On Assignment: Back to the Well
Tian Lu (left) and Yuri Shadrin are both accomplished pianists in their own right. But when they play as a duet (on the same piano) they produce an intuitive mix of music and banter that could only come from the married couple that they are.
He is Russian, she is Chinese. Which made them the perfect choice to perform in China later this month in commemoration of an upcoming regional trade partnership between China and Russia.
So I shot their publicity portraits in one of my favorite little environmental portrait nooks in Howard County—under the fountain downtown at the lakefront. I have shot here before, but every time I come back I see the place a little differently.
Taken as a whole, this setting doesn't look too promising. "Under a fountain" means water. And when it's windy, that water can often end up in your face. But is also has a mix of columns and textures that also make for a neat environment for portraits.
You Flash Bus folks from 2011 may recognize the setting. It's where I did this picture:
Same location, slightly different angle and way different lighting. And in a way, the work done in this alcove has been a proxy for the different ways I have grown to understand and use light.
The bluish photo just above represents a completely completely different approach than the one I used when I photographed blogger Jessie Newburn at this same spot in 2008. Those process photos went on to become the BTS series for the main post on balancing light in the Lighting 101 updates.
As your perception and use of light evolves, you sometimes will wish you could turn back the clock and shoot a location portrait in a different way. If you are using the same location repeatedly over a period of time, you can.
Interestingly, while shooting the 2011 photo above, I recognized that a fill light specific to the subject's face (like a grid, here) would give me much more control over the dynamic range of my scene. When I photographed Jessie here five years ago, I was more or less depending on the ambient to be my fill. Not just on the environment but on the subject, too.
That's fine if those two desired light levels happen to coincide. But if not, you can fill your subject with a second light and independently choose your brightness/contrast level for the rest of the scene.
On to 2013. Here's an available-light-only BTS (courtesy Dave Kile) of the scene around the subjects. For clarity, there is another light scraping the unseen wall behind them—an SB-800 in a Honl ⅛" grid.
The key light is my trusty 60" Photek Softlighter, firing nearly straight down in front of them. This allows me to use the edge of the light and keep the column from getting too bright.
Inside this Photek are three SB-800s, all at ¼ power, on a three-way bracket. I don't need three flashes for power here—I could get more output from a single speedlight on 1/1 power.
But shooting with multiple flashes at a lower power level gives me two things: faster recycling and faster t.1 times. The latter is very important because I am shooting with the Fuji X100s and its leaf shutter, syncing at 1/500th of a second.
That single pop at full power is not going to fit so well into a 1/500th of a second if the t.1 time for a full-power pop is 1/250th of a second. Which it is. Almost. On a good day with a tailwind. (Really, it's about 1/200th—even worse.)
But by using 3 flashes at ¼ power, my t.1 time won't be a problem. I could even drop my shutter speed two more stops to a 1/2000th of a second and kill lots more ambient if I want. Plus, I can shoot quick double-taps when needed.
The fill light, seen at bottom, is a single SB-800 in a 43" umbrella on a collapsed compact stand. (I love compact stands for this reason, among many others.)
And that fill is very important. If I decide to speed up my shutter to kill some ambient, the fill will still preserve the lighting ratio on Tian and Yuri. So that gives me more control over my environment than I had with, say, Jessie and no secondary fill light.
On the contrary, one aspect of the environment that I can't control is that fountain. It was close enough to where I spent most of the shoot with one foot hanging over its slippery edge. Which, I suspect, is mostly why Dave was shooting BTS shots to begin with.
Better luck next time, Dave. If I am going into the drink, I am gonna do it when no cameras are around.
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