6.30.2010

A rather boring article about how I lit a portrait on location last week.

One of my most important tools.  The standard apple crate.  Used in film and video productions everywhere.


I was shooting some executives at an industrial company here in Austin last week and the client let me know that there were one or two execs in other cities who would also need to be shot.  They weren't going to budget for me flying out of state just to do one or two head shots so they asked if I would document the set up and be willing to share the information with photographers with which they have relationships in the other cities.  Of course.  I'll share just about anything.

I used this handsome devil as an example because it was easy to get a model release from him. :-)


It's pretty standard lighting.  In a nutshell it's a big soft light from the left, a big white reflector from the right, a gridded flash on the light gray background and a small flash in a small softbox from the back of the set.   The image I chose to use as an example doesn't have the backlight added in.  Sorry.  You'll just have to imagine it.

Above.  The view from the left of the camera.  You can see that I'm using a Softlighter 2 60 inch umbrella with it's diffusion "sock" on the front.  It's hooked up to a 1200 watt second Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack but it's on the low power tap and set to a fairly low setting.  Though the wide angle lens I've used to make this image distorts the size/distance relations the light is really right next to the chair.  Almost touching it.  The camera is a Canon 5dmk2 and I'm using the 70-200 f4 L lens at around 135mm as my taking lens.
Above is the view from right behind the camera and it gives you a better idea of the various relationships between the lighting instruments.  I use the apple crate to stand on because I am five feet and eight inches tall while some of the taller subjects were six foot, three and six foot, five.  (Mutant giants?)
I always use this zany Lastolite pop up target to set custom white balances with.  I like this Will Crockett version because it has a target to focus on.


I use an incident light meter to meter every light source and get them all in the right target zone.  I base my whole exposure around f5.6.  I fine tune it for each person.

Here's what I'm using for the light on the background.  It's a Vivitar 383 df used in the slave mode.  I like them because in the slave mode they are triggered by an optical slave and the setting overrides the auto shutoff.  Since the light is basically direct it only takes 1/4 power to give me the spot I want.  The box on the front is from Speedlight Prokit.  It's a multi-purpose little light modifier.  You can use a grid on the front or a softbox style diffuser.  It's a pretty good accessory for taking the edge off direct light and softening out the edges.  With a grid in place the fall off is very pleasing.
This is a view from the right side of the set up.  The combination of a 60 inch softlighter diffused umbrella and the 48 inch white reflector is the basis of most of my quick light set ups for indoors.  By moving the umbrella closer and further from the subject I get more or less contrasty light.  By moving the reflector closer or further from the opposite side of the subject's face I get more or less fill in the shadows.
And where oh where would I be without the Barbie kit?  Most of the executives I photographed needed just a touch of translucent powder to shut down the shine on their foreheads and noses.  Please note the white barber's drape which I put over the subject's clothes.  Keeps light colored powder off dark colored jackets.
There's nothing special about the back light.  I just want the barest touch of back light so I use another Vivitar 383 df down at 1/8th power and it seems just right.  I think people make a very common mistake when they use a back light bare.  The light just doesn't seem to match the rest of the light in a conventionally lit scene.  A small box works well.  If we were working in my studio I might have used a big piece of foamcore to flag the light and prevent spill but the space was big enough and the ceilings far enough away that it just didn't become a problem.  A grid on the front of the box would be a good addition as well.
Here's what the scene looks like with my back right up against the grey a paper looking out toward the camera.  Not too intimidating.  Pretty straightforward.  It's nice to have a standard set up that you can fall back on when you are working quickly and need repeatable results.

I like the Elinchrom and I also like the Profoto battery units.  It's nice when you are in a big setting not to have cables running to distant sockets.  And at the low power settings I was using that particular pack is good for several thousand flashes.

We set up starting at 8:00am and finished testing the set up at 8:35am.  My first of ten portrait subjects, the COO, arrived right at 9am.  We finished our last shot just in time for lunch.  My default for delivered food on industrial shoots is usually Jason's Deli.  I order the quarter Muffaletta.  Good stuff.

After a "walking lunch" I broke down this set up and we proceeded to our afternoon shoots around the factory using mostly available light and a good tripod.

So, what constitutes a good tripod?  That's coming up.

12 comments:

NielsJL said...

Thank you for sharing your portrait setup and tips.

Forgive the naive question, but does the backlight (using the softbox) really contribute that much to the portrait? I'm looking at the (handsome devil) example above and not really seeing its effect.

kirk tuck said...

nielsJL,

The samples I shot of me don't have the backlight engaged. (I think I mentioned that in the text). I forgot to turn it back on for the shot. It has some effect but I don't use backlight that often.....

The Photophile said...

He may be a handsome devil, but he looks a little shifty to me!

Anonymous said...

Love the almost "George Hamilton" tan...

Radu said...

Thanks for sharing the setup! And a well-done job, with images from all angles and detailed explanations - great!
I love reading your blog! It's an interesting mixture of technical stuff and business stuff and creative/personal stuff. Keep it up!

Mister Ian said...

Can I ask what brand of powder you use. I hear that some respond better to flash than others? Thanks!!

Koert said...

Thanks for the interesting walkthrough!
love the barbie pink make up case, I bet that gives you a great way to open up the conversation about the make up.
Wish they had apple crates that nice over here (it's all cardboard here!)

NielsJL said...

You're right Kirk, my bad -- note to self "must read every word before typing comment".

kirk tuck said...

NielsJL,

It's a "no fault" blog. I shoulda had the backlight on....

Rick Moore said...

Apple Crates: One thing I always have disliked about apple crates is they do not nest with anything. They take up major space when space is limited. They also are the most frequently used piece of grip equipment in my studio.

kirk tuck said...

Yeah. Someone should market a sturdy, collapsible version. That being said, these things are invaluable in the day to day life of most film and photography companies....

NielsJL said...

Kirk/Rick: Would a $15 easy-folding step stool do the trick, see:
http://www.organizeit.com/poezfoldz.asp?rtnDisplay=Step+Stools&rtnFile=stepstools&t=1
(a 5 second Google search. ;-) )