Warm weather = beach shoots

On January 15, 2014 by Simon Fleming

Now that summer is upon us I find myself heading to the coast for a lot of my location portrait shoots. I have always loved shooting landscapes as well so it seems only natural to combine the two disciplines whenever possible.

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I have covered some of the technicals of my shooting style in previous blog posts but thought it would be worth putting up some recent work as I continue to be asked about my lighting style. Just for the record, I do also shoot without strobes or flashes (natural light) – if the lighting is great as is you don’t always need to mess with it. Having said that, my preference is generally to introduce some of my own light to help achieve a few things. One, it suits my look/style and two, it can often help to transform an OK natural light shot into a much improved image in terms of subject & scene balance as well as filling in shadows where you don’t necessarily want them.

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Shadows are good by the way – they are what gives an image dimension, character and drama – but they can also work against you. Unlike a studio environment where you have complete control of your lighting, location shoots more often than not throw a whole bag full of lighting puzzles your way. Depending on the time of day you are shooting, where the sun is in your shot, and what type of image you are trying to create, shadows may well limit your shooting angles or give you dark sunken eyes, just to name a few of the potential problems.

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These last two images were shot with the sun still relatively high for what I normally prefer, so I have used my subjects to block it – creating a rim & backlight – and then adding a balanced amount of fill from the front. The family group in B&W was shot with this end result in mind specifically. The sun’s position wasn’t ideal for another idea I had  and so I deiced to create a contrasty B&W image that had the look as if it was almost shot on a white seamless backdrop (I will often view the image in monochrome on my camera’s LCD when shooting if B&W is my intention).

All of these images have been shot using two light sources. The sun and a single flash or strobe fired through a large umbrella. When I say the sun I am not being facetious, the sun is there to be used and considered in a number of ways. Generally to achieve the results that I have in my mind’s eye I need to be shooting when the sun is lower in the sky. This makes it a lot easier to place in my images or block with my subjects. The sky has a darker tone to it than when the sun is higher in the sky, so it is easier to play with the subject and scene’s exposure ratio. It can also allow  you to capture a much more colourful and interesting sky (if that’s what you want).

These next two images were shot about 30 – 40 minutes before sunset. The light was becoming golden but the sky still held most of it’s blue colour.

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The following images were shot with about 10 -15 minutes to go before the sun was on the horizon.

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When the sun has gone there are still some shooting opportunities to be had. It can become a little trickier to keep the exposure balanced the way you want with your subject and scene, especially if you are trying to avoid the higher ISO’s. The image below was shot with a fairly slow shutter speed to keep the scene at the exposure that I was after (without going above my preferred ISO range to maximise image quality), and just the right amount of flash to illuminate my subject discreetly – a single speedlight through a large umbrella pushed in as close as possible without encroaching into the frame, and feathered up so as not to spill too much light into the foreground.

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The other thing I should mention is that I have gelled my light in all of these images. Gelling if you are not familiar with the term means to add a coloured filter, often a thin piece of film like material, to the front of your light source. By doing this I am converting the relatively cool coloured light output of my flash or strobe (relative to the warm tone of the scene) to something with a little more warmth. This allows me to independently control my camera’s white balance as well as my flashes – If I want to keep the overall scene a little cooler but still want my subject to have a warmer skin tone this is how I do it. I could just choose a warmer overall white balance in camera and do nothing to my flash, then get creative in Photoshop with selective colour balancing but I prefer this method whenever possible. Maybe it’s a little old school but I like to see and control what I am creating in camera as much as possible at point of shooting – I feel that is part of the ‘craft’ of photography, often lost these days.

And lastly, you by no means have to have an assistant to shoot these type of images – I don’t always have that luxury – but it does make things a hell of a lot easier. It allows you to concentrate on composing and shooting a lot more as your assistant – also known as the voice-activated light stand [VAL] – can manoeuvre your light around for you as well as changing it’s power settings. Perhaps the biggest benefit though is that they can become a human sandbag. If you have ever used a light modifier such as an umbrella or soft box outside you will know how easily they can become a sail in a breeze, and want to launch themselves and anything else attached in the general direction of the wind… bad news if your subject is downwind : )

If you are shooting anywhere coastal then there is a good chance wind will be present at some point…

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