A Special Portrait Session

I had the great pleasure of attempting a rather different portrait this week. Typically due to the fact I have two young kids myself I end up taking many younger portraits and gifting them to parents.

This time I was taking a photograph that carried with it a much greater responsibility. Ethel is my mother in laws mum so I had better get this one right!!!

I was excited about trying to capture the warmth and the character of such a special person, who has lived through so much and brought up 9 of her own children, has 23 grandkids, and an ever growing number of great grandkids.

Conscious of the fact that sitting in front of light stands, soft boxes and a big fat lens can be pretty off putting for anyone I wanted to work quickly, taking only a few shots but carefully working with Ethel to ensure that she was always comfortable and happy.

I think that the session took less than 20 minutes and resulted in about 15-20 shots.

I tried to diffuse the light (provided by an off camera strobe - SB700) using an Optibox and reduce the ambient light by bumping up the shutter speed, a technique that I have used successfully in the past. I din't however want to end up with a strong shadow over the broadside of Ethel's face and so had to adjust the position of Ethel's face accordingly.

There are a few different looks in the photographs that I took. Personally this is one of my favourites. Others have been passed over to Ethel and she is very happy with the results. There is no greater compliment than that!! Maybe I will share them on here at some point but for now I want to leave them with her and her family.

The reason I like this particular image is there is a slight smile, creeping into the mouth.It is evident in the eyes too but not so much that it looks fake. B&W is always a winner for me when it comes to portraits.

I have purposefully left post processing to a minimum. This is a portrait that I hope all of the family relate to strongly. By smoothing, cloning etc. I felt it would take something away from the picture. Therefore the only edits made adjustments to the Highlights, Shadows and blacks using the curves tool, and a slight bump up of the contrast.

I really enjoyed this photographic process and would certainly gave me the urge to start taking a more diverse range of portraits in 2015. 

Low Key Photography and That Bottle - Adventures in Portrait Flash (Part Two)

One of the techniques that I have been desperate to try out is High Sync/Low Key flash photography. One of the main reasons is so that I can just get rid of any background. Attempting portrait photography in the house is hard enough, add to this, wallpaper, photographs on the wall etc, and it becomes a real tough job to get a clean looking photograph. I knew that mastering this 'Low Key' technique would allow for some really dramatic effects and most importantly clean looking images. You see this method used in B&W portraits often. It would also negate the need for any cumbersome backing, and stands. Something that I just can not accommodate at the moment.

To achieve the effects below I rigged up two speed lights (SB800 and a newly acquired SB700). Flipped the camera body into Auto FP, and then either went into full Manual mode, or Shutter priority.

I had read a bit this week about the use of ambient light and the methods used to incorporate it, or completely lose it. With this fresh in my mind I knew that once my shutter speed was set to 1/4000th of a second there would be no ambient light getting in. And the only way to change the lighting effect from the flash would be to either adjust the power, modify the distance of the flash from the subject, or adjust the aperture. Actually once this was embedded into the grey matter it was quite easy to get to a point where I had the exposure of the photograph to the desired level(s).

Breaking Bad

For the 'selfie' image I wanted something very dark, it was purposefully set so that one half of my face was almost completely in shade (in fact in the image below I just used the single speed light) I was basically looking to represent some of the silhouetting depicted on my t-shirt. I thought that it would work... Me, Walt, Jessie and Mike looking moody!!

Let me know what you think, could I be an extra?

If I ever get a recording contract this would be my album cover.

N.B. Anyone that knows me will understand I can not sing to save my life so this is never going to appear in the shops!

That Bottle

Next, I had purchased the most awesome bottle of red wine yesterday. It wasn't cheap but the bottle just blew me away, the character, the shape the texture. It could have been filled with Rolla Cola and I would still have bought it. I tried to disguise the fact that I had bought this purely to photograph by saying it was to be a special drink on my wife's birthday in a few weeks time.

Anyway I like taking photographs of drinks. It gives me an excuse to drink them afterwards.

So the same technique (as above) was used. With both of these images you really have to get the flash light close to the subject otherwise you're not going to see anything.

Below is a photograph of the setup. The optibox was from Calumet. In the setup the SB800 firing through the Optibox was set to Full Power (not ideal but it was working well). And the SB700 (with the diffuser on) was shooting at approx 1/128th.

And here is the result

Just look at the shape of that bottle… Now you will understand why I had to buy it.

I absolutely love the effect that you get from the Low Key, Hi Speed Sync photography and can not wait to play around with it some more.

This setup literally took me 5 minutes to setup and the very first photograph was a keeper. The only thing that I changed as I went through a few shots was to bring some rim lighting onto the side of the bottle so that the strange shape of the bottle was not completely lost in the black background.

I would encourage anyone to have an attempt at this effect. High Key has been done to death (although that is what I will be looking at next). This is a great alternative with very different purposes.

Silver Efex Pro

Just finished reading the following excellent book on Black and White images.

'Black and White - From Snapshots to Great Shots - John Batdorff'

The book is focused around understanding tonal range and ensuring you get the correct exposure/aperture/composition for your images so that they can then be converted successfully to B&W.

The second part of the book is more about the tools of choice.

Focusing on two tools Adobe Lightroom, and Nik Software SilverPro Efex

Having used Lightroom for a long time all of the tips and tricks within the book were features that I had used in the past. Silver Efex Pro (SFX) is something that I had never used. I had however heard it referred to in many blogs etc, and always associated with some of the very best B&W images.

I have therefore downloaded the trial version (15 Days of use) and will try and get the most out of it before deciding if it is worth $149.00 of my hard earned cash.

I very quickly ran through some of the presets, and had a play with Control Points (to retain settings, and to adjust settings).

The UI is very simple, and anyone familiar with Lightroom will find it pretty easy to find their way around and improve images.

Beneath I have placed two images pre/post SFX. Let me know what you think, over time I think that this will be my tool of choice to develop my own unique style.

Pre - Silver Efex Pro

Pre - Silver Efex Pro

Post - Silver Efex Pro

Post - Silver Efex Pro