The final image that made the flyer for UpDown Apparel.

A couple of weeks ago I did another photo shoot for my friend’s clothing company UpDown Apparel in preparation for a flyer to be distributed at Australia’s largest Mini Truck show, East Coast Cruise (ECC). This shoot stretched my technical ability to its best, with the use of multiple off camera flash, a reflector and a model, all the while I had time pressure from the location’s manager.

The venue is a steel craft shop in Hastings, Victoria where most of the trucks built in the area come from, so it was the perfect backdrop for the shoot. The lighting on location was no use to me, as they had mercury vapour lamps in the ceiling which are hard to colour correct and very dull anyway, dull skylights and one garage door opening on the side of building. Even with the door wide open and in the middle of the day, the ambient lighting exposure was 1/30th-1/15th of second at f3.5, ISO100, not an entirely useful amount of light to photograph a person.

To light the scene I used a Canon 580EX II on a light stand using either a shoot through umbrella or a 24″ softbox. To give some edge lighting to the model (Amber) I used a Nikon SB28 Speedlight on a little mounting foot in various different positions throughout the shoot. The Canon was connected with a very long custom ETTL cord to give me accurate exposure quickly. Normally I’d do it totally manually, but time was bit of a premium. I also had the bonus of playing around with the exposure compensation of the flash right in camera, saving me to go to the main light to adjust it all the time. To trigger the Nikon flash I had a wireless radio trigger connected to the camera’s sync port and in turn the receiver was connected to the flash’s sync port.

I took my usual approach of selecting an aperture value first in Manual mode (in this case f3.5) where I new I would have adequate depth of field for the shot I was taking, fast or wide enough so the flash didn’t have to work too hard and it was in the sharpest range of the lens (f3.5-f6.3 is the sharpest range of the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8). I knew my base shutter speed was 1/30th of second, but I wanted to render the background in near darkness. For this I reduced the shutter speed to 1/250th of second which is the max sync speed of my camera and flash trigger. Combined that with an ISO of 100 for maximum sharpness and file detail, the background went into complete darkness. Remember the faster the shutter speed, the less ambient light reaches the sensor in relation to the flash exposure, which is controlled by aperture.

The vision for the shot was a girl emerging from the passenger side of her boyfriend’s mini truck (in this case the actual truck that is part of the UpDown logo), with directional high contrast lighting to give the image an edgy mood. I always used to light literally everything from every direction, but now I take a more minimalistic approach to add more drama. The main light in the softbox was camera right, about 5ft high and about 4ft from Amber. To get some extra warmth in the shot I gelled the flash 1/4 CTO (colour temperature orange). The light was tilted only slight downward to get some light on her legs. Camera left was a big reflector to help fill the shadows only very slightly as I wanted to keep some aggressive shadows. Inside the car I used the Nikon flash sitting on the center console totally bare and set it to 1/16th power. The head was slightly pointed up to get some good edge lighting on Amber and this separated her from the blackness a bit.

There was extensive colour work on this image, even just in Adobe Lightroom, with dramatic combinations of an unusual White Balance, colour level settings and contrast. Nearly every slider in Lightroom was adjusted to achieve this look, but the final tweaks were in Photoshop CS4. Here I did some selective contrast and sharpening layers, retouched some imperfections on the truck, skin smoothing on Amber, selective brightening on various parts of her as well and a High Pass Sharpening layer over the whole picture.

I’m very happy with the result of final picture, even before I edited it, as the vision came together nicely and the equipment performed beautifully. I think that anyone with basic flash equipment can achieve this style of photo with a little practice, but the image would have never come together if I couldn’t picture it in my head before I hit the shutter button. It’s 70% vision, 20% technique and 10% editing. 

In the future I will post some more sucessful pictures of the shoot.

A phone camera shot of me at work with Amber. Photo courtesy of Lachlan Hale, UpDown Apparel.

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