Two Lights, a Gray Wall, Many Voices

It's a good thing I'm starting to hear voices. Not voices of destruction and mayhem but voices of teachers, lessons, mentors and common sense. Well ... three out of four ain't bad. I had been wanting to do a simple portrait shoot with a stark background and an engaging subject for a while now. A friend of mine at work needed some portraits done and I thought this might be a chance to get what I was waiting on.

Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8; 1/100 @ f/5.6, ISO 400 SB-800

First off, I couldn't remember what their home had to offer for background, ambiance and general workspace. I had been hitting +DavidHobby Lighting in Layers Disk I, lessons two and three pretty hard and trying to memorize "the Strobist voice." David talks a lot about balancing the ambient light with flash, in fact, using the ambient light as the first light in your kit. I started making a couple diagrams and jotting down notes of things to remember: work in manual, get the exposure set, move around the setting, key light, fill ... all that stuff.

Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8; 1/100 @ f/5.6, ISO 400 SB-800 ... ya gotta get the hair flip.

When I got on site (read — got over to their house) it was a gloomy day, raining outside and the ambient light was not very attractive. But imagine my delight when I saw this wall, a gray wall, about six feet wide with pictures hanging on it. And enough room to clear furniture and have a great old time!

We made a plan for some family portraits with the dog and all, worked through those first including a couple of passport photos, and then we could concentrate on individual portraits and take our time ... with the gray wall.


For the portraits of Sarah, I set up a 30" softbox to use as my key light and a 16" softbox to use as a rim, er ... kicker, uhhh ... hair light! See? Many voices! See lighting diagram for most of the details. This setup actually came from +ErikValind and his voice from the workshop a few weeks ago (see post Shaping Light: A Small Flash Workshop). The key light was an SB-800 triggered with a Pocketwizard and the kicker was an SB-800 in SU-4 Slave mode! It worked great! I had never thought of using SU-4 mode ... voices always said CLS is the way to go. Wrong, oh CTO breath!

Takeaways from the shoot

  • I think my key light should have been a little higher in relation to the subject and pulled closer to axis; maybe at 30 degrees instead of 45.
  • My NEF files seem to be consistently 2/3 stop underexposed ... "watch your histogram," a voice I didn't hear that day but will from now on.
  • Engaging with an engaged subject is quite engaging ... that might be a +JoeMcNally voice I was hearing.
  • Should have shot at ISO 200. I had plenty of light power.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the work we got done. It's become reassuring over time that I have voices to listen to. They've taught me a lot and are a great reference to help guide the work. Thanks gentlemen.

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