Friday, November 22, 2013

Ivy... a breakdown.

Ivy by Bill Gekas

I'm guilty! I've slacked off in updating my blog! Yep, it's been a while since my last blog post and all has been well on this front but things in life just seem to get in the way and i'm sure we all want those extra eight hours in the day, but unfortunately some things in life must take priority over others and sadly it's this page that was left a bit behind. I'll try not let the gap between posts stretch out like this last one! ;)

Fortunately though i've been doing a bit of shooting, helping photography students with their assignments, doing portfolio reviews, writing articles for some magazines and have been involved in various other photography related stuff over the months and those of you connected with me on social media have been kept updated.
One request i've had a lot of over the last few months is to blog another one of my shoots and how I made it as I have in the past on this blog, they seem to be popular and a good reference for photographers wanting to know the why and thought process behind them.

So with all that aside here's a breakdown on how I shot the photo Ivy. This 'how to' article was translated and published in a photography magazine a few months back. The photo was taken earlier this year when I was shooting with the medium format Pentax 645D camera, but don't let that put you off. I could have taken this with any capable dslr!

the breakdown...

Shooting portraits in an outdoor environment is always a bit more challenging than in a studio but in reality the same principles apply. The idea for this photo came about by looking at some of the works by the painter 'Claude Monet' AD 1840-1926 and being inspired by his impressionist style. Not far from where I live I noticed a large patch of ivy growing on the ground with a nice darker background behind. The way the light was hitting the ivy in patches reminded me of Monets' works and this was to be the inspirational basis of this piece.
On a location outdoor type portrait I must work around the environment and let it dictate the other elements I can control in my frame. Knowing I was going to have a lot of green below dictated the colours I was going to use for the clothing. It's important the subject does not blend in with the background with this type of image and the colours of the clothing were chosen accordingly at least a week before. The grey skivvy top was already a part of my daughter's wardrobe, the doilie around her neck was previously used in another shoot in a different context, the cameo brooch which was also previously used before was an ebay bought item and so the only thing we didn't have was a long red skirt which was quickly sewn together by my wife using some piece of scrap red material. It didn't have to be perfect but only has to give the illusion to the end viewer that it's a skirt. The colour red was specifically chosen to make her pop from the green ivy below. Her hair was braided around her head to produce a more period look and she was dressed in the outfit for the shoot at home just before we went to the location. Sometimes when shooting on location in a public space it's best to get the shot over with in minimal time, any time saving that can be accomplished before setting out is always good.
Obviously the location had been scouted out before and using my iphone for location scouting where I take snaps of possible areas is a key part of the process.

Just before heading out I make sure the quality of ambient light is how I want it as this will usually be the secondary fill light. In most cases i'll prefer an overcast sky which will produce the soft quality of even light which is easy and forgiving to work with, nature's big octabox! This also gives me a larger time frame to work with when using speedlights as I can shoot any time throughout the day and still even out the lighting ratio between ambient and speedlights otherwise in direct sunlight i'd have to wait till the late afternoon unless I use a more powerful studio strobe.
When shooting on location I prefer to usually shoot with one light and more often it'll be a speedlight firing through a white 43" shoot through umbrella. An umbrella is something i'd hardly use in a smaller studio space as it's basically a light bomb throwing light everywhere and having it bounce around walls is when we lose control etc. However outdoors I don't have walls to worry about and the light will hit the subject and then softly disperse into the surrounding environment. The shoot through umbrella was chosen for this shoot and it's ease of set up and versatility is always welcome. Fortunately there was no wind on this day but i'm usually with somebody assisting when shooting on location so the light stand and umbrella are held in place, even a slight breeze can knock these things over unless using sandbags which I try to avoid as it's another thing to carry.

The rf triggered speedlight was set at 1/2pwr in the umbrella and the light was placed top left at about 45 degrees front left having the camera work at @ f4.5, 1/60s, iso 100. Shooting at 1/60s was letting in the right amount of ambient light and this is how I usually meter a scene on location before adjusting the power of the light. This particular photograph was shot using the medium format camera Pentax 645D with a 55mm lens which is equivalant to about a 43mm focal length in full frame format. The key light was lighting the ivy below her as well which gave the fresh leaves a certain glow making that part of the frame an interesting point. Behind her to the right part of the frame was a small walking track that was receiving some sunlight which was being diffused through dead yellow leaves on the trees above. This was giving the light a warm glow giving the impression of an enchanted type forest behind her. Although I was fortunate to receive this light from nature it would have been easily replicated by placing a second bare rf triggered speedlight with a 1/2 cto gel in that area out of frame lighting the area the same way. I'll usually carry a second light and some warming gels with me regardless if I use them or not.

Ivy lighting diagram

As most of the effort is getting the shot as perfect as I can in camera, the post processing is usually kept to a minimum and in this case here it went through my usual pre-sharpening and blacks adjustment in lightroom before being imported into photoshop. Once in photoshop I cleaned up some small branches that were looking a bit out of place, adjusted the overall tint warming it a little more and giving it a slight contrast adjustment for some pop and clarity. There's many ways of adjusting an image in post and getting to the same result but the important thing is to do it as cleanly as you can.