Sportrait: A balance of ambient and strobe

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Troy Johnston, has been Gonzaga’s most consistent hitter this season, batting .327 with nine homers and 44 RBI. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

For this Sportrait, I only had a few minutes to figure out a location in the Gonzaga University baseball stadium and set up my lighting. Seeing the stairs leading up the the sky, I figured I could make it work. The stairs were mostly in shadow, which is a good starting point for adding strobe. When shooting a portrait in bright sunlight, I always look for a shadowy spot to add my own light. It makes it easier to balance the strobe light with the ambient.

For the lighting set up, I placed a Profoto B1 wireless strobe paired with a Westcott 36-inch Octabox on camera left. Knowing the big octa would give me nice soft light, I added a kicker light aimed at Troy’s shoulders from above, which added some contrast and gave Troy some separation from the stairs. Sunlight from behind also added dimension by highlighting the edges of the steps.

When Troy arrived fresh from baseball practice, I was ready for him. We played around with different poses and settled on this one with the bat over his shoulders.

I set the strobes on TTL and true to Profoto’s  good name, nailed the key light exposure with just a minor adjustment to the Air Remote’s exposure control on top of my camera. I bumped up the kicker light one stop to give more exposure on the back edge of the subject’s black shirt.

Key concepts: I needed to hold detail in the sky. If I had shot this without strobe, I would have exposed for the subject in the shadow, which would have washed out the sky. By adding strobe light, I balanced the ambient light with the strobe, which gave the photo much more dynamic range.

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Sportrait with three strobes

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I shot this portrait of a local high school football quarterback just after a night practice. I used the school stadium lights in my composition to add some drama.

For lighting, I used a Westcott 3-foot Rapidbox Switch with a Profoto B2 as a key light on camera right. For the edge lights, I used two Profoto OFC 1 x 3 stripboxes with B1 heads camera right and left and slightly behind.

The pose was pretty organic. As Connor took off his helmet, it looked  kind of  iconic in my mind. I just had him hold this pose. I only had a few minutes to work, as the coach said he needed to turn off the lights on the field.  My first frames I shot had the key light straight on to the subject. The light was flat and uninteresting. After I  moved it more to the side, it gave me a pleasing short light pattern on his face. The little Rembrandt triangle under the left eye made all the difference in this portrait.

I had shot a different photo before this one where I needed the ambient of the bleachers to show. In my hurry to get this shot, I forgot to lower my ISO back down.  To cut the flare of the lights, I just raised my shutter speed in high-speed sync mode up until is was tamed.

Settings: Nikon D850, 1/800 sec; F/8; ISO 1000.

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Create your own golden hour

The wonderful thing about off-camera flash is that you do not have to be a slave to the ambient light. Photographers that shoot only available light portraits have limited options when it comes to the time of day where the light is perfect. Golden hour, when the sun is low and warm, is fleeting and if there are clouds, well, forget about it.

Open shade is the other go-to for available light photographers. The light is super soft– to the point of being flat and uninteresting. Sometimes I wonder if that is why so many photographers are relying on Lightroom plug-ins to make their portraits more visually interesting.

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In this photo of Elaine, age 10, I wanted to shoot a simple location portrait that captured the spirit of who she is today.  Elaine and her family met me in a local park and after a few group family portraits, I repositioned my main light, a Westcott Rapidbox 3-foot octabox. By moving it in close, just out of frame, camera left, gave me some beautiful soft (but not flat) light to work with.

The early evening ambient light was pretty flat. The air was filled with smoke from local wildfires. To create a golden hour look,  I put a second strobe with a Profoto Magnum reflector and full CTO filter (color temp. orange) behind Elaine on camera right. Actually, I had her dad hold the Profoto B1 strobe on a light stand high and aimed down on the back of her head. The warm light brought out the texture and red in her hair. The background was grass and cattail reeds, which at /f2.8 on my 80-200mm lens (at 200mm) made for some nice creamy bokeh.

Settings: Nikon D5; Nikon70-200 2.8 lens at /4.5; ISO 125 at 1/400 sec. shutter speed in high-speed sync

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Weeping willows with three lights

My assignment for the newspaper was to photograph Whitworth University’s Haley Goranson Jacob, an assistant professor of theology, who has been named “one of 10 female theologians to know” by Christianity Today magazine.

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Whitworth University’s Haley Goranson Jacob, an assistant professor of theology, has been named “one of 10 female theologians to know” by Christianity Today magazine. Jacob earned a doctorate in divinity at the University of St. Andrews and joined the Whitworth faculty in 2015. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

As I arrived at her house, I had to make my way through a gauntlet of weeping willow branches that lined Goranson’s walkway. I new right then that this would be my portrait location. I set up three lights. My key light was camera left. I used a Profoto B1 with a 2-foot beauty dish. I could only raise it so high because of the limbs. For the background, I wanted the leaves to sparkle with highlights. I placed a B1 head with a color temperature orange gel about ten feet behind Goranson and aimed it at the back of her head. Just for kicks, I place one more strobe a Profoto B2  behind the foliage camera right. I’m not sure if it did much though. I set my manual ambient exposure so that is was about three stops under by using high-speed sync at 1/640th of a second.

Next, I fired off a tight shot of Goranson’s face in TTL and then locked the exposure in by switching to manual on my Profoto Air Remote installed on the hot shoe of my camera. The key light was set to Group A, and the rear lights were set to Group B. I brought the exposure of the rear light up about a stop, which gave me the highlights in the leaves I was looking for.

Settings: Nikon D850 with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens at f/4; 1/640th Sec. at ISO 80

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Two strobes and a tree

For this portrait, Joel, age 7, wanted to be photographed in this tree. He climbed up and struck this pose naturally. I told him not to move as I placed my key light on camera left. This strobe, a Profoto B2 with a Westcott 3 -foot Rapidbox Switch attached, provided  broad soft light on the subject. Behind Joel, I had his father hold a Profoto B1 above his head. The wireless monolight had a Magnum OCF reflector with a warming gel attached. This edged the tree and Joel in warm light that mimicked golden hour.

 

DSC_9457ddTo get my exposure, I shot one frame of Joel’s face in TTL, ( through-the-lens auto metering) then switched the Profoto Air Remote over to manual and fine-tuned the exposure. Even though I recently bought a Sekonic flash meter, I struggle finding a need for it on location shoots like this.

Settings: Nikon D5 with a Nikkor 50 f/1.8 lens; iso 125; 1/320/sec. at f/2 White balance set to 5400 Kelvin

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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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