You ever have everything planned out, or so you think, only to have it seem as if everything is conspiring against you? That is how I felt with Chyenne during our last shoot. Let me preference that by saying Chyenne was fantastic per usual. This shoot was a spur of the moment idea, which in it self seems counterintuitive to thinking you have everything planned out. We decided on a location and I left the wardrobe up to Chyenne. She always picks out a good outfit. Normally she goes and buys something new, she says that a shoot is her excuse to go shopping, I digress. Here is how the shoot went down.
We decided to do a late evening sunset shoot at a local preserve near the beach. We were going to meet at 7:45. That would still give enough light in the sky but the light wouldn’t be harsh at the time either. It should give us about an hour of really nice light to work with. Well Florida weather in July is anything but cooperative. I got the the preserve at 7:40 and Miss Chyenne for the first time ever was late. It gave me a chance to go walk the location and plan out what I wanted to do. My first idea was to use the 400mm lens and shoot across this pond and capture a cool refection. Chyenne showed up about 10 minutes later, however in that time frame Zeus decided it would be a good time to throw some lightning around. I have a healthy respect for lighting, even though I photograph it all the time I am normally either in a covered building or my car, To do these portraits that wouldn’t be the case. We waited it out for a good 15 minutes or so. The first shot I didn’t get to take until 8:19pm. Wasted a little bit of light but no big deal. There was also a drizzle going on at the same time. This meant I was going to cover my camera and my light with some rain gear. Thanks to my mom I have these 8 foot tall clear trash bags from the hospital. She got me about 20 of them. The fit over my entire light stand which lets me use flash in the rain. As I mentioned before the first shot was going to be with the 400mm. This means I was going to be REALLY far away from her. My radio slaves are what make the flash go off when I hit the shutter button on the top of the camera. These things are essential to shooting. Without them I simply cannot do my job. Normally they can work from over 100 yards away. With the rain the radio slave on the light was probably a good 80 yards away or so and I think being under that bag at that distance hampered the performance of the slave. Chyenne got to see me run back and forth multiple times to try to get this light to work. Finally I got it to work long enough to get one shot. The 400mm was still too much lens to get the shot I was envisioning so I swapped it out for the 70-200mm. I also stood on the top of a fence which was difficult enough in a normal circumstance but with rain and lightning, not my brightest move. I didn’t shoot many frames of this because it was sketchy and I was imagining I was going to fall off. The difference here in the shot, was I wanted to show a lot more of her surrounding. I was happy with how it came out. After we got this shot we headed down the pathway towards the beach. There is a wooden walkway that had almost a tree canopy over it. I knew from my walk before she got there that this was a spot I wanted to use. However with the delay by lighting and then my equipment sending me running all over the place, and the clouds from the weather in the area, it started to get dark well before sunset. This meant that I needed to use a tripod. Was unprepared for this and had to run back to the car, killing more precious time. This also meant that I would have to not only light Chyenne but the scene as well. I didn’t want to bring out another light because of the drizzle so I settled for my small SB-900 (on camera flash). This is about the size of my hand. It can sit on top of the camera or be used in a remote fashion. This light doesn’t have a slave to connect to it but instead has a light sensor. It is a small circle that when a flash is detected by it immediately makes that flash fire. The issue here is you have to have a direct line on sight to make it work. The flash that the SB-900 see’s has to be bright enough to make this work.
I’m going to get a little geeky, technical about lighting here so if you want to skip to pretty pictures or the rest of the story go to the next paragraph. Here is why the line of sight is such an issue in this case. My main light now has two jobs. Not only is it lighting up my model, but it also has to be bright enough to trip the other flash into working. The issue there is caused by the inverse square law of how light falls off. Light will fall lose half of its power every time you double its distance. If light is full power at 1 foot, by 2 feet it is already half as powerful. If you go to 4 feet it is again lost half of it’s power. If you go to 8 feet you are now using about 16% of the light from the point of the flash. Well a 16th of the power wasn’t enough to trip the SB-900. I have to then make it brighter, which in turn makes the model brighter. It is already getting dark outside, therefore when I make the model brighter, the background goes even darker in comparison. This is where the exposure triangle is important to understand. This is also why you need to know how to operate your camera in a fully manual mode. When I make the main light brighter, to trip the SB-900 behind the model I make what isn’t lighted by the flash go darker, i.e. the background. I have to then slow the shutter speed down to pull in the ambient light to brighten up the scene. In this instance I couldn’t raise the ISO to make the scene brighter because raising the ISO would make the flash brighter, which I would then have to turn down, which would make the SB-900 not go off. Therefore this was a very tricky shot to pull off. When you look at the image it doesn’t seem as if it would be so difficult, but it was. I wanted to keep shooting in this little area, esp because I worked so hard to get the lighting right but the next wrench started to show up. The damned mosquitoes. They were hungry and we were getting destroyed by them. The lack of breeze in the little canopy wasn’t helping either. We decided to book it to another location near by that I knew about.
When we got to this little spot the sun was already set. We never had a sunset of any kind Just grey, darker grey, really really grey, then kind of a muted orange. This wasn’t the sun though, it was the light pollution. It actually made for some pretty cool imagery. This location has a lot of rocks covered in barnacles which I wouldn’t post 90% of the people I photograph on for safety reasons. However Chyenne wanted to and shes kind of my muse. I put my big light behind her about 15 feet and again needed the SB-900 to help light her face. The camera was on a tripod with a very slow shutter speed. This was done so it could pick up the color in the sky. Chyenne had to be very still as if she moved too much she would start to ghost herself out of the image. I set the camera on a self timer so that I could hit the button and run the the SB-900 over to the side for the line of sight to trip the light. This little shot worked really well and didn’t take much time. We snapper maybe 5 or 6 images and I was happy. The last shot of the night was another one where I wanted to play with the 400mm I very rarely use it for portraiture work because it is a 16 pound lens and i have to be so far away. This shot I had Chyenne walk out on the seawall and again had my light behind her in the water. The camera was easily 90 yards away. This time though the radio slaves worked like a champ. Again camera was on a tripod with a slow shutter speed. This time the self timer was on 20 second so I could run the 90 yards with the SB-900 to light up her face. I also had the camera set to take 8 images after the self timer went off so I could get more than one image before having to walk back 90 yards.
This was one of my favorite shoots. Not because I have a favorite image from it, but because it was a challenge. It made me think. It wasn’t the normal put the light here the sun is over there push the button. It was okay if this is going to do this, then I need to do this and this to make the image come out the way I want. That is only talking about lighting. That doesn’t take into account the exposure triangle I have to figure out. it doesn’t take into account the pose. I love the challenge. It’s why my job never feels like work.
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