While teaching my ‘Crafting Dramatic Light’ workshop in Santa Fe last week, I had the good fortune to return to Eaves Movie Ranch with my class. Built in the 1960s for the filming of ‘The Cheyenne Social Club‘ (starring Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Shirley Jones), Eaves continues to operate as a town-sized set for western movies and TV shows. Earlier this summer, ‘Jane Got A Gun‘—starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor—shot at Eaves.
If my photo above of Thomas Wingate, the head honcho at Eaves, looks familiar, it’s because Thomas has been photographed by every visitor to Eaves over many years. One of my favorite Thomas pix is this all-American shot by McNally—who introduced me to Thomas in 2008.
Shooting Speedlites In A Studio Softbox
Although I am known for my work with Speedlites, I shot large strobes for a couple of decades before exploring the world of small flash. While I do not miss the weight of studio lights—especially the power packs—I do miss using the wide range of modifiers that I assembled over the years (most of which are still stored in my garage). For this shoot, I used the LumoPro LP739 Double Flash Bracket to fire a pair of Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites into a Chimera softbox.
I love Chimera softboxes. I can’t explain how they create an extra bit of magic in their shaping of light and shadow, but I believe that they do. So, to be able to use Chimera softboxes with Speedlites is a valuable technique.
The LumoPro Double Flash Bracket is pro-grade tool. It features a speed ring with 10 sockets to accommodate many different configurations of softboxes. I have tried other ways to connect Speedlites to studio boxes and keep coming back to the LumoPro bracket. [Note: through July 19, 2014 use promo code LP5 to save $8 on the bracket and LPSHIP to get free shipping from MPEX.]
To connect the LumoPro bracket to a lightstand, I use the trusty Manfrotto 026 Swivel Adapter. Click through on Fig. 3 above and you’ll see how I angle the adapter at 90º to connect it to the LumoPro bracket. This allows me to keep the weight balanced over the stand while tilting the softbox.
Sorting Out The Ambient Light
When shooting flash for location portraits, my first step is always to study how my camera wants to capture the ambient light. No surprise, as shown in Fig. 4 above, the difference between the sunlit street outside and the interior of the saloon was too great for my camera. There are no details in either the highlights or the shadows.
So, before I turn on the Speedlites, I adjust my camera’s shutter speed (in Manual mode) so that the ambient light appears as I want it to (Fig. 5). The advantage of running the camera manually is that, once the ambient light is managed, the exposure will remain consistent as I change my composition—especially important when shooting in dim interiors like the saloon at Eaves.
Only after my ambient light is managed, do I turn on my flash. In Fig. 6, you can see the beautiful pool of light created by the Chimera softbox. To balance the light on Thomas with the ambient light, I adjusted the flash power via the LCD on my camera—one of the greatest features of Canon’s Speedlite system.
Sorting Out The Perspective
When shooting environmental portraits, there is the question of how to balance the visual relationship between the subject and the environment. In Fig. 7 below, I shot my Canon 24–105mm F/4L at 24 mm. Note how Thomas dominates the foreground and how the saloon door / windows are minimized. In Fig. 8, I zoomed the lens to 45mm—the focal length I needed to frame Thomas between the door and the window. To accommodate the longer focal length, I had to nearly double the distance between Thomas and me. For the horizontal shots, I prefer to more natural perspective. For the vertical portrait (Fig. 9), I don’t mind how the wide-angle pushes Thomas into the foreground.
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