Zombie warrior portraits and speedlight tips

Caution: This post contains some graphic content. Viewers of the Walking Dead rejoice. 

A friend of mine is a bad-ass chic. She is a black belt in Karate and practices various other forms of self-defense. When she asked to do a portrait session, I had a feeling it wouldn't be jeans and a button-down shirt. "I want to be fighting a zombie. It could get messy." she said.

"I'm in." I replied. 

The authentic props really help make the images awesome

The authentic props really help make the images awesome

For any story-telling, or life-style, type of portrait, half of your success comes from appropriate props, location, and the ability of your subject to be "in character". Wendie came through on all accounts, allowing me to satisfy my zombie fantasies while laughing out loud all afternoon!

The lighting was simple – a single Westcott LunaGrip powered by 2 speedlights. I rigged up my prototype 2nd flash bracket on the LunaGrip because I would be battling full afternoon sun and shooting at f2.8 or so. Currently, the LunaGrip supports one flash unit, but it already has a mounting location for a second flash bracket, which is currently under R&D. (I created the LunaGrip and it is produced in partnership with Westcott)

To photograph in full sun and use a flash at f2.8 or wider you'll require a shutter speed that is very high, such that high-speed sync may not allow for very much flash output. My solution is to use a neutral density filter instead, lowering my shutter speed to 1/250 or slower, which gives me full output from my flash, besting HSS by a stop or two. Even with this trick, I'll occasionally need a second flash to combat the bright sun. 

With both Nikon SB910 speedlights mounted in the LunaGrip, I used a sync cord splitter to allow me to use just one wireless transceiver for both of them. If you use transceivers with a locking PC type connector, you can use a cord like this:

In addition to this splitter, you'll also need (2) M-M locking PC cables to attach to each flash.

In addition to this splitter, you'll also need (2) M-M locking PC cables to attach to each flash.

If you use PocketWizard, or similar units with the headphone type connector, you can use a standard headphone splitter to share the signal, like this:

You can't transmit TTL signals when you use a splitter, so it works with manual mode only. If you want TTL control of your flash units, then you need to use a transceiver directly on each flash.

The goal of my lighting was to create soft fill-light and to offset the harsh sun on Wendie's face. For some of the poses she wasn't facing the sun, so we needed to create our own flattering and directional light. The idea was to keep it natural looking, as if it was just the sun, but more controlled and flattering. Not that zombies and zombie warriors need to look all that glamourous. It’s important to add that key light to her face to identify her as the heroine of the scene. Even when the sun is properly positioned to illuminate the face, the fill from the LunaGrip helps to soften the shadows and allowed me to reduce my overall exposure by 1-2 stops for more drama.

For most of the images, I set my lens to f2.8 and my shutter speed to 1/200th. I then used my variable ND filter to reduce the ambient light from 5-6 f-stops more – which is the equivalent of setting my shutter speed to 1/6400 - 1/12,800. Uh, that's not even possible with my D750! Thank you, ND. Even if I could set me shutter speed that high, the HSS function of the flash would reduce the light so much that it would hardly be effective. The ND allows for full power flash output.

To finish the images and give them an end-of-the-world feel, I used some vintage presets from my Vintage Delish and PrimaPorta Lightroom preset packages.

Creating a story with your portraits does require more work. Not everyone wants to put forth that effort – be it photographer or client. When I get a chance to work with a client that really wants to go all out like this, I get really excited! Have you created a fully themed portrait session lately? If not, I highly suggested planning one as it will re-invigorate you like a good run through the park being chased by the undead. If you have done one, share it with me!

Safety first! All weapons were verified safe by a professional. 

Safety first! All weapons were verified safe by a professional. 

Thank you Crystal for lending a hand.

Thank you Crystal for lending a hand.

The sun was an edge light and fill, and the LunaGrip gives me a clean and directional main light.

The sun was an edge light and fill, and the LunaGrip gives me a clean and directional main light.

Stop! I'm un-armed!

Stop! I'm un-armed!

She's really a super nice gal! That's just acting.

She's really a super nice gal! That's just acting.

No zombies were harmed in the making of these portraits. She how happy and healthy she looks!

No zombies were harmed in the making of these portraits. She how happy and healthy she looks!

My helper, Angie, found another good use for the LunaGrip! It was hot out!

My helper, Angie, found another good use for the LunaGrip! It was hot out!