Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Portraiture using 1-light system

For the past few months, I've been part of a small group of the Indy Meetup Photo Club that has been trying to concentrate on developing our acumen in the portraiture area of photography.

Last week, group coordinator Dave Bretzman availed some of his personal equipment to group members to experiment using a one-light system, and Dave volunteered to pose as the portrait subject.

He brought in a 32-inch Cheaplights softbox attached to a 1004BC Manfrotto lightstand. Our light source was a Nikon SB-800 flash, positioned on the left side of the subject (our right) and triggered by Cactus 5 manual wireless transceivers, which are units that can act as either transmitter or receiver, depending on a mere flip of a switch on the side of the unit.

Dave had four C5s in all -- one used as the receiver on the softbox, leaving three for use as triggers, which almost turned out to be enough for Brandon, Connie, Jeff and me. The odd person out rotated in periodically with the simple exchange of a C5 until we added the second light (see text below), at which time we were down to two people shooting at a time. The receiving C5 dangled on a short sync cord to slightly separate it from the light and stand, availing room -- and an easier time -- for Dave to mount and tighten the flash to the adapter hardware in what would otherwise have been a tight-fit area.

Any of us with a C5 trigger mounted on our camera's hot shoe could trip the flash when taking our photos. Brandon metered the light for us, settling on f/3.5 @ 200 ISO, and I shot at 1/160 with my Canon 7D and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens.

We started our shoot with the softbox set at a relatively high level ... and with room lights still on. The result was OK, but not ideal. In most of the shots, we still were getting a pretty well-lit background, a yellow wall that turned out looking different shades of gray in my shots (probably because I flipped between the Flash and Auto white balance settings), which wasn't necessarily a bad thing because the background was uncluttered.

We alternated between posing Dave in short and broad lighting poses. The former is when lighting lights up the side of the face you see the least; broad lighting lights up the side of the face you see the most.

It wasn't until about 20 minutes later, when we lowered the light to get it closer to Dave's face and also turned off the ambient room lights, that our pictures started to stand out and look more like professional shots. We re-metered for light because we had changed the softbox elevation, and our settings were virtually the same. The lighting on Dave's face became softer, and because it was more directed at the subject, there was less spill to illuminate the background. That yellow background suddenly turned dark gray and even brown.

We tried -- and Dave offered -- several different poses; there were hits and misses along the way, but that's to be expected in any portraiture shoot, and it's why photographers take what subjects might feel are an extraordinary number of pictures in a shoot. Better to get more while the subject is there, than to skimp and wish you'd taken more after it's too late.

Near the end of the session, Dave added a Nikon SB-600 with a wide-angle cover to the setup,  dialing the flash zoom to 14mm and setting it directly behind him, the subject. He aimed it at the wall to enable us to turn the background completely white to reproduce a key-like effect in our shots, akin to what we could have achieved with an actual white muslin, vinyl or paper background. This is when we were limited to just two people (instead of three) shooting at a time; one of the C5s had to go on the SB-600 as a receiver.

I don't know how Brandon, Jeff and Connie felt about what they ended up with, but my best shots are presented in today's post.

Above and next two below: Early frames from the shoot, with the softbox high and about 45-degrees right of the subject, resulting in the contrast of light on the two sides of Dave's face. These are examples of broad lighting.

Above: The session a week ago was the first time I'd ever attempted to shoot a photo using my camera's monochrome picture style option. I decided to explore that for a few shots in this session because of an article I'd read only a few days earlier in which a pro photographer extolled the beautiful, and precise, tones delivered in monochrome picture style by his Canon 5D Mark II. I use a Canon 7D, a close sister to the 5D (their major difference is sensor sizes -- the 5D is full-frame, or 36x24mm, whereas the 7D is an APS-C at 22.3x14.9mm), so I decided to see if I could see what this guy was seeing ... and save myself time trying to reproduce it in post-processing. The tones I saw on the LCD screen after the shot were indeed beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the image would also spit out of the camera as a monochrome only in JPEG format. I shot in RAW (without asking for a duplicate JPEG), so when the shot pulled up in Adobe Camera RAW, it was in color, not monochrome. I had to do the above conversion the usual way -- in post-processing software. This photo also was taken using the reflector to help fill in light the left side (Dave's right). Another example of broad lighting.

Above: For this frame (and the one immediately above it), a fellow club member held a white reflector on the left, pointing at Dave, to help fill in the dark areas on the side of Dave's face opposite the main light on the right. Mission accomplished. This is a modified broad lighting and not a pose you'd normally include in your shot list because the face is too square to the camera.

Above and next two below: These shots of short lighting -- along with the one at the top leading off the post -- came after we lowered the softbox to get it closer to Dave's face. We also turned off the room ceiling lights. The result was a softer light on the face and a darker background, enhancing the lighting contrast and, I think, improving the shots. 

Above: Dave had just set up the second flash to aim at the wall and was returning to pose, nowhere near the main light where he would get situated, when I fired this shot, mainly to get a silhouette. I got my silhouette, but I decided to go to Lightroom 3.0 to burn facial features in to see how that would look. This is what I got.

Above and below: For the shots using the second light -- the one behind Dave that was pointed at the wall, which now was giving us a virtual key, or white, background -- Dave injected some variety into his poses by juggling a water bottle (above) and pouring himself a drink in slightly unorthodox fashion. 


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