Bristol Urban Portraits 7 ~ Pictures and Technique

Apr 30, 2009 | Flash, Location | 13 comments

A wallop of Speedlight combined with a low angle

A wallop of Speedlight combined with a low angle viewpoint gives this frame it's character. The flash was running at full power, zoomed right in and it just about kept up with us. I changed the flash batteries just after this shot and they were burning hot as a result of the continuous firing and recycling. I use 7DayShop 2800 mAH NiMh cells at under £5 a pack and they perform well in arduous conditions. I shot all of Monday's pictures on my Canon 5D mk2.

Monday’s shoot started in a downpour. Costa coffee cafe was uncharacteristically closed, and 20 minutes before shooting our model was stuck in traffic. What else could life throw at us?

Nothing really, because we had a great shooting experience from the word go. The Ibis hotel down the road supplied the cappucinos and we shot in areas that were undercover. It was wonderful to see the reaction on the delegates faces when we started shooting great shots that looked sunlit whilst it was dark, wet and cold. By the end of the day we had experienced all weather types and captured some magic frames. Here is a small selection.

We took cover under a covered drive through between two buildings.

We took cover under a covered drive through between two buildings. I shot this frame using natural light and added a healthy increase in exposure to create this bright picture in dismal weather conditions.

The rain soon stopped and we studied reduced contrast backgrounds as abstract picture elements.

The rain soon stopped and we studied reduced contrast backgrounds as abstract picture elements. All these shots were taken below Florie's eyeline to make her look tall and statuesque.

This looks like a bright space but it was far from that. The walls were mid rey and the location was dark. Perfect for a high key shoot session then.

This looks like a bright space but it was far from that. The walls were mid grey and the location was dark. Perfect for a high key shoot session then. Low light but beautiful light with a soft kicker from over Florie's right shoulder.

Brushed stainless steel gave this picture an interesting twist. High key pictures in dark dingy surroundings are just my bag.

A brushed stainless steel column as a background gave this picture an interesting twist. High key pictures in dark dingy surroundings are just my bag.

This frame was so simple to shoot it was criminal. I asked Florie for an angry look and she obliged.

This frame was so simple to shoot it was criminal. I asked Florie for an angry look and she obliged. I used an on camera Speedlight zoomed in to provide the illumination. I chose to shoot in Manual mode from this moment on and I shared my repeatable formula techniques with the delegates. Shooting several hundred frames using these advanced exposure and lighting techniques really gets the information to stick.

After lunch we shot some cafe interiors. A simple bar top reflection

After lunch we shot some cafe interiors. A simple bar top reflection was too good an opportunity to miss. We shot into the light on a wide open aperture. We did shoot happy pictures too but I love this frame.

Marko gave this frame a simple low saturation tinted look in Lightroom.

Marko gave this frame a simple low saturation tinted look in Lightroom. I chose to use a forced composition to add drama to the shot.

A flash and burn technique was next on our agenda. 1/10th second combined

A flash and burn technique was next on our agenda. I used a 1/10th second exposure combined with a flick of the wrist and a splash of on camera flash.

A great bit of grafiti gave us an interesting background and Marko gave the grafiti a blue hue.

A great bit of graffiti gave us an interesting background and Marko gave the graffiti a blue hue. I used a single Speedlight on a stand as a key light. I triggered my 580 ES2 with a ST-E2 trigger. In May we will be stocking the new Pocket Wizard TTL units that will offer the convenience of Radio communication combined with Canon's light measuring technology.

On to the railway wagons

Then we went onto to the railway wagons with the sun as a backlight and a stand mounted Speedlight as our key.

One of the final frames of the day c

One of the final frames of the day used the same lighting as the shot above. We were shooting with a good 7 meters from trigger to flash in direct sunlight and the ST-E2 did the job. I used a 200mm lens for this compressed perspective frame.

As you can see we had a variety of weather, and lighting situations on Monday. This gave me the opportunity to share a wide range of shooting techniques and virtually all my shooting secrets with the delegates. If you want to be part of an urban portraits shoot, see here for details of the next available workshop.

Please feel free to comment on my pictures and techniques used. – Damien.

13 Comments

  1. Mark Betts

    I have a ringflash adapter its the Orbis one and its fantastic peice of kit.

    Mark

    Reply
  2. Willie

    cheers pal,
    appreciate the comment and the examples.
    regards.

    Reply
  3. damien

    Hi guys, Thanks for the comments.

    Willie, we all get shadows. Shadows are good, really they are. If you look under the chin on the angry shot you will see a dark shadow.

    If it is shadows on backgrounds that you are trying to eliminate then I suggest you try a ring flash adapter in the first instance. It might just give you the look you are after.

    Regards, Damien.

    Reply
  4. Willie

    Damien,
    Love this stuff!!
    Re the ‘angry’ shot with on camera zoomed flash.

    I have been trying this sort of stuff too, but find it difficult to eliminate shadows, no matter what.

    Any tips??

    Reply
  5. Gordon

    Damien – fantastic day. A lot to take in but I got some brilliant shots with your help. I will definitely be coming on another course. Cheers!

    Reply
  6. Richard

    What a fantastic day Damien. I can’t thank you enough. Your enthusiasm for pictures is so addictive, cant wait to book another course. Anybody else reading this post, I highly recommend this workshop it’s excellent.

    Reply
  7. Nick

    wow some fantastic photos there Damien and I can’t wait for the 11th now :)

    Reply
  8. damien

    Hi Lyn,

    Thanks for your comments. Zooming the flash in concentrates the light into a spot. It looks far better than burning in the edges of a picture using the vignetting facility in Lightroom or darkening the edges of the shot in Photoshop. These post production techniques never reduce the contrast in the shadow areas they only make the area darker and that is why good lighting always wins.

    Damien.

    Reply
  9. damien

    Hi John and Chris, Thanks for your useful information. Here is my battery strategy:

    I buy 4 sets of 2800mAh NiMh batteries in January each year from 7DayShop.com to replace the previous years batteries. I have 2 sets for my Canon kit and 2 sets for my Nikon kit. They cost me less than £20 and they are fantastic. They last me all day and I never have to change them during a shoot (if it’s just Julie or I shooting). Even at a winter wedding where we are using a lot of flash I never need to change them on the day.

    During an Urban Portraits workshop day however we often have two or three Canon or Nikon shooters working with flash at the same time in bright daylight. This is why I needed to change the batteries at some point. I suggest that if your battery solution costs you more than £10 a year / flash gun then it’s time to change.

    Panasonic, Sony, Fuji, Hahnel and 7dayshop all seem to perform well. Take your pick.

    Oh and remember to use a recycling facility for your old cells. Don’t just put them in the bin. :)

    Damien.

    Reply
  10. Cris Matthews

    Just for another opinion on batteries, I have recently been playing about with Quantum battery packs I picked up cheaply on eBay. I find them a nice solution when requiring fast recycle times and 100’s of shots in a short space of time.

    It does add to the kit you have to carry, but they do add a little weight to the light stand as the ones I have are lead-acid powered. They also have a handy power gauge on the side which is always useful.

    When not using the Quantum packs I use Fujicell 2800mAh batteries, another eBay purchase I think, and have found them to be reliable and very very powerful.

    Keep up the fantastic work Damien, a constant source of inspiration and ideas.

    Cheers

    Cris.

    Reply
  11. Lyn

    Great pictures Damien, as always!You are such an inspiration – gives all of us something to aim for in our work.

    Just a technical question, you mention zooming your speedlight in. What is the rationale behind doing this?
    Thanks for sharing your great work.

    Reply
  12. John Allen

    Hi Damien

    Even in the face of adversity you demonstrate what still can be achieved. Great stuff.

    May I just pick up on your comment regarding rechargeable batteries in speedlights?

    Rechargeable batteries are a necessity when it comes to small portable strobes like our speedlights. You cannot see how much charge is left in a battery; it’s not like the petrol gauge in your car where you have any idea how far you can go before you have to top up! Yes we can test them but on the whole we say “damn it I’ll charge them all to be on the safe side”

    Five pounds for a pack of AA rechargeable is good value, but are they?

    Hot rechargeable batteries are a sign that they are really not up for the job. Some brands may also state 2600 or 2800 mAh on the pack, maybe for 30 or 40 cycles then it’s down hill from there on perhaps struggling to achieve 1800 to 2000 mAh.
    We currently use Panasonic Infinium NiMh, the stability and reliability is simply next to none rated at a true 2100 mAh. (This is the optimum mAh). 2100mAh is a recognised benchmark that quality AA size rechargeable battery manufacturers agree upon.

    Infinium have two main convenient benefits. They stay on standby for 365 days, and after six months of storage, up to 80% of the battery power is still present and ready to be used. They are also ready to use immediately when you buy them.
    This is a huge economical and reliability advantage. And they will save you money. Instead of making sure all your batteries are charged for a shoot, you only have to charge the batteries that you last used. Use a battery tester if it will give you peace of mind. You will see what I mean.
    The icing on the cake, Panasonic, who are the manufacturer’s and not just the brand, state that the Infinium NiMh 2100 mAh will give you in excess of 1200 cycles. Even after being charged for hundreds of times the batteries retain their ability to store maximum power.

    Proof is in the eating. And I will now get off my soap box, Sorry.

    These batteries are easily available on Amazon, £9.99 for a pack of 4 x AA
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/B0024QTDHY/ref=sr_1_olp_3?ie=UTF8&s=gateway&qid=1241191373&sr=8-3

    Reply
  13. Mark Betts

    Inspiring work as usual.

    Cany wait for the Big Flash Workshop on Tuesday.

    Mark

    Reply

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