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.
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
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.
To 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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.