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!


Loosening the Family Portrait

With kids, you never know what you're going to get. When we try too hard to pose them in the traditional manner - they often resist, or look uncomfortable at best. I love to capture kids and families just the way they are - having fun, acting silly, making their unique and funny faces. Some of my favorite photos of my own kids are the ones where they are making the silly faces that make me laugh or smile everyday. 

 

Sometimes, the biggest challenge in a family portrait session is convincing the parents to just relax and enjoy themselves - and not be overly concerned with "picture perfect" kids. Fortunately, this family was relaxed and easy going - and the kids full of personality and silliness. I love it! It was cutely coincidental too that I had photographed this couple's engagement session many years ago and we did a picnic theme back then. I have not done another picnic theme for a portrait since then and it didn't even occur to me until I was on the way to this shoot (and we had already planned the picnic party) that we had done a picnic for their engagement! Now here we were, years and kids later, doing a new picnic with their growing family. Sniff sniff.

 

Nothing ever goes quite as planned on a photo shoot - at least not at mine. This spot by the river is usually green and lush - and after our recent rains I expected nothing less. Upon arriving though, it was obviously drier than I'd ever seen it before! Instead of laying in thick, green grass, we had….well, hay. We had to make the most of it, and laid out our picnic. Fortunately, we had a great blue sky with cotton ball clouds and the kids were in a good mood! You can't ask for much more than that :-) Looking at the images now, I love the contrast and unusual feel of the dry grass and it doesn't bother me that it wasn't green. 

 

This session will be just one of over a hundred featured in my "The Lighting Notebook" project - which is a book/iApp/DVD coming out this summer. The project is a collaborative effort between Benjamin Edwards and myself and chronicles and explains 101 photo sessions and the techniques, equipment, and inspiration behind them. I used two basic lighting setups for this session. For the images from further away, with the bridge in the background, I used 2 large Photoflex diffusion panels side-by-side with two Alien Bee B800 heads shooting through them. The Bee's were powered by the Vagabond portable power packs. The latest lithium pack is incredibly small and light. This provided enough fill for the relatively harsh direct sun. I shot these with a D3s and the 70-200mm f2.8 lens at f4.0 to soften the background. A neutral density filter was needed to lower my shutter speed to 1/250th to be able to sync with the studio strobes.

 

When I moved in closer, I used my 17-35mm f2.8 lens and moved the same panels to my left to diffuse the direct sun. We placed a large Photoflex silver reflector behind them and to the right to pop an edge light/hair light back on them. The larger size is essential to it looking natural and covering the entire group. A smaller disc reflector would have covered only one person and would appear much more obvious. 

 

All the images were processed with my Lightroom Vintage Delish presets, then the icing was put on in Photoshop with my Dashboard tools and Borders & Textures (Bor-Tex). Using textures on the background subtly helps to create richness and depth in the images - especially when the texture is minimized or reduced on the subject. It has an impressionistic feel without affecting skin smoothness and detail. This is easy to accomplish with the automation of Bor-Tex

 

 

 

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1 day, many looks, loads of fun!

This past Saturday I scheduled a full day of shooting for my Lighting Notebook project and realized just how much you can get done on adrenaline, caffeine, and a slice of pizza. We hit 4 different locations and knocked out about 13 different setups using different lighting for each one. Here are a few samples from the day. 

 

The first shoot was such fun with cute little Kiauna eating her way through the candy store - much to the chagrin of her parents, who hoped she would take a nap soon after we were done. Hah.  I used the RayFlash ringlight mounted on my SB800 and a 10.5mm fisheye for this fun perspective. All the images were processed with my Lightroom Vintage Delish presets and Dashboard tools for Photoshop.

 

 

At a local Thai restaurant, Typhoon (very delicious, by the way :-) we setup some romantic, lounge-esque images using the beautiful long curtains that separated the dining areas. For this, a single dive light (500 lumens) was placed behind the couple to silhouette them.

 

This image was made using Doug Gordon's Torch Light directly overhead and the dive light behind her with a warm StickyFilter over it. I love the TorchLight for it's soft, yet focused beam pattern and the StickyFilters are a quick way to balance the color temperature of a light or add a different mood.
The dive light shot through a slotted dividing wall on her back and the TorchLight for the mainlight on her face. I was able to dial the TorchLight down precisely to match the existing room lighting with its variable brightness control.

 

 

Here I used a Lensbaby Composer and the F4 aperture. I bounced two Nikon SB800 speedlights in to the white wall on the left. I triggered them with the new Pocket Wizard FlexTT5. I placed a third SB900 on another PocketWizard behind and to the right to create the nice separation light.

 

 

 

It was a crazy day getting all these, and more, set ups done, but it happened because of my great team of assistants and shooting partner, Benjamin Edwards. Why solo create when you can collaborate!