Getting outside the studio and shooting mid-day in the heat and wind.....

This is Mike.  He's an executive at a tech company.  And that's some of Austin in the background.

Sometimes I think I get too philosophical about photography.  Today I'm just talking "nuts and bolts".  

I've spent decades shooting in the studio and inside the (air conditioned) corporate buildings of major clients.  Recently a new company asked me to shoot their corporate officers in a different way.  We talked a bit and decided that shooting outside, with the city of Austin in the background, would be a cool way to go.

Scheduling is always a concern.  Executives seem to have busier schedules than most and, with packed schedules, we sometimes have to shoot right in the middle of the day or in the heat of the afternoon.  So we learn to deal with the sun.

My shoot with Mike was scheduled for 4pm.  My morning shoot was a technology shoot in the studio.  Tiny cities on top of tiny slices of silicon.  I packed for Mike's shoot the night before and when the clock ticked 3:15 pm I started turning off hot lights, covering products so dust wouldn't cover everything, and I headed out the door.  We shot on the pedestrian bridge just to the south of downtown Austin.  I was able to park a couple hundred yards away and push my stuff over onto the bridge on a small cart.  The bridge is about forty feet wide and it's a wonderful place to shoot.   In the early mornings and early evenings it's covered with runners and walkers but at 4pm we pretty much had the whole span over Lady Bird Lake to ourselves.

I packed a Canon 5d mark 2 with a 24-105 zoom lens.  Hoodman loupe (really need this for sunny locations and just about any camera...).  Profoto 600b, battery powered electronic flash with one head and a speed ring.  Two light stands.  One collapsible, two stop, white 42 inch Westcott diffuser panel and an arm to hold it.  Most important pieces of equipment? Two 20 pound sandbags.

This is the kind of shoot that an assistant is very helpful on.  Watching the gear while you go and look for lost subjects (for the record, Mike was right on time and NOT lost), holding light stands in a brisk breeze and helping to drag the cart back to the car on remote locations.  Unfortunately, I did not have an assist with me on Mike's shoot.  That's just the way the scheduling goes.  But we go thru without incident.

First step is to put up the two stop diffuser above Mike's head so he didn't have to stand in the sun.  Once we had that up I grabbed the camera and started looking for the right angles.  I'd worked with his marketing director on three other similar shoots so we had a good idea of what the composition should be like. I also knew that we didn't want to be too tight.

I sandbagged the light stand that had the diffuser and its holding arm and then set up a second light stand with a 24 by 36 inch softbox on it.  That stand got a sand bag as well.  The diffuser is as close to the top of Mike's head as I can get it and still keep it out of the frame.  The more light I can block the better. The light blocker keeps Mike from being hit by the hard, direct rays of the sun and drops the exposure on his face around two stops.  I fill back in with my own, controlled, more flattering light.  I walked the softbox in as close as I could and set the power on the strobe box to 1/4 power.  Our exposures were in the 1/160th of a second f8.5 range.  I was trying to balance the image so that the background read about 1/2 a stop darker than Mike.  I also wanted to be sure to get shadow detail even on Mike's black shirt.

We shot about 60 images but the very first one was the keeper and the one unanimously chosen.  

I processed the image in CS5, taking advantage of the new, content aware, masking tools to do different treatments to Mike and to the background.  Gotta love layers...

Here's some advice on lighting like this outside:

1.  Gotta take sand bags.  Even light breezes can get a hold of a panel or a collapsible diffuser and make it into a sail.  And wind on the bridge is always amplified compared with wind on the ground.  

2.  If you can swing it bring an assistant.  Not to haul stuff but to hold onto the light stand with the softbox and the light head.  With Profoto heads heading toward $1,000 each the last thing you want is one heading toward the ground.  The added benefit of the assistant is this highly complex mathematical equation:  Big assistant+sandbag= bigger softbox.  Where y equals the velocity of wind and x equals the softness of light....  I love big softboxes but if I'm by myself I think the 24 by 26 is just about the limit.  And that's with the 12 pound strobe pack and the 20 pound sand bag hooked onto the stand.

3.  If it's over 90 and the sun is shining get your shade up for the client first thing.  You don't want them frying and sweating before you've shot the first frame.  Being able to make shade is almost as fun as being able to make light.  You might also want to bring the client a cold bottle of water.

4.  Get the whole thing,  from the firm, welcome handshake to the warm farewell,  done in ten minutes or less.  If you need to fiddle, get there early and do it on your own time.

5.  If you have the resources (additional sandbags and an assistant) consider bringing along a second panel.  Make this one black and put it up right behind the camera.  This will give the talent/subject something dark to look at so they aren't squinting from the bright ambient light.  This could be really important in a location with lots of bright building reflections and concrete.

6.  Don't depend on the rear screen of the camera for total imaging confirmation unless you've brought the loupe and disable the automatic brightness setting that now seems to be a standard feature on new cameras.

7.  Dress for the heat.  Nice to make that good impression and I'm all for the random suit and tie in the boardroom or the chic hotel ballroom but out on the pedestrian bridge you'll be fine in some nice shorts and a polo shirt.  Or even better, a UV resistant shirt from Ex Officio  (the offical provider of hot weather shirts for Kirk Tuck Photography :-)  ).

I've got no advice for post processing because everyone does that differently.  The most important part to remember is to make your own shade. It will separate you from the yahoos out banging around with direct flash and hot hightlights.  Nobody looks great with razor sharp shadows and too much detail.  

I hit the bridge at 3:45pm.  I had everything roughed in and set up when Mike hit the bridge at 4:00pm.  I had Mike walking away at 4:08pm.  He was happy to get out of the heat.  I needed to finish the tech job that was already taking a lot more time than I budgeted for.  

Just eight minutes?  Yes.  And that's a feature/benefit.  Because we don't charge by the hour we charge by the image that gets licensed.  Efficiency works for you and the client unless you are dumb enough to charge strictly by the hour.  

So, that's my afternoon a few weeks ago.  Hope all is well.  

Best, Kirk


Steve Gray said...

Looks great, Kirk. I notice some different coloration in the sky, though. Did you gel your flash at all, or is this just an intentional artifact of your post production?

Kim Guanzon said...

I agree on shading the client... both in giving comfort as well as getting better lighting...


Bill said...

Excellent post! I always go back and forth trying to decide between using a lightdisc on an arm with a single stand, and a 4x6 panel suspended between two stands. The panel blocks more light and is more stable, but slower to set up and more to lug.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Steve, we've been intentionally processing the background differently and usually twisting the sky color much more that this. Our first foray was a brilliant orange/yellow sky. Love the company. Love that they take chances to stand out.

mike wilson said...

Great post, Kirk! I love these nuts-and-bolts shoots every once in a while :)

John Krumm said...

Interesting post, Kirk. The shot itself looks a little dim on my computer, but I'm guessing you wanted it that way since I think you've been shooting for a few years now. :)