Thomas Wingate Eaves Movie Ranch

Fig. 1—Thomas and Jesse James in the saloon at Eaves Movie Ranch south of Santa Fe. Click through for a high-res version. 1/80″, f/8, ISO 800. Canon 5D Mark III, 24–105mm F/4L IS.

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.

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Fig. 2—Left: The Chimera softbox sealed up and ready to shoot. Right: The LumoPro  LP739 Double Flash Bracket holds two Canon Speedlites.

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.]

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Fig. 3—The Manfrotto 026 Swivel Adapter is my favorite way to connect the LumoPro bracket to a lightstand.

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

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Fig. 4—The difference between the sunlight outside and the shadows in the saloon was too great for my camera. As you can see here, there are no details in either the highlights or the shadows. 1/30″, f/4.5, ISO 1250.

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.

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Fig. 5—With my camera in Manual mode, I set the exposure so that it would capture that ambient light outside as I wanted it to appear. 1/80″ f/5.6, ISO 800

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.

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Fig. 6—The softbox case a pool of light on the floor, leaving the walls of the saloon dim.

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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Fig. 7—shot at 24mm—Thomas dominates the foreground.

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Fig. 8—shot at 45mm—Thomas fits more naturally into the geometry of the saloon door and windows.

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Fig. 9—With a 24mm lens, Thomas looms large against the background—helpful in this vertical composition.

For more information on my ‘Crafting Dramatic Light’ workshop in Santa Fe, click here. For information on my upcoming ‘Canon Speedlites Demysitified’ workshop in Maine, click here.

2 Responses to Lighting A Western With Canon Speedlites, A Chimera Softbox, And The LumoPro Double Flash Bracket

  1. Love the “Wingate Western!” Thanks for the posting! I too love the Chimera soft boxes from the “good old days” and still have two, so I was VERY happy to hear of the LumoPro Double Flash Bracket which I have now ordered! Thanks for the tip and savings! Still hoping to see you in Maine!

  2. Joanie says:

    Love the portrait and very much appreciate the b-t-s look at the lighting. Perfect timing as I have a session coming up and I wanted to create the same sort of mood lighting.

    You continue to inspire, Syl! Thank you!

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