Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grad Portraits - On Location Shoot

Another instalment in the "why do I do this to myself series" ;) The first was the hair salon shoot where I shot 20+ models in a very short space of time. This round it was 16 grad portrait sessions at 20 min each. Ironically I scored this job because one of the hair salon shoot models referred me ;)

All joking aside it was a fun shoot, the photos turned out well and by pushing myself I learnt a thing or two.

My main concern when I accepted the job was what happens if it rains? We were shooting at an acreage an hour from where I live. I drive a Mini Cooper, not exactly the most roomy vehicle ;) I arranged to have an SUV available so I could bring out my 9ft backdrop roll. The plan was to get there an hour early and setup an indoor studio in the large garage attached to the house, this way if it did suddenly rain we could just pop in and switch to studio shots.

As the shoot approached the forecast turned from sunny to thunderstorms and rain, the night before the shoot we had the worst storm in 3 decades according to the news. Also the night before the shoot there was some issues and I was not able to use the SUV. After tossing and turning for a few hours I devised a plan to use my 5ft wide backdrop role for single shots of the grads and then use my new foldout 5x7 backdrop, something I had just received in the mail a few days prior.

Here is the setup I envisioned and in the end it was exactly how I shot.

The backdrop roll was just wide enough for some 3/4 length shots as well as some with two subjects standing close. The main light was a White Lightning Ultra 1200 fired into a 40" Steve Kaeser softbox umbrella with a second Ultra 1200 gridded and pointing at the backdrop. Every once in awhile I'd turn the gridded strobe around to rimlight the subject from the back.

After the individual and two-person shots I'd move the grad over to the horizontally placed collapsible backdrop, then I'd bring in the parents on either side for some close up portraits. The collapsible backdrop was 7ft wide (in this position) but its got rounded corners so I still struggled to shoot a group of 3 at times.

It didn't end up raining at all that day though it was quite windy earlier on in the morning, since the studio portraits were already working well I decided to shoot half outdoors and half indoors for everyone.

The outdoor photos were quite a bit easier though I did have some issues earlier on with direct sunlight. When I had scouted the location it had been overcast so I couldn't quite tell where the sun would be. All of the key locations around the yard were situated so that afternoon sunlight worked best, for the earlier shots I had to use a few alternate locations or when possible just turn the subjects so they were backlit by the sun. Fill flash was pretty much mandatory so I put my 580EXII to work.

One thing that surprised me quite a bit was the longevity of the LP-E6 battery the 5D MK II uses. I already had a 2nd battery as a backup but since Canon spec'd the LP-E6 at around 550 shots I figured I should get a 3rd spare (16 grads x 100 photos each = 1600). After going out of my way to find a store that had any in stock I didn't end up needing it at all! I shot the whole day on one battery (~1600 photos!) and still had 1/4 battery left. There aren't many devices nowadays that even live up to their specified battery performance let alone triple them! Just another reason why I'm sticking with Canon. Oh and the 580EXII lasted on just one set of Sanyo Eneloop batteries too!


Would I do it again if asked? Yes but my bid would be at least 50% higher, I realized later I had undercut myself when I gave the initial quote.

What did I do wrong? All in all not much, see "what would I do differently"

What did I do right? Brought backup gear (though it was not needed) for just about every piece of equipment. Bringing tons of bottled water to keep hydrated, when you're talking all day long directing people for 8 hrs you need lots of water. Making a trip out to the location ahead of time so I knew exactly what I was up against. Shot in RAW, due to the lighting outdoors changing minute to minute the extra exposure latitude that RAW gave me helped immensely. Gear checklists so I didn't forget anything (except a posing stool).

What would I do differently? Secure a rock-solid method of transport for my 9ft backdrop paper. I also would have brought a posing stool, I had thought of it the night before but didn't write it down on my checklist (luckily the acreage had one for me).

What did I learn? Planning for the worst case scenario is always the way to go, weather can change and helpers might bail, always have a backup plan.

Gear used:
Canon 5DMKII, 24-105mm EFIS L lens, 580EXII, White Lightning Ultra 1200 x 2, Cameron portable backdrop stand, 5ft roll of studio grey paper, 5x7 Impact Collapsible Backdrop, Yong Nuo PT04-TM wireless triggers, ASUS 1005HA netbook for dumping files.

Backup gear I took but was unneeded: Canon T2i w 18-55mm IS kit lens, Canon G10, Interfit 42" dual reflector, Cameron 400W studio strobes x 2, 3 YN460 MKII speedlights, 2 Nikon SB-26 speedlights, 6 sets of Sanyo eneloop AA batteries.

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