Client Session: Laguna Beach

It’s a rainy sunny morning as I write this, and the busy holiday portrait season is still going strong, very late into December! But today is a rain-out day, so what better time to post some images of a shoot from a few months ago…when it was still warm and sunny!

These clients are based in Laguna Beach, California, and it’s the third time I’ve made their family portraits for them. They’re always so warm and welcoming, and make me feel like I’m an honored guest when I travel down to Laguna. Here’s a link to a shoot I did with them back in 2008, which was also on the beach (but in the morning, with overcast conditions). This time around, we had a nice sunset.

I have been transitioning from digital to film over the past few months for my client work, because the look of film is still so superior to digital. I’ve always shot film for my personal work, and decided it was silly to deny my clients that same magic. This shoot, like the previous post, represents a mix of digital and film: film for the more formal shots, and digital for the candids. The lead shot was taken with my Nikon D200 with on-camera flash. Just simple run-around-and-shoot photography, looking for the ‘moment’ and letting the rest take care of itself.

Jason Davis assisted me on this shoot. He lives in Orange County and had previously expressed interest, so he met me out at the beach and was a big help! When I have an assistant, it allows me to move faster and also means my lights are more stable…I don’t like losing umbrellas to a gust of wind! In the shot below, I used my Yashica-Mat medium-format twin-lens reflex camera (80mm f/3.5 lens), which shoots in a square format. The image was later cropped to a rectangle so it could fit in the client’s existing frames. I shot this on Kodak Ektar 100 film, which is a gorgeous slow-speed film that Kodak developed a couple of years ago. Yes, Kodak continues to improve the technology of film!

My lighting was similar to previous beach shoots: Metz Mecablitz 60 in a 43″ shoot through umbrella, camera left, as the main light. Nikon SB-28 with LumiQuest SoftBox III to soften the light, as a ‘fill light’ at camera position. My basic procedure for setting up a shot like this is to first find the camera position, by looking through the viewfinder and selecting the best framing of the scene. I then put the camera on a tripod, and set up the lighting. When my clients are in direct sunlight, such as below, I have their backs to the sun (and camera position is selected with this in mind). This adds a nice edge or hair light, and puts their faces in shadow. By putting their faces in shadow, I remove any hot spots from the sun that would be unflattering on their faces. I will often then put the main light opposite to the sun: if the sun is camera right, the main strobe goes camera left. For a more dramatic look, I’ll place the main light on the same side of the sun, which will make the other side of the subjects’ faces fall into shadow…but that wasn’t the look I was going for here.

After setting up my main strobe in a position that would provide pleasing light, I metered it to determine my lens aperture. Then I metered my fill, and set the power 1 stop down from the main light (in reality I had guessed right and didn’t need to change any settings, but it’s good to check!). Then I took an incident meter reading from the backs of their heads, pointing at the sun. That’s not the typical way of doing an incident reading, but I wanted the hair highlights to be normally exposed, and the background to show some detail. By metering that way, I got an exposure that wasn’t too bright. Then I checked with my dSLR to make sure everything looked good, and started shooting.

Below is another film shot from the Yashica-Mat. The sun was really setting by this point, and had gone behind a cloud. My shutter speeds were getting very slow (ISO 100 film!), so even though my camera was on a tripod, I risked motion blur from the ‘most active’ member of the family. 🙂 I had my assistant bring the light around to where the sun had been shining from (camera right), to basically echo the sun but give it a little more punch. I don’t recall if I used a fill or not for this shot…it doesn’t appear to be the case, when I zoom in and examine the catchlights in their eyes. So this shot is likely just a single strobe, with the ambient lighting doing most of the work. If they had been in direct sun, I would never have lit them like this, because there would have been hot spots and they would have needed to squint.

After exposing a couple of rolls of film, it was time to have some fun. My dSLR was set up exactly like my film camera, so I was able to pick it up and capture this shot…complete with lighting already in place. You can see how the shadows are deeper, and the background a little darker. I think my Yashica-Mat’s shutter speeds on the fast side are a little slower than they should be, letting in a little more ambient light than my dSLR. This made for a softer, more ‘natural’ look to my lighting. But in the end it’s not about the lighting. It’s about having fun on daddy’s shoulders, and capturing that moment!

6 thoughts on “Client Session: Laguna Beach

  1. Congratulations Matt! You’ve been blessed with that so cute son and so much loving wife. With those photos, I can see how happy you are. It keeps on reminding how important it is to maintain the good relationship with our family. I love your blog and I enjoy reading all your posts. Thanks and keep blogging.

  2. nice photography! the proper lighting from the sunset was greatly captured. I like the photo of the boy standing on the shore. Very dramatic… How I wish I could take photos like this in my spare time. I always wanted to. Keep up the good work!

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