Hot White and Super Fast

One of the ways I market my photography is by using ‘photobooks’. I make arrangements with local coffee houses, doctor’s offices etc to host my book. It’s a very ‘ambient’ style of marketing (and not the only thing I use), but people stumble across it and it’s been a very effective way to show people my work. It’s time to do a new one, and I decided I would shoot something specifically for the cover this time, rather than use existing material. The contents of the book will be updated to reflect the last six months or so of new clients (which I still have to put that together!).

Read on for lighting diagrams and info on the shoot.

[click “continue reading” below for more…]

I arranged with a friend to photograph her kids for the cover. So as to be minimally invasive—I was, after all, going to haul a bunch of equipment into her house—I did a practice shoot with my kids. I ended up putting one shot of my son on the cover too, because it worked better with four images.

Doing a dry run is great when you have the opportunity. It allowed me to fine tune the set up, and I realized I needed to add the on-camera flash to really get the images where I wanted them. I’m glad I didn’t wait to discover that during the actual shoot! I also had batteries in all my strobes and everything prepared, and took only what I knew I needed into the house (with additional gear in the car if necessary). The set up took about ten minutes, and shooting was probably twenty? I did straight shots and silly shots, and ended up picking the silly shots.

As you can see from the lighting diagram, it’s pretty simple. A 4×4′ foot panel of bright white foam insulation (1.5″ thick, which I often use as a reflector), propped up against a chair. I used Nikon SB-28s for all three strobes. The background light was on a cheap tripod rather than a light stand, because none of my lightstands would go low enough (and I’m loathe to buy a miniature light stand…waste of money!). The subjects’ bodies hid the tripod and light.

When I did the dry run with my kids, I used a 45″ shoot-through umbrella on a boom, instead of the small 20″ silver umbrella I used in the actual shoot. The reason I switched? because I had trouble getting the shoot through low enough for pleasing facial shadows, and still be able to shoot beneath it. My two year old’s shots turned out pretty horrible as a result, so you won’t see him here! (See, dry runs help!)

The on-camera fill was used to fill shadows and add a catch light. In retrospect I should have put a mini softbox on the fill flash, to bring down the intensity and soften it a little. I found that the minimum fill setting was slightly more than I wanted, and “off” was not quite right either.

Another thing I’d do differently: notice the shadows under the neck of the boy with the red shirt. There appear to be at least three of them. I thought at first these might be bounces from the walls, as this wasn’t a big room. But when I examined the catchlights from the umbrella in his eyes, I think I discovered the problem: rather than being an even circle of light, the umbrella was reflecting multiple versions of the strobe in each of the umbrella’s panels. Because it was silver, it was acting less like a large light source, and more like multiple point sources. i think this was the source of the multiple neck shadows. Check my son’s picture at the bottom: the neck shadow seems to be only one there, where I used the shoot through umbrella. I’m still pleased with the result, because the expressions on these kids really shine through. It’s just one of those little things that I’ll fix next time…small white umbrella rather than silver would have been ideal. Or even better, I should probably use my ‘brolly box’ (a softbox that collapses like an umbrella).

And now for the individual images, and larger. You’ll notice I tweaked the pink-y elements in the girls dresses so that they matched the red of the boy’s shirt. It makes the cover more cohesive. Below are the untweaked colors.

2 thoughts on “Hot White and Super Fast

  1. I am trying to start a freelance photography business and you have lot of ideas that is very helpful.

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂


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