Yesterday I had a model shoot with three aspiring models who needed to build their portfolios. We went to a billiards parlor for the afternoon and I put them and the Fuji through its paces. It was also the first test in the field for my new 400 w/s bare-bulb strobes. The new strobes are battery-powered via external rechargeable batteries. They can be configured to sit on-camera and be triggered via hot shoe, take a wireless remote trigger like a PocketWizard, be triggered via sync cord, or be triggered by a proprietary wireless trigger system that also allows you to remotely adjust the power level from the camera position. The first one I bought was a Calumet-labeled version. When Calumet was still in business in the US, these were quite expensive – a single head unit plus the required but not included battery pack would have set you back a cool $1000. Nowadays, they’re on clearance on Amazon for $300 or so. They are also now being sold with the NEEWER, Flashpoint and Godox labels, at a much more reasonable price – I got a NEEWER version with the external rechargeable battery pack for $400 as a second unit for doing fill flash or background lighting.
These first two shots were taken with Alex shooting pool. In the first shot, I set him up taking the break shot. Don’t let the fact that he’s a model fool you- he’s also a pool shark – right after this shot, his break dropped three balls. I wouldn’t bet against him. This was taken with the Fuji 56 f1.2. My main light was the Calumet Genesis in an umbrella softbox, and the fill was the NEEWER with a gridded reflector and a red gel in it. Having the ability to both color gel and grid the fill is really handy, as the color adds a touch of drama to the scene, and the grid keeps it from spraying all over the place and coloring things you don’t want it to, like the table felt.
For this shot, I kept the lights the same but switched to the 23mm f1.4 so I could get in close and still get the extension of his shoulder, arm, cue, and the ball on the table, as this table was in the middle of the room with other tables behind me, and I only had about four or five feet to work in. The red gel adds a touch of drama and energy to the shot without overwhelming, and is a good way to deal with the very mixed light in a pool hall where you can have fluorescent (the over-the-table lights), halogen/tungsten (lights in the bar area and on the walls) and LED (accent lights like rope lights around partition walls and the like, or under the bar) all in the same area.
I also did some head shots with Alex (who is an easy, professional model to work with). I backed this indie film called Hallucinaut on Kickstarter last year and as my reward, I got these kaleidoscope-lensed glasses that appear in the film as a prop. I chose them specifically as my reward as something that would make a really cool prop for photo shoots. This was their first appearance in one of my shoots. They really pick up and reflect colors well, and make for a dramatic statement.
A variation on the theme, I broke out my welder’s goggles and matched them up with a vintage leather jacket for a steampunk look. Alex’s short-cropped hair adds to the look by letting the goggles really stand out against the shape of his head.
In the last look for Alex, I did two versions of this really clean, minimal portrait. When I showed it to him on screen he commented “I have a really long neck!” as if that was a bad thing. I reminded him of what you’ll hear on every season of the now-ended America’s Next Top Model – it’s a really good thing to have a long neck. Tyra Banks and her photographers were always reminding the contestants to elongate their bodies and gestures, to create drama and elegance. If you have a short neck, stretch it out, otherwise the camera can make it look like you’re neckless and just have a head glued directly to your torso.
These were both shot outdoors under the eave of a parking garage, and combining the flash in a beauty dish as a fill with the backlight of the street behind made it easy to completely blow out the background into a nice even white. Handy trick when you’re going studio-less and need an even background.
I shot all these images in RAW, then converted afterward to JPEG. I like working this way because it feels more like traditional darkroom photography, where I’m working from the in-camera negative. Working from in-camera JPEGs, while still very good, to me is not as good because it’s like making a copy of a print – changes have been made and nuances have been degraded.
Not that there should be any doubt, but the Fuji 56mm is a knockout lens (Fuji has always made some top-grade glass, especially for their medium-format cameras). The falloff in sharpness at wide-open or near wide-open is creamy-smooth, and the rendering of out-of-focus highlights is never harsh or jagged.
Takeaways from this shoot:
-Work with good models. Not everyone is a good model, and not all good models start out that way, but if you’re new to the process of working with models, hire folks (and I do mean hire, as in pay for with cash, not just trade-for-prints/CD) who have experience working with photographers.
-know your equipment. If I were not as experienced with studio lighting, figuring out what was going on with my Calumet/NEEWER flashes could have been a pain, as they don’t have modeling lights (to save on battery life) and are not TTL because they’re made to be universal and are not dedicated to any one system.
-have fun. Be loose, work with your environment, take advantage of the opportunities it presents, and challenge yourself to overcome its obstacles. You’ll make much better pictures that way.