November 11, 2010
At the back of G.T. Bray park in Bradenton, there’s a drystream bed, and across from that is a beautiful little pond, hidden away from the city, shaded by the trees and just generally gorgeous. I’ve been wanting to do some portraits back there for months, and earlier this week I finally got a chance: I had a friend who wanted portraits, and the location came to mind, so we decided to go for it. It’s a little bit of a trek back to the pond, off the footpaths, so I loaded up my dorky photo vest with all the gear I’d need, threw my camera and a couple light stands over my shoulders, and we set out for the back of the park. We made it back, crossed over the drystream bed(it’s a good seven or eight foot descent to the bottom, and then back up again), and over on to the banks of the pond.
I got a light stand out, attached an umbrella to it, reached back in my vest for one of my speedlights…and they weren’t there. I’d made the entire journey back to the pond, finally ready to make the portraits I’d always wanted to, and I’d left the lights in the car. I shot some ambient light photos while we were back there, but there just wasn’t much interesting happening, light-wise. It was a choice between harsh patches of light that occasionally broke through the trees and dull, flat shade (and dark enough shade that I would have been up at ISO 1600 or higher), and none of it turned out worth keeping. So we decided to head back to the front of the park where I could retrieve my lights from my car, and just use the rock formations at the front of the park. Ultimately, I think I ended up with better shots than I could have made if I’d gotten to work with the pond like I’d wanted.
I started out shooting with the rock formations and trees just as a backdrop, and set up my lights in the open area out in front of the rocks. Here’s a setup shot from that open area. It shows two lights, but ultimately I decided only to use the one in the umbrella, and left the backlight out.
It was windy that day, but I have a trick for that. For one of my light stands (I still need to make one for the other) I have a hand-made strap, just a length of rope tied around some round metal snap clips at either end. One of the clips snaps perfectly around the stud on the top of the stand, and the other clips onto one of the legs once it’s folded up. If I need to keep the stand up on uneven ground, especially if there’s wind, I just let it lean down the incline, leave one end of the strap attached to the top of the stand, and loop the other end around something stable, a small palm tree in this case (you can see the rope in the setup shot stretching out from the top of the stand). If it’s really windy, I’ll set the stand right next to something nice and sturdy, wrap the strap around it really tight, and then attach the other clip to one of the tightening pegs on the stand. Works like a charm, and it’s a lot more convenient than carrying around heavy sand bags.
Once the umbrella was up and stable, I just did some straightforward full-body shots balancing the shoot-through umbrella with the ambient light in the background. I use a set of Radiopopper JrX triggers, and I’ve modded my Nikon speedlights (I may post about this later) so that I can just connect them with a 3.5mm audio cable and get remote power control. I worked the umbrella light in to fit just right at my max sync speed with a wide open aperture, to get a little bit of bokeh going on.
After that, we headed over to the rocks, and I had a somewhat more interesting idea. I decided to try sticking a light inside one of the crevices in the rocks, and getting the model to look into it. I started out just sticking one light in a crevice, and it made for an interesting effect, but the light was just too harsh. So I put a stand up on top of the rocks with an umbrella, and pointed it a little bit above the model’s head to keep it from spilling down onto the rocks any more than necessary.
Of course, the wind was still a problem, but the top of the rock formation there actually used to be a fountain, and now the concrete is cracked and broken all around the middle of it, leaving just a little bit sticking out from the edges. I just splayed the legs out nice and wide, stuck them in underneath the concrete edges, and that stand wasn’t going anywhere. With that setup, I got the shot at the top of the page.
To round out the session, I just had her climb up to the top of the rock formation right in front of the umbrella, moved the light that had been in the crevice onto a stand and set it off to the right a little for some fill light. Then I stuck a 1⁄2 CTO gel on the umbrella and set my white balance to tungsten, so the background would come out just a little blue in the end. I shot some headshots and some full body shots, and we called it a day.