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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Portraiture Assignment – using available light

I recently had the pleasure to photograph the lead oboist of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in short portrait shoot at the Playhouse Company building in Durban’s CBD. As usual I came prepared with absolutely everything…6 small hotshoe strobes, brollies, softboxes stands and an army of lenses…all crammed into a duffel and two camera backpacks. I like to be prepared I guess. So I sweated my way into the foyer and soon met up with Alison Lowell, the oboist (you can see her site on www.alisonlowell.com). We wound our way through the labyrinthine backstage area to the theatre for the first shot…where we were promptly chased off from.

The first shots were fairly simple headshots against against one of the black velvet backdrop curtains behind stage. A white umbrella used as a reflector for the main and a zoomed flash-head for the hair light (Alison has lovely red hair which I wanted to emphasize in the colour images). I also put a reflector up on her lap to fill any hard shadows and soften the face somewhat.

 Then we got a little more interesting. The Playhouse building has these incredible ornate doors facing onto the side street. Light was pouring through these, despite the fact that the side-street angled away from the sun itself (essentially the light was being reflected from the concrete façade of the building next door. I wanted to selectively light Alison with the framework of the doors behind her. To do this I underexposed the doors so that we got black frames with light. I then placed a flash in a white umbrella reflected back to her on camera left. This gave nice defined lighting on her right hand side, but cast a strong shadow on her left. This was moody but a bit too dark, so a kicker in the form of a strobe from camera right with a rogue flash-bender formed into a snoot filled her face nicely.

As I mention above, I came fully prepared with a mountain of gear (wish I'd had an assistant to lug the stuff about), but my favourite images came, not from the shots that used flash, but from the natural light images that we finished up with.

We had various other setups using stairs, chairs and other backgrounds. the location that was brimming with promise in the end was a sort of conservancy like space above the main foyer. Window light flooded this large area. the light itself was then bounced around thanks to a wall of mirrors on either end and light toned walls opposite the actual window. The light coming in through the large windows was beautiful. I couldn't pay for better light!

So the final few images were shots completely sans flash. The first image was a simple one using the window light with Alison up close to the window itself. This is a pretty cliched technique...because it works so well. Thanks to the inverse square rule the light falls off incredibly quickly, meaning that if the face is properly exposed, the back of the head is already about two to three stops darker. Move away from the window and the effect is less obvious, as seen in the final image below.

The images were done for next years KZN Philharmonic Orchestra brochure. Alison, an American by birth, will be performing with them for the foreseeable future. Her site can be visited by clicking on the link (http://www.alisonlowell.com).


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