2 light, wireless flash-fill outdoors
Last week, for instance. We were going to be doing an outdoor, engagement portrait in a local park.
So far, so good.
About the only time to successfully shoot at this place, is with the nice, early morning light....and facing south, for some subtle backlighting on the foliage and the subjects. Well, as it turns out, the only time we can co-ordinate their schedules is mid-day...and of course it's a really bright, clear day, and just for good measure the wind had kicked up.
And, when setting up these portrait sessions, the clients are informed of a couple clothing recommendations, for a more pleasing result....darker, solid colors, and long sleeves. Not much to ask.
Knowing in advance that we were going to be battling with the direct, splotchy sunlight, in this forest setting, the battery powered umbrella lighting kit was loaded. Along with the wireless, remote transmitters and receivers. At least we'll have a fighting chance.
And, when you're shooting outdoors, non-photographers are always amazed that you need any extra lights....I'm usually greeted with a comment like..."boy, isn't this great. Such a nice sunny day" I used to think the same thing, until the magic of outdoor, fill-flash was properly demonstrated to me by Monte Zucker, in the mid 70's.
So, the first order of business is to select the exact location for the shoot. I like to pick the background first, and then add the subjects in the foreground. This prevents lots of potential problems. It's always possible to change the light on a smaller area which is near the camera. However, trying to adjust the light on a much larger background area is almost impossible.
The image below shows the test shot, establishing how the background would look.
It's a good idea to have someone along to help with the gear. Especially outdoors. A sudden gust of wind can easily blow over one of these top-heavy umbrellas. And a second pair of eyes can sometimes spot potential problems that I may not see. Rattlesnakes and Black Widows, for example.
A good assistant and office manager are necessary for any successful studio operation. And, if you know of someone, please let me know. Meanwhile, I'll keep using my buddy, Mike Meisinger.
For this session, we're using the Metz on-camera flash units, modified slightly, so they can be remotely triggered with an infra-red transmitter. No more cords or cables. We've rigged up a bracket which allows us to attach this contraption, along with the umbrella to a lightweight light stand, and still be extremely mobile.
An overall exposure was established, so the background was exposed properly. White balance was set for the "sunny" pre-set, ISO 100, 5.6 at 1/60th. And, since the couple was standing in the deep shade, they were slightly underexposed.
No Problemo. This is where the flash comes in. Using a hand held flash meter, we simply did a few test pops to achieve a proper balance of ambient and flash. The camera's shutter and aperture didn't get changed since the initial reading was taken, so all that needed to happen was for the flash to equal the ambient light for a split second.
In the 2 images shown below, you'll notice a slight difference in the brightness levels of the background. This is not due to any shutter or aperture changes. Simply, the clouds moving in and out. You can also see some primative, Photoshop work to remove the problematic branch from the area immediately above his head. I'll finish this later....just wanted to show you how distracting that branch was.
Next...a quick change of location, and switch the lighting placement. This series will be tighter. Waist-up, and with a slightly longer focal length on the 28-105mm Tamron zoom.
The umbrella was the main light source, coming in from the side, and a second, smaller flash unit was up high, and behind the couple, to serve as a kick-light to add highlights, and provide separation from the dark background.
And, since there is a tremendous amount of contrast between her dark colored dress, and his white shirt, the extended dynamic range capabilities of the new Fuji S-5 will be put to the test!
The camera remained on the tripod the entire session. This allows freedom to frame-up the shot, and still run back and forth....adjusting the lights, and fixing stray hairs and unruly shirt collars. Still, the best tripod for outdoor shooting is the Manfrotto Neo-Tech....there's nothing else that comes close for quick set up's and break downs...and minor height adjustments are a breeze.
To add some fill light to the shadows, and soften the facial lines, we used a Westcott pop-up reflector. And, on windy days, they can "break wind" ( Can I say that on the internet? ) ...and keep the hair from blowing all over the place.
Well, despite the obstacles...wind, direct sun, mid day lighting conditions, and challenging tones in the clothing, we pulled it off.
Thank God for photogenic subjects.
Now, my next challenge will be actually shooting the wedding. Dark Tux...white gown!
The S-5's capabilities will REALLY be put to the test.