Shooting paid jobs as a professional photographer can get pretty stressful at times and although a certain amount of "trial and error" will in most cases be allowed for by a paying client, there is rarely time for fooling around and trying out new techniques on a job just to see how they will come out. A paying client on a portrait shoot will in most cases (understandably) want a selection of decent images to be shot in the shortest possible amount of time seeing as they are most probably paying by the hour. This means that for paid shoots I will generally use the techniques I already have in my repertoire rather than taking risks by trying out new techniques.
I find it very important therefore, to arrange the occasional casual (unpaid) photoshoot with a friend, on which I can test out new gear and techniques (as they say "beggars can't be choosers"), as well as shoot at my own pace without it being absolutely imperative to create a masterpiece, and without much more stress than would arise as a result of snapping an unflattering photo of a friend!
Furthermore, when photographing friends, a certain level of rapport will in most cases have already been built up over time, making the interaction extremely valuable for improving communication with future paying clients and building up rapport with them quickly and efficiently.
It had been a while since I last organised such a shoot, and seeing as spring is currently "in full swing" in Luxembourg, I decided to arrange a portrait session with my friend Pauline, at Kockelsheuer, just outside Luxembourg City. I had been there almost exactly a year before and had seen great potential spots for amazing images.
After exchanging a few messages, we picked a time and day when we would both be available and set out to find the location looking even better than I remembered it from the year before. The location is perfect for photo-shoots as there are a several lakes surrounded by trees, which at this time of the year are bursting with the colour of their freshly sprouted leaves. To top it all off, the sun was shining and there wasn't even the slightest hint of a breeze! All in all perfect shooting conditions! The only thing that could have made conditions better would be if there were just a few clouds which could have added a layer of interest to the sky, but hey; given the conditions as they were, I feel like I'm asking for too much!!
When we arrived at the location, the sun was still quite high in the sky meaning that the light was harsh. Open spaces were way too bright to balance the ambient light with flash without putting too much of strain on the flashes. We decided to leave those places for later and headed into the edges of the shaded forest to begin. After a short walk, we found an interesting tree just off the forest trail and decided to fire off a few frames there to warm up.
I quickly set up my gear and began. I had my usual outdoor portrait set-up, which consists of a Nikon D800 along with a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 (for wide-angle shots), a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II and my favourite portrait lens of all, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4. My lighting kit for the day included a Westcott Apollo Orb (octagonal) soft-box (see below, left), two Nikon SB910 speedlights (flashguns), a Pocketwizard Mini TT1 transmitter, 2x Pocketwizard Flex TT5 tranceivers (the radio-trigger system I use to fire flashes off-camera) and a Pocketwizard AC3 zone controller.
For the first time in over a year, I decided to set my flashes to TTL (automatic) instead of manual, and to use the AC3 zone controller to adjust flash power when necessary.
This gave me more time to shoot and interact with the model, as I didn't need to waste time manually changing the flash intensity every time I changed a setting on the camera; but also meant I had to "chimp" (check each shot on the camera LCD screen) much more than I would have if my flashes had been set manually. This was necessary so I could be sure that the flash intensity chosen by the camera was correct and that it wasn't underexposing or overexposing the subject.
As usual for each location I shoot in, I switched through all of my lenses one by one starting with the widest and gradually moving to the 70-200mm for tighter shots. Starting out with wider angles can help to give the model more and more confidence as I slowly come in tighter. As long as body language is natural and appears relaxed, nervousness in most cases will be less perceivable in a wider frame. Keeping a steady conversation and reassuring the model usually means that when all wide angle possibilities have been exhausted and the time comes to switch to tighter shots, the model will usually have had enough time warm up and relax.
Shooting in a forest on a sunny day can make it hard to capture both shadows and highlights in a scene while exposing correctly for the model. The magic of flash however, means that the background can be exposed at various levels of brightness, as long as camera settings are kept below what would give the correct exposure for the model (even absolute black if desired) while the model is still exposed at the correct brightness. Seeing as flash durations are so short, this can be achieved by simply increasing the shutter speed and is commonly used to separate the subject from the background and direct the viewers gaze.
And for comparison...
Once the sun had gone down a little bit, (before moving to the location shown to demonstrate the point made above) we moved along to a slightly less shaded space next to one of the lakes. This spot was perfect for a panoramic portrait, also known as a "Bokeh" Panorama or "Brenizer Method" panorama (named after Ryan Brenizer, the photographer who popularised the technique). When using this method, the sensor is "overlapped" and images are stitched together in order to give the benefits of a telephoto lens (i.e. compression of perspective and shallow depth of field) in a wide-angle frame - something which is simply impossible any other way, or which would require huge lenses that would be impractical to carry because they would be enormous. According to Brett Maxwell's calculator which was designed specifically for this method, the photo below shows the equivalent of what would be produced when using a 23mm lens with an aperture of f/0.38! Simply insane!
At this location as with the one before, we started out using the wide-angle and gradually went through to tighter shots, though we didn't use the 70-200mm.
For some reason I can't particularly explain, one of the wider shots from this location caught my eye as I was reviewing the images after the session and became my favourite from the entire shoot. It is often the case that out of an entire portrait session where over 300 photos may have been taken, there is one that just stands out to me out of all the others for reasons I can't exactly put into words. For this shoot it was the one below. Although this was by no means the most colourful photo captured on the day, there is just something about the expression, the lighting and the general mood that captivates me. After playing around with colour and black and white and struggling for a while with the dilemma, I decided to leave it in colour and "mirror" it so that the model would be on the right hand side of the frame instead of the left (as originally shot), and added contrast. The model's face happens to fall exactly on the end of a "golden spiral" (based on the fibonacci sequence) would fall if overlaid on the image.
I then switched to the 85mm for then some tighter shots with the lake out of focus in the background,
Before moving on to catch the "Golden Hour" in a more open space, starting with tighter shots this time and moving out.
And two more
And finally after a bit of patience on the side of the model as I reassured her that each shot I was about to take would be the last, we decided to pack up for the day after what I feel was a very good session!
Peace Advocate Blogography
Welcome to the Peace Advocate Photography blog, where you will find everything from gear reviews to my opinions on photography and recaps of my recent shoots!