Seems like drones are going to become part of everyday life from weapon of war, pizza delivery, expensive toy, police surveillance and now the drone lighting assistant. MIT researchers have developed autonomous lighting drones. Which can be deployed to continuously adjust to a photographers movements presumably providing the optimum lighting during a shoot without having to pause to readjust lights etc. I suppose the next step will be drone photographers.
I recently shot a quick self promotion photograph of a model holding a champagne glass and watching a Sunset on Reigate Heath, Surrey. The image was pulled together at the last minute, due to my schedule and wanting the ideal weather conditions, despite the amazing weather we have had in the last few weeks. There has not been many clouds or there has been to much cloud cover at the time I wanted to shoot. I finally got my window of opportunity after the first wave of thunderstorms toward the end of July. This is an explanation of how the shot was created.
I found the location after many evenings walking from home to the Windmill at Reigate Heath Golf club. I was struck by the calm and tranquility of the surroundings with the quiet occasionally interrupted by the metallic tang of golfers teeing off from the nearby golf course. As the Sun set the view and hills seemed to take on a grand ambiance. I returned with a camera and captured a basic wide/panoramic landscape image. I had not really intended to shoot into the Sun before sunset but while waiting for the Sun to vanish I took a few shots to review.
1) Here is the first image before the Sun set
2) and image after the Sun had set.
It was clear after reviewing the results that the winner was the shot before Sun set. The image shot into the Sun had a greater tonal range than I was expecting this was increased with enhancement in Lightroom using the graduation tool. The contrast was also excellent and this is mostly in part due to the amazing optics of the 21mm Zeiss (Distagon T* 2,8/21) lens used. A fantastic lens for landscape photography by reducing flare exceptionally well. The first image taken directly into the setting Sun struck me as a great image to use for an email announcing my recent relocation to Surrey. It is positive, bright and has the obvious connotations with bright horizons and new beginnings etc. It only lacked one thing a person.
I decided then that I needed a model to complete the composition and because the location is very close to the Reigate Heath Golf Club house restaurant/bar it must have one of the best views for dining and drinking in Surrey and so it seemed appropriate to have a model posed with a drink enjoying the setting Sun and views toward the north downs. I just needed my schedule, a model and the sky conditions to align. When they did one evening after a long hot day I grabbed my camera equipment two lights and raced to the location before the Sun started to kiss the horizon.
I had planned the lighting placement and new where I would need my two flash lights. As the model was placed very close to the camera position would certainly be in shadow I wanted to place my lights so that they complimented the existing and only other light source of the setting Sun. The position I chose to shot from had the added complication being on a slope downwards from the camera position and in my haste to leave and get to the location I had forgotten to bring anything to put under the light stands to make the ground level, in the end this was overcome with my camera bag and by using the club patio area.
I placed the first light (1.) in front and to the right of the model aimed slightly on her right side and front. The second light (2.) was placed on camera left much further away from the model and in the polar opposite direction of light (1.) I took a couple of test frames and decided that the position of light (1.) was to directional and created obvious harsh shadows behind the models right arm as seen here.
Light (1.) was positioned closer and more to the side of the model with the expectation that the shadows would shorten and soften. The second light (2.) also needed tweaking this was placed again to be more in the opposite direction further forward and aimed back toward the model. In order to stop the slight stand from toppling over on the ueven ground I put the handle of camera bag under one leg of the light stand. Ordinarily I would have an assistant hold the light or tie the stand down with weights and bungee cord. Both lights were unmodified SB800’s. It made sense to leave the lights bare so as to align with the suns very directional light fall. Exposure ended up being f/10 1/50th sec iso 100 with the lights set at 1/4 – 1/2 power I think, as I was working very fast I don’t recall the exact power level. I used an exposure which would give a good balance between the brightest area of sky and the foreground trees/foliage. I recall wanting as much depth of field as possible without exceeding the output from the lights. As the sun was brightest light source I worked quickly at finding the right aperture to expose the flashlights and then reduced the shutter speed to provide the exposure for the model sky and foreground trees. The unprocessed raw file would need work to further help balance the foreground and background this was achieved by using grad filters in Lightroom and curve layers in photoshop. Then adding colour correction, contrast layers and a solid colour layer of mid grey set to 27% opacity in a lighten blend mode to soften the dark shadow areas. Finally adding a subtle vignette mask to the edges to further bring draw your eye into the image.
Final Lighting position digram below:
Final result works very well and conveys the relaxed atmosphere and beauty of the location. It also demonstrates the importance of lighting on location. The result would not have been possible without supplemental lighting to add shape and detail. Post production was also an important element to balance the foreground with background and enhance contrast.
Simple corporate headshot diagram. The is a typical lighting set up I use when space is limited and I need to travel with minimal equipment. The back light usually a lastolite umbrella softbox allows for the choice of either a rim highlight with lighting on the background as well or just a rim light if the umbrella is swivelled 180 degrees and feathered away from the subject and background.
Creating natural lighting on location with speed lights.
During the recent snowy spell in Cambridge I went out with a warm flask of tea and some small Nikon speed lights to try and capture a natural looking environmental portrait.
The sun was low and behind my subject and was casting sun beams through the pine foliage, I wanted to shoot my subject as though some of this sun light penetrating through the forest was providing the illumination on my subject. I also wanted to keep the background low key so that the dark depth of the forest was retained while keeping detail in the areas light by the ambient light.
Two Nikon SB800’s were used off camera and synced with pocket wizards. I used a white umbrella and soft box umbrella both placed camera right about 45 degrees in front and behind the subject. My working aperture of f/11 determined the final camera settings: iso 400 1/80s @ f/11 I wanted to have a reasonable depth of field to retain depth and clarity of the sun beams in the background. In hindsight a third light placed high up and without a modifier to create the effect of sunlight falling on the surrounding forest floor would have have added more realism perhaps or possibly placing my subject nearer to where light was hitting the forest floor could have added something. However at the time I wanted a muted, low contrast image with a broody tone and the focus to be on the subject and background. The whole effect is aided by the snowy conditions acting like a giant fill reflector. In the end this was achieved. Lighting diagram below.
I often get asked to produce portraits which are friendly and approachable especially corporate portraits. Traditionally these tended to be be very formal boardroom, desk type shots with very little character.
The need to have web profiles, avatars and press releases has contributed to the style of these portraits changing. There is often a limited amount of time to shoot many subjects in a variety of poses and with multiple backgrounds. My preferred method to make best use of limited time is to use the existing daylight when available and filing shadows with reflectors. This allows a fast turnaround of location background and subject poses. Below are examples of available and artificial light portraits all taken using interior office locations or nearby exterior locations, sometimes with many changes of location. Very often portraits are produced during conferences or between board meetings.
After waiting for almost 1 year I finally got a chance to photograph a team at the Medical Emergency Charity MAGPAS. The charity operates a team of volunteer doctors, paramedics and community first responders. MAGPAS is solely funded by donations and receives no money from the NHS or other Government funding. I had been approached by the press and PR officer at MAGPAS to help with updating their image library. As this might be an opportunity to photograph a helicopter hopefully in flight and possibly even the team in action I jumped at the opportunity.
After meeting and visiting the MAGPAS team it was not until a year later that the photo shoot was organised and executed. We agreed that the photo shoot would take place at two locations. the first was to be the airfield at RAF Wyton to capture the team with emergency vehicles, unfortunately in flight shots or images of the team in action for real where not possible. The second was to be in a domestic/community environment. Most likely to be where a community first responder might find themselves. The images to be taken at the airfield would involve two members of the emergency team with both the helicopter and response car. MAGPAS make use of two helicopters either the East Anglian Air Ambulance or Cambridgeshire Police helicopter. A scout of the airfield was a necessity as I knew from the outset that I wanted to light the team with mains powered flash. Luckily there was a 240v power outlet very close to where the aircraft is landed. The hero shot was to be two members of MAGPAS posed with the police helicopter.
The day chosen was confirmed in the morning after weather checks and we met at 3pm to commence shooting as the sunlight levels dropped and darkened. Due to both the unpredictablity of the police helicopter and their training schedule meant I had about 30 mins to set up and shoot the main image. Before doing this there was time spare to capture the team with the response car and both the response car and air ambulance.
Both images were set up quickly using a single bare Nikon SB800 on a stand providing a main source of light from high camera right. Although shooting these would have been fine with available light. The addition of the flash provides more shape to the two team members allows for a faster shutter speed helping to darken the sky and keep the highlight from blowing on the car and aircraft.
At this point the temperatures were reaching below freezing and although I could have continued I think the two team members would have disagreed and may have needed to be plied off of the freezing car.
For the next set up with the police helicopter it would have been ideal to have had all the lighting setup and ready to go but due to the dangers of the heavy downwash it was impossible to have any photographic gear near to the landing zone and so I had to wait until I the helicopter was fully stationary before attempting to setup lights and run cables etc.
I chose a dramatic lighting set up and one which is favoured by many music and sport editorial photographers. This consisted of 1 bowens head with beauty dish mounted on boom centrally in front and above the subject. x2 elinchrome heads with barn doors on both one each on the left and right behind the two team members aimed back towards them. Another small SB800 was placed on camera left and parallel to the aircraft aimed back towards aircraft, in order to bring in some light to dark areas of the fuselage. See diagram below.
Results from a about a 15 – 20min window of opportunity from setup to execution.
I used a boom throughout at an approximate hight of 9-10ft. This meant that it was very close to the aircraft rota blades, and after being reminded by the officer in charge at my side, that each blade costs about £13,000 I could feel the tension mount next me as I inched the boom closer and closer to the aircraft. Soon after this image was taken the police helicopter crew were called to an incident, powering up whilst I quickly dismantled my equipment and packed away all loose items. I grabbed a few last shots of the medical team in the half light with their first response car, using an stand mounted bare SB800 on camera left to provide some separation side light.
My first shoot for the Cambridgeshire Mencap project took place at St.Johns College, Cambridge University. Cambridgeshire Mencap provide a catering & hospitality training course in the college’s kitchens. Students meet for classroom activities and then more hands on work in the college kitchen and canteen. Both environments leave little room room for manoeuvre. Where possible I would choose a background which had either colour or interest, this sometimes meant rearranging and placing objects which were either relevant or added to the perspective and composition, not only in the background but also in the foreground as well. Lighting in working environments is also challenging. The kitchen environment could have been very difficult, with overhead fluorescent lights and stainless steel backgrounds. The kitchen was a busy place and so not somewhere lights could be placed easily, I used both on camera flash bounced and one small light on a stand placed at a right angle to subjects and slightly behind. The catering course tutor suggested a scenario with a student stirring a large vat of meat stock, this worked well as the student could interact with kitchen staff and both the colour and steam from the boiling vat made a dramatic composition. The students and kitchen staff were very co-operative to my instructions and made the shoot a very enjoyable experience.
Cantellday the designers for the new website and printed material were also present at the shoot to lend a hand and art direct. This was useful and helped with getting the right approach which would hopefully continue throughout the project.
The entire shoot encompassed many different environments and lighting considerations as well as developing trust and hopefully a rapport with the subjects which made for some spontaneity. Allowing a photographer in to your home is not always comfortable, keeping lighting to a minimum and using lights which are mobile while not requiring an extra pair of hands to set up, was essential. I used throughout Nikon SB800’s with the Nikon SU800 Commander unit and also pocket wizards. At present the SU800 cammander unit is not reliable enough in situations where the environment and subject changes very quickly and there is a very little control over the direction the shoot will take. Using small flashes triggered remotely with pocket wizards enabled me to position lights anywhere I could place a super clamp or light stand. Typically out of the way of young children but supplementing the existing light. In some cases I relied only on the available light due to requests by Cambridgeshire Mencap service users.
The final printed material produced can be seen below.
New images for the Cambridge Museum of Technology. No specific brief for these images. The room used at the museum was full of old radios and television sets, unfortunately none were working. The children had fun though despite the lack of interaction in the exhibits. I asked them to pose and they really got on with finding ways to look intersted. I used x2 Nikon SB800’s without modification placed on stands on camera right to provide side and backlight while filling shadows from window behind the exhibits. The use of off camera flash helped also to separate the subjects from the background. I also used 1 SB800 fired into the window side wall to help lift the ambient light. See lighting diagram below, handrawn! More example lighting set ups in Part 2
I have posted the examples below and in part 2 to give an idea of how a very simple and relaxed corporate portrait can be taken on location with minimum fuss but with lots of variety. Both examples use the exact same location and a lighting se tup which did not need to be moved. Using this set up enabled a variety of shots to be taken without taking to much time to reset lights and location. This was a necessity as I was confined to just one room.
The first image on the left above was set up as follows:
One Bowens Gemini 500 with wafer softbox positioned on camera right close to subject and with a white reflector on the opposite side to provide fill. A second smaller light a Nikon Sb800 was placed on top of my lighting case low down behind the subject aimed up towards the wall behind. This provided a formal set up but with some separation with the background. The pose and lighting is quite standard but was a good starting point to work from. It also allowed the subject to begin to relax and get an idea how things were looking by seeing the image on the back of the camera.
The set up for the second image was a matter of turning the softbox used in the first image around so that it pointed towards the wall behind the subject, raising the level from a dark grey to almost white, no adjustment to the power output was needed. A second Gemini 500 with umbrella was used as the key light placed on camera left and feather slightly so that light would not fall onto the glass partition immediately on the subjects left side. The pose was adopted by the subject and I only asked her to turn slightly more both left and right.
The third image from the left was changed only by moving the subject to a different part of the room where I could use a glass partition wall as background. Using as my key light the soft available daylight through a window behind camera. I left the softbox in place but rotated it again so that this time it was aimed at the glass wall behind the subject. Even though the ambient daylight level was quite high the background remained flat and dark. I wanted to keep the high key level created by the daylight and so used the softbox to create some fall off behind the subject. The pose this time was set up only by asking the subject to stand and lean on one hand toward the camera. Although the pose felt a little awkward to begin with, this soon changed as we chatted and laughed. The pose begin to take a more intuitive and natural feel.
The fourth image was lit in the same way, except this time I asked the subject to sit (a different portion of the wall behind could be used as background now) again leaning on the table with one hand, the subject adopted a version of this position when she sat down and I could see she was comfortable with it and so I asked her to continue but I refined some the shapes and position of her hands. It is always enjoyable to be photographed when you are not aware of having to think to much about posing, allowing subjects to find an intuitive position always works well and means you can continue to keep a dialog flowing.
In total shooting time for one subject was between 20-30 minutes. There were more variations taken but not included in this example.