Tutorial: Creating the shot.


Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8, ISO 200

Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8, ISO 200

Today we’ll be looking at the lighting design that went into getting a single photograph (pictured right) in the hopes that you’ll be able to learn a little bit about how to approach a portrait shoot and what goes into creating a shot like this with small shoe-mount flashes.

First things first with a portrait shoot: you need to assemble the necessary people and gear at your chosen location. If you’re shooting on site somewhere, location is a big consideration that defines a lot of later decisions regarding gear and lighting. This particular shot was being done on a simple black background which only required having a room big enough to work in comfortably.

So with a space at a friend’s house determined and a model picked for the shoot its time to move on to on-site preparation. Try to think through what you want to shoot while packing your gear and bring more stuff than you anticipate needing. Since I knew I’d be using artificial light, lighting accessories were the primary concern for packing. My packing list for the shoot looked something like this:

6 Speedlights (3 SB-80DX, 1 SB-28, 2 SB-26)
24 AA Batteries (you can never have too many)
Cactus V2s radio trigger/receiver
2 PC sync cables
White and black bedsheets and backdrops
2-8 ft. light stands w/umbrella backets
One 43 in. white shoot-thru umbrella
One 43 in. silver umbrella
DIY beauty dish
Gaff tape (indispensable for anchoring gels and cables) 
Camera and lenses.

Your gear list will differ based on the requirements of your shoot but you will likely find that you have a list of items that you always bring regardless of the type of shoot you are doing. Frequently my light kit for a day of shooting is stripped down to two flashes and the essential gear to fire them; sometimes traveling light and working fast are more important than bringing your whole kit with you.

Once on location get right to work on setting up your shooting environment. It doesn’t hurt to be there before your model so that you have something ready to go when they arrive. Since this was just a shoot for fun I didn’t have to worry about wasting my model’s time and squandering my good rapport with them. The first thing set up for this shot was the black bedsheet backdrop tacked to a bare wall.

Background in place move on to your lighting. I’m not going to go in depth here with the in and outs of lighting design but consider attending the Pixels Small Flash Lighting Course on March 17th if you want to really get into this stuff. Without going into too much detail, when I start to shoot a model with lighting I usually begin with a simple setup utilizing one or two lights and slowly work towards something more complex. If you can get started on making shots right away you can work on creating a good vibe with your model and slowly work up to the more complicated setups.

After shooting for awhile we arrived at the lighting scheme for the shot above. The layout was as follows: Five flashes total. One pair of SB-80DX’s camera left on a stand just slightly behind model gelled one full cut CTO. Two more flashes (SB-28 and SB-80DX) fired bare on the opposite (right) side.

Finally, one DIY beauty dish with a bare SB-26 inside providing some hair and face fill from my trusty VALS (Voice Activated Light Stand). SB-28 fired with Cactus V2s, all other flashes synced with their optical slaves.

In plain english that means: two lights with orange gels lit the model from the left while two more ungelled flashes lit her from the right. An additional flash in a beauty dish was held by my assistant providing fill light for Jennifer’s hair and face. The gelled/ungelled light combination gives a nice duotone seperation to the light and adds interests. You can play with this idea with a whole range of gel colors to get some cool styles.

Hopefully that gives you a little insight into what goes into creating a picture like this. There’s plenty more to talk about when it comes to lighting and I hope some of you will attend my lighting class on March 17 where we can get more in depth with some hands-on lighting techniques. For further reading, add www.strobist.com to your bookmarks and start soaking in the wealth of great lighting information to found there.


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