"It's all about the light."
A scene from 'A Christmas Story' at Zach Theatre
I started my day out walking with the remaining Austin contingent of my family, Belinda and Studio dog. I'd cleaned the studio yesterday and set up a lighting design for a portrait I was hired to shoot, scheduled for this morning. The assignment was to make a portrait, for marketing, of a new radiologist who has joined a large, central Texas practice. I've been making marketing images for the group for over a decade and one of the things we provide often are head shots.
I was anxious to use the K5600 HMI's that I got last week. I've used HMIs on video projects before and worked with them as a still photographer on other peoples' video projects but I'd never had the chance to use a lower output set to create portraits in my own studio.
I put the open face Joker 200 light, with a front glass filter that gave me a nice light spread, where I usually put my main light. Up about 45 degrees and about 45 degrees off camera axis. I was pushing the photons through a 48 by 48 inch Chimera ENG panel with two layers of diffusion on it. One layer was a very thin, half stop silk and the next layer (with a quarter inch gap between the two) was a one stop silk. The light was gorgeous and I used the diffusion about four feet from my subject. While the HMI was the dominant front light there was indirect fill coming from the day light outside through my ten foot by ten foot, northwest facing bank of windows. The color temperatures matched perfectly. I also put up a 3x3 foot chunk of white foamcore to the other side as additional fill.
Then I concentrated on the background. I used the K5600 Alpha 200 with its fresnel lens to create a soft edged spot across the middle of my canvas background. When I metered the whole set up the direct light on the background was nearly three stops hotter than the light falling at the subject position. Yikes! There's no power variation control with HMIs. They are either all on or all off.
I grabbed a Fast Flags frame (Westcott) and put a two stop and a one stop net on the frame. This pulled the light levels of the background light down to match what I had in the front without changing the character of the light. The nets reduce the amount but don't change how diffuse or specular the light character is. If I had just added diffusion the light would have gone flat and lots the nice roll off at the edges of my halo.
I wanted to shoot with an 85mm lens on the D7100 and I wanted to keep the aperture around f2.8 so I could make the background go soft and featureless while keeping the doctor in front of the camera sharp. With the lights set up the way I had them I was getting an exposure reading of f2.8 at 1/160th of a second at ISO 400. Easy stuff for the D7100 which handles ISO 400 with almost no noise whatsoever.
With no flash blasting out repeatedly and no buzzing alerts to tell me about recycle conditions both subject and photographer mellowed out and got into the session quickly. If I saw an expression I liked I could pop off four or five fast frames without having my subject do the anticipatory blinks and without having to wait for flash recycling. While the light levels in the studio were high they were not an issue. They more or less matched what the lighting looked like outside. No big adjustment to look out the window at the landscape.
The shoot went quickly which is always a bonus for the sitter. For a busy doctor it means more time back at the office billing and seeing patients, or reading scans. I had the shoot edited and up on an gallery within the half hour and I was pleased with nearly every one of 50 frames.
The HMIs have a really nice look. Part of it is the full spectrum of the output and part of it is the way the light melds and blends with ambient daylight. Another part of my satisfaction is just that I like the way continuous light in general looks compared to flash. I am generally happy with the fluorescent light performance I've gotten lately as well.
Continuous light is a naturally easy combination when using cameras with EVFs. It's so WYSIWSG. The process is so fluid. That being said I was using the Nikon D7100 in its conventional mode. Looking through the OVF to frame and checking the final test images on the rear screen to confirm exposure and color.
On to the Theatre. After lunch I'll be packing up to shoot some marketing shots for Zach Theatre. They are doing a production of The King and I. I'll be shooting three main characters in groupings in front of a classic, white out background. There's bound to be movement and kids so I'm bouncing back to electronic flash for this job. Four Elinchrom moonlights for the background and the Ranger RX AS system for the main subjects. We'll shoot from 4 pm to about 6 pm and then we'll call it a day.
Counter-intuitively, I plan to use the Olympus EM-5 camera and lenses for this afternoon's shoot. I just want to see what that camera does in a flash environment. Good thing we haven't outlawed hand held meters because mine is getting a workout today.
The blog slows down next week. I'm booked to shoot an involved conference event at the Moody Theater and the W Hotel for the first three days of next week. Sessions start early and events go late. It's a conference I've covered in years past and it's a great camera workout. I'm taking the D7100+18-140mm lens+flash for all the flash work. I'm taking two EM-5's and a bunch of fast lenses for all of the available light work (the majority of the assignment). I'll start charging batteries tomorrow and double checking all the stuff. It's suit and tie work so I need to make sure that three suits are ready to go. (Wouldn't want to be caught wearing the same stuff two days in a row----that would hardly be professional). I'll blog the technical details next week so you can see how my choices either served or hampered me. If it was a straight up slam dunk it just wouldn't be fun; right?
Hope your Friday is busy with fun stuff. KT