Our youngest turned one year old recently and on her birthday I wanted to capture a “good” portrait. It would be her “official” one-year picture. Of course I decided to try something I hadn’t done before — a high-key portrait with a white background — which ensured it would take three times as long as something I’m already comfortable doing. I don’t have white seamless paper and I don’t have a proper background stand. So…I have a huge (12′ x 20′ I think) white polyester background that I picked up on clearance for $20-ish. I draped this over the back of a couple of chairs (with my subject being only a couple feet tall I didn’t have to worry about the height). My main light was a speedlight into a reflective umbrella at high camera left, triggered by an Elinchrom Skyport. I placed a large white reflector on camera right and used a speedlight behind the subject to light the background.
My first issue was to decide how I wanted the background to actually look. Blown out? Super smooth (problematic with the deep creases in the freshly unpackaged cloth and being draped over uneven chair backs)? Don’t worry about it and fix in post? From a quick internet search I learned that I couldn’t simply iron that polyester cloth and get rid of the creases in a few minutes. In the end I went with an aperture that blurred the background somewhat but provided a safe depth-of-field for the shots. My daughter was far enough from the background so it would be reasonably out-of-focus and I could reasonably edit it in post for a few shots if desired. The background light was adjusted “to taste”. I had planned to shoot with a much brighter background but the light was too uneven (no surprise when trying to light with a single speedlight in the center).
The shot above was taken as a test during setup. The hair and clothes are a mess (hadn’t prepped her yet) — but it’s cute and I decided that this is actually one of my favorites. The only edits were crop, slight WB adjustment, sharpening around the eyes, vignette, and the removal of a small scratch on the skin. I really like the way it turned out overall even if the background isn’t ideal.
I had the privilege — and challenge — of taking some photos for my son and his friends this past weekend. I’ll let them tell they’re own story (link at the end of the post) but the short version is that they are going “on tour” for a month to sing as a quartet, do various service projects, and promote the International ALERT Academy (where they have received various types of emergency response training — paramedic and other misc certifications in my son’s case).
Our only options for shooting were a short bit early Sunday morning and then in the afternoon from about 1-3pm. We did what we could in the morning and left the rest for later. The afternoon sun was as intense as it ever gets in Texas — which makes for lousy natural light in many locations. If I was shooting only one person, had a set of great lights and diffusers, etc. I would have felt better about all this. However, I worked on making do with my single speedlight and whatever shade we could find.
The guys wanted to do some shots on the railroad tracks — no shade there. One of the favorite spots required them to be looking toward the sun, which was *mostly* overhead but off its peak just enough to create extremely harsh shadows when they faced that direction. Nonetheless, we took a bunch of shots and attempted to overcome the sun on five guys with a single speedlight…not quite successful. I told them not to tell anyone I took those pictures 🙂
In the shot with the locomotive you can see how turning them out of the sun (and using the single speedlight) doesn’t turn out too bad. While shooting the previous into-the-sun images I broke my sync cord and could no longer use my Elinchrom skyports to control the flash. So for this shot I used a 3′-ish cord attached to my hot shoe and use E-TTL with -2/3 flash exp compensation if I remember correctly. I held the flash above-camera-left as high as I could reach (I was slightly crouched to take the shot). It turned out OK — and the guys seemed happy with this one.
Of course we did the obligatory look-cool-standing-against-some-grungy-wall-album-cover-type shots. We found a random wall with just enough shade to make it work. The sidewalk in front of the wall had a slight slope which made things a bit tricky. If I lined up the frame with the brick, I ended up with a bit of grass where the sidewalk was higher…stuff like that. I think I should have worked my angles more and come up with something better. However, we had already spent a lot of time doing individual shots and various group poses and with it being nearly 100 degrees, all of us were ready to get on with it and finish up.
I had fun taking the photos. I learned a lot. I learned most of all that I have a lot left to learn. It was also fun for the guys (who are not nearly as serious as some of their pictures would imply) to be able to goof around while posing. Most importantly, they got some shots they were happy with.
Their website (still a bit under construction): http://www.servantscall.com
On facebook: Servant’s Call