10.25.2014

Color matched, continuous light sources can help you make images that look like there were captured candids.

Fadya, mid-sentence, lit by two HMI lights.

Can you tell lit from unlit? The better the lighter the fewer the cues...


Portrait made while playing with K5600 HMIs. Fun with friends.


I photographed Fadya several years ago for illustrations in my LED Lighting book. We worked well together and I loved her look. Last week I was sitting around the studio playing with my two (on loan) HMI lights from K5600 Lighting. I'd pressed them into service earlier in the week to light a CEO portrait and also to do some technical product shots. In those two situations I could not have asked for more. The lights kicked out ample continuous light and did so with perfect, daylight balanced color. Post production was quick and easy. And, as I unpacked from other photo adventures I found myself wishing for a patient, attractive person with whom to give the lights a really good workout. 

A few hours later, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Fadya  asking if I wanted to get together and make more portraits in the studio---just for fun. We agreed on a time and date. 

I cleaned up the studio as well as I could right after swim practice this morning. I set up one 200 watt Joker HMI light head firing into a double diffused, Chimera 4x4 foot light panel as my main light. I used the Alpha 200 fresnel HMI light as a background light. And I used two, black fabric covered Chimera panels for subtractive lighting, both over head and to the opposite side of Fadya to deepen the shadows and control spill light from the white ceiling. 

I shot with the Nikon D7100 camera and the Nikon 85mm 1.8G. Just because. The files were 14 bit raw, lossless compressed. So, why shoot with HMIs instead of flash? Well, the HMIs are a continuous light source with a very, very high CRI (color rendering index) which means one can light by looking instead of lighting via iterative testing.  There's no: Pop. Pop. Pop. bursts of light, just a continuous flow which people seem to get used to very quickly. Since I started working with continuous lights I've had very few problems with people anticipating the exposure and blinking. A big contrast with my years as a flash photographer....

Fadya came over, we had tea and chatted with Belinda and then headed out into the studio to do some real work. She sat on the posing stool and we started talking and shooting. There are always long pauses as we catch up, share stories and generally get into the moment. She knows my preference for little to no make up and minimal jewelry and she outfitted accordingly. We both are of the opinion that a portrait session is best done as a collaboration between no more than two people. We settled into the rhythm of the extended session the way one settles into a wonderful conversation over drinks at a bar. Inhibitions on hold and ready to be silly if it meant taking a better image. 

Now I am sure the big question on some people's minds is probably, "Why the hell were you shooting with the Nikon D7100? Didn't you try to dump it for an Olympus OMD EM-1 just this past Wednesday?" 

Well, life is weird. Photo life is even weirder. When we last left off on my D7100 rant I had decided to keep the camera and try to come to grips with it. So I took it on a shoot Friday morning to make marketing photographs at a private school in west Austin. That's the only camera I took into the location. I did leave another camera in the car, just in case of catastrophic equipment failure. You've got to be responsible to your clients....

Well, I photographed a mass service and a bunch of candid schools shots with the Nikon D7100 and the 18-140mm lens but after I'd covered the images on the client's "want list" I decided to just poke around and see what I could get. One of the classes was doing a monarch butterfly release and I followed them to see if there was the possibility of a good image. A little girl pulled a monarch butterfly out of a screened enclosure in order to release it. The butterfly hesitated and then sat on her outstretched finger for a little while. I snapped away with the Nikon camera system and a ttl flash in the exterior location. The combination of the technical quality of the capture and the priceless expression of joy and wonderment on the young girl's face was utterly amazing. A perfect image. Easily the best photograph I've made in two or three years. Really. 

Next up I went to the art class where a group of first graders were learning to work with clay. Two kids were working at a table lit by soft, indirect light and more direct sunlight that was being bounced off the table tops on which they were working and into their faces. I shot individual images of each child. At one point the little girl looked up at me with awesome, confident, crystal blue eyes and I snapped a portrait that I'll still be showing to art directors and art buyers twenty years from now. It was elegant, gorgeous and riveting. The lighting was perfect as was the expression and the composition.  It was shoot at f2.8 about 1/640th of second at ISO 240. When I saw it on the 27 inch screen I almost fell off my chair. When I showed it to Belinda she basically said that every mother of every girl in first grade would look at that image and want that school for their kid. It was that amazing. 

Now I know that a lot of the magic of the photo was being in the right place at the right time. Another big part was the luck of having such a beautiful child as a model. But the camera has to count for something. So now I am temporarily convinced that the D7100 is a miraculous image making machine and I'm pressing it into every shoot. Don't worry, I'll change my mind soon enough. But for right now I'm enjoying using last century camera technology to make art. It seems to work well.