It’s All About the Light
I recently had two very different photo shoots. One was comprised of two soon-to-be graduates wanting their Senior Portraits done. The other was a family photo shoot.
The first session, the Senior Portrait one, was shot outdoors. We headed to Seattle, WA., for the day as they guys wanted an urban setting. First stop: Gasworks Park. A funky industrial feeling place, there are also some great views of part of the skyline for the city of Seattle. It makes for a fantastic backdrop.
The day was mostly overcast with bits of sunlight showing through randomly. It was perfect conditions. Diffused lighting that worked with me and not against me. With one of their mom’s working as my assistant, I had her holding flash guns, reflectors, helping spot scenic locations to work as backgrounds and adding entertainment to an already fun day.
After several great shots at Gasworks park, we headed to the Seattle Center. There, the Experience Music Project building provided a great backdrop for some fun pictures. I did learn one surprising fact: some buildings are copyrighted. This was a huge surprise to me but, when the security guard came out and informed us that we were supposed to have permission before using their building as a background for professional photography, I assured him that I was not a professional and would not be selling the images of their building. He seemed fine with that but I decided that in the future I would seek permission before using their building as my background.
I used a Nikon SB28 speedlight off camera to the right with reduced power and shot through a scrim for this picture. To balance the light, I used another speedlight off camera to the left shot at full power and bounced off the ceiling. This was a covered area with some natural light available. Speedlights were triggered by a Yongnuo transmitter/receiver set-up.
The available light was perfect all day and allowed me to enjoy every moment of the process. When I did choose to use flash, everything worked flawlessly and I was able to practice the things I’d been working hard to learn.
A week later, I found myself in a very different scenario. I was asked to photograph a family in their home by their Christmas tree. Armed with my camera, speedlights, lightstand, umbrella and back-up batteries for all the battery powered equipment, I arrived ready to work. Setting up my Nikon SB28 speedlight on the lightstand, I attached a white umbrella and set it to act as a diffuser of light. Attaching the Yongnuo transmitter to my camera and receiver connected to the speedlight, I was ready to go.
Things began well but, after several shots, the flash gun began failing to trigger when I would take a picture. I adjusted settings, turned the flashgun off then on again, changed all the batteries and still it was only working part of the time.
I got through the rest of the session by grabbing the shots I could get with the flash when it worked, then ended up increasing the ISO of my camera to 2000 in order to gain additional light sensitivity. Once the ISO was increased, the quality of the photo’s decreased with added noise and loss of saturation plus a still less than desirable amount of light producing underexposed photo’s. It made the post processing more difficult and the end results lacking in quality.
I always work to find lessons to learn in each photographic experience I have. These two portrait sessions provided many lessons and discoveries about myself. First, it’s truly all about the light. Okay, so maybe it’s not completely about the light because there is also a lot to be said for correct composition however, with good light, when used correctly, great results occur. With poor light, when handled incorrectly or when equipment work against you, the results can leave you frustrated and hesitant to release the photo’s.
Humbling as it is, there are many discoveries that continue to move me back to the drawing board: My creativity is quickly and easily lost when I’m distracted by malfunctioning equipment, standing in the middle of a very patient and waiting group causes my mind to go somewhat blank and forget what I need to do to make the situation work, I need to learn the quirks of my equipment set-up and how to correct them, and I think I need an assistant that can help cover some of my weaknesses and pull me back on track.
On the upside, I can see that the work I have been doing to learn how to use my lighting, where to place it, how to set my camera correctly to get the desired results are beginning to take hold and help to achieve the vision I have for each shot I take.
I’m hopeful that I will continue to master lighting and make it work more flawlessly so that I am free to give my attention to the other ultra important elements of this craft that I so deeply enjoy.