Shooting my daughter’s Senior Photo

Chelle Leary’s Senior Portrait [Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/2000]

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I did some senior pictures of my daughter this weekend for graduation announcements. Here is one of the photos and here is the lighting setup.

I put a strobe behind the bushes and added a CTO +1 to warm up the background.

Chelle Leary’s Senior Portrait [Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/1250]
Now here is basically the same setup but without the CTO +1 gel on the background light.

Chelle Leary – Senior Portrait [Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/2.2, 1/8000]
For this photo I wanted to use the blue sky to compliment the blue dress. I got down really low on the ground and shot up. Here is the lighting setup.

Chelle Leary – Senior Portrait [Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/2500]
Here is another setup I did with Chelle for a different look.

One last photo. I took this to show Chelle in her prom gown, a replica of Hermione’s Yule Ball gown, in the blue as described in the book by J. K. Rowling.

Chelle Leary – Senior Portrait [Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/2500]
Now I am letting the sun be the hair light, which most of the time is opposite the main light. The main light here are two Alienbees B1600s with translucent white umbrellas. One is over the other to create a strip lighting affect.

The trend today with senior portraits is to bring into the shoot those hobbies and passions of the senior. Chelle loves Harry Potter and we used the book and the dress as ways to personalize the photos so that it conveys what is important to her.

Now we also just picked a fun outfit that also communicates her style to others.

I prefer the outside to the studio. However I like the background to be out of focus and just creating a mood for senior photos.

Pocketwizards are used to shoot with High Speed Sync on Alienbees B1600

My lens for the photos Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8.
My Camera the Nikon D5
Pocketwizard TT5 & TT1 kit
Pocketwizard AC-3
Pocketwizard AC-9
Westcott 2001 43-Inch Optical White Satin Collapsible Umbrella
Alienbees B1600

Changing the background with a simple gel for portraits

1:3 lighting ratio – Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

When I teach lighting I always teach the 1:3 lighting ratio. After I show how you set up the main light and the fill I show them some ways to change the background quickly using gels.

Now before I add the gel I shoot this photo where the subject in on a white background. I will shoot with just the main light, the fill light and then put both of the lights on with no background light so that the students can see individually what each light is doing.

Main Light only

Now I will turn the main light off and then turn on just the fill light.

Fill Light only

Now for the main light it was measured for ƒ/5.6. I didn’t change the exposure on the camera I just shot the fill light at ƒ/4 to show it is darker than the main and where the direction of the light is coming and how it affects the model’s face.

Then I combine the two lights.

Main and Fill light together

Then we talk about how she is in front of the white background but it looks like a light gray.

Main, Fill & Background Light

I put two lights on the background and then measure the light so that it is about 1stop brighter than the main light. So the background here is ƒ/8.

This is the histogram without the background light. The furthest right on the histogram you can see that the value is good amount away from the far right.

This is the one where I have the background light set at 1-stop brighter than the fill. Notice here you can see most of the histogram is the same, but the far right is on the far right. This is showing how the white value is recorded. If you are not butting up on the right then there will be a little gray or often a tinge of blue when you print out the photo in the background.

Now when I add the gels like this red or the blue above we take a light reading of the background. We want the value to be 2–stops darker than the main light. So here the background is measuring ƒ/2.8.

One more thing you will notice is you need to move the person away from the background when using white for a background.

Now I demonstrate this also using a black background and to get the color to look like this you need to be sure the background is then 2–stops brighter than the main light. So if this red background was really black with the gel on it the reading would be then ƒ/11 which is 2–stops brighter than the ƒ/5.6 of the main light.

Ideal lighting for PR Headshots

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/200, 4–Alienbees B1600, Pocketwizards to trigger flashes

I am teaching lighting class in Kona, Hawaii with the Youth With A Mission School of Photography class.

This is one of the lighting exercises I do each year. This is teaching the 3:1 Lighting Ratio. I started by showing the class the final photo and then walked them back through how to get this lighting. This is all done with a White Background. See below for the same example but a Black Background.

Here is the setup that I used from above. Now here you can see one of the students later with the setup we were using.

While we have all the lights in generally the places they will be at the end, I turn them all off except the main light. The main light is 45º to the left of the subject and right of the camera as well as closest to the subject. Then I took a light reading and also set the white balance. The aperture was set to ƒ/5.6. Then I took this photo.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

Then we turned this light off and turned the fill light on. This is the one closest to the camera. Ideally it would be right behind the camera, but I put it a little off to the side so while operating the camera I am not blocking the light.

I set the light to be one stop less than the main light. The light is set to give me ƒ/4, but I kept the camera set to ƒ/5.6 which meant the photo will be under exposed by one stop.

Here is this photo with the same settings as the main light.

Next we turned both of those lights on and double checked the exposure with a light meter which still was ƒ/5.6. It might have been a 1/10th of a stop brighter, but we kept the camera set to ƒ/5.6.

Here is the combined light photo.

Lastly I turned two more lights on that are just hitting the background and trying to get an even light across it. I made this light just one stop brighter than the main light of ƒ/5.6, so this light was set to ƒ/8.  Here is this photo.

Hope you enjoyed this step-by-step tutorial on how to shoot a 3:1 Lighting Ratio portrait.


This is basically the same exercise using a black background. Now just one thing you need to understand is that the 3:1 lighting ratio allows this photo to be used in so many places. The one thing is where it looks the best in a Newspaper as compared to other lighting which can make those shadows lose all detail and go pitch black. This allows for you to see some modeling of the light to highlight the cheek bones and contours of the face without over doing it and creating a photo with too much contrast.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/200

Here is the setup


Assignment Description:
3:1 lighting ratio.  This photo is classic lighting.

Items:

Octobox closest to subject
This light is your main light. Get a light reading with just this first. The light should be 45 degrees off the axis of the camera and 45 degrees above the subjects eyes.

Subject
Your subject should have the main light lighting only part of the face and the shadows should be just a little to show the 3:1 ratio.

(D)SLR
Choose the lowest ISO.  Ideally on full-frame camera a lens close to 85mm and on cropped sensor a 50mm. Set your shutter speed to the sync speed for your camera [in your camera manual] or slower. My camera was 1/250 but I shot at a slower speed of 1/200.

Octobox behind the camera
This is your fill light and get just a reading of this 2nd.  Be sure it is 1/2 the power (1 f/stop less) than the main light. After this is done get a 3rd light reading of both lights which will be the setting for the camera. It can be level with the eyes, but you may have to move up with glasses to avoid glare.

First set the main light and here is what that will look like:


Due to using such a large soft box the shadows are not as severe as in our first assignment using the grid light. Some of the light is bouncing off a white wall a few feet to the left of the model or right of the camera position.

Turning the main light off after finding out your setting you need to take a reading and get the fill light to 1 stop less than the main light. The main light was ƒ/4 so the fill light should read ƒ/2.8.

This is what it looks like without the main light on. You can see a little darker but no real shaping of the face as the main light which is 45º to the side.


When you combine them you get the first photo of the model we started with.


The main light is twice as bright as the fill light. So to show this using math we would say the main light has value of 2 and the fill light has the value of 1.

Where both the main and fill light fall on the face is getting the combined value of the 2 + 1 = 3. However in the shadows only the fill light is hitting those and therefore the value is only 1.

So the bright areas get 3 and the shadows 1 giving you a 3:1 lighting ratio.

Now I showed the students how they can add a background light. I put a blue gel over it to show them they can also color the background.

Super Simple Headshots

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200 – [2] Alienbees B1600, White Background & Lastolite Triflector silver/gold kit.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid

Keep your gear as simple as possible so that you are able to concentrate on the people. For this headshot setup I keep it super simple.

Here is the Lastolite-Triflector reflector that I am using for the headshots.

This helps kick light under the chin and into the eyes for what I consider a very flattering light. Now the main light is a beauty dish most of the time or a white umbrella. I prefer round light modifiers for the catch lights shape.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200 – [2] Alienbees B1600, White Background & Lastolite Triflector silver/gold kit.

The reflector is always slightly less than the main light. To soften it more just use a white rather than the silver. If you want to warm it up use a gold reflector.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200 – [2] Alienbees B1600, White Background & Lastolite Triflector silver/gold kit.

You want the main light up about 45º above the camera lens and straight above it. This will make the light that is hitting the face to come down across it and help those cheek bones pop and give some contours to the face. Straight on to the model will kill those cheek bones and flatten out their features.

By the way I also like to use a tripod so I can glance above the camera at times to keep more of a personal connection with the people. 

Wedding photography to me is about emotional moments

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, Nikon SB-900, ISO 400, ƒ/3.5, 1/6

I do not promote myself as a wedding photographer. I have shot many weddings in my career, but today I have been just doing weddings for close friends and family. There was a time I turned down any requests.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, Alienbees B1600, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

The reason I am not as fond of shooting weddings is the amount of people posing. I can do an excellent job of getting great moments in posed shots, but my favorite thing to do in all of photography is capturing those moments that are not posed.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, Alienbees B1600, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

I love a moment like this where the mother of the groom is dancing with her son and the grooms friends and family are caught up in the moment as well.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 11400, ƒ/4, 1/200

I love the moments where the Bride and Groom are in a moment where you see the love they have for each other and you can see why they are getting married.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.5, 1/50

Sometimes the moments are subtle or they are bold as here.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, Nikon SB-900, ISO 400, ƒ/3.5, 1/6

I love capturing the expressions of people where you can see on their faces their emotions. The other thing I notice is at weddings the guests are just as happy for the couple.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 10000, ƒ/5.6, 1/8

The hard part about shooting weddings is you are doing so many styles of photography throughout the day. You are having to do studio lighting fashion shoots and then turn right around and just doing more of event photography as well as getting those moments.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art Lens, ISO 22800, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

Capturing the moments is what I work on the most in my photography. I believe it is the expressions that are the most powerful thing in a photograph. I spend a great deal of time trying to be sure the technical parts of photography: Lighting, Composition, Depth-of-field and more are all ready for when the moment will happen.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art Lens, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/100

Sometimes those moments are posed, but you just wait for the moment when they are into it rather than stiff and just posing.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 2800, ƒ/1.8, 1/100

Flash On OR Flash Off

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 28800, ƒ/4, 1/250

To flash or not to flash that is the question? In the photo above this was done without a flash.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 5000, ƒ/4, 1/100–(2) Alienbees B1600s, Pocketwizard TT1 w/ AC-3 and TT5 w/ AC-9

Now I have an Alienbees B1600 behind them and one in front. While technically the one with flashes is better I still am not really satisfied with the flash. Due to restrictions on where I could put the flash I just never could get what I would call a natural look.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 14400, ƒ/4, 1/250

The biggest difference with these two photos is where the minister is standing. The lighting is designed to hit him on the face and not the people on the front row. So here the available light is quite acceptable.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 5000, ƒ/4, 1/100–(2) Alienbees B1600s, Pocketwizard TT1 w/ AC-3 and TT5 w/ AC-9

No question that here I was able to achieve the “natural light look” with the strobes. The major difference between the two photos is the dynamic range appears greater with the strobes.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 5000, ƒ/4, 1/100–(2) Alienbees B1600s, Pocketwizard TT1 w/ AC-3 and TT5 w/ AC-9

While the photos where the lighting can be made to look natural look best with the flash I find the flash is announcing that I am there shooting. This makes people look at me much more and basically limit the number of natural expressions.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 14400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100

I love the moment here with the little girl during a chapel service. The reason for those who are wondering about the blue light, it is from the stained glass window on the right of the frame.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100

As you can see from these photos it isn’t always easy to choose to use flash or not. With today’s cameras having such high ISO capabilities you can get more acceptable images without a flash than we could just a few years ago.

To flash or not is often up to the photographer and how it fits into their style of photography.

Capturing the times of our lives

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system [logo from Wikimedia Commons and modified]

This weekend was my daughter’s high school homecoming. This is her senior year where everything is the last time for her class. They commented on how freshman year they all stood around and were afraid to dance at the party. Now as seniors they didn’t care what others thought like they did as freshman.

If you follow my blog then you know my daughter is involved in theater and her group of friends are mostly other theatre geeks. They are not an exclusive group and therefore why I said this was most of her friends, but the theatre kids love most people and are excited to have more people hang out doing life together.

Great Self Esteem = Great Photos

When photographer’s subjects are confident and can just relax and be themselves you spend more time just capturing those moments versus spending so much of your time trying to pull those moments out of a person.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

The key role of the photographer to make this happen is to create an atmosphere where the subjects feel like they are in control.

One way I try to convey this is asking many times throughout the photo shoot is there anything else they would like. I suggest combinations of people and try to keep the excitement going, but the whole time I am really trying to say I am here for you.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

I arrived early and started by picking a location. I setup my lights and my wife helped by standing in as subject so I could get the light set just right on her face and balance it with the background and other light on her face.

For the better part of 15 minutes I was trouble shooting. I had one lens that was not working with my flashes. I finally found the combination of working with my Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 on the Nikon D5 that would work for me. This required me moving back and forth to get the closeup shots and then walking a good fifteen feet back to get the group shots.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

By the way I spent a good hour later working with both my cameras and all my lenses to test them with the flashes.

I believe I have a lens that was just repaired that is the problem. I now know for sure what the problem is that I was having such a problem with when I was setting up for these photos.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

Once I had the lights in place I didn’t change them at all. I just moved closer and further back and occasionally would twist the models a little to the left or right to get a different look. The closeup of my daughter I just twisted her until the strobe off to the back was directly behind her.

Here is the setup for you.

I was so thankful to be photographing my daughter and her theatre friends. They exuded so much more confidence than they did just four years ago.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

What I think is so exciting about taking these photos this weekend is I feel like I captured the traits in these kids who are now young adults just before next year they all either enter the work force or go off to college living their own lives.

I am so proud of who my daughter has become and the friends that she has made in her time in school.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

In the TV show Friends we watched these six people do life together over 10 years. They dated each other and had to break up with each other. The reason so many of us returned to watch the show was we loved it when no matter what happened they worked really hard to keep their friendships in tact.

What I love about photography over text is the power for it to capture emotions. To capture emotions you need to be prepared. The camera must be set properly. You must have considered the lighting for the photograph. You have been thinking about and taken into account the background. Will you make it razor sharp or blurry and out of focus.

But even more important that knowing your gear is to know your subject. You cannot capture that which you have no knowledge of or understanding.

For me to do great photography that is compelling requires the photographer to be involved in their subjects lives long enough that they let you in to see them for who they really are.

I have watched these kids from when they were really young and had them in my home many, many times which allowed them to get to know me and for me to know them.

While my relationship is different than my daughter has with her friends, there is a relationship. I think that is key to understand as your role as a photographer. I am not trying to be their friends that hang out every day. I want to be like a parent the safe space that they can hang out and be themselves.

Shooting the Publicity Photo for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, 4 – Alienbees B1600, 4 – PocketWizard Plus, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

Another school year and another play. My daughter’s high school is putting on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night this fall. I just shot the publicity photos.

Here is the lighting diagram for the photo above.

The main light is an Alienbees B1600 with a 20º grid to keep the light tight on them. I put just enough on the light on the background to just light it and then used a CTO gel over a Alienbees positioned behind the background which had a 30º grid.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, 4 – Alienbees B1600, 4 – PocketWizard Plus, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

I enjoyed shooting this for my daughter and her classmates. I hope we can get more people to show up to the show because the photos helped generate more attention.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, 4 – Alienbees B1600, 4 – PocketWizard Plus, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

Nikon D5 comparing ISO 800 to 66535

Nikon D5, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 800, ƒ/11, 1/200–4 – Alienbees B1600 w/45º reflectors, PocketWizard Plus 

I shot this group photo of 400 musicians and to get the most even light I ended up bouncing 4–Alienbees B1600 strobes with 45º reflectors bouncing off the ceiling. I also used the ExpoDisc EXPOD2-77 2.0 Professional White Balance Filter to get a custom white balance.

This is pretty heavy crop of the above photo.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 7200, ƒ/5, 1/200

Now this is a performance shot with available light. If you notice the light on the orchestra at the bottom wasn’t very even and this is why I shot with strobes rather than using available light for the group photo.

Now just to give you an idea of how good ISO 7200 looks here is a enlargement of similar size to the first photo.

Pretty awesome if I say so myself.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 66535, ƒ/5.6, 1/200

I was blown away with the ISO 66535 quality of the french horn player.

Creating the promotional poster for a theater production

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1250, ƒ/8, 1/50

Just the other week I teased you with some test shots. These are some of the final shots from our shoot.

Editorial Note: Due to the contract signed to put on the play we cannot promote the name of the play until February 23rd. Another theater company is putting it on right now and has rights to PR and Advertising in our market.

Now to give you a feel for the before and after here is a shot my wife took on her phone.

Yes we are shooting during the daylight. So you cannot get this photo with your smart phone or for that matter any camera.

This is about lighting and controlling it.

This is me earlier setting up 3 Alienbees B1600 flashes with CTO gels on the lights. The camera is white balanced for tungsten. This means wherever the flashes orange light hits will be neutral tone and give good skin tones. All the available daylight will now be blue.

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

For the individual cast member shots I just used one Flash off to the side about 45º right of the camera and about 45º above the cast members head.

You should notice the the shutter speed is 1/8000. To make this work I am using the PocketWizard TT5 on the flash with an AC-9 adapter plugging into the phone cord connection on the Alienbee B1600. This will let me shoot at any shutter speed. This is call high speed sync.

I have the PocketWizard TT1 transmitter with the AC-3 which lets me control the power of the flashes from the camera remotely. I just turn up or down the power from -3 to +3 in 1/3 increments.

There are three groups A, B, C and two Channels 1 & 2. Each flash was on a different group setting and all were on the same channel to fire at the same time.

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/5.6, 1/5000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/7.1, 1/5000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

Now we moved the group around in our backyard trying different locations and lighting.

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1600, ƒ/5, 1/8000

Now the biggest changes from my test shots, which you can see in the earlier blog post was 1) Costumes, 2) Makeup & 3) smoke machine.

As you can see here we had to really work to get the right shot with the smoke. Often it was overpowering the photo.

Here is a view of the photo without the strobes going off.

Now you know how sometimes they film those night time scenes in so many movies.