Borkware Photoblog

February 11, 2009

The Shoot

Filed under: portraiture, technique — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:48 pm

My portraiture study was being driven by a woodwind quintet. The fine folks over at the Aeolian Winds of Pittsburgh are friends of mine. I occasionally sub for the bassoon player, and join for larger-than-5-player works. They asked if I could shoot some portraits for their website, since they needed some new ones after they changed flute players.


They rehearse in a church basement, a rather dim cavern with a decades-old linoleum floor and well-loved walls. When we were planning on the shoot, one of the players asked “he *does* have some kind of lighting right? It’s really dim in here.” I showed up with pretty much everything in my kit:

  • Three strobes (SB-800, 2xSB-600), plus their feet.
  • SU-800 commander unit
  • Spare batteries
  • Lastolite EZBox, attached to a monopod since the default bracket doesn’t tilt
  • Umbrella x 2 + stands (one umbrella was borrowed from my friend Torin, who graciously stepped in as assistant)
  • Tri-grip diffuser panel
  • Various gels.

The camera was mounted to a tripod. I decided not to shoot tethered since it took about 15 seconds from shot to appearing in Lightroom when shooting raws. The camera monitor was good enough for fussing over composition and lighting, and for showing folks the most recent shots.

D31_5007.jpgThe shoot was done in three stages. The first was individual photos, in front of a neutral bedsheet to a wall with Gaffer’s tape. We used a blue gelled flash for some of the backgrounds. That flash got kicked away part-way through, and we didn’t notice. D’oh. Torin held the EZBox on the monopod at a 3/4 position to camera-right, and we had a half-flagged umbrella for fill on the opposite side for some, and used the tri-grip for others.

I used the 70-200 f/2.8 lens for these, usually using focal lengths around 85-135mm.

The second one was the main group shot. There is a little raised stage in the basement – I was on it, with the group standing below. Two umbrellas with the stands extended all the way up. Ended up using the 24-70 f/2.8 lens for this, the focal length around 40mm. This is why there’s a little distortion of the horn player’s face on the left the shot there at the top.

D31_4977.jpgThe third minisession was another group shot in front of a wall. The sheet was too narrow for the group, so I ended up photoshopping out some door jambs and random wall decorations getting stuck in people’s hair. The umbrellas were on either side, with the trigrip in the middle to provide some fill for the person on the middle.

Lessons Learned

Having an assistant rules. It was really nice having another pair of hands. Torin attached the bed sheet to the wall, held the softbox, sat on the floor holding the tri grip, and so on. I wasn’t intending on having someone help out. It turned out he was in town and needed a break from other stuff he was doing.

A second pair of eyes rules. Fits in with the point above. In addition to all the other stuff he was doing, I had Torin check my sanity, help chimp, and offer suggestions. He caught stuff I didn’t notice. We both missed the blue-gel flash getting knocked out of place.

Have an idea what you want to do before starting. I knew I wanted to do the individuals against the wall with a neutral backdrop. For the first group shot we knew we wanted to try stage-down first, which worked out pretty well. When you have five folks’ worth of time being spent, it’s good not to waste it.

Remote commander units rule. It was so nice being able to dial the strobes up and down using the SU-800 on the camera. This saved a lot of time running around changing things.

Details matter, and you will drown in them. Having never done a Real Shoot before, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of detail to become oriented about. All the usual camera settings, not dropping the camera, light crap, where to put folks, verifying focus, entertaining the subjects. Getting the subjects to actually come over and pose. Having said subjects do stuff. Making sure nothing horrible is in frame (like the bedsheet edges. ended up cropping some of that). Random fur, sticks, whatnot on clothes (ended up photoshopping those out), why isn’t the damn autofocus kicking in, and on and on and on. Two hours later I was wiped out and ready to go home. Luckily we were pretty much done at that point. Even reading books and watching Joe McNally videos didn’t prepare me for the detail density.

I think I got some decent shots. Many of which I wish I would have done differently, but given the newness of it all, I’m pretty happy with them.



1 Comment »

  1. That BW shot at the top is really nice. I can imagine how stressful doing a “real shoot” must be (I’m a long way from there myself, probably never get to it).

    Comment by Raymond — February 17, 2009 @ 7:38 am

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