Saturday, April 23, 2011

A day in the studio ......

I was helping a friend of mine, Eimear, about a week ago with a shoot.  I had met her on a fashion photography course I was on (briefly) and she was fretting a bit because she had to produce 5 framed A3 colour fashion photos from scratch.  I said I would give her a helping hand from the technical side and bring along some gear she might need if she provided the models and ideas.

The day was a reasonable success and I was impressed with one of the girls (Thabi) who had agreed to model.  I asked her if she would consider a photo session in the club studio and she agreed.  Eimear, who had provided all the clothes and shoes for the shoot and whose real passion is to be a stylist asked if she could style the shoot.  Now I'm a bloke.  I'm Irish and, like the majority of men, have a red/green deficiency in my eyesight as well as an inability to recognise what's fashionable or what colour-coordinates with what.  So a girl offering to do all this for me was great.

We shot a few e-mails back and forth and met up last Thursday afternoon, albeit a bit late, in the studio.
Having seen Thabi in action for Eimear's shoot I wanted to do a high key fashion shot myself and then do some low key which is what I like most.
I used to light high key with two lights on either side of the white background at the wall and then light the model separately from the front.  I always got variable results and would spend a lot of time in post processing eliminating the shadows and getting the background white again.  I went to a free tutorial in DML last year where the most useful thing I learned was how to light a white background with ONE light.

The setup is relatively simple.  I have a photograph of the setup below.

The idea is to bounce the light from the flash at the ceiling which bounces off the veritical section of the background and down and forward onto the floor.  A few caveats to this setup are:  I have used a Bowens 750 at almost full power.  A 500 would be about the lowest power you could go.  The second is you need that reflector I have which is described as "A high performance reflector" (Bowens # BW 1878) which is shaped to concentrate the light.  The next is a barn door to prevent spill hitting the model's face and/or the top of the background roll.  The last is the positioning and angle of the flash.  The picture above was my initial position which I changed and moved it closer to the back wall and changed the angle.
I normally set the power to get an incident reading (with the invercone) on the flash meter of f16.  I set the camera to f8 (maybe f8 +1/2 stop) and check the histogram and highlight blowout warning on the camera adjusting the flash power if necessary.

The rest of the setup is probably more easily seen in the sketch below:

You can see the background is lit by the flash angled to the ceiling.  I've coloured it yellow to make it distinguishable from the rest.  The model is (key)lit by a softbox set to f8.  This softbox is set high enough to give a more natural light and create some shadow - a bit like butterfly lighting.  Similar to butterfly lighting I use a second softbox (smaller) on the floor to give some lighting to the floor in front of the model, the models legs and feet and to fill some of the shadow caused by the key light.

And the end result is ......
Model: Thabi Graham Nkoala
Stylist: Eimear O'Reilly.

Next time I'll show you some of the other shots from the day and tell you about a phenomenon on the 5D MkII that produces red skin when you underexpose.


  1. I'm not sure I understand the reflector bit? Can you explain it in some more detail?

  2. The reflector's shape acts almost like a spotlight giving a concentrated 'beam' (quoted at 47 degrees) as opposed to the wider 'spill' from other reflectors.

  3. This Bowens BW-1878 32cm reflector achieves the maximum amount of light output possible for lighting large groups and bouncing light off of high ceilings. The efficient parabolic design delivers a narrow, bright beam of light with intense shadows and high contrast.

  4. I'm still missing something obvious? Where is the reflector being used? The only reflected light I see mentioned, is that off the roof?

  5. The reflector is concentrating the light onto the ceiling. Other reflectors would give too large a spill. Am I detecting a challenge? :-)