Tech Sheet: Two Speedlights and the Sun for a Dramatic Portrait

Tech Sheet: Skaters in the Desert: a portrait against the sun with two speedlights

Our first Tech Sheet of 2009 is kinda fun. I have been working on getting a client to approve a project I want to do and they did over the holidays. It will be a series of images of athletes and artists in environments that may not be their regular habitat.

This image of an ice skater in the desert was done as a test. Before I embark on shooting the images I want to make sure everyone is on the same page as far as style and concept. Having a daughter who is a high level ice skater made the choice of model easy.

I had scouted a great location last weekend and when I got to it for the shoot, it had been fenced off. It was a dry river bottom and I had some other plans for the shot that would work well in the sand. But getting the kids together with a time frame that worked meant that I had to do the shot in another spot.

I found a road leading right to the setting sun and decided to use it as a graphic element in the shot. The three pieces of the shot then were the desert road, the setting sun and the subject – an ice skater in the desert.

As a professional photographer, one of the things that keep us sharp and prepared is being familiar with the tools and the practice of our art. And that helps so much when undertaking a new assignment. This tech sheet is based on a test that I am doing for a client whom I pitched a month ago for a set of portraits. I have the job and wanted to produce an initial shot for a point of reference as we continue on the quarter long shoot schedule.

It showed the client my direction and I got buy-in for the concept of athletes and artists in areas that are incongruous to their sports. In this case, ice skaters in the desert.

FOR THIS PORTRAIT:
- two speedlights ( am using a 550 and 430 Canon)
- one small/medium beauty dish (small umbrella optional)
- a boom for the main light
- a medium stand for the back light
- tripod optional

FLARE:: I wanted some flare to make the shot warm and add some texture to it.  Working with flare can be a little tricky. Good lense make it easier, but  this kit lens did a pretty fair job with it in this case.

FLARE:: I wanted some flare to make the shot warm and add some texture to it. Working with flare can be a little tricky. Good lense make it easier, but this kit lens did a pretty fair job with it in this case.

Finding an old dirt road south of Phoenix near the town of Maricopa, I then scouted a direction that would place the sun directly down the road. The sandy two lane path had no marks or footprints on it and I wanted it to remain that way so I was very careful to walk on the perimeter of it to get the shot lined up.

The scene as I started working on it.

The scene as I started working on it.

The shots above show the road as I worked to find the angle that would place the sun directly behind them and ‘down the road’ for the metaphorical shot.

Download our two page Tech Sheet on doing this kind of portrait here

Download our two page Tech Sheet on doing this kind of portrait here

Tech Sheet Download (PDF)

When having them approach the shoot space, I had them go down the road and come up in a very straight line. That made it easier to hide the footprints from the camera.

The set in this case is a fragile one. If someone walks out across it, the sand gets footprints and we have to move on down to another location. Not a big deal sometimes, but a shot killer other times. The sun moves really dang quick at this point of the day, so working carefully and smart is your best option.

Here is the setup for the shots. It only changed when I would move the side light in or out a bit dependent on having one or two girls in the shot. It was important to catch both girls legs from the back with that light.

Here is the setup for the shots. It only changed when I would move the side light in or out a bit dependent on having one or two girls in the shot. It was important to catch both girls legs from the back with that light.

You are in control not only of the shot and the lights, but the entire set. Keep it in your mind and in the mind of your team.

Below is are the lights we used for the shoot and includes the ‘test firing’ to make sure all were syncing correctly.

The lights used for the shoot

In these horizontal images you can see the play of the sand and how well the sun backlight adds to the texture of the shot. The camera is very low at this point and it can be quite a challenge to compose and focus with the flare coming in and filling that viewfinder.

I caught this little bit of flare and liked it right away. This one is by far the best. It highlights the skates and maybe helps make some sort of statement about the relationship a skater has to her skates… or maybe it’s just cool. Whatever works is also a good plan.

Notice how the road goes right back to the setting sun.

Notice how the road goes right back to the setting sun.

Here is a shot without flare for comparison

Here is a shot without flare for comparison

Working a set with delicate features, like sand, means taking extra precautions to keep it as clean as possible. A bunch of footprints in the sand here would have been a disaster for the retouching time.

The shot of the setup shows how important a boom is when working with lights. I nearly always have a boom or two when doing a shot. I like the stands to be out of the way and I can use the booms to easily position the lights where I want them.

There is additional Photoshop information on the tech sheet downloadable file. Enjoy.
Tech Sheet Download (PDF)

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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.

5 Comments

  1. Good Example and Documentation for dramatic lightning without taking the big flashes with you.
    Just the standard Canon flashes and it´s OK.
    The only thing is that this probably only works well in the evening.
    I think the flashes don´t have enough power for a Highnoon-Shooting.
    Rod Meier – Photographer

    Reply
  2. Great post! I like working with small flashes!

    Reply
  3. Rod,

    Thanks for dropping by. Yes, there can be restrictions to the small flash units, but you can do some surprising things with them.

    These are a few posts with small flash at full sun:
    http://www.lighting-essentials.com/dramatic-backlight-on-a-sunny-day/

    http://www.lighting-essentials.com/deconstruction-briana-on-the-pier-spotlight-effect/

    and
    http://www.lighting-essentials.com/283/

    I hope you visit again and stay tuned for a few fun things coming up.

    –don

    Reply
  4. i shoot wih pentax and metz flashes.i\’d like to add an elinchrom ranger but i\’d like also to keep on using my flash. i\’m interested in the beauty dish. is it homemade or bought?

    thanks

    Reply
  5. Hi Jon.
    It is a home-made one from a light fixture at IKEA. You will see them in the lighting fixture area. Easy to recognize. CD cover with a CD in the front is used for light diffuser… glued to the inside.

    Reply

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