Jay P. Morgan: Balancing Strobes with a Setting Sun

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but every one of us who buys a book spends a few seconds looking at the title and the cover. Not only that, publishers know that readers also flip the book over and look at the picture of the author. That’s why authors and publishers view the author photo as a marketing opportunity. The author photo is just another opportunity to tell a story. An author who provides a simple portrait is telling a story, but it’s probably something like, “There is a reason this guy isn’t a model.”

This photo-shoot, on the other hand, was for Robert L. Harding. Robert has written a thriller entitled, "Death of the Wayang", set in Indonesia, and we wanted to convey strength and action with this portrait. Robert likes airplanes and is a student pilot. We had an opportunity to shoot at historic Santa Paula airport surrounded by beautiful scenery, a number of vintage aircraft, including this Steerman Biplane, and a gorgeous California sky. This lesson shows how we balanced our strobes with a setting sun to get an interesting, creative Author Portrait.

The main challenge was to keep the fading light balanced with our strobes long enough to give us time to shoot. The most important light source for this image was the background light. As light falls, you need to be prepared to change your exposure every few minutes.

These were my camera settings:

  • Aperture: f/13 to accommodate for the depth of field I wanted - I wanted the subject and airplane to both be in focus.
  • Shutter speed: 1/160th of a second, a starting point that I would adjust for the changing background exposure.
  • ISO: 160 is my choice for clean blacks.

Here's my first result with no strobes firing. [Figure 1]

FIgure 1

As you can see, the exposure on the sky background is ideal, but Robert was almost completely silhouetted in shadow. This is a great example of when you absolutely need supplemental lighting! We first started with a key light.

We set up a strobe and attached a Small Photoflex OctoDome to diffuse it for a more natural quality of light. Using a light meter at the subject, we set the power of the strobe so that it exposed properly at f/13. This light would remain constant throughout the shoot, and any adjustments to exposure would be made to the shutter speed to accommodate for the changing exposure of the background. Here's the result with the main light added. [Figures 2 & 3]

FIgure 2

Figure 3

As you can see, the OctoDome did a great job in throwing directional, yet diffused light onto Robert. In reviewing the image, though, I decided we need to also throw some light on the plane in the background to bring out its color and detail. For this strobe, I just attached a hard reflector to it and positioned it closer to the camera so that it lit the front and side of the airplane. Here's the result with this second light added. [Figures 4 & 5]

Figure 4

Figure 5

The exposure on the airplane now tied in much better with the rest of the frame and added an even great sense of dimension. For a final touch, we brought in a Photoflex 39x72 White LitePanel and positioned it to bounce light into the Robert's shadow side. Here's the result with all lighting elements in place. [Figures 6 & 7]

Figure 6

Figure 7

We continued to shoot as the light faded and got a lot of great shots, adjusting the shutter sped for the changing sky, but the basic lighting technique was all set up here at the beginning of the shoot. As is evidenced here, it's not hard to attain beautiful light on location. You just need to have the right gear on hand and know how to use it!

To learn more about the equipment used in this lesson, click the following links below:

Photoflex Small OctoDome
Photoflex 39x72" LitePanel Kit

To see more of Jay P. Morgan's work, visit his Pro Showcase page.




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