Four soft lights and a flute

This is a portrait of my musician brother who wanted something he could use on social media. I set up my Profoto B1 and B2 wireless strobes in my neighbor’s backyard because they have a nice red fence I like to use as a background.

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For this portrait, I wanted to try and surround Burke with soft, pleasing light. The rule I have learned is this:  The closer my light is the subject the softer it will be. The same goes for the light modifier. The larger the modifier in relation to the subject, the softer the light will be.

I started with my key light, a Profoto 2 x 3 OCF softbox on a Profoto B1 monolight on camera right. For a fill light, camera left, I used a 1 x3 foot stripbox with grid to soften the shadows. Just for fun, I used my 2-foot beauty dish (gridded) as a kicker light behind camera left and another stripbox camera right, aimed at the fence in the background.

I put my camera on manual and set my ambient exposure to about a stop under exposed. I set my Profoto Air Remote to TTL mode and took a tight shot of Burke’s face to get a correct flash exposure. I then switched to manual mode on the Air Remote (it locks in the TTL settings) and made exposure adjustments to each light.

Here is the great thing about wireless strobes. I can set each strobe on its own group setting. From the Air Remote, I  can then select a group–in this case my key light was group A– and make an exposure adjustment for just that strobe.

Once I got each light (group) dialed in, I shot with my Nikon D850 and 85mm Nikon /1.4 lens set to f/4; ISO 100 at 1/250 of a second shutter. White balance was set to daylight.

The cool thing here is that you don’t need all this expense Profoto gear to make a portrait like this. A cheap set of wireless speedlights, a controller, and some inexpensive umbrellas would have worked just a well.

Strip softbox as key light

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Muhammad Bekjanov, a pro-democracy Uzbeck newspaper editor who endured of 18 years of torture as a political prisoner, was reunited with his family in the United StatesFor this week.                     Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

For this editorial portrait of a former political prisoner who was recently reunited with his family in the U.S., I wanted to use strong, dramatic lighting to reflect his resolve he used to resist his captures. I set my Profoto B2 strobes up in his daughter’s living room while Bekjanov was being interviewed.

The background was a light brick wall above the fireplace. I placed  one B2 head with a 1×3 stripbox ( vertical) camera right and slightly behind as my key light. For the rim light, I used my Profoto OCF beauty dish camera left. This is the opposite of what I usually do. My  standard is to use the beauty dish as my key.  There was some ambient window light in the room, which I overpowered using high-speed sync at 1/400 of a second, Iso 125 at f/2.8.

From this camera setting I took a close up shot of his face in TTL, then kicked my Profoto Air Remote over to manual to lock in the setting. I made a plus half-stop adjustment to key light and dialed the rim light down 1 stop to keep the subject’s gray hair from blowing out. This is the first time I’ve used the strip light as a key.  I’m liking the look! Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200 2.8

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Simple butterfly lighting

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When I see a great face I just have to stop and take a photo. I spotted street musician Joe Sumner as I was heading to a diner with a friend. As I walked past him, the only thought I had was, “I need to make a portrait of him.”

I went back to my car and grabbed my Profoto B2 location light kit and a OFC beauty dish with diffusion. Sumner was cool with me making his portrait, and with the help of my friend Tony, who became my human lightstand, I started shooting photos.

The one thing I love best about the Profoto Air wireless system is that I can put the controller on TTL (through the lens) metering and shoot a tight shot of the face. From that perfect exposure, I switch the controller over to manual, which locks the TTL exposure settings in. With this method, I rarely feel like I need a flash meter to get great exposures.

For this shot, I wanted to try a simple butterfly lighting pattern. I had Tony hold the beauty dish right above my camera and slightly tipped down. The light from the dish was hard, but not harsh. My camera settings were 1/250 of a second shutter, f/6.3 at ISO 50. This killed most of the ambient light, which is what I wanted. I love the complimentary colors of the blue wall and the red clothing. In post I kept it pretty simple with adding clarity, contrast, vibrance and a vignette.

Keep in mind, that you don’t need to use expensive lighting gear to make a portrait like this. I could have just a well shot it with my cheap $179 Godox 860 II speed light and a cheap Godox beauty dish.

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Three strobes and a magenta gel

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My assignment was to shoot Rich Zack, an entomology professor at Washington State University. Arriving at the lab, where 3.1 million insects are stored, I quickly made the decision to use my Godox wireless strobe kit to light the professor. The ambient light was fluorescent and murky–you know, like every entomology lab ever!

I started with positioning the professor between a row of bug storage cabinets. I placed a speedlight 10-feet behind and used a Magsphere on my key light and handheld it. I was not happy with the photo. It just didn’t work to my liking.

While the professor went off to be interviewed for the story, I explored the lab. In the back, I found a better space to work. I quickly surmised that I needed to add some color as the lab was as drab as they come. I placed a Godox AD200 wireless strobe with a magenta gel far in the background on camera left. I didn’t have any other lightstands, so I enlisted the help of the university media flack to hold my key light, with a Westcott 26-inch octabox (with soft grid) attached positioned on camera right. For my third light, I had the reporter aim a rim light (a Godox 860 II with a Maggrid) at his shoulders. I shot a test frame on TTL, then made adjustments to each speedlight’s exposure.

The great feature of these lights is that I can set each on its own group. Then from my on-camera controller, dial in each strobe to my liking.

Nikon D850 1/250 F/4/ ISO 125

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Editorial portrait with harder light

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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.

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Location lighting breakdown: Editorial environmental portrait

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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.

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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.

Location lighting breakdown: In search of Bigfoot

 

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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.

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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.

Simple OCF brings big rewards

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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.