Today, Profoto and photographer Jared Platt will host a free webinar on how to take dramatic night portraits. To get you in the mood, Jared has written a post on the topic. Enjoy!
I am a documentary wedding and portrait photographer mostly, so a lot of the work I do requires me to shoot a lot of images very quickly. Commercial work and editorial portraits allow me to slow down and focus on getting one shot. It is a wonderful change of pace from weddings, almost like a little holiday…
For today’s webinar, we shot a series of portraits with one overarching rule: we could only use the two lights that come in the new Profoto B1 Location Kit. But we wanted to further challenge ourselves by photographing at night. The photo here is one of the many shots we acheived with piano rockstar Kevin Burdick. Unlike the other images we made in the city, this shot was shot on a very dark soccer field out in suburbia farmland. To get our intended shot, we had to “build” the shot out in stages. Here’s how we did it.
Next time you are camping and the moon comes up, watch how fast it zips through the sky. It is really moving up there. So, we needed to have all of our ducks in a row before we set our composition. The last thing we wanted was to set the shot, and spend time fussing with our exposures and end up having the moon traverse the entire frame before we were finished with the shot. So we determined our exposure times and manual flash power settings for each element in the shot before we ever started shooting the initial background image. We were shooting in the dead of night. Our exposures were not changing moment by moment as they would at sunrise or sunset. So we had the time to test, but once we started the process, we would be done shooting in less that 20 minutes.
2. The Backdrop
The first thing we needed was a back drop. We found our frame by shooting at an extreme high ISO and wide open at f2.8, so we could take a lot of snap shots quickly and find the frame. With the water tower and the moon and kevin in the right positions, we locked in the composition by locking down the tripod and then set the exposure for a 100 ISO exposure (to limit noise) at f8 (for the appropriate depth of field for the shot). These two requirements then dictated the exposure time at 30 seconds, far too long a shutter speed to have our model hold still. But, he took his position for a brief moment so we could focus on him and then he stepped off camera for us to take the shot.
3. Lighting the Water Tower
A simple 30 second exposure did not create the perfect background image. The sky was great, the moon light was perfect, the lights from the near by baseball fields were great, but the water tower was fading into the sky and it’s legs were almost non-existent. So, we took one of our B1 off-camera flasehs (that would later be used to light Kevin) 200 yards away and with a bare head lifted it as high as our c-stand could extend. During the 30 second exposure, we fired that flash 40 times at full power, which cumulatively gave us the light that separates the tower from the sky.
4. Adding the model
Next, we moved both flashes behind Kevin and set them to Manual Mode (not TTL) from the Air Remote TT-C. The main light, off to the left was modified by a Softbox RFI 2×3′ (no grid) and the hair light to the right and just behind Kevin was bare and lifted high to match the position of the moon. Now that we were shooting at 1/60, the moon would no longer flare and cast rays of light but become a small dot of light in the sky. Thus it was important to get the flash to match the moon’s position so that the light separating Kevin from the background felt like the moonlight falling down on his shoulders. So, with our lights and model in place and our shutter speed adjusted, we began shooting for our second shot, the portrait. Once we felt we had the look from Kevin, we made a quick sample merge of the two images to confirm and called it a wrap.
5. Merging the Shot
We could of course have shot Kevin in the studio and achieve a similar effect, but nothing looks quite so real as reality itself and when all is said an done, an adventurous thirty minute shoot and five minutes in Lightroom and Photoshop for a very cool shot, is not a bad way to go. Plus, you get some happy accidents when you are out making things happen on location that help change the direction of your images for the better. Just because you are building a layering images, doesn’t mean it can’t be organic, and organic shooting yields a lot of wonderful results.
If you want to learn more about shooting dramatic night portraits, join me on todays webinar at 7PM CET (June 18 at 10AM Los Angeles, 1PM New York, 6PM London, 7PM Paris // June 19 at 1AM Beijing, 2AM Tokyo, 3AM Sydney)!