Editorial portrait with harder light

SRX_BIOSOLIDS

Morton Alexander, a Mill Canyon resident near Davenport, Wash., is worried that a natural spring that runs through his property could become polluted if a farm above the canyon is allowed to spread biosolids on their fields. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

In this editorial portrait I had a few challenges to overcome. One was the background, which was in full sunlight. The other was the subject was in shade. Were talking a five stop ratio or more. I didn’t want to do a complicated lighting set up here, so I chose my Godox AD200 paired with my Westcott 26-inch beauty dish positioned camera right. If you read my last post about the editorial portrait of the woman with the horse, I said I wished I had more sparkle in the face. On that photo, I used the panel diffusion on the beauty dish. For this photo I took it off. The silver interior gave me a harder light, which gave shape to my subject’s face.

I shot in TTL mode with high-speed sync enabled. I found I needed to bump my flash exposure up a stop to balance the light better with the background. I made that adjustment right from my Godox X1n trigger atop my Nikon D5 camera.

My final camera settings were 1/2500 of a second shutter, F/4 at ISO 200.

I love how the strobe brought out the colors of the old truck and sky. I hardly had to do any adjustment in the Photoshop.

lighting-diagram-morton

Advertisements

Location lighting breakdown: Editorial environmental portrait

SUZAN_ENTWHISTLE_OCF

Dr. Suzan Entwistle’s surgical career ending in 2013 from a hand injury she sustained when she was thrown from a horse. She now uses her medical training to help several families who have questions about recent autopsies performed by the Spokane County Medical Examiners Office. Her late husband, Dr. John Marshall, was found, Jan. 26, 2016, dead in the Spokane River. His death remains a mystery. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Editorial portraits are always a challenge for me. I want to show my subject in their natural environment, but at the same time, capture personality that reveals.  I normally get my photo assignments on the day of the shoot. It includes where and when to meet a subject with a few added sentences about what the reporter is writing about. Over thirty years of doing this type of environmental portrait for my newspaper, I’ve gotten pretty good at assessing the environment, lighting and subject to quickly to pull together a decent photo in a short amount of time.

On this assignment, I photographed Dr. Suzan Entwistle, a former surgeon who lost the use of her hand for doing surgery because of a horse riding accident. She now uses her medical training to help several families who have questions about recent autopsies performed by the Spokane County Medical Examiners Office. Her late husband, Dr. John Marshall, was found, Jan. 26, 2016, dead in the Spokane River.

Arriving  Entwistle’s rural home, I checked the interior for a possible portrait location and found nothing visually interesting. But the horses in the corral near the house did intrigue me. At first, I was not sure doing a portrait with a horse fit the story until Entwistle told me she lost the use of her hand for doing surgery after a riding accident. The horses and their connection to Entwistle’s story allowed me to bring two visual elements together to make a compelling portrait.

My challenge was the ambient lighting. It was super soft, but in a weird way. Local forest fires had inundated our county with smoke. In order to give the light some sharpness, I grabbed my Godox light bag and Westcott Rapid Box 26-inch beauty dish from my car. I set up a Godox AD200 strobe with the beauty dish as my key light on camera right. I made some test shots all in TTL (through the lens metering) mode. I got the harder light I was looking for, and a nice Rembrandt triangle on Suzan’s shadow side of her face. The photo still felt a bit flat to me. I grabbed a Godox 860II from the bag and set it to trigger wirelessly. I handed the speedlight, with no modifier, to Entwistle’s daughter (human light stands are the best) and told her to point it at the back of  her mother’s head and shoulders. It was also set to fire in TTL mode, which  gave me a subtle exposure pop to the face and side of the horse. I also wanted to bring the ambient light down about a stop so I kicked the lights into high-speed sync mode. My final camera settings were ISO 250, f/4 at 1250th of a sec. shutter speed.

lighting-diagram-2hmh0znr3s

We chased other horses around the corral, but it was this frame that I felt captured the pain, loss and hope I needed to illustrate the story (Read it here.)

Takeaways:

The lighting is not as dramatic as I wanted. I think if I had taken the diffuser off the beauty dish I would have gotten a bit more sparkle in the light.

This photo almost doesn’t look lit to the untrained eye. But look at the horse’s eye and you can see the two light sources.

The one thing I loved about using my Godox speedlights  for this shoot is there were no cords to drag through the corral dust, dirt and manure. I would had liked to have used my new Profoto B2’s, but I changed my mind quickly after seeing where I was going to set up at.

The shoot went pretty smooth, but I kept making pictures until I felt I had a good selection. Just remember, as you edit your take, you are looking for that one frame that says it all–body language, light, color, and moment.

Background light adds depth, drama to portrait of quarterback

_MATT_LINEHAN_small

University of Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan poses for a portrait in the Kibbie Dome, Aug 23, 2017. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

As part of our annual football preview special section, I was assigned to shoot portraits of  local quarterbacks. I brought out my big guns for the shoot, two Profoto wireless B1s and a B2 location kit to light my subjects on their school’s football fields. At the University of Idaho Kibbie Dome, I faced a different lighting challenge in that I was shooting inside a medium-sized domed stadium. The other portraits I had been taking were all shot outside at dusk. Now I had stadium TV lights filling the space with bright tungsten (warm color) ambient.

Arriving a half hour before the shoot, my assistant Liz helped me set up my lights. In the far end zone I noticed a large Vandals team logo on the wall. During my test shoot using Liz as a stand in,  I found the wall went dark and muddy.

One of the great features of Profoto wireless strobes is that you can put them anywhere– up to 800-1000 feet away and trigger them right from your camera.

profoto_100793_ocf_magnum_reflector_1335545I placed a B1 with a magnum reflector at about the 15-yard line and pointed it at the wall logo. After shooting a frame using TTL on my Air Remote trigger, I switched to manual setting and balanced my key and edge lights to be about a stop higher than the background. I found the white wall with black letters needed some color, so I added a 1/2 CTO gel (color temperature orange) to the magnum background light.  This was an important step in that I was able to use this yellow light to make a better picture a few minutes later.

lighting-diagram-2whk6b0qkt

MATT_LINEHAN_2_OCF

In next shot, I had Liz bring the background yellow-gelled light just so the reflector peaked into frame from camera left. When fired, it created a warm streak of light that looked like the setting sun. It added something special into the photo that I wasn’t expecting. I kept the other lights the same. A two-foot octabox as my key light and two edge lights (the Profoto B2’s ) to add of kick.

lighting-diagram-k34yjw53bh

Things I learned:

Again, give yourself time to set up and test your lighting so when your subject arrives you are ready to go.

Don’t be afraid to experiment as you are setting up. This was the first time I had used the   Magnum reflector and I’m glad I put it to use. Gel are also a great way to give your portraits a fresh look. Think out what colors work best with your subject. I chose a yellow color because it worked with the black and gold of the Vandal’s team colors.

Balancing the background light in TTL didn’t give me the look I needed. It wanted to balance all the strobes the same, making the background too light. By switching to manual on the air remote it allowed me to dial in the exposure to my liking.

 

Location lighting breakdown: Using four lights

SRX_IAN_KOLSTE

Whitworth quarterback Ian Kolste. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Sometimes simple lighting with one light source is best, but not in this case. I had just bought a Profoto B2 location strobe kit to go with my Profoto B1s. My assignment for my newspaper was to produce strobe-lit portraits of four different quarterbacks from around the region. I wanted to push my lighting skills and really work at shaping the light using a mix of hard and soft sources. Adding the Profoto B2’s gave me a chance to use four strobes on my subject.

I really like to use edge lighting with my 1 x 3 strip softboxes for sports portraits. When you look at the photo above you will see how the strip lights  help separate Ian from the background, These are the lights I start with first, as they can be tricky to find the best angle to edge the subject. I did a few tests flashes to get them placed, then moved on to my background light, which I placed about five-feet behind with a small reflector and a warming gel. This gave me a nice rim light on his head.

For my key light, I placed my strobe camera right, parallel to Ian’s face. At first, I had a two-foot octabox on the B1 head, but I felt I needed a harder light on his face. Using the bare bulb of the B1 head gave me the hard light I was looking for.

Whitworth-quaterback-diagram

I started shooting my first shots with my on-camera Profoto Air Remote set to TTL, then switched to manual to lock in the settings. I used three groups of light settings. “A” group was my strip boxes, “B” group was my rear light and “C” was my key light. I adjusted each group’s exposure to dial in the look I wanted and then fired away. My settings were 250th of the sec., f/4 at ISO 100.

I really liked how the Profoto B1s and B2s worked together flawlessly.

Some takeaways and tips:

  • Arrive early, set up and test your lights before the subject shows up. I was lucky in that my boss came with me to help assist. Having her be a stand in made the final shoot go quickly without a lot of trouble shooting.
  • Soft grids on the strip lights are really helpful in focusing the light where you want it, but also they prevent flare from hitting your lens.
  • Be willing to experiment and try something different. I started out with more of a ridged pose, but then had Ian go through the motions of throwing the ball. That motion really helped bring the photo to life.

Lighting breakdown: Light the face, shoot the mirror

JASON_PEDERSON_OCF

Jackie Pederson holds a photo of her son Jason who was shot and killed in a downtown Spokane Alley recently. Jason was 37 when he died. Growing up, he was a pretty clean-cut kid. He was an Eagle Scout, and his dad was his troop leader. When Jason was in his early 20s, his dad died, and Jason was the one who came home and found him. It really affected him, and he struggled with depression and alcoholism off and on throughout his adult life. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

When I arrived a Jackie Pederson’s home, it had only been a few days since she found out her son Jason had been shot and killed in a downtown Spokane Alleyway. My photo assignment just said get a photograph of Pederson. I’ve been to a dozen or more of these types of photo situations in my career. Someone has died and the only (and easiest) way is to have the loved one hold a picture of the deceased.

Before I started to incorporate wireless strobes into my photojournalistic work, I would have just used the window light and called it good. Now with speedlights I have far more visual options.

I walked around Pederson’s kitchen and living room, but struggled to find a clean background in a house filled with knickknacks and wall ornaments gathered over a lifetime.

I glanced in the large living room mirror and solved my lighting dilemma. I positioned Pederson looking into the mirror. A minor problem of her not being tall enough was solved with a kitchen stepladder. Now I have to figure out the best way to light her and the room. I want to shape and focus my key light just on her, so I chose my Westcott Rapid Box  12 X 36” Strip. with a soft grid and a Godox 860II speedlight. I fire off a few test frames and like what I see, but I think the background needs some color.

I place another Godox 860II wireless speedlight in the back corner of the room and attach a Magmod blue gel to the strobe. I aim it up and toward the back wall. I felt the blue light would reflect the sadness of the situation.

lighting-mirror

To be clear here, I am staying very connected to my vulnerable subject. I do not want to push to hard, considering what had happened to her son. I work quickly on the set up.  I start to shoot into the mirror and the TTL flash exposure of the main light is right on. The background speedlight is a bit bright though.

One thing I have learned using gels is that if you underexpose them a stop or so, you get more color saturation. On my Godox X1n hot shoe-mounted wireless trigger, I dial down the background flash one stop and shoot away. I played around with my composition , tightening it as I shot.

A few minutes later I was packed up and headed to my next assignment. Total time from arrival to completion was 32 minutes.

Location lighting breakdown: In search of Bigfoot

 

Searching for Bigfoot

Cliff Barackman, a Bigfoot field researcher and co-host of Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” TV series, has been searching for the elusive Sasquatch for 23-years. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Our directions were a bit fuzzy, just a point on a Google map next to a forest logging road in the Blue Mountains of Washington state. Spokesman-Review Reporter Abby Lynes and I were getting nervous as the sun inched toward the horizon and, well, we were in Bigfoot country. Read her story here.

We had come the the Blue mountains in search of Bigfoot, or rather Cliff Barackman, a Bigfoot researcher and co-host of Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” TV series. 

Turning a corner, there he was sitting in a lawn chair next of his Jeep Wrangler waiting for us. Our plan was to camp with Barackman and then go out at night to see if we could get a Bigfoot to respond to Barackman’s Sasquatch call.

SRX_BIGFOOT_2_OFCI realized that my golden light moment was fading, and I quickly grabbed my Godox location light kit and went to work. I noticed the sunset peaking through the forest trees. I had Barackman stand on a stump as  I placed my lights. My key light is a Godox AD200 placed camera right. I used a 28-inch Westcott Rapidbox beauty dish with soft grid as my modifier. Next, I quickly placed a second strobe, a Godox 860II, behind him camera left. I put a Magod grid with a CTO (color temperature orange) gel to mimic the evening sunlight and to add a bit of edge light.

Now the pressure was on. We drove a mile down the road to our campsite. It had an open view of the sun setting.

One of the themes I continuously face with location lighting is time constraints. “You only have ten minutes,” is what I usually get from coaches, executives, or in this case the sun.

I positioned Barackman with the sun to his back. I used just one light this time, a Godox AD200 with a beauty dish covered with a soft grid. The lighting challenge here is one where TTL (through the lens metering) and high-speed sync (HHS) of the strobe works great. In order for me to get the rich light of the sun, I had to under expose my ambient light. With the strobes lowkeytut-4HSS I was able to go above my camera’s limited sync speed of 250th and raise it to 1600th of a second. My camera monitor showed me  a properly exposed background, but Cliff was a silhouette.  I now add the strobe light. The great thing about the wireless Godox strobes is that I can adjust the output right from my camera’s hot-shoe mounted trigger. The TTL read the light pretty good, but Cliff was a bit under exposed. I bumped the strobe one stop and got the perfect exposure I was looking for just as the sun went below the horizon.

Time to setup camp

That night, Barackman took us out on a midnight stroll along dark logging roads. When I say dark, I mean only moonlight. You see, flashlights and camera strobes are not one of Bigfoot’s favorite things. We spent a few hours calling Sasquatch, but unfortunately no replies. Also no decent photos. No worries! When we got back to camp, I asked Cliff to pose in the forest with is thermal images viewer.

BIGFOOT_5_OCF

This time I used two Godox strobes– front, camera left with a Magmod grid and a warming gel, and a speedlight with a blue gel placed about ten feet behind Cliff. The warm and cool gels created the atmosphere I was looking for. I was hoping to catch the reflection a Bigfoot’s eyes in my photo, but I’m sure the gentle giant was somewhere far, far away.

Speedlights shine with new features

In the past few years, a big shift in the functionality of speedlights and strobes have taken place. Photographers who wanted to use wireless with their portable strobes had to cobble together external transmitters/receivers like Pocket Wizards to trigger their off-camera flashes.

Products_Camera_Flash_V860II_04

The big change came when Chinese manufactures like Godox and Yongnuo reverse engineered the TTL metering systems of Nikon and Canon speedlights. They added built-in wireless receivers, making the need for Pocket Wizards moot. Rapid development schedules proceeded to out-spec and undercut the price of the big camera manufacturers strobes by half or more. High-end strobe companies like Profoto jumped in too with their innovative wireless  AirTTL B1 and B2 systems

So why does is this matter?

Lately, the cost of entry into a wireless off-camera systems has fallen through the floor. When I was researching flash systems, I  was shocked at the price of the new Nikon SB5000 wireless speed light. At $600.00, plus the camera trigger for $200.00 more, the price just didn’t seem like a great value to me.

Instead,  I took a chance and ordered two Godox 860IIN speedlights for $200.00 apiece. The quality-built hot shoe trigger cost only $49.00! So for cost of one Nikon SB5000, I got two Godox TTL wireless speedlights and a trigger. Later, I added a slightly larger, but more powerful 200 watt-second Godox AD200 ($299.00) to my kit.

So what am I missing by not going with the Nikon? Not much as far as I can tell. The build quality is of the Godox is excellent. The Godox strobes also come with rechargable lithium ion batteries, which are a huge cost-saving. They last forever, and the recycle time is faster than the alkaline batteries the Nikon SB5000 uses.

Before I bought the Godox speedlights, the best I could do is use a long TTL cord tethered from my camera to the flash. Now I can quickly set up multiple speedlights and dial in the exposure of each right from the display on the hot shoe trigger.

The most powerful feature for me is the inclusion of high-speed sync. HSS allows me to shoot above my camera’s sync speed of 250th of a second. Depending on the lighting situations, I can shoot up to 8000th of sec.–turning ambient daylight into night. This feature also opens up creative possibilities, allowing photographers to use wider apertures with flash in their photos.

I have been using my Godox system trouble free for five-months now and have no regrets at not spending twice the money on a Nikon system.

 

Simple OCF brings big rewards

ECLIPSE_WASHINGTON_OFC

I had a last-minute assignment to photograph a solar eclipse wedding as an assignment for the newspaper I work at. The couple, from Hong Kong, decided to get married shortly before the moon covered the sun. My go-to lighting kit is three Godox strobes and a 26- inch Westcott Rapidbox beauty dish. As the sun was nearing the point of partial eclipse, the couple’s wedding photographer had them and the party toast the moment. I quickly set up my Godox AD200 strobe with the Rapidbox camera left–about six feet up on a stand with the diffusion cover off. I then quickly set up two Goxdox 860II speed-lights behind the group camera left and right just out of frame. With these, I placed Magmod grids and warming filters on the strobes to add a bit of warmth to the scene. I shot the all the strobes in TTL (through the lens) metering mode with an Godox X1N trigger on-camera. The TTL worked great for the test exposures. The wedding photographer decided to lay on the ground for his shot. After he was finished, I jumped in and shot at a higher view with my Nikon 24-120mm f/4 for the above photograph. The settings were 160th of a Sec., ISO 100 at f/5.

The photo ran on the Associated Press wire and was used in publications all over the world, including Time magazine, CNN and The Guardian.

I am trying to incorporate more off-camera flash into my everyday newspaper assignments. It is such a great training ground for using OFC. I want push my boundaries of my lighting abilities and see what I can come up with.  If you have any question, hit me up in the comments below.

Going wireless took some time

 

SRX_DOGS IN  HOT CARS

My adventure with speedlights–the Nikon variety, was always a mixed bag of hurt. At my newspaper, whenever we received a new updated digital camera model, we would always get a new strobe as part of the package. I had them all: the Nikon SB-24, 26, 28 and 800. The early model SB-24 and SB-26 used with the Nikon D1 and D1h models were inconsistent at best. But we needed them because the low light capability the Nikon’s first mainstream digital pro camera, the D1,  was barely useable over ISO 400.

I would slide my strobe onto the camera hotshoe and leave it there for indoor assignments. I would almost alway try and bounce the light off a ceiling( I hated the look of direct strobe) and call it good.  My on-camera flash photos kind of sucked during this time period. It wasn’t until I received the Nikon SB-800 and with an off-camera TTL cable, that I enjoyed lighting my assignments again.

It was all very basic in that the curly cable was only about 5-feet stretched out. I bought a simple LumaQuest four-inch softbox that was held in place by velcro. It worked like a charm for quick environmental portraits. But being truthful here, I was not too inspired by what I shot. One light off to the side was about what I could do.  After a time, it all started to look the same. I really wasn’t using any fundamentals of lighting. I just let the TTL (through the lens)  metering do the work for me. Still, when I got something good, I’d rejoice that I was at least trying to break out of my natural lighting rut.

Late last year, I was helping put together our yearly photo department captial request. Nikon had just come out with their new SB-5000 strobes that had built-in wireless receivers. A separate transitter would plug into th camera to control the off camera strobes. That intrigued me, I saw the expanded capibility of using more than one speedlight during a shoot. Then I saw the cost and I nearly threw up in my mouth. 600 bucks for the strobe and another $200.00 for the wireless transmitter! Two strobes would set the newspaper back $1600.00. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

I started to do some reseach and read lots of raves for a Chinese knock-off speedlight from a company called Godox.  The Nikon SB-5000 equivalant was the Godox Ving 860 II. It had all the Nikon features–TTL, high-speed sync and wireless capability, but it cost  only $200.00. The Godox had one notch up on the SB-5000 in that it came with a lithium rechargable battery. The battery makes the flash recycle faster and allows it to shoot for more frames than ordinary alkaline batteries.

I decided to buy a set of Godox 860 II’s with my own money and test them out. Hang with me for my next post and I will delve into what is great and not so great about these speedlights.

 

Here we go…

If you got here by some miracle of Google search or just stumbled upon this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Colin Mulvany.  I am a 30-year veteran staff photographer for The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash. It is a job I love and hope to keep until I retire. But I also see the reality facing me as newspaper jobs vanish like vapor each year. After twelve rounds of buyouts and layoffs in the last 10-years, I know I should be prepared for my Plan B.

One of the great things about working for a newspaper is that there is lots of room for creativity. Each day I go to work I have a new palette with which to create. Weather it be with documentary still photojournalism, video storytelling or lighting a portrait of a athlete or politician, I draw on a number of tools from my storytelling toolbox. Each day is a learning experience–if I let it be.

Lately, I have been investing my creative energy and money in learning to light with off-camera wireless strobes. I started in March with buying  a set of Godox 860 II wireless speedlights and have just now acquired a set of used  Profoto B1 strobes with a mix of softboxes, beauty dishes and umbrellas. I love shooting with both, though they work best in different situations.  I will go into more detail into in future posts.

I have been lighting people and places for over thirty-years. I started my career by investing in set of Norman studio strobes and now shoot mostly with my small wireless speedlights. In between it was a lot of on-camera flash, and at times off-camera with a Nikon strobe connected to the camera with a cable.

Why start this blog? Mostly it is to connect to a community of photographers who are learning lighting, experimenting  with the technology and having some fun along the way. I want this blog to be a conversation, so if you have questions please fire away. I figure if I share what I know, maybe you will too.

My early plans for this blog are to take photos that I have made and break down how I lit them. I will be hard on myself in my self critiques because that is how I learn. I am not claiming to be some expert here. I just want share my experiences, and hope for some of your input along the way.