On the Road: Backstage Portraits, Part 3

Nikon D200, 50mm 1.8 AF, ISO 200, f/5, 1/250 sec.

Part 3 of this series of portraits contains photos that were all taken backstage at our last concert of tour. I discovered a translucent white curtain backstage (I’ll bet theatre types have a name for this curtain) that was just asking to have a speedlight shot through it.

The first setup shot below shows the existing ambient light. The second shot shows what happened after I eliminated the ambient and added flash. The ambient was pretty dim so it was easy enough to get rid of it by shooting at 1/250 of a second and lowering my ISO.

In the setup shot on the right, you can see how large my light source became once firing the flash through the curtain. I also kept my subjects fairly close to the source so that the background would go completely black (I had a pretty nice working distance in that regard). There was a cone sitting backstage (who knows why) so I positioned it right around where I wanted my subjects to stand. I didn’t want them directly beside the light; rather, I wanted them to be a bit behind it so that it would fall across more of them. If I wanted a more dramatic look, it was easy enough to move them forward (akin to moving the light back).

Nikon D200, 50mm 1.8 AF, ISO 200, f/5, 1/250 sec.

In the setup shot you can also see the position of the rim light that I used. After doing a few test shots with just the key light, I decided to add the rim light to provide some separation from the black background. It’s aimed a bit away from the camera and powered down pretty low. I also gelled it with a 1/4 CTB for a touch of coolness. Note that it is bungee-corded to a piece of gear that I found backstage. Having brought only one lightstand on the trip with me, those little bungee cords can come in very handy!

Nikon D200, 50mm 1.8 AF, ISO 200, f/5, 1/250 sec.

You might have noticed at this point that the environment of these portraits has a much different feel than the ones in parts 1 & 2. They have more of a studio feel due to the clean black backgrounds. My purpose in this series was to show musicians in their environments before a concert: preparing, warming up, standing around. I came up with the setup in this group of photos because of one of the band members had asked me if I could make a portrait of him that was more classic, i.e. with a less distracting background.

Nikon D200, 50mm 1.8 AF, ISO 200, f/5, 1/250 sec.

Once I had my setup in place for this look, I tested it on a couple of guys who were standing around backstage. Then other guys who were standing around began to ask me to take their photos. Soon I started asking a bunch of my bandmates if they wanted their pictures taken as well. It went pretty quickly and all of these shots were taken in the span of about 15 minutes.

Nikon D200, 105mm 2.5 AI, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/250 sec.

I didn’t alter the lighting setup for any of the photos in this post—mostly due to time constants—but also because it was working really well. Soft light is very flattering on most people, and the little bit of rim light complemented it pretty well.

I did change lenses once to get a few tighter head shots, but the main thing I did to get different looks was to position the subjects in a variety of ways: looking directly at the camera, looking directly at the key light, looking directly away from the key light, looking down at the floor, and other angles in between.

Nikon D200, 50mm 1.8 AF, ISO 200, f/5, 1/250 sec.

It’s funny what happens once people get used to you with a camera. Those who don’t mind having their picture taken are always fine, but those who are hesitant to be photographed become okay with it. Once they see your work, it helps even more. Over the three weeks that we were out on the road, I carried my camera and lightstand to all but two or three of the concerts. I was constantly on the lookout for good shooting locations, bounce lighting possibilities, and intriguing moments.


Finally, a couple of notes about the entire series of photos (including parts one and two). Lens choice (with the exception of this last group of photos) was dictated by wanting to include a fair amount of the environment in the portraits, but also that I was working in tight spaces for the most part. You’ll notice that the majority of the photos from the first two parts were shot with a 35mm lens. The photos in this last series were mostly shot with a 50mm lens and the headshots were taken with a 105mm lens. This was because I had a decent amount of working distance and I wasn’t concerned with including the environmental aspect in these portraits.

Nikon D200, 50mm 1.8 AF, ISO 200, f/5, 1/250 sec.

Lighting considerations came after I had taken note of the spaces in which I’d be working (read: while rolling equipment boxes or warming up on trumpet). If I didn’t find good bounce surfaces (or a wicked huge diffusion screen), I would break out the small softbox.

I always thought about the ambient component and how to treat it. In some photos I left it warm, in others I balanced to make it neutral, and in others I made it cooler. Sometimes I opted to kill it altogether, for a more dramatic look.

Overall, shooting this series was a lot of fun. I hope you all have enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed creating them. On to the next project!


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