It occurred to me while coming up with the format for this blog that my audience might be comprised of two types of readers: those who are interested in learning about DC’s jazz scene, and those who are interested in photography. I suppose a third type would exist as well: those who are interested in both jazz and photography, but no, that’s crazy. Therefore, in addition to profiling the artists around town, I will on occasion (maybe every occasion, who knows?!) provide some behind-the-scenes content on the photo shoots. After all, I learned (and am still learning) most of what I know about photography by studying online articles and blogs (and of course the work of great photographers and artists). In this way, I can continue to learn by studying and analyzing my own work, and hopefully those of you who are so inclined can learn as well. After all, you can learn from mistakes just as well as you can learn from brilliance (and maybe more so from the former).
Let’s jump in, shall we? This article refers to the photos taken for the artist profile on Tim Stanley, seen here. The photo at the top of this post (shown small here for your reading convenience… click for a larger view) was actually one of the last looks that we tried during the shoot. I had been wanting to experiment with harder light and gels and Tim was totally into it, so we started the shoot with those looks. Then at the end, we switched to some softer light in order to give him some more “accessible” headshots and press shots that he could use. For that shot, I used a 1/4 CTO gelled speedlight in a 43″ shoot-through umbrella on a 45º angle to Tim’s right and slightly above. We also got a little bit of fill on the left side of his face which was due to the light bouncing off of the brick wall. I like the photo but I wish I had been able to keep his whole forearm from clipping out of the frame (it would have also kept his fingers from being so close to the edge of the frame). These are the little details that I am trying to get better at seeing.
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to experiment with some hard light on Tim. The first few shots that I took were made only with a snooted speedlight with zero fill. I liked the look, but not for Tim in this instance. I then decided to try some different fill sources. The two photos I ended up using for the blog article were made with a speedlight in the same shoot-through umbrella, but this time positioned on the ground in front of him. This fill ended up being about 1 or 2 stops below the key light (key explained later). For one look, I used a 1/2 CTB gel on the fill and for the other, a Rosco Skelton Exotic Sangria gel. I was thinking “jazz club” in terms of light color, but in the future I’d like to experiment with the fill light coming from up higher, or even above the subject to better emulate club light.
For the key light in both shots, I was using an un-gelled, gridded speedlight from hard camera left. The bit of warmth from the key is due to the fact that I used a DIY cardboard grid. The light brown cardboard does tend to color the light a tad. I had to experiment a bit when aiming the key so as to keep it from contaminating the color from the fill on Tim’s shirt. The bit of spill on his shoulders was acceptable to me, but I wish I had tried aiming it even higher in order to hit only his face. I also kind of liked the shadow on the brick wall which kept a sense of place and dimensionality in the photos. Speaking of the brick wall, this was a fantastic little alcove that I discovered near where I work. It’s amazing how many backdrops you can find in ordinary places when you start to open your eyes to those possibilities. A bit about lenses: I started the shoot with my favorite lens, a 50mm 1.8. This worked well for some of the shots, but eventually I decided to switch to the 18-70 because of the space restrictions in the alcove. I was unable to shoot some of the 3/4 shots at 50mm because there was another brick wall behind me, keeping me from backing up any further. So I ended up switching to the zoom and was able to move in and out as needed. You’ll notice that the shot at the top of the page was at 50mm, but with the zoom lens. That’s only because I already had it on the camera at that point and it was easier to keep shooting with that lens instead of interrupt the flow of the session. “Hey Tim, sorry, but I gotta switch lenses again because I really want a tiny bit more sharpness…” *Ducks to avoid rotten fruit being thrown by pixel-peepers* About that 18-70, it is a really nice kit lens. Compared to other kit lenses I’ve seen, the 18-70 feels solidly built, has a generous zoom range, and its variable aperture goes from f/3.5 to f/4.5. That extra 2/3 of a stop at the longer focal lengths is handy (as opposed to the f/5.6 of a lot of kit lenses). I’m not saying it’s a 24-70 2.8 but hey, for the price, it ain’t bad. Oh and I almost forgot- you can manually focus when in autofocus mode by using the focus ring on the lens.
I’ve included a rough diagram to show the approximate setup for the three photos shown. I’m kicking myself for forgetting to take a “setup” picture, but I will try to remember in the future. During the photo shoot I wasn’t thinking that I’d be making a blog post like this, but I hope you all enjoyed it! There are already more in the bag… Stay posted.
Questions or comments? Feel free to post below.