We organised an outdoor fashion shoot on a farm and we invited some photography enthusiasts from the Talk Photography forum along for the learning experience. And once the shots for each scene had been completed our guests were invited to take their own shots, using our lighting equipment with their cameras. Inviting the public along is usually just not possible, but we tend to do it whenever we can, to try to give something back to the photographic community. And they are also useful, helping to carry equipment around etc.
This blog explains what we did and why, and is illustrated with photos taken of the events, using the available light. The rest of the photos are the ones taken during the shoot, using the lighting equipment.
We chose a farm as our location, partly because it offered a wide range of different scene choices, with woodland, hills, open fields, a farmyard etc, partly because it was local to my studio and partly because the owner is a a friend, which is a big help.
A rural setting can be a good choice for fashion, it offers a strong contrast to the type of setting in which the clothes are normally seen, for example photographing a beautiful ball gown using a plush hotel as a backdrop might be appropriate, but the model and the clothes just sort of blend in…
The most important thing with this type of shoot is to assemble the right team. Our team consisted of
And I helped with the lighting.
We also made a video of the shoot, the video production is by Marmalade Toast
All of these people are friends, or friends of friends, that’s important, it means that they can be trusted to turn up and do their job properly – no weak links!
In a perfect world, we would normally tether the camera to a laptop, it’s easier to judge large images than small ones, but unfortunately laptop batteries just don’t last long enough, so we had to manage without this luxury.
Quite a few of our guests were a bit surprised at the amount of equipment we brought. It wasn’t really all that much, and it all went into my 4 x 4 boot, but it was probably more than most of them expected, and of course we took far more than we actually used. The reason for the excess is partly because it’s always a very good idea to have redundancy and partly because we don’t actually know what we will need until we do the shoot, because we can’t control the weather. I didn’t bother to bring any spare batteries because I knew that they wouldn’t be needed, we can shoot all day with one battery.
We were very lucky with the weather, not only was it dry with very little wind, it also alternated between bright sunshine, hazy sunshine and overcast, this gave us plenty of options. Bright sun is good for this kind of shoot, it creates drama and attractive shadows on the background, provided that we have enough flash power to get the lighting we want on the model – but if we hadn’t had any sunlight, it wouldn’t have mattered because we had enough lighting equipment to create our own sunlight and we also had enough power to overcome even the brightest sun. This type of shoot simply cannot be done using hotshoe flash, or any of the low powered location lighting kits available, unless the shoot is carried out in very dull conditions or when it’s getting dark. It needs 600Ws of power in bright light.
We used the Safari Li-on one head kits. Each kit can in fact power 2 flash heads, but as we had enough of these kits we used just one head to each flash generator, this gave us more power and made the job a bit simpler, because there were no trailing cables.
Michael scouted around and settled on 3 locations. First was a clearing where our model could run towards camera, basically this produced a young, innocent look with plenty of movement.
Moving shots are good, especially when the model is wearing a dress. Dresses need the movement of the body inside them to make them look good. The problem with movement shots is movement blur, so the movement can’t be too rapid, and generally needs to be pretty much towards the camera, not across the camera frame, which would cause a much greater risk of blur. Some people believe that really short flash durations will solve this problem, but it doesn’t, unless the level of ambient light is really low, i.e. unless it’s almost dark. The limitation is not in fact the flash duration, which on the Safari Li-on ranges between a shutter speed equivalent of 1/700th and 1/900th second, it is actually the limitation of the shutter speed used, which on many cameras is a maximum of 1/200th second. In bright lighting conditions, so much ambient light enters the camera at 1/200th second that it can cause serious movement blur. The only way of getting around this problem (to some extent) is to reduce the effect of the ambient light by overpowering the sun. This not only creates more striking images, it also makes the movement blur in the underexposed ambient light less visible. To do this, we often underexpose the ambient light by around 1 – 2 stops.
The problem with this, in bright lighting conditions, is that at something like 1/200th second, the ‘sunny 16 rule’ means that the exposure without the flash, at 200 ISO, is likely to be around f/16. And with the flash 1 stop brighter, it becomes f/22 and of course if the flash is 2 stops brighter the aperture becomes f/32. Now, even if those lens apertures are available, we would have real problems caused by diffraction limitation, and to avoid this problem with our full frame camera we really don’t want to use an aperture smaller than f/16. A camera with a smaller sensor would be limited to f/11 or even larger. The only real answer is to reduce the amount of light entering the lens by using a neutral density filter, this affects both the amount of ambient light and the effect of the flash and allows a larger aperture to be used, With a powerful flash, it’s a workable solution. No good though with low powered flashes…
Of course, we could have got around this problem simply by using our new Mach 1N radio triggers, which allow Nikon cameras to be used at any shutter speed, but they weren’t available at the time – the first delivery turned up just 2 days after the shoot:(
There were a couple of very handily-located bushes in this scene. We hid a flash head fitted with a folding strip softbox behind each of the bushes.
Each was fitted with a honeycomb, to both control the spread of the light and to prevent lens flare. This provided strong backlighting, adding to the virginal look. And there was gentle fill from the front, this came from a 150cm folding octa sofbox. The Lencarta website warns against using very large, heavy light modifiers on the Safari Li-on, but it can be done with care if it isn’t too windy, and provided that the equipment is secured with guy ropes and weights, to make sure that the wind can’t act as a sail and snap off the mast…
We were now ready to go, so I measured the colour temperature of the ambient light, which was 6010K. People often assume that daylight is around 5000K, but it is often very different, especially if there is a blue sky, and it’s important to measure the colour if possible. If you don’t have a colour temperature meter you should at least take a custom white balance. Never, ever either guess the colour temperature or set the camera to auto.
The first job was to position our model exactly where she would be when Michael took the moving shots of her, he then took some shots and adjusted the position and power of the lights to get the required effect. After that, it was just a matter of asking her to keep running towards camera until luck had produced a combination of the right body position, camera timing and facial expression.
Some of our visitors were surprised at just how long it takes to set up the lighting, get the lighting balance just right, work out the camera position etc, all before a single shot can be taken – but it needs to be right! And anyway, it doesn’t cost any time because it takes at least a hour for makeup to be applied and for the model to change into her dress.
Our next location was a little wooden spur that hangs over the edge of a heavily wooded valley.
Our problem here was positioning a light where it needed to be, behind the model and off the the side a bit, again to produce backlighting. The problem was physically getting the light there, the ground fell away very sharply and the nettles didn’t make it any easier… I climbed over, put the light where it needed to be, attached a couple of guy ropes and a couple of other people then tied off the lighting stand, it couldn’t stand up by itself on that slope.
And I used an extra long cable between the flash head and the generator, so that the generator was out of shot. After going through all that, I remembered that I had brought a boom arm with me and could have managed without all that effort:)
Because the Safari Li-on controls are on the flash generator, not on the head, we could easily adjust the power of the flash on the backlight, but we couldn’t really get to it to adjust its position and angle, so we had to adjust the position of the model instead, to control the effect of the lighting. Not ideal, but needs must. Again, we used a large octa box for fill. As with all fill lights, this was pretty much directly in front of the model.
And finally, our model went off for another clothes change and more face painting and Michael then took some shots of her perched on a tractor. The makeup here was far more dramatic, basically stage makeup, and her look now produced the potential for sexy shots, very different from the earlier ‘virginal’ ones.
These were static shots, with the model in a pose, and this allowed for more precise lighting. The makeup and clothes change took a while and we used this time to roughly set up the lighting. I say ‘roughly’ because it’s really all very vague until the model is actually ready, in position and the shooting position has been finalised.
Lighting is the most important ingredient, but it is also the last ingredient to be added to the mix.Again, a honeycombed strip softbox was used as a backlight, a second strip softbox was positioned on her right, this didn’t need a honeycomb. And the key light was a beauty dish, used high up to create shadows under her cheekbones and under her lower lip. We used a silver beauty dish for this. We could have used a white one, which produces a softer image, but because we had a young model with good skin and professional makeup we knew that the light from the silver beauty dish would be fine.
One of the reasons for using a tractor for this final scene was to produce some shots that didn’t have a green background, and we also wanted to show the contrast between a rusty working tractor and a beautiful girl. This was a good idea, but the problem was that the background was pretty messy.
We had a couple of ways of overcoming this problem, firstly we used the powerful flash to overwhelm the ambient light, making the background a little darker, and secondly Michael perched precariously on a step on top of a chair to get a higher shooting position. The difference that the higher shooting position made to the shot is obvious from the shot below.
Michael also took some shots using both blue and then red lighting gels over the softbox on the right.
This created a small problem, because to get a saturated colour from the gelled light, the power needed to be turned down and so it no longer produced enough light on the tractor engine. Because of this we added a 4th light, used just for the engine block. I fitted a high intensity reflector to the 4th Li-on flash head, not because we needed the power (it was in fact turned down to minimum power) but to concentrate the light just into that area and nowhere else.
The shot above is probably the one that best demonstrates both creating sunlight where there was none, and overwhelming the ambient light. When we started with this scene, there was bright sunlight coming from the wrong direction, which had to be overpowered. By the time this shot was taken, the sun had gone but it was easy to produce a ‘sunlit’ image.
With powerful lighting, all of the options are there, to be used as we see fit. For example, we could have made the background almost black if we had wanted to. and we could have created much stronger contrast on her face, using the beauty dish to really accentuate her cheekbones. We could have exercised as much lighting control here as in even the largest, best equipped studio.
One of our guests asked whether we really need lighting as powerful as this. I was about to explain just why it’s so important when someone else gave the right answer; it’s because, as photographers, we need to be able to deliver the right results every time, regardless of the job, the lighting conditions or anything else.
Getting the shots right in camera is essential, but of course PP work can also be done if required, and here are a couple of examples of images from this shoot that Michael has ‘worked up’.
Post processing is of course about what can be done, what actually should be done is always a question of taste, personal preference or the client’s requirements.