"Capturing Life"

One Weekend, 2 Photoshoots, Big Lessons

This past weekend was a busy one, photographically speaking.  Well, in truth is was a busy weekend activity wise as well.  Walking into the weekend I had no idea how the work I was about to do would turn out.  Would it be acceptable to those who were seeking portrait work?  Would I be able to pull off those things that I had read much about, practiced little and yet needed to master in order to make it all come together?

I received a phone call last week from my son’s drum teacher requesting portrait work for his new website.  In talking with him to determine what he was wanting, I surmised that I needed to be able to master lighting, which is something that I have played with yet not really applied “in the field”, so to speak.  I wasn’t completely sure if I could pull off what he would want and wasn’t sure if my style of photography would match his vision for his website.  Walking into the weekend I felt a lot of unknowns yet, being the “dive in” personality that I am, I dove in and decided the worst that could happen is that we would not be able to match styles and he’d need to find someone else to re-shoot the photo’s for him.  Or, I could completely bomb out and not get the lighting right.

We chose a couple of locations, one being the local train station complete with a freight train zipping past while we were setting up, and the other location being our church which offers a stage on which we could work.  The stage, however had a lot of musical equipment and sound equipment already set up and ready for Sunday morning worship.

I had invested several hours over the past year and half working on learning lighting and playing with off camera flash.  More recently, I watched a CreativeLive webcast from the guys at LightenupandShoot, who do street photography and use only off camera flash for their lighting.  Having read their instructional posts on their website, and then seeing the webcast from CreativeLive, I have begun to feel a bit more comfortable with the idea of working with light.  I would not say I feel confident about my abilities, but I definitely thought maybe I could have a chance at getting something usable.

My equipment consists of one off camera flash mounted on a tripod flash stand, an umbrella, and a reflector set.  The off camera flash is triggered by a Yongnuo trigger/receiver set.  My flash gun does not have any manual adjustment abilities, which translates out to one level of light and that being very bright.   I have additional flash attachments but only have one receiver at this time.  None of my current flash attachments have the ability to be “dialed down” in their brightness.

Eliminating distracting elements and creating a black background were my priorities.  I positioned my flash slightly off to one side, raised the light stand to a fair height with the head of the flash gun pointed downwards to light the scene.  I tried to get it as close in to the scene as possible without having it be seen in the pictures.  My lens of choice was my Nikon 18-55, f/3.5-5.6.  Being limited as to how far back I could get from my subject, I thought this might give me the best chance of getting the look I was going for.

A few practice shots to try and adjust the lighting to get the most out of my setup and we were on our way.  I  moved the light stand around to different locations with the hope that it would help reduce deep shadows on his face yet light up the drums that were positioned around him.  We also did some more traditional portrait shots with my flash mounted on the stand and shot through the umbrella in order to diffuse the light.  Getting all that we thought we needed, we called it a day.

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The following day was a more typical type family photo session, with a few senior portraits thrown in for good measure.  We have friends who were needing some quick family pictures so we met at a local florist shop to do some photo’s.  Again, it was a location with a lot going on in the background and, for this one, I didn’t want to have the black backdrop but wanted a lot of color in the pictures.  It was a challenge to find the right corners of the store, to then pose 6 people in those corners and not have too much going on in the background.  They are a very fun family, adorable kids, and lots of laughs.  We did a variety of poses with them then decided it was enough torture for one day.   We threw in a few “practice” senior portraits of their daughters best friend as well.

In the hours of editing that occurred after both of these photo’s shoots, there were many reflections going through my mind.  In every single opportunity I’ve had so far, I have learned lessons; some have afforded small growth opportunities, some afforded huge growth opportunities.  This weekend with two very different sessions provided their own twists and turns in my growth as a photographer.

1)  I learned that I can do lighting.  While I have such a long way to go in learning how to really fine tune it, to eliminate sharp shadows, and position it all for optimum results, I was able to mostly black out the background and rid the distractions from the photo’s.  What I wasn’t able to accomplish on location I was able to deal with in photoshop.  (not that I want to spend the hours doing that on a regular basis, mind you, but for now it helps me to arrive at a final product that works)

2) I learned I have a LONG way to go in my lighting abilities.  My equipment works for now but optimally I need to have flash guns that allow manual adjustments in the level of output.  And, I needed 2 flash guns instead of the one I had.  2 would have likely balanced the light and shadows on his face that diminished the quality of the final product.

3) I learned that location scouting is ultra important.  The train station was my favorite place; I love the quirkyness of a guy in a suit playing the drums next to the train tracks.  It’s unexpected and that’s what I like.  The stage at our church provided an indoor location that we could make work yet it did not provide the results that I really wanted.  I could not get back far enough to get the more wide angled look I wanted.  It was frustrating to not be able to achieve the look I was going for.  I could not think of a different location so this was what we had to work with.

4) I learned that I still need to grow in the area of creative posing.  Unless I have a distinct idea of what I want, I find myself without any clear direction of what would work.  I can work my camera and equipment with a fair amount of competence but I definitely struggle when it comes to knowing how to compose the shot.  I’m good with one person, for the most part, but add people and the level of discomfort rises.  It’s not the people that are the problem, it’s the not knowing what to do with them for the shot.

5) I learned that I continue to love portraits, I love people, I could work for hours behind the camera trying to capture the personality of the person/people I’m photographing. I’m very hard on myself, which isn’t helpful, and I’m truly awestruck when people are happy with the results.

Every time I head out with my camera it is an opportunity for growth.  Regardless of the hurdles that I encounter, and there are still many of them, I am energized by the process of working to give every person who stands in front of my lens the results that they are hoping for.


3 responses

  1. Karen S.

    I love hearing and seeing your work in progress, Sandy. The suited drummer at the tracks was a cool juxtaposition! And knowing that you did the Haskins photos and Penina at Jungle Luv makes me really eager to see the results.
    I did masses of photography at my first graphic arts job in California, when I worked at a conference center. I found that having someone else there to hold things, move things around, tuck in stray hair, and help with styling the shots was really beneficial. Maybe it’s time for an assistant!

    November 3, 2011 at 7:57 am

  2. These turned out great Sandy I bet he was quite pleased.

    November 3, 2011 at 8:14 am

  3. Wayne

    Sandy, I love your “go for it” attitude and your constant experimentation. Great idea of shooting at the train tracks. I love the quirkiness of a musician in a suit at the train station!

    November 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

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