Malaysian photographer and guest blogger Louis Pang is back. This time he takes us behind-the-scenes of a recent to shoot to talk about what Louis considers to be the most challenging aspect of a shoot: framing the shot. Here is the story, in Louis own words.
When I arrive on a location for a shoot, the biggest challenge is framing the shot. Is it background going to be this wall or that atrium? Should I go wide or tight? What is the language of light? Just ambient light, a blend of artificial and natural light or purely artificial? These are the myriad of possibilities we face. We have to commit to a shot or idea or we risk chasing rainbows, coming away with pictures that are neither here nor there.
In this post, I’ll walk everyone through an environmental portraiture I shot for a leading property magazine recently. You will see how I started, where I ended up and all the dilemmas I faced in between.
My subject is Kua, an up and coming property developer. For location, I chose a commercial development he recently completed to tie in the personality and location to the story. I had surveyed the location the day before and on the day of the shoot, I arrived two hours ahead of Kua.
Where do I frame the shot? Where exactly does Kua stand? That’s the first question I tackle.
I exclude clutter (such as renovation spots and loose electrical cables hanging down from the second floor) and seek for clean patterns or graphic elements that can make the picture interesting.
Because I’ve checked out the location in an earlier recee, I am set on using a roll-down shutter as the background. I think the horizontal lines can lift an image with a tele lens, which also hones in on the subject and excludes the clutter. As a habit, I always take a test shot without any flash so I could see the scene in its natural state. The flat ambient light makes a horrid picture.
So I underexpose it to get rid of all the natural light and place a Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash with a Narrow Beam Reflector and a full cut of Color Temperature Orange (CTO) gel. I opted for the Narrow Beam Reflector because I wanted a hard light source with dramatic light fall off where the head was lit while shadow came upon the rest of the body rapidly. This is in contrast with a big softbox where the person will get even lighting on the entire body.
The flash casts a shadow on the bottom left of the frame because 3 feet away from the shutter, my assistant Dennis is too close to the background. To get rid of that, I moved Dennis and the light about 8 feet from the shutter. This removes the shadow, and creates a natural vignette as a result of a more dramatic light fall. I assume I’ve got my shot but since I still have another hour before Kua arrives, I look for other possibilities.
I swap out the tele lens for a wide angle lens, trying to “see” the scene differently. The atrium appeals to me immediately. While it looks dramatic, the clutter it captures is not. I decide to “hide” the clutter by underexposing it. A symmetrical composition looks good in the viewfinder but as a double-page picture, the subject will be obscured by the spine. Editors won’t like it. So I place the subject off the center of the frame. The side walls and balconies form leading lines into the subject. This can work.
I still have a few more minutes to fine tune the picture before Kua arrives. I’ve kept the Narrow Beam Reflector and the CTO gel on the strobe. By switching the WB to tungsten, a blue cast colors the entire scene while the subject would retain natural skin tone. That is my final shot. Kua arrives, step into the spot and the shoot was over in five minutes.
Deciphering a scene requires preparation, time, willingness for trial-and-error and an open mind. I started the day with set on photographing Kua in front of the shutter, but the final image at atrium was clearly a better choice. Glad that I kept my mind open to different ideas.
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