It was 75 degrees and sunny, with just a little breeze, on Wednesday – perfect conditions for an outdoor portrait shoot. I spent a few hours shooting with Crystal in central Virginia, starting out in mid-afternoon, when we found some great open-shade spots and I shot purely with available light; and going on into early evening, when we went to a nearby park and I did some balanced flash/ambient work. Four outfits, four hours, and seven or eight locations later, we came away with a varied set of shots that I think we’re both very happy with.
The headline shot above was done with a 35/1.8 DX lens on my full-frame camera. I’m really loving this lens mismatched onto my D700. The slight vignetting gives a nice feel in certain situations, and the quality of the bokeh is remarkable for such a cheap, plastic-fantastic lens. Here’s another one with that lens, also available light only; in this one I actually exaggerated the vignetting a bit in post:
For these available-light shots I was really looking for color. When we started, I wanted to find a great background color that would contrast with both Crystal’s blond hair and her pink shirt, and it occurred to me that green grass might work great. (This shot shows the color contrast better.) Later, we were near an Amtrak station with colorful walls and doors, and even though I wasn’t sure the background color in the shot above was going to work with her hair color and skin tone, we shot it anyway – and I’m glad we did. The colors complement each other and the photo still pops, rather than it all looking washed-out and monochrome.
Moving into the late afternoon and evening, the sun went behind some clouds and we got some great, soft natural light as we shifted location to a nearby park. We found a dome-shaped jungle gym and I set up my White Lightning monolight with a large softbox, and got some great stuff. First a simple portrait:
Quality of light from the softbox is great. Balancing the exposure was a bit tricky: I needed to use a low power so that I could shoot wide-open and blur the background, but I also needed enough power to underexpose the ambient at least by a little bit. I ended up at about 1/32nd power, shooting at f/2.8 and 1/500 sec, a full stop above the max sync speed. There’s a darker band in the lower part of the frame that I’m pretty sure was caused by shooting above the sync speed. From that dark band (which I admittedly lightened up a bit in post) you can see that the strobe wasn’t adding that much to the exposure, but definitely enough to make the colors pop and put those all-important catchlights in the eyes. I certainly could have shot this with just ambient light, but it wouldn’t have been as good a shot.
Then, we got a little more adventurous and ended up with one of my favorite shots of the day:
Again, a mix of ambient and flash, with the flash serving mostly to add a bit of pop to the photo, especially in terms of detail in Crystal’s hair. The X1600 was at camera right, with the softbox positioned such that the light was feathered off Crystal’s lower body a bit – because her face was further from the light than her legs, I had to do this to make sure the light falling on her from the flash was relatively even. This was the second-to-last shot I took at this location; I looked at it in the LCD and knew that I’d gotten what I wanted.
On to the final location: the lake! This was a beautiful lake with the sun setting in a perfect spot for us to take advantage of it. It wasn’t a spectacular sunset by any means, but the orange tones reflecting off the water still gave us some great stuff to work with:
What really makes this shot, of course, aside from Crystal herself, are the ripples. The water was so amazingly calm that any time Crystal moved it caused perfect concentric circles to radiate out from her. That’s what made me shoot this with such a wide angle: Crystal is obviously the main subject, but the ripples themselves are a secondary one, with the sunset a distant third.
This shot was lit with my SB-800 through a quarter cut of CTO and a shoot-through umbrella. I had the light mounted on a stand but it was too far away from Crystal to get enough light onto her (I’d left the X1600 and Vagabond in the car because I thought it would have been too much of a pain to lug it down to the lake – I probably should have sucked it up). So what I ended up having to do is actually hold the lightstand with my left hand, such that the flash was positioned at high camera left and aimed down onto Crystal and the water in front of her, while shooting with my right hand. This was pretty tiring, but I wasn’t complaining because, after all, I wasn’t the one getting wet! Anyway, using this contortionism I managed to get satisfactory exposures at quarter power on my SB-800, though in retrospect I should have bumped that up by about a stop.
And one more; Crystal dunked herself almost all the way into the water and we shot a few more frames with her coming up out of it, splashing water around a bit, etc. None of these worked quite as well as I had hoped, mostly because I needed more flash power. We actually should have waited about half an hour before working with the sunset, as I needed there to be a bit less ambient light to pull off what I was going for using just a speedlight. Oh well – still definitely made some photos I’m happy with!