Lighting matters to most commercial projects.

This was a fun image to make.  We were doing an annual report project last Summer and part of the brief was to go around central Texas and make portraits of people who were part of "shovel ready projects."  While many national projects didn't materialize, here in Austin people did get back to work and they've been building much needed road infrastructure right through the economic downturn.

It was hot and we were working close to busy streets.  I was dressed a lot like the guy in the photo.  Hard hat, reflective Gatorade colored safety vest and work boots.  This was a classic, Kirk-style, exterior location portrait.  I like the puffy clouds in the background and the rich blue sky and the only way I know to get that combination is to shoot with the sun behind you.  But the problem with doing that is your subject will end up looking into the harsh sunlight or near enough to it to make them blink or squint.  Here's how I like to do it.  Once I figure out the composition I bring in a 4x4 foot diffuser or a light blocker.  In this case it was a Chimera panel with two layers of white, fabric diffusion cloth on it.  The diffusion took the direct light off his face which made my worker a LOT more comfortable and dropped the exposure on his face by almost four stops.  For all intents and purposes he was standing in "open shade."  But he was still squinting a bit so I put up another 4x4 foot panel with black fabric centered on his eye line right behind the camera position.  This way he'd be looking into a dark area and could rest his eyes a bit.  Over to the right of my camera I put up an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS electronic flash pack and put an "A" head into a small softbox for my main light.  The bottom of the box is on the same level as the subject's chin.  The box is about 45 or 50 degrees to the right of camera.

I was working with a Canon 5D mk 2 but I didn't like the top shutter sync speed of 1/160th of a second so I think I switched to my Canon 7D for its 1/250th of a second top sync speed.  Part of what made this a tough shoot is that we had breezes and thunderstorms on and off all day.  That meant (as far as the wind was concerned) we needed to sandbag everything that lived on a light stand.  It wasn't just for the safety of the lights or the subject; we couldn't take a chance that a light would blow into traffic speeding by and cause an accident.  Many of our locations required us to park 50 or 100 yards away and bring the gear over in several trips.  I can still remember the misery of walking through the heat of a soupy day with a 20 pound sandbag in each hand and a light case slung over one shoulder...... nasty.

At the end of the day none of that matters.  All that matters is that we get images that match what the client has in her mind.  And this one passed the test.  The best piece of gear for stuff like situations above?  A Hoodman Loupe for the LCD screen on the back of the camera.  It's great to be able to accurately judge the effects we're working so hard to get in the field.  What's that you said?  Why didn't we tether it to a big Mac on a ergo cart?  Sorry, that's just too insane.

Now that I've got my Hasselblad mojo cranking up again I'm looking for more beautiful people to sit in front of my camera.  But as Gordon will tell you, I'm horrible about delivering final images.  I'm working on the backlog.  Maybe we'll have something for recent (last two years :-) ) sitters by Christmas.  Not saying this year.  But if you are strikingly beautiful and want to come by and sit for a portrait, send me an e-mail and we'll see what we can work out.  The image of Michelle, above, was done the third time ago that beauty dishes were in style.  Still works for me....

Finally, a recent headshot for candidate for Texas Railroad Commission, Christi Craddick.  We were asked to do a nice portrait of Ms. Craddick for use on her election website and other collateral.  I went on location to the small studio at Arts and Labor, here in Austin to do the job.  We hung a grey seamless in the background and used a 28 inch Fotodiox beauty dish with a diffusion cover over to camera right as our soft but directional main light and used a Photek Softlighter II just over the left of the camera as a fill light.  I washed the background with two very even direct lights and added a gridded hair light coming over Ms. Craddick's right shoulder.  We had a make up person, with an assistant, and a very nice intern who kept bringing us good food as we worked with different wardrobe and expressions.  Altogether is was a quiet and calm session that yielded a number of very good portraits.

Canon 5Dmk2 with a 70 to 200mm f4 L lens.  All lights used were Elinchrom D-lite 4 IT's.  All the units performed as expected.  

I love shooting portraits like this.  The backgrounds and lighting are pretty much stylized by the campaigns which is fine.  It means we can concentrate on expression.


Dave Elfering Photography said...

Seriously another favorite post. I love the black & white portrait. Glamorous in a classic way (which is great). In the last one you made 5 lights look easy, but that's quite the shindig. I'll be bookmarking this one for sure.

Kim Guanzon said...

sweet shots!

corkap said...

Reading all these posts about problems caused by heat and sunlight makes me think you should come spend a summer in Ireland sometime Kirk! A hot August day here is 18-20C (about 65F) - that will have us stripping off, swimming in the Atlantic, and complaining about the heat. The rest of the time it tends to be cooler and cloudy - perfect shooting conditions! We do get some sunshine though, so that's interesting to read how you dealt with squinting and so on when shooting the construction worker.
- Rory

Marino Mannarini said...

Those BW portraits of Michelle you have are just bursting out of my screen...amazingly striking woman, amazingly shot in a way to just let all this beauty come out unbiased.

bill said...

I love the Hoodman! It's so important for an outside shoot that I have two, one for a backup. I have a habit of losing them.

Bold Photography said...

The lead-in shot was lit from camera right - you must have had severe allergies for that to happen! :-)

Gregg Mack said...

I really enjoyed reading how you lit the portrait of the road construction worker. I never would have thought about the black fabric area for him to look into.

BTW, I believe the sync speed on the Canon 5D Mk II is 1/200 sec.

very1silent said...

The official max sync speed on the Canon 5D Mk II might be 1/200, but if you use a radio trigger, the slight added delay means that you probably won't get more than 1/160.

By contrast, a large fraction of 7ds can do 1/320, even with a radio trigger.

ars said...

I love the construction worker shot!
So dreamy:)