Event: Fujilove Venice Carnival workshop 2016
Camera: Fujifilm X-Pro2 (pre production)
Lenses: XF 16mm, XF 23mm, XF 35mm f/1.4 and the XF 50-140mm
Unmasked models: Allesandria and Allesandria
Outside lighting: Cactus RF60 Speedlight and Cactus V6 transmitter
Interior lighting: Lupo 1000 LED and Lupo 650 LED spotlights
My Strategy: Tomasz from Fujilove invited me to be part of his workshop and I said, “If I am going to be involved in this workshop I need to make my mark on the genre and bring in my own lighting and creative style to the Venice Carnival.” Tomasz agreed and we partnered up as tutors.
The task: The Venice carnival is a hugely popular photographic subject among professionals and amateur photographers alike. Our eleven workshop attendees, from around the world, were of all technical ability levels from absolute beginner to very advanced. I had just one day with a professional unmasked model to get the group up to speed with off camera flash ahead of our first early morning shoot with the carnival models.
01. The shot on the right of Allesandra in the fog was the first one that we took as a group. I explained how to set the Fuji cameras up to preview the manual exposure then showed how to finely set the ambient look. The is no one correct exposure. It’s a case of decide on the look that you like and go with it. Once this was set we added flash to taste. Nothing is simpler than using the Cactus system with and make of camera because they are universal and you can adjust the flash power from the camera position. For the shot on the left we used a lighter ambient exposure with just a hint of flash to make Allesandra ‘pop’ from the foggy background. Both shots were lit with bare Speedlights set at 90 degrees to the camera angle. There is no need whatsoever for 90% of all the Speedlight modifiers that are sold and I showed the delegates how to create beautiful pictures using bare flash.
02. This is one of my favourite pictures from day one. It is similar to the shot top left in set 01 but with a much more striking composition. I am always careful with lead in lines, verticals and subject placement. All these elements were discussed as we captured the shot. All the shots I took on day one were ‘figure in the landscapes’. It’s easy to shoot head shots, it’s hard to shoot the wide shots so I spent my time showing how to shoot to include the environment. I love the muted tones captured using the Pro Neg S film simulation on the X-Pro2 with the H tone set to -1 and the S tone set to -1. This image looks fantastic as a big print due to the ultra fine detail.
03. As the day wore on the light was changing. Tomasz and I had split the group into a 6 and a 7 so it was easy for them to work with flash. We just swapped groups every 45 minutes so that everyone got to shoot everything. The group working with me passed one Cactus trigger amongst us. The top shots here were taken one from each group some 45 minutes apart and the ambient light level had dropped two stops at least in that time. It’s interesting to see how the room lights begin to play a part in the exposure and how the blue dusk light shows on the un-flashed surfaces. The shot at the bottom used -2 stops of ambient exposure and a blast of flash to taste. Every setup was created from scratch using the Fuji LCD or EVF screens as our exposure guide for both the ambient and flash elements of the exposure.
04. I then showed how to recreate sunlight. The shot on the left was taken on the same grey foggy day using a single bare faced Speedlight to replicate the sun and the shot on the right used key and kick lighting from 2 Cactus RF60 Speedlights. By this point we were all ready to use Speedlights off camera with full knowledge of how to set them.
05. The next day we visited a palace and this time we had a different Allesandra modelling for us. Allesandra wore the gold dress that I had brought from the UK from top designer Molly Mishi May. Many photographers have taken pictures in this palace but to really do the place justice one needs to add light, beautiful light. I used a pair of Italian made Lupo LED spotlights, a 650 and a 1000. They are so easy to use and can run off battery too. The ‘1000’ light on the stairs was powered by battery and lasted about 2 hours on one charge.
06. I showed how I change my viewpoint to a high shot using the self timer and a monopod. (It works fine with the Fuji app too if you have a friend to hold your phone and press the button). We also shot at at 90 degrees to the light as before.
07. The palace is furnished with sumptuous fabrics that come alive when lit beautifully. So too does Allesandra. The shot top right was set up to show the group that this lighting style works well for Hollywood style head shots too.
08. Once we had shot the reflections in the polished floors and some classical images in the main ballroom from every angle it was time to introduce the group to the masked Venetians.
The Venice Carnival is a collection of events over two weeks ranging from organ recitals and choral performances to street events and the infamous masquerade. It is a fabulous reason for Venetians and visitors to get into the swing of things by dressing up.
09. Tomasz arranged for these four Venice Carnival models in costume to meet us at the palace. They were easily directed into place using a sofa and a chair and lit them with a horizontal slash of light from a Lupo 1000.
Lupo in Italy were kind enough to courier the lights to our location and this made my travel luggage quite a bit lighter. All the time I had been shooting Allesandra with the Lupo lights Tomasz had been working with the other half of the group photographing the models in costume using window light.
10. The next morning we were up at 6am to head down to San Marco where a group of models had gathered for the photography groups that assembled. Every possible lighting rig was on show but most employed some sort of soft light coming from the camera direction. We used the same technique that I had taught on day one. We first set the flash at 90 degrees to the camera to simulate the light coming from an imaginary lamp just out of shot. Then we set our ambient exposure without the need to even shoot a frame using the LCD and finally we set the flash exposure to taste.
11. When we first arrived it was still completely dark and within 15 minutes the daylight had broken through. We had to work fast. Having just one Speedlight on a stand is a great rig for fast lighting changes and set moves.
There is absolutely no way of shooting this kind of thing using TTL flash because even the slightest composition adjustment would require a Flash Exposure Compensation adjustment and for a shot like this the TTL FEC value would need to be -4 stops or something like that. Manual working with flash of any kind, be it in the studio or on location is fast and consistent.
12. The costumes worked well set against the inky backdrop. Even when we had lamp lights in the shot we added our carefully set Speedlight from just out of shot.
13. The lamps went off in Venice at 07:10 exactly but we carried on regardless. I could have added lit lamps in post but that defeats the point of my work. All you see here was created in camera. Even down to the film simulation and tonal feel of the images.
14. These shots were taken on the waterfront later in the day. When shooting with the Cactus flash system off camera we have complete control of the ambient exposure. When the ambient light level is really high in full sunlight for instance the exposure variation is limited without the use of ND filters.
15. On the dry days throughout the Venice Carnival period the masqueraders gather in pre arranged squares across the city. Photographing them is a case of finding where these places are and being there to meet them.
16. Church doorways and the sky make easy backdrops for natural light photography.
17. The Cactus Speedlight was put to good use for these shots taken by a church in a back alley.
18. It pays to set up and light shots beautifully.
19. The church pedestals make great settings for Venetian portraits.
20. Everywhere you look there are surprises.
21. A foggy morning light diffused the Venetian backdrop perfectly for a portrait of these two characters and their owl.
22. I wonder if the costume was designed to match the dog’s eye make up or perhaps it was the other way around. The character bottom right with the devil horns and Cardinals robes was shot in a Convent using two Cactus Speedlights.
23. Every now and then a close up is needed to capture the detail and majesty of the costumes.
24. Is that the crown of lower Egypt on the left? Tears of a clown on the right.
28. It was a challenge to get this shot with the X-Pro2 because I’m used to the tilting screen of the X-T1. I had to lie in a puddle and was chuckled at by so called ‘pro photographers’ with DSLRS and big lenses clipped to various parts of their bodies. The shots they were getting were cluttered with buildings in the background and their on camera flash was not going to help.
29. Once a year in February the Venice Carnival plays host to elaborately dressed visitors. These players are from all over the world and are tourists too hence these phone pictures taken on board the water bus.
I recommend every photographer to visit the Venice Carnival. It’s a great way to see the city too without the heat and clutter of the peak summer season.
You may want to view my portraits of Venice blog post.
Take a look at the photographs by Tomasz, my co tutor, from this Fujilove workshop.
If you want to learn the techniques for working with off camera flash that I demonstrated in this blog post get yourself a copy of this Video: Illumination 2 Urban Portraits
Please feel free to comment on these pictures and the techniques used below.