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Making the Most Out of What You Have
Several years ago I had a studio for about six months. It was super nice to have a space that I knew was always there, waiting for me to shoot in, should the need arise. The problem was that most of my shoots took place outdoors or on location, and when my trial lease period was over, I couldn’t rationalize staying on at the monthly rental rate. What didn’t occur to me at the time was that I had a perfectly good, albeit small, basement at my disposal. Due to the low, 80” ceiling, the narrow, 10’x20’ shoot area and the generally dark ambience of an unfinished basement, the thought of shooting down there had never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I moved out of my studio and no longer had a place to store my gear, that I even ventured down there with my equipment.
The setup began simply enough, with me doing little more than editing at a table down there. Over the months that followed, I did the occasional head shot or product shoot, quickly realizing that I didn’t need as much space as I originally thought I did. Sometimes a problem would arise, like when I needed to shoot a full body portrait of a guy who was over six feet tall. I began modifying the space accordingly, such as adding white panels to the overhead joists to reflect light.
I wanted a white seamless set up, but the backdrop stand legs were too wide to allow for the 8’ white vinyl roll. Instead, I discovered that I could run a rod from the top of the air condition duct to a C-stand and just barely fit it in the space, where I could pull the sweep out to the edge of my desk. This allowed a depth just long enough to light the subject and background separately, which meant I could accomplish a pure white background.
The other issue with a small shoot space is that you don’t have the space to back your lights off your subject. As you may know, if you want soft light on your subject, you need to make your light source large and diffused or indirect. The problem was that if I added even an average size umbrella to my my stand, this meant that I’d have to lower the light the length of the radius of the umbrella, leaving my light at a max height of around five feet (too low). The narrow width of the shoot space also meant that I couldn’t simply hang up a white sheet and shoot through it, as a solution.
What I eventually figured out as a solution was to place a 40”x60” white board on my desk, beside where the subject usually stands, and shoot light into the board, several feet in front of the subject. By securing a credit card, or something of a similar size and opaqueness, to the side of the speedlite and zooming the flash in to 105mm, I was able to get my light stand out of my view of the subject as well as create a large, reflected light surface, that could run all the way up to the ceiling. This large light source was fantastic in creating a giant catchlight in the subject’s eyes or sunglasses. I also added a small, white v-flat to hide the background light, which also served in reflecting some of the light onto the nearby white wall, helping to further light the subject.
Keep in mind that the subject is pretty much fixed in one spot. If they move forward, the crosslight will create odd shadows on their face, or if they move backward at all, they get caught in the harsh background light.
I edited this in the vein of Nadav Kander’s work.
Today I shot a portrait of Brian. I met him at his apartment, which is probably around 300 square feet in size. In the second image, you can see the setup. This was shot in his bedroom/living room. My back was against one wall and just out of the frame on the right was the closet. Since there was no room to set up a backdrop, I propped up a couple white boards against the door to the kitchen. I also didn’t have the space to move the flash more than two feet away from him. I used an umbrella for a bit, but the close quarters made it so that I couldn’t get the light source to look big enough. The light fell off around his chest. I decided to turn the flash away from the subject and bounce it into the wall by his bed. Bingo. Large, soft light source.
Let’s play a game. You guess which image was shot with a Canon 5DII (semi-pro level body) and which was shot with a Canon Rebel XS (amateur level body). I used a Canon 70-200 f/4L IS lens in both images.
Today I photographed the filmmakers that comprise Old Machine. All I used, as far as lighting, was a black v-flat and a silver reflective sheet, next to a window with indirect light. #studioanywhere
Sneak peek at the fall fashion editorial in 614 Magazine, coming out September 1. If can’t tell, mixed patterns is the theme.
Styling- Anna Wonn & Katya Grishanova
Models: Brian Leonino & Teara Nil-Hem