Linking Speed-lights together is a fantastic way to increase the volume of your shot, dramatically emphasise your subject and tell a better story. When shooting events, frequently you are in a place with poor lighting. It’s your job as a photographer to make your subject look amazing no matter what the available light is like. This video will show you the basics of linking your speedlights to all fire in sync with your camera and how they can be controlled from your master speedlight.
Shooting receptions and parties can be a lot of fun. There is usually a ton of action not to mention poignant emotions like love, and humor. Lot’s of shots from these events look like snapshots – overly contrasty and lit from a single source. Bouncing light off a wall or ceiling helps, but can only take you so far toward your ultimate goal of rich vibrant images. By placing speedlights at various points around the room you can greatly enhance the drama of your shots.
Try linking speedlights to create different effects.
Hair-lights separate the subject from the background, cross-lights bring out detail by building contrast; background-lights fill in the background adding it to the story — especially in large open environments; and fill-lights soften the light on subjects, adding to their beauty. You can use a number of tools to place the lights where you want them, including a variety of stands and wall mounts. A photograph taken while linking speedlights properly will emphasize the natural drama of, say, a bride and groom’s first dance.
Start with a master speedlight on your camera rather than a transmitter only. This will provide syncing capability, a backup light in case you have to grab a quick shot away from your setup and equally important the focus assist beam on your speedlight makes it possible for you to focus in very dark environments.
Using the link button, you can slave your disconnected speedlights to your master flash and once you have them linked, from your master flash you can set up your groups, change their mode, or turn them on and off. When shooting an actual event like a wedding reception, plan ahead for your most important moments such as cutting the cake or tossing the bouquet. Discuss with the bride or DJ where these events will happen and plan your vantage and lighting accordingly.
The best way to become skilled at linking speedlights is to get ahold of a few speedlights and go out and practice with them. This video shows you how to set up your speedlights to be in sync with each other, but being ready to shoot requires rapid deployment and changes to the settings. So, once your lights are set up, familiarize yourself with rapidly changing the settings on multiple lights. Learn to turn them up or down and on or off light – that way you can adjust or disable any lights that are causing you problems, or turn up lights that are making an effect you want to emphasise. Practice, practice, practice is the key to success with this technique. Pretty soon, making adjustments becomes natural, and you will see a significant increase in the drama and beauty of your photographs. Your audience will ask you again and again “how did you do that?” and “how come my shots don’t look like that?” and that, my friend is what makes you a pro.
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We went out along the Salt River in Arizona for our webinar on TTL lighting control with Profoto equipment. In our first shots, we had our model wear a fantastically non-traditional wedding dress by Simply Bridal. Samantha, our model, was a an absolute champ. Balancing in that form fitting dress was quite a challenge in our out of the water. We had a great time and got some fantastic images. Here are the images we used in the webinar, and you can see the full webinar online, just follow this link to Profoto’s webinar page.
For this month’s webinar for Profoto, we took our crew and a kit of Profoto B1 off camera flashes out to the lakes in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona. This time, instead of shooting Canon, we were shooting with a Nikon D800 on the Profoto Air Remote TTL for Nikon. Now Nikon users can also take advantage of the TTL abilities of the Profoto B1 lights. Join me on our Profoto webinars on September 17, 2014 for a free webinar on shooting in TTL and Auto Camera Modes.
Register now: www.profoto.com/int/webinar
We spent the morning in a boxing club and event venue in downtown Phoenix, Arizona called The Duce for a complex lighting webinar for Profoto (the light shaping company). In this webinar we wanted to create a difficult lighting scenario where we had to build the lighting completely from scratch. Our boxing motif was a perfect opportunity to add a little incongruous wardrobe change, and that was a fantastically non-traditional wedding dress (provided by Simply Bridal. Although this was a stylized photoshoot, I think it proves an interesting point… that couples could do a better job at thinking outside the box when it comes to their wedding and engagement portraits. If you are a couple that is hiring a photographer or a photographer who has been hired by a couple to shoot an engagement session or a wedding portrait session, work together and encourage each other to get a little more inventive on the photo session.
Here are the favorites final images from our stylized portrait session.
You can see the entire photoshoot and a discussion about it in an hour long webinar here. Watch he brief trailer for the webinar below.
Coming up on Wednesday, August 27 at 10 am Pacific time is the latest Profoto lighting webinar with myself and the Profoto B1 off camera lights. Register online at www.profoto.com/live and tune in as we build a complex lighting scenario from scratch.
Music on this teaser is courtesy of Triple Scoop Music.
I taught a photography workshop in Vienna and Budapest with Clay Blackmore and David Ziser through MZed. This year we will be in Barcelona, Spain [LEARN MORE HERE]. The experience is fantastic. Great people, great food, models, shooting locations, great instructors, and wonderful staff. It was such a pleasure to spend days, rather than hours with students (working professionals) who are thirsty for knowledge.
Here are a few images from my week in Budapest and Vienna.
On our first full day in Budapest we were allowed to photograph in an ancient and still operational bath house. What a fantastic start to our photographic journey. The place was absolutely full of textures and color. My lighting was accomplished with three Canon Speedlite 600RT flashes on their included flat foot stands (as I did not want to carry light stands with me to Budapest). I’d say they turned out very nice.
We spent a few hours wondering through the underground labyrinths under the streets of Buda Hill. These were apparently the dungeons that held the likes of Count Dracula himself (the real live person, not the vampire). It is fun to wander with a group of friends, but when those friends include photographers, every random streak of light through fog becomes and event. Unfortunately for my wife, she was the only non-photographer, so she became the subject of many a posed photograph. I am sure there will be a number of eery silhouettes of the lovely Danielle in the coming months on a few photographer blogs. She was a great sport about it all, and we had a lot of fun wandering in the shadowy underworld.
The photo I have chosen to show, however was one that kind of fell in my lap rather than needing to be set up. As Jeff led the way through the foggy tunnel, the mood lighting made a perfect and unexpected silhouette of him and his camera. I told him to freeze! Which he did. I then positioned myself for the best possible separation for his head, his face and his camera. We all worked on the shot a bit as Jeff dutifully stayed frozen in position. Carlos Martìn must receive credit for closing the gates just a bit, which I didn’t even know were there until he pulled them in. I was too focused on Jeff’s position. The gate gave me a lot to play with in the corners of the shot.
These kind of moments happen more often that we realize, but many times we pass them by in favor of getting to dinner on time, continuing our conversation, or just inattention to the moments and details. Sometimes we just let something beautiful pass us by and perhaps we regret not getting the shot. The world would have been just fine without this photo in it. Jeff didn’t even know the photo opportunity existed, and neither did anyone else in our group. I think he would have lived without it, but I know he is excited to have the image.
Many times, the moments in our lives are far more important than grabbing that great light or that perfect moment on camera. I have often told photographers in lectures to take a little time off from the camera, and live life rather than document it. It’s hard for us to do sometimes. Case in point… later that evening, we ended up in a cafe on the edge of Buda Hill watching the sunset, hot-cocoa in hand, listening to a unique little string quartet, when the violinist approached us and asked for a request. After a bit of thought, we requested Ave Maria (one of my favorite songs) and he began to play like he was born to play that song. It was very romantic.
Danielle describes what happened next by saying, she now has conclusive proof that I can handle about ninety seconds of romance and beauty before I have to pick up my camera and document it. It wasn’t until she began making fun of me that I realized what I had done, at which point, feeling a bit foolish, I set the camera down and enjoyed the next song without the camera in my hand.
The question then is, did I need my camera to enjoy the music and the moment? Was there even a beautiful shot to be made? I suggest not! This image is only worth the memory spark to tell a story about my own foolishness. And I can say for certain that I enjoyed the music far better with my wife’s hand in my hand rather than a camera. So why the gut reaction to pick up the camera to document everything? Is it a sickness? A habit? An obligation? I will spend my entire life attempting to understand it. In some instances, it is a blessing for my wife because our children’s lives are very well documented. But, it can interfere with life experiences as well. They say recognition is half the battle, the other half is doing something about it. I have found that I can be a far better date without a camera in my hands, so I will often leave my camera at home and just practice experiencing life. Sometimes it is painful to see beautiful moments happening knowing that they will only be available in my memory, but at least I will have experienced the moment rather than simply having observed it.
When we are traveling, the task of capturing the experience falls on me (or maybe, I take it on myself), so I feel I must carry a camera, but that doesn’t mean I must carry a large professional camera. And more importantly, I have to be able distinguish between a moment that is to be captured and a moment that is to be lived.
We took a day trip to Vienna on Friday and I swear I spent thirty minutes debating whether to take my pro gear or my point and shoot with me. Danielle questioned the wisdom of taking my point and shoot to such a beautiful city, but in the end, I am so happy I left all the pro gear in Budapest and walked those beautiful streets with nothing but a tiny camera in one hand and my wife’s hand in the other (see my notes above).
A small (manual) digital point and shoot camera is the perfect middle ground. When you are carrying heavy pro gear, it just gets used more. Maybe just to justify the weight of the gear. A small pocket camera, on the other hand, can be ignored until something critical presents itself, and as long as it is a quality camera, I can walk the streets and enjoy the experiences I am having until something truly needs documentation. And let’s face it, without some kind of a camera, a photographer might go crazy, so it is just nice to have one around.
Everything I shot in Vienna was done with the Canon G15 (a manually adjustable point and shoot camera) and many of the shots were taken at 1600 ISO or higher. So the camera holds up very nicely in most circumstances. Even in the catacombs, where incidentally, a small point and shoot is preferable, when photography is prohibited…
And yes, at the very least, an iPhone makes an acceptable camera to scratch that itch.
FYI. In this next image, the lights were not on. It was daytime. But I thought they would look better on, so I turned them on in Lightroom. Just thought you might find that interesting. So yes, it is not absolutely accurate. But it is more beautiful.
I saw a moment that called out to me, I suppose it was the light, angle of incident, the strange juxtaposition of a glowing telephone in a dark cathedral, the loneliness of the old man using it… but the photo looked nothing like this when I found it. It was cluttered with people passing through the shot, some were from my group and the rest the throngs of tourists moving in and out of the church. But I knew my frame and got my exposure set. I found a place to secure my camera against a column to steady it during the long exposure and waited patiently as my wife and friends left the church (I assume they thought I was with them).
As people left the frame, others entered, but I waited for the moment I knew would eventually come. A fraction of a second presented itself where everyone in the cathedral was just outside my frame, so in the hustle and bustle of a heavily trafficked church, was a moment of complete vacancy and solitude for my subject who feels completely alone. This is why I always tell people that photography is at best incapable of telling the “truth” and at worst an outright lie. The moment I am presenting here never occurred, not even for a fraction of a second. My subject never experienced the solitude you see here, maybe only in his mind was he alone, maybe he felt this way in his heart at the time, but I have no doubt that I only forced my vision of the scene on him.
In the end, any photograph will tell you more about the photographer than it will tell you about the scene or person in front of the camera. When we have our artist hats on, this suites us just fine. Like in this instance, I saw a metaphor, not the truth. So that is what you get to see. The problem becomes that you, the viewer don’t know when the photographer’s intention was to present the truth or just a metaphor. In most cases, the viewer is always better off assuming they are looking at and should treat every photograph as a metaphorical statement made by the photographer… even (especially) when the image is printed in the newspaper.
It was raining. We had umbrellas. The light was perfect. I am a bit of a theatrical show off. So it was only natural to start a “Singing in the Rain” musical number bit for the cameras. Right?
These next two images were taken by Cable Notebloom. Thanks Cable.
Budapest is home to a number of beautiful cathedrals. Danielle and I took the long climb to the top of St. Stephen’s cathedral in the middle of downtown Pest and while the top afforded us a great view of all of Budapest, my favorite image came from the design of the circular staircase. Which only further solidifies the adage that it is not the destination, but the journey…
It’s not a little thing that we were given access to the Budapest Opera House for a four hour photo shoot. I have to give Jeff Medford (the workshop’s brilliant coordinator) credit. This was an amazing experience for everyone, students and instructors. I spent most of the time there with a few students on Canon Speedlite control. We shot setups with just one off camera Speedlite and setups with up to five. While I don’t have very many of my own images from those setups, because I was simply advising students, I was able to make a few images as examples while I was setting up and explaining my light strategies.
This next shot required a total of five Canon Speedlite 600RT flashes and a small 24 inch softbox. One Speedlite with a soft box lights our model, which was the last light to be placed. The remaining lights were used to create depth in the shot. Each cross hallway is lit with a Speedlite, as is the very back corner of the hallway (which would be a black hole without the lights. There are a few windows in the shot which may appear to be illuminating the hallway, but on their own do very little. The Speedlites are doing most of the work, augmenting the natural direction of light provided by the windows.
The important thing to take away from this shot is that without a set of strategically placed flashes that fit in a small shoulder bag, this brilliant hallway would have been very dark and almost unusable. And the entire setup did not take very long. It is a prime example of pre-visualization. You have to see the possibilities in the hallway to select the location in the first place. Then, there has to be a clear vision for the shot to build in the lights quickly and set the scene, otherwise, the exploratory process is too long and takes up valuable shooting time. Wedding photography is a job that requires vision, skill and speed. So I spent a lot of time with Kam and Cabel (my students of the moment) explaining how to build the lighting into the shot quickly and with purpose. I think we got some great imagery.
Cabel then asked a very important question. “What if I only have a limited amount of time and can’t build a shot with five lights?”
So we went into bare bones mode. What if I only have one light? What is the best most efficient use of that light? At this point we had a lot of students gathering around the grand staircase as we discussed the shot. At one point, Clay Blackmore wandered in to shoot some video of our couple walking down the staircase.
Well, with one light pounding into the marble off camera right by about 20 feet, we were able to softly light our models and fill in any unwanted shadows in the room. Even though the original light source is a few small inches, the resulting bounced light makes our light source about 40 feet wide, which means we get very soft light… I think the results were fantastic.
I also spent a little time teaching a group of students about efficient use of a second shooter during a portrait session. I acted as the second shooter to the students who were shooting with the lights in the primary position. By working together, both the primary photographer and the second shooter are able to achieve completely unique and valuable shots. This represents the second shooter’s artistic shot that I made, as the primary shooter (a few students) made traditional portraits from the primary position. I also had a few students in the secondary position with me. It’s all about efficient use of time and recognition from the both the primary and secondary shooters of the other photographers position and shot needs, and working together to shift the pose back and forth to work for both camera positions. Of course, the subject is rarely aware of the second shooter’s efforts because the primary shooter is the only one directing her movements and actions.
Before leaving the Opera House, we were allowed to peek into the main Opera House and sit in the boxes for a few minutes. Danielle, posed for a snap shot memory of the box seat experience. Carlos Martín, prone to doing whatever he likes, found his way past the do not enter signs and velvet ropes to the King’s box (where the King or President would sit). You can see him and Coralee in the box behind Danielle.
There is an effort under way in Vienna to clean the stone faces of some of the buildings. Clearly, they could use a good scrubbing. Over the years, these brilliant white surfaces have become grey and in some cases even black. So, like every city I have ever traveled to, the best buildings are scafolded on one side or another. I was struck by the remarkable difference between the sides that have been cleaned and those slated for a future scrubbing. But as I photographed St. Stephen’s cathedral (in Vienna – there is one in Budapest too), I found myself wishing they would just leave the building alone. The soot has created a beautiful contrast to emphasise the sculptural elements, enhancing the dimensions and the textures. As a photographic subject, the building is far more interesting as a faded, dirty, raw old building than it is in its sparkly clean glory.
Sometimes we want so desperately to clean thing up, buy new things, streighten the books on the shelf, fuss with the wedding dress and the veil, spray the hair until it is locked perfectly in place, and yet, often times, perfection is far less interesting and beautiful than the natural state of things. Irving Penn warned that working on perfecting a subject for too long, often kills the life of the photograph. Imperfection is life. Time ages people, building and everything in this world. I love imperfections and weathering because it tells a story and that is what makes the photograph intriguing. Clean up this building and this photograph becomes far less interesting. Cleaning out the cobwebs make a place more livable, but not necessarily more beautiful.
On the very last day in Budapest, Danielle and I walked along the Danube River. We crossed beautiful bridges, admired fantastic architecture and bought trinkets, but our destination was the memorial for those who’s lives were taken by the Nazis in mass murders on the river’s edge. The memorial is a simple, understated line of bronzed tattered shoes. The shoes face the river as though they are prepared for their end and walking bravely to meet it. I think the direction of the shoes is also a powerful indictment of the cowardice of the Nazi’s, who slaughtered millions of innocent men, women and children (suggesting the act of shooting them in the back). I don’t know if the victims were told to face their assassins or not, but their despicable treachery is well condemned here. And more importantly, as we quietly took in the scene, the innocence of the victims, their humility, bravery, strength, fear, sadness and faith in deliverance hung around us in the air.
I asked Danielle to choose a pair of shoes and I watched her walk amongst the shoes and wondered which she would choose and why? Would it be a father’s boots, who struggled every day to make a living and feed his children and who now faced his murderers wondering what would become of his family? Would it be a set of tiny shoes that belonged to a helpless little child, separated from his parents, not even aware of what was to come? But as she pointed out a small set of simple boots standing side by side with her mother’s modest heeled dress shoes, tears began to form and we talked of a mother and her little girl standing on the edge of a beautiful river, in a beautiful city and we wondered how and why another human could have seen these two innocent lambs holding hands and done anything but run into the group, hold them both and suffer that fate with them… I wonder what the mother told her child. What did the father say to his son? Empowered by faith in God and with hope in his eyes, I hoped he would have had the strength to smile and say, “I will see you in a few minutes, son. We will be just fine.”
I struggle to write this in a blog that is usually filled with happy unions, beautiful moments with care free children and careless discussions about the importance of f-stops and shutter speeds. But while we stood there on the Danube, we had a chance to stand, not in, but near by others’ shoes and I could not help but feel I learned something about family and about God, who must have stood their that day with open arms on the other side to give his tormented sons and daughters a very real and very long embrace. And I just hope that as I enter difficult times of life that are full of fear, that I can hold my little girl’s hand and say with a reassuring smile, “we will be just fine.” And then step off into that river and await the unknown and the embrace that comes after the extreme trials of faith and hope. And while life is good, and while we are blessed with plenty and peace, this is the time to hold those I love close, build them up, teach them strength, conviction, faith and hope and above all to show them love.
I teach a lot of photographers about workflow and software and f-stops and shutter speeds, but the most important thing I can tach any photographer, or any person for that matter, is the importance of filling your mind and your heart with inspiration ( joyful and sorrowful). One cannot produce inspiring work from an empty well. And that is something that was so fantastic about the Budapest Master Class, it was more than an opportunity to learn technical photography, it was an opportunity to become inspired and experience life from another perspective, in another culture, to meet new and interesting people and see things in a completely different way.
If you would like to join us in Barcelona in October of 2014, go to www.MZed.com and mention JARED PLATT to receive $150 off your tuition for the class. I hope to see you there.
This is my 3rd post of the China portraits I shot in Shanghai, China. A few more posts on China to come.
This series of portraits was taken at a Buddhist Temple in Shanghai, China. The grounds were fairly spacious and offered a lot of great opportunities for backgrounds. Both of the boys are young enough not to be all that interested in the surrounding architecture and symbolism, but they did enjoy the coy ponds and the many small walls and walking paths.
The slideshow has a lot of great images in it, but I was particularly interested in a small few for the purpose of discussing the lighting. In the next image, we were on the back side of the property where the light was getting dimmer and softer. The main light-source was the open (sunless) sky, what we could call “north light”, although I don’t know if it was truly the northern sky. That open sky was to the child’s right and just behind him. Notice, how the size of the light source helps to wrap around the child’s face, making smooth transitions extremely soft and smooth. Of course the sky is a huge light source. But if the sun were visible in the sky, the sun would become that light source and would create harsh shadows and would not be so pleasing.
I like this shot. This little boy is always on the move and always paying attention to everything, not just where he’s going. I think the image describes that well. While he is climbing on the wall, he is still keeping track of everything else in the area. Probably keeping tabs on his little brother…
Here is the little brother. Those eyes were the subject of most of my photos with him. This was the perfect outfit to intensify them. That large open sky, makes a perfect light for portrait. But notice that I am not shooting with him facing the open sky directly, which would flatten the subject. Instead, the open sky is off to his left, my right. The shadow side of his face is toward me. The soft highlights are coming from his left . It’s all about volume and depth. Without some shadow, you have none of that.
OK. I have been looking forward to writing about this photo for a while. The basic scene here is lit by the open sky off to the children’s left (the camera’s right). You can see the lighting effect on the boys’ faces. Highlights on the right side of their noses, shadows on the left sides. But there was one very real problem, the background was quite dark. Everything back there was sucking up the light and with a thick canopy of trees over the background, the open sky was not lighting the back ground with the same exposure as the foreground. In essence, it was a black hole.
Enter a small Canon 600 RT camera flash placed off camera to the camera’s left and behind the boys. You can see the light’s glare in the top left corner of the frame. It is also lighting the grass and the bushes in the background a bit and most importantly, it is catching the edge of the kids’ shoulders and hair to separate them from the background. Without this little flash, the photo would not be worth showing. But notice, I only needed one little light to get a very well exposed and expertly designed shot. This shot could have been designed with many more lights to get practically the same shot, but why? The point is, that one small, lightweight flash or even a flashlight can escalate the production value of the shot with very little additional cost or effort… efficiency isn’t just for post production. Efficiency during a photo shoot is just as critical.
If you are interested in these issues, I am teaching a free workshop called The Efficient Photo Shoot online at CreativeLIVE.com on Dec 6-8, 2012, where we will be demonstrating these very concepts.
This kids started running around and around on this little path and I realized, my light from the first shot could still be used to accomplish the same goal right where it was. It just had to be turned slightly. With Karen Liu at the light, that was easily done. I ran to my new position and told the kids to keep circling the path and kept firing away as the got into the positions I liked. I think they must have run around that path 50 times, over and over, which was good for me, I needed a lot of opportunities to get the right shot. And good for mom, they must have slept well that night!
I love how the light cascades across the long grass and kisses the little one’s cheeks. Imagine, without the light, his little hand would be completely lost in the shadow of the trees.
Now, with the open sky light coming from camera left and the flash also on the left, behind him, the light wraps all the way around his left side. This makes for an even softer look because the rim light is not so pronounced and looks more like a slightly brighter continuation of the sky light. Again, volume is created by the direction of the light. The shot is slightly dramatic, but still pleasingly soft. I love these shots. If I had gotten nothing but this little series of shots in the tall grasses here, I would have been trilled.
Location: Shanghai, China
Slideshow Music by Fisher, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music
This is my second post of portrait sessions from Shanghai, China. You will see, we are in a different spot for every photo session and all of them are very unique, as are the photos themselves. I try not to follow too much of a pattern when shooting sessions. I want them all to have their own unique flair…
Karen Liu, mother of three great kids and an aspiring photographer, booked a photo session as a learning experience. So, we shot a little less and spent a lot of time learning. I took her through my thought process for shooting and lighting on the street with both natural light and additive flash lighting. We also talked about compositional choices and selecting the appropriate camera settings. All things I will be teaching in my upcoming free workshop at CreativeLIVE on December 6-8, 2012. We got to the market in Shanghai, China early enough to avoid the throngs of shoppers and pedestrians that make this place a purely claustrophobic experience during the business hours. This also gave us great light, since the market is a canyon of traditional Chinese style buildings (I say that with absolutely no understanding of “Chinese architectural styles” but when you look at the images you will understand what I mean).
In this first shot, we had 360 degrees of choices for the shot, but one gave us the best lighting for a complete existing light portrait. Notice that the strongest instance of sun is coming from behind the kids which gives us the rim light coming from behind them. Behind me is a large building with a light wall which is reflecting indirect light onto the kids, so, we have beautiful soft light coming forward on them. So in an instance like this one, all that is required is the correct exposure at the camera. No additional light is needed to get a nice shot.
As we got further and further into the morning, it got more and more crowded. I love crowds for portraits, because you get all sorts of additional people in the shot. If you wait for the “right” person, you get get juxtapositions. I love this one. Karen (mom) also loves this street photography style work, so I suspect she will love this one as well.
We stopped for a Chinese snack after the shoot. I am not this good at chopsticks!!!
This is one of my favorites from the session because I identify with it! My kids hang on me whenever I am shooting and they are around. I am sure any of you parents out there with small children experience the same situation. I think they do it because they know you are not paying attention to them. Hanging on you seems to force the attention their direction.
Incidentally, I have the same problem when I am traveling with adults. I get to taking photos and all my attention becomes focused on the shot. So my wife and all the other adults with me tend to get annoyed with my lack of attention. So, if you have a photographer in your life… just know that they still love you, even when they seem to be ignoring you. Want their attention? Take the camera out of their hand.
Location: Shanghai, China
Slideshow Music by Nancy Falkow, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music
Subject: Photographer Karen Liu
Today starts a series of Portraits taken in China. I will be posting once each day for the the next few days. Today, I will introduce you to the Sloan Family. We went to the Former French Concession in Shanghai, China for a walk with the family. The Former French Concession is unlike anything else in Shanghai. Enormous trees canopy the streets and you feel like you are on a street in Europe, except that there are an awful lot of Chinese nationals running around…
The kids were great to work with. They are extremely expressive and are pleasant children. So, they make for easy subjects. Something I had not accounted for, though, was the Chinese people’s fascination with blonde hair. The boys are all ultra blonde, so these kids are a hit everywhere they go and attract a lot of attention, so we had a lot of people staring. Fortunately, they were less invasive of our personal space since we looked all official as we shot the photos. But, it is a common occurance to have the Chinese people run up and take their photo next to your child if you have a blonde child… Anyway, that is one thing I could have never anticipated about the cultural change between the US and China.
This first shot is pushing the composition, but I really responded to it. It has a lot of energy and movement in it. I had to include it as one of my favorites.
I seem to recall some question when we first met being raised about her blouse. Was it a good choice, etc. I liked it and now I see why. That soft pink matches her so well. You can see that same shade highlighting her cheeks and in her lips.
The light here was quite perfect too. Everything was soft. Shanghai is an extremely hazy city (due to it being very polluted), but that works well for portrait light. Then, the buildings, keep any direct light from hitting the subject and the canopy of trees keeps the light from the sky from being too bright (creating raccoon eye shadows). So the main light source is reflected and filtered light coming from the street to her right and from behind here. This puts the shadow of her face forward, creating an alternating light pattern on her face shadow, light, shadow, light. In this case, it is simply about seeing the right light as it exists and exposing for it. No other lighting necessary. It’s simple light, but very pleasing.
There’s the curly blonde hair that is the ultimate stand out in China. I have a shot or two with his head up, but I love this shot. I think a lot of who we are comes from our hair, when we have unique tops. I am completely bald. That is quite identifying and I tend to wear that proudly (as I wear most things). So hair like this is also worn with pride, and makes a major identifying mark on a person. I’m pretty sure he loves his hair. Who wouldn’t!
There are the trees. Minus the all the cars on the street, this was a perfect place for photos. I had to constantly re-frame to avoid too many cars and people. I love the look on his face.
Talk about expressive. The youngest boy is great. I know Mr. and Mrs. Sloan were a bit worried that he was getting out of line or that he was not being cooperative, but sometimes a character like this has to be set free so you can get those great shots. And it’s not all just about the funny faces. It’s about all of the expressions you will see in this post. Taking a photo of a child is an art in and of itself, and the art is based in knowing how far to push and when to let go of that control. There has to be a good balance of discipline and freedom to get the expressions and still maintain control over the photo shoot. The Sloans had the balance and it shows in the final results.
Now that is a shot for the wall!
I love the light on this image and the texture.
This is the Shanghai sky line on one of the only clear days we had in the city. So we had to take the opportunity to shoot with the skyline in the background. The first day we got there, we came to this spot and could see only the shadows of the buildings through the smog. I’ll post those photos later this week.
The light on this shot is simple. I exposed for the ambient light from the sky and the buildings in the background, but that leaves the family in dark shadow (not silhouette). So some additional light was needed. A Canon 600 RT flash does the trick. It is off camera right just above head level. That provides all the light needed to match the exposure of the buildings. Notice that I put the flash to the side that mimics the direction of light hitting the buildings. You can see this best on the tallest building in the city. The shadow is on the left, the highlight on the right. The same is happening on the family’s faces. Highlights on the right, shadows on the left. Put the flash on the other side and it would start to look a little strange.
And this is The Bund. Look a big like London? That’s because the English built this part of the city. I like this photo as well. It’s shot at 6400 ISO f2.5 at 1/125 of a second with no flash. This is a risky shot. You don’t always get it right when you play at low shutter speeds and wide apertures. But it worked and I love the shot. The thing is, like everything in life, if you always play it safe, you get predictable shots that are good enough, but the truly fantastic shots come from accepting some risk and accepting some failures to achieve the great shots. Did I get every shot in this series? Not even close, but I got three from it, that I liked. Is everyone tack sharp? No, I’m shooting at f2.5 at 1/125. But the photo is strong, there are a few people in the focus plane and the rest become supporting actors in a very cool documentary shot that I love. I’ll have to see whether the Sloans love it, but I suspect they will…
Location: Shanghai, China
Slideshow Music by Mindy Gledhill, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music
We started this engagement portrait shoot at Shelby’s parents home in Phoenix, Arizona and ended it in the desert as sunset. Shelby’s parents home is in the shadow of the mountain about two and a half hours before the sun sets, so there is a lot of great open shade around the home, which makes for fantastic images. The color and texture of the stones is quite nice to work with as well. And of course, Shelby and Nick are a good looking and cool couple, so it was a pretty nice afternoon.
The night after the engagement shoot, I posted one of the images from the shoot on my Facebook Page. The shot is below. Shelby just happen to have a card board cutout of Jacob, from the Twilight Movie series in her trunk. I remember trying to watch one of those movies on a 14 hour flight home from a wedding in Hong Kong and it was so bad, so poorly acted, that I shut the movie off and did nothing for two hours rather than watch that movie. It was a lot of fun and the shot makes me laugh, every time I look at it.
We had a lot of laughs while we were making the shot. And if there is one thing that is extremely important at an engagement portrait session, it is having a lot of good laughs. It certainly makes my job more entertaining, and the by-product is that the photos look better too.
So, here is the first photo I posted, the night of the engagement shoot.
There were so many great shots from the afternoon. I have posted a few of my very favorite shots below.
This was one of the earlier shots in the day. The huge windows behind them make for some fantastic back light and the stair case made for a great angular element to hold the top of the photo together. For those of you interested in the lighting on this shot, there is a shoot through translucent umbrella above, forward of and to the right of the Nick. This light is giving the couple some volume by side lighting them, but we are not too dramatic, because it is at a 45 degree angle on them and it is a shoot through umbrella which softens the light a bit because the direction of the light is less defined. The light was simply a 580EXII Canon Flash attached to a Radio Popper. My camera is also sporting a 580EX flash with a Radio Popper transmitter and the flash is pounding up into the ceiling to give a little fill light throughout the room. And then, of course, the window lights are providing shape of the stare case, and a little hair light for the couple.The shutter speed is at 125th of a second and the ISO is at 400. This allows me to get a good blast from the ambient light outside and the aperture is at 2.8, which gives me that soft look in the background. I am shooting on a fixed 85mm lens. The 85mm 1.8 is not a very expensive lens, but it takes a beautiful image. I love that little lens.
I love the reflection in the pool and the blue set against the yellow blooms of the desert trees.
Of all the images at the house, this has to be my favorite. The stone and the tree are fantastic and the tree frames the couple very nicely in the bottom left corner of the photo. You have to love the color in this one.
I just love the expressions on this one. Oh, and the composition.
Just behind their home, on the side of the mountain is an outcropping of rocks that was quite difficult to photograph. Once we got them up to the rocks, I had to take position on the top of a wall to get the right angle on the shot, but how can you not love this one. I was so happy with the image composition and then, Shelby put he elbow up on Nick’s shoulder and that made the photo! I told her to keep that pose and “never stop!” I think those were my actual words. Way to go with this one Shelby. Way to go.
I enjoy the quality of the light after the sun has gone down for about 15 minutes or so. There really isn’t a better light. I used to capture this kind of light on film, but I had to use a tripod, I was often shooting a 4×5 camera (those old accordion looking cameras with the dark cloths over the photographer’s head) and the exposures were 30 seconds and of landscapes. I am so happy with digital cameras today. 6400 ISO? No problem. I could enjoy shooting an entire photo shoot AFTER sunset! It really is the best light ever.
Sweet light. Sweet kiss. Sweet shot.