After a long couple of days of teaching at Photoshop World, my good friends Ray and Kim insisted I join them for dinner and a quick shoot. Exhausted, I tried every excuse not to go but they are the type of friends you can’t say no to—and I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s what went through my mind when we created the Sports Grit Look using a cross-light setup with continuous light.
Not My Normal Lighting Gear
Normally I use a 3-light setup using studio strobes or speedlights attached to strip boxes and a beauty dish. For this setup, I had one Westcott Solix LED Light continuous light and a narrow Westcott Ice Light 2 LED Light. Both had barn doors attached to them. This was helpful in controlling and feathering the light. Since they were lower power continuous lights, I had to up my ISO to 800, causing a grainy portrait—but a grainy photo is better than no photo at all of my buddy, Ray.
Instead of a beauty dish straight on, I cross lit the shot—positioning the lights directly across from each other. I used the barn doors to feather the light across the subject, plus it help kept the light from spilling onto the black background.
Not My Normal Lens
Ray handed me a Nikon D810 camera—the same camera I use, but this one had an older wide-angle lens attached. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is my go-to portrait lens. It offers me the right amount of compression and is tack sharp. Instead, Ray had a wide-angle 15mm-30mm variable f/stop—f/3.5 to f/5.6—lens. A wide-angle isn’t usually good for portraits and the lens itself is on the soft side. To cut down on distortion, I shot from a low position and kept the camera straight and cropped in post. I used structure in Luminar to bring back clarity.
Hand Held the Black Backdrop
Ray was traveling in from Seattle and was limited on the amount of gear he could bring. He did have a black backdrop but didn’t have anything to mount it to. I let out a loud sigh and said I’ll use the curtains in the room for the backdrop and edit it in post. Kim immediately said she and Samara could stand on chairs and hold the black backdrop. I felt bad at first but knew this would make a better photo of Ray.
Getting the Shot
Out of everything I “complained’ about, getting the shot isn’t going to be one of them. Once the technical side of photography is figured out, the easy and fun part is working with the subject to get the shot. I knew my limitations with the current setup, so I made sure to pose Ray in different positions that stayed within the parameters of the lighting setup. At one point, he wanted to demonstrate a kick and I guided him away from it knowing the slow lens and the low power of continuous light wouldn’t capture our vision.
When Not to Say, “Just Do It”
So why not just have him do it? Because I knew there were other shots we could get and my time was limited. To create an action shot in the conditions we were in would require us to go down an experimental rabbit hole that I knew I didn’t have in me. Remember, I was still exhausted from teaching the past few days. If I just sucked it up and said “Just Do It,’ I know I wouldn’t have had fun doing the shoot and wouldn’t reflect back on the experience with a favorable memory. Know your strengths and recognize your weaknesses.
Overall, I’m glad my friends pushed me into doing the shoot. My good friend Ray has several images of himself. Kim and Samara got to have a mini lesson on cross lighting and working with a subject. Surround yourself with friends that help you muster the energy to accomplish projects when you feel you have nothing left to give. It makes for a great bonding experience.
Currently he is teaching workshops, writing for Photofocus and creating tutorials for various plug-in companies and for the Vanelli and Friends series.
You can find out more about Vanelli at www.VanelliandFriends.com
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