Client Session: Arroyo Verde Park

The couple in this blog post are repeat clients. Several years ago I photographed the two of them and their Jack Russell Terrier on the beach. They’ve had a ‘new addition’ to the family, and wanted to commemorate the occasion with more family portraits. Rather than the beach this time, we went with a park setting (my favorite local park, as it happens): Arroyo Verde in Ventura, California.

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I’ve been moving back to a mix of film and digital photography, after several years of shooting primarily digital for my professional work. Ironically, I shoot almost exclusively with film for my personal work, family snapshots etc. While digital is more convenient, I realized I was missing a certain ‘look’ that can only be had with film. The dynamic range of film truly outdoes digital, and there is an almost painterly look to film: realistic and yet stylized at the same time. So over the past six months, and partly inspired by these guys and a few other photographers, I’ve been incorporating more film in the mix for my clients.  It certainly helps too that Kodak has come out with some stunning new film types over the past few years, with a lot less grain and greater ‘scannability’ for the digital age.

Having a good lab, such as Richard Photo Lab or Image Source, do the processing and scanning really makes a difference too. It turns out that, with the right lab, the workflow is actually easier with film! (What??!) Yes, you heard right. Here’s how it works: I shoot. I send my film off to RPL. A week later, they have my images online, and I download them. I import them into Lightroom, and select the keepers. Then I show them to my clients.

What’s missing from that list of steps? Hours of color correction, tweaking, fussing, etc. The images are already darn near perfect when I get them from the lab! It costs a bit more, sure. But that’s time I don’t have to futz with basic file management. I still do some retouching on the images, but far less than I used to. The beauty of film, plus the skill of my lab, cuts down on my work load considerably. But I digress…

The lead shot and the one below were taken using my Bronica ETR-s. I believe I used my 75mm lens, which is considered ‘normal’ for this format (645 medium format). The film I used is Kodak Ektar 100, which has a stunning lack of grain. I’ve heard some people say the color doesn’t work well for portraits, but…seriously? I think it’s darn good (but that might be my lab making sure it all looks good).

Lighting was simple: one light! I used my Metz Mecablitz 60 with a 43″ shoot-through umbrella, camera left. I metered the strobe to determine my aperture, which was probably f/8. I then determined my ambient exposure and dialed my shutter speed so that it was one stop underexposed. That meant my “fill” from the ambient was significant enough that I didn’t need an extra fill light. I also wanted to make sure that the shadow side of the trees in the distance didn’t go too dark. Meanwhile, I let the highlights in the background fall where they may. With digital, I might have had some problems with blown highlights. But film can handle that a lot better. I also took some test shots with my dSLR, to make sure the lighting had the look I was after.

However the shoot didn’t go quite as planned. When I finished a roll and swapped film backs to start a new one, something wasn’t working properly. The film counter wasn’t advancing, even though it felt like everything was working properly. Rather than try and diagnose the problem, I decided to switch to digital for the remaining shots. I had planned on using the dSLR for candids anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. Below is one of the dogs at play, converted to black and white.

And finally, we moved to a different location in the park to get a completely different look. There is a spot in the park, literally 10 feet from the curb of the parking lot, that looks like deep forest when you line the shot up properly. Here I used the Metz as a main light again, and possibly a fill light (which would have been a Nikon SB-28 in a LumiQuest SoftBox III). I do know I had an SB-28 in a shoot set up in the background, behind the tree, to put a little light on the greenery in the near-background. I believe I also had a warming gel on it of some sort, to simulate sunlight. Because of the low light levels from this deep shade, I had the camera on a tripod, as did I for the film shots. Even with adequate light levels, though, I consider tripods essential for portrait photography.

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