Twas the Season for Portraits

Twas the season and twill is!  Hi everybody!  Happy New Year and welcome back to the blog.  For the four of you keeping track, I've been gone for the last two weeks.  I was spending the holidays with my in-laws.  Now before you make a lot of in-law jokes, I really like mine and the family and I had a great time.  Lots of food... lots of drinks... and lots of food.  Also, did I mention there were drinks?  One of my favorite parts of the break was all the photos I got to take.  I took photos of the dogs, photos of the kids, photos of strangers... photos of stranger's kids.  I even got up for a few sunrises and took some really cool pics of my favorite bridge in Auburn, CA.

However, my favorite photos were the portraits I took in my make-shift photo studio I created in my in-law's garage.  I decided the holidays were a great time to bust out a bunch of my lighting and photo equipment and take portraits for whoever wanted over the time we were on vacation.  If you know my in-laws, you know that there are about 400 different parties and dinners over the break, so I thought this was a great opportunity.  Usually the light, background, room, subject or something isn't ideal for a portrait, so I figured I'd just make it perfect with a really controlled environment.  I started with a background of white seamless paper.  I then put a stool a few feet away from the background which would allow me to light a specific area and then keep people coming to the same spot... it was far enough away from the background to help keep shadows off the white paper.  I put an "x" with tape on the floor right under the stool, so if there were groups, or tiny people, we could shoot knowing the exact same spot without the benefit of the stool..  I then placed two soft boxes about four feet in front of the stool and about three feet off to each side.  Each soft box had a Canon 580ex II speedlite in it and there was one additional flash on the ground, behind the stool, aimed at the background.  Why?  Well, if you know about the principles of light falloff (lookup the inverse square rule), you know that with the subject a few feet away from the background, the light would falloff before reaching the white paper, causing it to look gray.  Now, that's okay and I wanted it that way in some of the photos, but in others I wanted a pure white background, so the additional flash was needed.  The speedlite on the right was at about 1/8 power and the one on the left was about two stops less.  This made for some interesting shadows on the subjects, even though they were lit from both sides.

Here's what the setup looked like without anybody standing in for a photo.  Keep in mind that in this photo I haven't yet placed the flash behind the stool aimed at the background.  You can see it all ready to go off to the right on the floor, but that's not the place where I used it.

So now we were ready to go.  I set my ISO at 100, my aperture at f/5.6 and my shutter speed at 125/sec.  That would give me sharp photos with just the amount of depth of field I was looking for.  I was shooting in manual cause I didn't want any of my settings to change.  I used a light meter to get the proper exposure for the flashes and then I was good.  I knew that as long as my subjects were roughly the same spot and if the lights didn't move, I would have the same, perfect exposure every time.  If I wasn't shooting in manual mode, the camera would automatically change it's settings every time somebody moved or the lighting changed.  This allowed me to keep control and keep everything constant.  

It was a lot of fun and I think the photos came out really well.  Everybody had a good time and I don't think that had anything to do with the alcohol being served.  Okay, maybe a little.  Some of my favorite photos can be found below.

Happy New Year!