Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Assignment : Family Portrait

I always charge my batteries and test my gear out the night before a shoot. It turned out that my trigger died while testing it. I use a PocketWizard MiniTT1 on the camera and depending on what I'm trying to do, I'll either use the PocketWizard FlexTT5 or PlusIIs. I knew I needed two lights for this shoot. So I would have to use my remaining triggers and I knew the PlusII can't trigger the FlexTT5, but was unsure about the FlexTT5 triggering the PlusII. Turns out it works! Once again, another reason to test out your gear and become familiar with it. It helped me save this shoot.

Here's the lighting scenario for the family session I blogged about in the previous post. Up to this point, I've only been using one light, either a 60" umbrella or a 28" soft box. Neither would be sufficient for a family of 9.
A It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and I had about 1 hour before the sun set. We had plenty of clouds to provide soft light, I only needed enough light to raise the exposure so that I could shoot at ISO 200 and still retain sufficient depth of field.

We shot in the back yard which provided us with a really nice setting. There was a concrete dock with a table and benches that provide a good location to setup. However, there were also other docks & boats in the background that would make the images busy and distracting. Which is why I chose to shoot down and clean up the background. I also wanted to darken the background a bit so the family stood out. I set my shutter speed to 1/200, which is the fastest my camera would sync with the lights. This was enough to cut down the ambient.

I then proceeded to setup 2 lights. I used a 60" reflective umbrella and a 42" shoot through. The diagram below shows the positioning.
The Strobox App does not allow scaling of objects, so subjects are not to scale, just reference the image at the top for a more accurate representation. As I've mentioned before, I always start out with 1/2 power on my key light. This provides me with quick recycle times, which is important when shooting children, you don't want to miss the moment. I used the 60" reflective umbrella on my key light. It creates a large light source that produces soft shadows. I used a 42" shoot through umbrella as my fill light and set the output to 1/4 power. This provided enough light to fill in shadows on the left side.

Once I got my lights in position, I started taking test shots to get the proper exposure. Started out with f/4, simply because I couldn't go any wider as I was shooting with a 17-40 f/4 L lens. So within 2 shots I had my proper exposure dialed in. No need for a light meter. I was shooting at f/5 at 200 ISO. Now all I had to worry about was composition and making sure my subjects were smiling and in proper position.

Once I was done with this location, I simply rotated around and place the smaller grouping to the left side of the dock. I used the same lighting, except because of the size of the 60" umbrella I only rotated it's position and moved the 42" umbrella down from the wall to the dock. So basically the lights got switched. Key light on the left, fill on the right. No need to make further adjustments except that we were losing light. I set my shutter speed to 1/80 allowing more ambient light.

When it was time to shoot the kids, I went back to one light using the 60" reflective umbrella. This was enough light for 1 or 3 kids.

Here's the diagram below.
Once again, all my settings remained the same. My only adjustment was to slow down the shutter to 1/40 (1 Stop) to compensate for the loss of light. This is one of the many reasons I only set my camera & flashes to manual. Once you you have your settings dialed in and your lighting remains consistent, so does your exposure. Which means less time in Lightroom or Photoshop. You become a more consistent shooter and you're more likely to catch that moment if you're not looking at your camera or lights making adjustments.

As for the problem with the radio trigger, it's been resolved. The MiniTT1 has a small test button on the side and seems to be spring loaded. It felt like the spring broke because it would not return to the raised position. I contacted PocketWizard and talked to one of the guys from Support. I explained that I had purchased mine back in April and wanted to know how to replace or get it fixed. He told me to ship it back and write out the problem and let them know that this was a first generation and that it should be replaced. Sounded good to me.

I shipped it out to UPS on a Friday and was expected to arrive at PocketWizard on Tuesday. I thought it would take 2-3 weeks and expected a call to tell me how much it would cost to have it repaired. I was completely surprised that UPS was knocking on my door the following Friday with a replacement. That's a fast turnaround. Not only did they ship a replacement, they shipped a whole new unopened box with USB cable, software and fresh battery. I know they're less expensive triggers out there, but I'm extremely pleased with the service I got from PocketWizard and I'm glad I spent the extra cash. I'm in no way sponsored or receiving any compensation from PocketWizard, but I would highly recommend them.

If you're looking for a portrait photographer in the Atlanta area, visit my portfolio.


Jānis Lanka said...

Glad to see our Strobox app is being used well! Great post.

All the best,

DaveMPhoto said...

Thanks Janis. You guys did a great job with the App.