I was just reviewing some shots of Kasandra (one was poster earlier). She is a make up artist that did double-duty as model on a recent shoot, and what a gem she is:
I had been experimenting with white umbrellas (reflective, not shoot through), and found I really prefer the light over a harder reflective material, like silver.
This shoot would be a chance to try out a lighting arrangement that normally would need a bunch of reflector cards, softboxes, and such, but since we were shooting on location I wanted to pack a bit lighter, and keep the setup time down to a minimum.
What I decided on was a variation of butterfly lighting. I knew she would be sitting, and these would be head-and-shouler shots to show off a necklace, so I placed a chair about 6′ from a scrap of seamless background paper. The room was too narrow for a a full 10′ wide roll of seamless, so I put up the portable background stands with only two lengths in the horizontal crossbar, instead of all three.
For light, I put two umbrellas up high and in front of the model, pointing about 45° down. In these shots the light stands are just barely out-of-frame to the left and right. I found that the shadow under her chin was too dark, and a small 2′ x 3′ white foamcore didn’t help enough.
To give a more even light I put my most controllable light, an Alien Bees ABR-800 (that’s right, a ringflash), on it’s umbrealla adapter (which is a curse and should be redesigned…), and put this third white umbrella on the floor, pointing up. No stand, just a pile of black scrim fabric under it, to give it the right angle. Which by no coincidence was 45° up. It was so close to her that she could touch it with her feet.
The main light in the first umbrella (on image-right) was an old hot-shoe flash on full power. It’s an old Sunpak auto 28, but for whatever reason it has a really short recycle time, making it perfect for ‘strobist’ style use.
For the fill umbrella on image-left, a second hotshoe flash, I chose my new Pentax 360. It has good manual control, so I turned it down to about 1/4 to nearly match the main, but not quite, to give some shape to her face.
The Alien Bees is quite a powerful light, so I kept it down to 1/32 – 1/16 territorry. All of these lights were fired from ebay style radio triggers, which aren’t bad for this kind of close range work. And the new ones use AAA batteries in the receivers, so rechargables are now an option.
The resulting image (above) was pretty darn good, in terms of matching my vision. It could be developed has high-key with more juice, but really I was going for a slightly lower tone and DR in the main colors to make it more suitable for print. If you look at the exposure data you’ll notice this was done at ISO 400; this is because the main was already at full power, and couldn’t pump out more light. I could have set up a heavier stand and put the ABR-800 up in the air as the main, but balancing the output of that monster of a light with a puny little hotshoe flash would mean I would have just turned it down anyway. I could also have opened up from f/9.5 to f/8, but if you look closely enough you’ll see that at f/8 I would have to start making trade-offs in focus; the back of her pony-tail is already starting to blur; and my focus point was either the corner of her eye or her hairline around her ear.
On and off throughout the shoot I added a fourth light, right behind her head; it was sometimes pointed forward, to give her a nice rim light, but that also showed too many fine / stray hairs. Toward the end of the shoot I decided to gel this strobe and point it at the background; I think this color was a Lee Filter ‘Bastard Pink’, and the resulting images from the last 10 minutes really came to life:
The effect of the gel on the white background paper is remarkable; and the hue of the light is very close to her lipstick shade. I think when I looked in the LCD after this shot I told her she looked like the color of a sorbet!
I hope this inspires you to play around more with inexpensive lighting; I could have substituted a cheaper light for the under-fill and claimed this was done for $200 in gear (three $20 lights, three $20 umbrellas, two $20 stands with hotshoe/umbrella brackets, and two pairs of $20 ebay trigger sets.).
Maybe I should change my tagline to ‘the $20 strobist’…