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