On Location: Anatomy of a Shoot (with Video)

On location with speedlights, a model and a videographer. A warm, well, mostly warm December day and we are shooting in Tempe, Arizona. I will share the setups with you and also what I was thinking and working with here. Briana is the model, check out her Model Behavior column here. NOTE: this is part three of the speedlight series. Part one, Part two.

I will be using only speedlights and I am using them in many different ways: direct, feathered, bounced into umbrellas and shot through umbrellas. I love all kinds of light, and keeping it fast moving with the speedlights is also important to me. We wanted to get several shots on this day, and the light was moving pretty quickly.

Some of the images we are discussing in this post. Video at bottom of second page.

Our first image is not one with strobes. OK, sue me. I included it because it was the first shot we did… all natural light and we got to stay in the sun for a few minutes to stay warm. I have the sun over my shoulder and Bri is simply working into it.

Our next image set is one that I saw when we walked up to the Tempe Municipal Building, Bri had this great little black dress and the point of the building was such a graphical statement that I wanted to feature it in the shot as well. I am using two speedlights for this one. One behind and one in front to counter the sun’s backlight look, even though there was only a little direct back light. I knew I would need a very low angle and wide lens, so I went to the edge of the platform and lay down on a service grate that was at an angle to the platform. That gave me the exact perspective I needed for the shot.

I then brought Briana into the spot where the point of the building was above her and set my lights. The speedlight behind her, to camera right, was set to be the same as the one in front so the effect would ‘rim light’ her and help her stand out from the background. There was considerable ambient light, so I had to make sure it didn’t become a problem as well. In this shot, we are totally working in slightly overcast sun. The main light is kept at a point to have it offset the sunlight, camera right, and Bri is very conscious of where the light is and to keep herself in that axis point so the image looks great. She keeps her face pointed toward that light so there are few shadows caused by nose/hair across her face. Tell your models where the main light is and they will stay aware of it.

Contact Sheet:

A second shot from that series. You can see with the bright sky, the feeling of sunlit back light is pretty strong, the overcast was lifting a bit here. The shadows thrown by the lights are kind of fun. There is one speedlight to camera right, behind her aiming toward her, and one speedlight in front, opposite the sun angle, but more on camera axis than direct opposite.

I see the finished image in my head before I start to set up the lights. I think it is so important to try to visualize exactly what you want the shot to be before commencing on the work. At least starting with something in mind can give you a direction. Directions can change as new ideas come to life… be sure not to ‘marry’ yourself to a losing image. It will be more of a pain than a joy. Learn to follow the flow of the shoot to find the images that seem to beg to be taken. Then do them.

Our next shot is a headshot idea I had when I saw the sun breaking through and washing part of the platform in light. I moved Bri to a corner where the light was backlighting her and brought in a speedlight in an umbrella very close… camera left. To camera right, at quite a distance, I have a second, bare flash turned way down low. This was added to give a little ‘pop’ to the hair on the shadow side. I love what it did to the overall shot… the little shadows and things that made the image more interesting and her gaze more intense.

Contact Sheet:

You can see that I have a nice, subtle hair light going from the sun. I matched the sunlight with the strobe (take a reading of the sun and make the strobe in the umbrella match that reading.) I like either subtle or blown out… LOL… it’s just me. The umbrella’s close proximity to Briana made the light soft, and the additional light to the side added some pop. In the image below, taken while I was setting the lights, you can see that the light was too hot for this one and caused a shadow on her nose. Later, when I was editing, I kind of liked the look. This is how I test light… in close on the face.

We moved to a long, elegant gown next and placed Bri near the same point as the second shot above, but not with the point of the building so prominent. I have only one light on this shot. It is right next to me, camera left. Sun is doing heavy lifting on backlight. I really liked the long, slinky look to the pose in this shot, and the way the sidewalk lights up and sweeps under her toward me. Be careful to keep the light, and your model, in the correct axis for the light to do its job. Moving a few feet either direction could have spelled disaster for this image. I have the sun right behind her and I am working in the shadow she is casting forward. Wide angle lens on the Canon, of course.

When you can place the sun right behind the subject, you get this great shadow thing with the legs and the light coming underneath. I try to lie down and get the shot from within the shadow the model is throwing forward. Then the sun doesn’t blow out and there is no flare. Your subject becomes your flare stopper as well.

Contact Sheet:

Changing into a white top had me thinking headshots again. I love headshots… really really do. In this case I tried a small, shoot through umbrella in pretty tight for a main. We were in the shade, with just a little dappled light coming in over Bri’s right shoulder. Moving the light in close gave me some wonderful, soft light. I added a large bounce card to camera right, in as close as I could get it. This grabbed as much of the light as we could get and had it bright enough for the shadow side of her face to have something to reflect.

In the background is a couple of buildings and a few backlit, autumn leaves looking trees. The color was perfect for a background and since we were working in the shade, I could use a much smaller f-stop for less DOF than I would have been able to do with full sun. Keeping that lens as wide open as possible really dropped the background out. I simply dialed the power down on the speedlight to about 1/8 into the umbrella and brought it in close.

You can see how the subtle side light of a bright sky still works to separate her from the background and is opposite the soft umbrella light to camera left. The little pools of sunlight work to give some hair light and add some intensity to the backlight. The fill card which is out of frame on camera right, helped keep the shadows open as well.

Contact Sheet:

Here is another image, this one a little tighter:

Here is a shot of the lighting setup that we used for the bounce umbrella.

In this image I switched the light to a bounce umbrella. There is a bit more sunlight finding its way through the leaves here. It adds a nice, natural effect. You can also see how the umbrella in a bounce position “wraps” more light around the face than the shoot through did. These images were taken with a telephoto lens to help keep the subject in the fore and the background out of focus and more of a pallet of color and shape for the subject to reside on.

For those who wonder what the difference is between shoot through and bounce umbrellas, here is a side-by-side comparison of the two lighting types. You can see how the bounce gives more wrap, and the shoot through has more contrast with a soft feel.

Our last shot of the day was with Bri in a pile of leaves. It was getting pretty chilly, but she was up to the task. I used a single umbrella with a flash in bounce position above her and angled down. It was dialed way back to only fill the shadows in. Most of the light in this shot is the ambient, it is dominant. The flash was used to keep the shadows open as well as to pop the colors. I wanted to do something with a different angle to it and placing her on the ground seemed like a very interesting take on the scene.

The light is near her left hip and is on a stand. I worked around her and the light was good in most locations. I ended up liking the image where she is upside down, with the light being a bit of ‘back’ to her as my favorites.

Contact Sheet:

I worked the shot from all around, but these shots where she is looking up are more out of the box so to speak than the others we did that afternoon.

Well, there you go. A shoot, mostly with speedlights used for main, fill, effect and fun. You can use your speedlights to add drama or to simply fill in a little shadow area. A soft main light for a headshot or a powerful ‘beat the sun’ look for high contrast. It remains up to you to find the ways to use your lights to make the shots you see in your head.

Visit us for the final installment Sunday, August 31 when we take a look at specific modifiers and how they can be used.

Here is a video of the shoot. You can see the lighting and also a glimpse into how an amazing model makes your life as a photographer so much easier.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

10 Comments

  1. Hi Don
    What an outstanding article. It’s like a workshop on lighting all by its self. Very beautiful images. Enjoyed the video too. All photographers should be thankful you are willing to share your knowledge and work so hard on the blog. I for one really appreciate it and thank you. I visit often because it’s such a great site! thanks.

    Doug

  2. Don, Your blog is a fantastic source of information and I’m loving your series on small strobes. Just curious to know if you could shed some ‘light’ on the post processing of the images of Bri – her skin looks so silky smooth. Were those GI V2 Cactus triggers you used on this one?

  3. ncwalker:
    Well, she has great skin to begin with (as well as that ‘beautiful’ thing going full on.. LOL). Very good makeup artist on this shoot as well. That, combined with careful light and correct exposure (I always shoot to the high side) and you are well on your way.

    First I create a new layer and do all touch up work on it. Clone stamp at 20% on lighten and clean up any small imperfections. Patch tool used very, very sparingly in my work.

    I then use Mama Shan’s powder action (photoshopmama.net) and keep it at an opacity of about 15%.

    Then using channels and curves, I raise the highs a bit in the midtones and keep the darks deep. Result is more contrast, but it is centralized contrast through luminance ranges that I choose.

    Occasionally I will use some ‘smart blur’ at a very, very low setting then back it off in layer opacity, but for the most part it is pretty straight forward.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Don, I’m happy to see this video come back on your website! I’m always so in love with the music with really match with the picture you take.

    It make me dream!

  5. I’m from Brazil. Your lessons are very useful for me. Thank you. The videos about model’s direction (?) are amazing.

  6. Thanks for the great tutorial. Can you tell me artist and title for the song in the video?

  7. Awesome tutorials! This is by far the best free lighting tutorial site on the web.

  8. Hi,
    This was a really great article…Thanks for sharing. But the video is not working any more.

  9. This is such an incredible source! I only wish the video would play for me.

  10. super write up just what I have been looking for just wish I could have seen the video as well. Is it posted any where else so we can see it ??