It's Monday. Back to business and clients.

Two weeks ago I photographed the entire staff of a high end, commercial real estate development company. I got to extend my practice with the style of portraiture I've been working on for most of the year, which is largely about blocking offensive interior light and then mixing whatever is left with a main light from either a scrim or soft box, powered by a big LED light. It's a style that works best in big spaces or long halls where one entire side is lit by windows. It's a bonus if there are nice, big shapes you can toss out of focus in the background...

A sample from an earlier shoot for a different client.

When I was first contacted by the client we discussed the style I wanted to use and I cautioned them that I couldn't commit to doing it unless I could come by and scout their location to see if I could find appropriate backgrounds. I dropped by and was offered the conference room; countered with a long hallway that had glass fronted offices on one side and windows to the outside on the other. 

We set up and shot on a Weds. afternoon and finished up on Thursday morning. I like to schedule this way because we can come to downtown in the mid-morning, miss all the traffic and then get the portrait subjects that like afternoons on the first day, followed by the "morning" people on the second day. We pack out in the early afternoon; again, missing traffic altogether. 

("Missing Traffic" is the number one trending subject in Austin conversation as we challenge second place, Los Angeles, for the honor of second most congested city in America. Thank you to all the refugees from unhappy areas of the U.S.A. for your help in growing our city in so many annoying ways !!! And, no! I don't want to hear how much better the kombucha is in Portland, or why we are not appreciative enough of NYC-style bagels...).

I brought along two light blockers. One for the warm white fluorescent fixture overhead and a second to both reflect the main light and block another source of weird fluorescence. I lit the set up with one big LED light into a large soft box and used a second LED, bare, to kick some light into the background. Over the course of the two half days I met and photographed about twenty people. We were able to schedule everyone but the guy who was home with strep throat. 

As a courtesy to both the left out employee, and to my client, I made a point to schedule a session for him so there wouldn't be gaps in the coverage and so no one would be tempted to mix an impromptu cellphone image in with my other hard work. I had the time this morning. 

I came back to the same area of the set up and used the same lighting design but I did change cameras and lenses. The first time I used the Sony a7ii and the 70-200mm f4.0. They worked great. But I have a hard time sticking to doing things the same way over and over again so this time I pared down to the a6300 and the Rokinon 85mm f1.4 lens (actually, the Cine t1.5 version...). Shooting one stop further open than I did with the first combination gave me depth of field that matches up nicely with the other work. I shot about 120 images and noted that I still had 96% battery power remaining. 

The scene looked so good through the camera that I was tempted to toss a microphone on the top of the hot shoe and also do an interview on video. But I remembered that no one had requested the service and it would be a bit insane to just start interviewing people at work with no real agenda.

I've done my quick color correction and messed around with contrast and exposure, and I've uploaded a gallery to Smugmug.com for selection purposes. Today's shoot was a reminder that I need to write a bit more about the Rokinon lenses that I've worked with this year. Some of my favorite images have come from the 100 macro, the 85mm and the 135mm t2.2. None of the lenses were introduced this year or I'd have another "Camera and lens of the year!!!!!!!" article to pen.

I do have a favorite microphone of the year but that's for later this week... And now? Some images.

The Wall. Best Austin location in 2016.

This week's "Best Camera of the Year." 

"They" keep making commercials in Austin. Now the pedestrian bridge between south and north Austin is so littered with camera crews, sound engineers and make up people that there are pedestrian traffic jams in the city. It never stops! Nice shooting rig but DAMN look at all the crew. I guess somebody has to pay them and feed them...

Here's the basic set up. A blocker above to kill the fluorescents a reflector to the side for clean fill and two soft boxes jammed together for the lovely LED main light action.

Reverse view. The chair is to stand behind and have a place to put your hands, if you are the subject. It serves to anchor the subjects. I very rarely have people actually "sit" for a portrait. The clothes get wrinkles and the postures generally suck. NO SITTING!

So, what did I charge the client to come back, set up the lights and photograph the one straggler? Not a dime. I offered to do it for free. I wanted the continuity of images on the website. I was already being well paid. This client is a rich source of continuing recommendations. Call it a holiday gift, an accommodation, a favor. Sometimes the cumulative value exceeds the amount we might bill. And, it gave me a chance to compare, file-to-file between the A7ii and the a6300. 

I made it downtown and back in time to walk with Studio Dog and eat lasagna for lunch. Now I am blogging while supervising some pre-holiday landscaping. Life is good....

One of the "secrets" of good, quick, consistent color balance and post production efficiency is to get a good, repeatable custom white balance in every shooting location. I always use the same target (a Lastolite) and the benefit is not walking into the color correction blindfolded.

Still time to order stuff from Amazon.com. Use the link below and make my holiday a bit rosier at no cost to you. Thanks! (you don't have to buy the book but the link will get you to the site).

Content added after initial upload: 

I find that it is often a smart thing if you make a few empty frames of the location on which you are shooting a portrait. That way, if someone can't be photographed on the original location you can always drop them into the background in post processing and better match the rest of your take. Goes a long way toward maintaining a consistent look when needed. Just a thought...


Anonymous said...

It is definitely a nice look to the images you've achieved. Kind of amazing you could knock out the overhead fluorescents with the small circular flag. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and process along with the final image!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Kirk for a further breakdown of your lighting set up for your location portraiture. The results speak for themselves and its a look I really like. Thanks also for another year of interesting insights into your working life, personal life, and all the varied views of Austin, Texas.

My very best wishes to you and your family for Christmas and the New Year.

Cheers, Keith

Michael Matthews said...

Shooting the empty frame is like recording room tone (audio) when doing video interviews. You never know when it will be to your advantage to mix in a bit of background behind a bit of needed audio recorded after the fact but in a different, dead quiet location. Or just to add a moment's pause, breaking up interview sound that's being used as voice over graphics or other silent material.

Craig Yuill said...

Another really-good article on lighting! Although I love looking at the finished portraits you take, I am equally enthralled by the shots you take of the lighting set ups.

I recently had some stills and video shots taken of me by some high-school students. The sophistication of lighting equipment amazed me (not to mention their camera-support and sound equipment). It was far far better than what I used when I did some similar shooting for my school's yearbook back around 1980.

rob/smalltalk productions said...


Thank you for the bts shots and explanations.

I also want to thank you for constantly producing a wonderfully thoughtful, instructional and inspiring blog.

May you and your family enjoy a healthy and joyous 2017.

Be well ;-)