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.
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.
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
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.