First Post-FlashBus Shoot

Here is future superstar Tyler Mikkelson. I hope he remembers the little people - especially the photographers.

Playing a Stratocaster didn’t make me sound like Jimi Hendrix, and spending a day with David Hobby didn’t make my images look as good as his. Yet.

The day after I attended Joe McNally and David Hobby’s FlashBus Tour in Los Angeles, a young actor contacted me to arrange a headshot session. Improvising with my own lighting tools (umbrellas and grids – no softboxes), I tried to replicate some of the techniques I learned in LA, to the extent I could get away with it. Generally speaking, actors’ headshots cannot be too dramatic – the image should present the actor’s true appearance and not call attention to the photography.

"Strobist" David Hobby taught me a structure for managing light. Making it work for each subject is the never-ending, joyous path to which he has led me.

I’m pleased with my fill and key lights, but the really exciting development for this shoot was the accent light – in this case a background light. The blue background in these images was created by firing a flash with a blue gel at a black backdrop!  I’d been trying for months to get this effect by firing gelled flashes at white backdrops. It doesn’t work, because the white surface reflects the light, whereas black or grey surfaces absorb light. It also worked better because I moved the subject very far away from the background, and kept the key and fill lights very close to the subject. This way, the key and fill light did not spill onto the background. I had read about the technique, but seeing Joe McNally do it live helped me understand the actual distances required.

I was able to send Tyler and his parents off with a dozen images, in color and black and white. Are these the greatest headshots ever made? Certainly not, but I'm really thrilled with the dramatic improvement I'm seeing after ONE class with Hobby and McNally.

I feel like this session was a photographic rebirth, because, however I feel about my ability to elicit poses and expressions, I definitely feel dramatic progress in my control of light. The key, fill and accent lights are pretty much exactly as I wanted them in each image. I can barely wait for the next session.

1 Comment

Filed under Lighting, Motivation, Portraiture

One response to “First Post-FlashBus Shoot

  1. Hiya,

    I am from San Diego and also attended the Flash Bus Tour during its swing through SoCal. We (my wife and I) had similar epiphanies as leaving the venue. We had seen Joe McNally, Michael Greenberg, Manny Librodo and Louis Pang in Kuala Lumpur in January – that conference/workshop really started our reassessment and re-tooling on our use of lights, composition, and creativity. Attending the San Diego Flash Bus workshop really kicked it a couple of notches, especially seeing David Hobby’s simple, but reality-exposing explanations followed by Joe’s demonstrations.

    We had our first post-TFB shoot yesterday and like you, had a very similar lighting scheme, including the blue-gelled accent light on black muslin. FANTASTIC shoot.

    The other major insight was seeing David Hobby tone down the power of EVERYTHING by assessing and reducing the ambient light to start the session. This allowed us to power down the other speed lights, thus saving on battery life and creating a calm shooting atmosphere (no really around looking for batteries or fiddling with the ISO/F-Stop for EVERY shoot. Before, just set the camera to 125 speed, F/13, ISO LO.7 and NUKING the scene with manual 1/1 ! Yesterday, we had three photographers shooting for about 2.5 hours without a SINGLE battery change in any of the three speedlights.

    Great post and fantastic head shots!


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