn’t a lot of adjustment needed anyway. The shoot was a success. Everyone is happy. I just don’t have the RAW files to backup some of my favorite captures.

But I do have the stigma of having finally made this particular dumb mistake.

Wanna bet I won’t make it again?

Brent Pennington

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2 Comments to Saturday Light – the Fearsome Foursome

  1. June 24, 2012 at 18:51

    We all make mistakes. I’m kind of surprised you used your backup camera as the primary camera. Did you shoot other stuff with it before this shoot? If not that’s pretty bold using it on a shoot without prior testing. Oh wait, we’re talking about the E-M5 here so we know it’s going to work right out of the box. YMCA — that group of girls has a sense of humor for sure.


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