photo shoot

best / portable softbox for on-location headshot photography

I vary the lighting kit that I use for on-location portraits and headshot photography. It could involve multiple lights, or a single-light setup on location. My choice of lighting is most often decided by how complex it need to be, and the logistics of getting to the location and setting up.

More than struggling with something, I detest the appearance of struggling with something. Let me explain – when working with clients, it all needs to appear smooth and efficient. Everything in place, and professional. No struggling with gear. Set it up efficiently; shoot; and then break it all down even faster at the end. I don’t want to appear like I am battling with anything. (This is also why I shy away from anything that looks home-made or makeshift.

With this extended gig described here – photo gear & logistics: corporate headshots – I used a large setup with multiple studio heads. This involved a lot of logistics with the lighting gear, carting it around in New York, and being able to set it all up quickly. With another headshots gig for a company, I needed multiple spots set up simultaneously on the company’s site – on-location headshots and promotional portraits. Different needs, and different solutions.

When shooting inside, we can rely less on the available light to act as a natural fill light. But outside, on location, the ambient light and flash are often neatly balanced, and then a much simpler single-lightsetup can be sufficient.

Back to the idea of setting up fast, and not struggling – a softbox with speedring and rods can be a mild battle, with the need to push down on the rods and flex them.

The Westcott Rapid Box 36 XL (affiliate), alleviates that. This 36″ double-baffled octa-box opens and closes like an umbrella. There is a zippered opening on the side where you can stick your hand in to settle the mechanism inside, and then also wiggle it lose afterwards to collapse it. The Rapid Box 36 XL fits into a carry-bag.

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themes & context in boudoir photography – on the streets of NYC

The model in this striking image is my friend, Jessica, a boudoir photographer. Her pose is intentionally this strong and assertive. The concept here (and other images that will be shown in follow-up articles), is part of an on-going project she had planned for a long while now. She had asked me to collaborate with her in taking the photos.

The main idea behind the project (and these are my words and interpretation of what we had discussed) – women are objectified in society, but there is a disconnect in how people respond (or don’t) to provocative posters and images of scantily clad women – yet, when an actual woman appears in the same context – scantily clad in public, but out of context, people react differently.

During this shoot out on the streets of NYC, where Jessica appeared in different outfits, people responded in an interesting way. This is New York. People have seen everything. Little fazes them. People easily go about their routine. Some are more bold, and stopped to look, and even comment. Of course, the Observer Effect kicked in in a big way – by observing an experiment, you affect its outcome. So the presence of my camera, and the lighting, as well as a friend doing a behind-the-scenes video, obviously affected people’s response … compared to that if Jessica had been there on her own, just wearing lingerie.

A quick note about the main image – the guys in the background were 100% a deliberate choice in this composition. As was the timing that they both look at their phones. With that in mind, this photo is one we both picked when selecting an initial image to show. Her narrative will come later in a post on her site.

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engagement photo sessions: posing, lighting & context

I love this photo! I also like how it came together. This was within minutes of meeting DaWeon and Toban for their engagement photo session in Philadelphia. We had only chatted on Skype before. Embarrassingly enough, I arrived late to the meeting place for their engagement session through my misunderstanding about the address. No excuses there. But it did mean I had to work fast – the setting sun was lighting up the Philadelphia skyline, and I had to nail a series of photos very quickly.

DaWeon and Toban had said they wanted the city to feature in their engagement photo session. And of course, I am always under a self-imposed instruction that the photos have to look great and have to please and even surprise my clients.

More than pre-visualizing a shot, you have to be able to immediately recognize what needs to be done to get the photograph that you know is possible.

Everyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, would know that my approach is one where I work with a structure – an algorithm that will make sure the shot works technically. But I also want to be open to surprises. Chance.

That idea of allowing serendipity and change to influence a photo session, has been a regular topic lately:

With clients though, I am more inclined to favor my chances of success by working with structure to my photography technique. The images need to work! There needs to be a solid yet fluid baseline from which I can be creative and look for opportunities and play off the couple’s playfulness.

A few things had to come together to make this photo (and the entire series of photos) successful:
– lighting,
– composition
– context,
– posing.

And these are things I have to control. No time to wait for luck to favor me with some random goodness.

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creative portrait photography on location – allowing opportunities to happen

There was an interesting challenge for me during a recent individual photography workshop in NYC – Don (who arranged the workshop), already knew the essentials of lighting techniques, and said what he really wanted was insight into the way that I see a photo before I take it.  How do I know something will work or not. Don was particularly impressed with the series of photos of Anelisa that I shot for the review of the Profoto B2 Flash. The shallow depth-of-field images was a particular draw-card.

Serendipity – I love that word. A bit of chance favoring you. When a tiny bit of serendipity comes your way during a photo shoot, you have to be open enough to see it and then run with the idea. In effect, you have to be open to opportunity and allow it to happen to you.

There are a number of examples on the Tangents blog where I stumbled on interesting found light, and used it for effect:

These are the kind of opportunities that you need to allow to happen, and not get fixated on the ideas you had in mind. Grab what is happening and work with it. Here is one example from the workshop in NYC:

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video clip: behind the scenes – Profoto B2 review photo shoot

For the review: Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash, I had Erik Colonese shoot a behind-the-scenes video clip while I photographed Anelisa. It’s a fairly long clip because we decided to keep in a lot of my dialogue with Anelisa as I direct her. The video clip also expands on the review with some info on the Profoto B2 Flash (affiliate), and I also touch on camera settings and using the flash.

As is usual, I want the material on Tangents to be of wider interest, even when it is a review of a specific product. There’s something in the video for everyone, regardless of your specific interest in Profoto.

As regular followers of the Tangents blog know already, Anelisa is my favorite model – she has a sparkling personality and we have a great rhythm, but more than that, she knows how to switch it on instantly for the camera. You pretty much can’t take a bad photograph of her. Now, as consummately professional as she is, she can’t see what I am getting in the viewfinder, so it is still up to me to direct her. That’s something to keep in mind if you work with models – talk to them, and guide them. It really becomes a collaborative effort then. This BTS video clip shows some of that.

For the entire photo shoot with Anelisa in various spots in Manhattan, I wanted to shoot at f/1.4 to give a very specific look. It helps isolate your subject from the background. The wide aperture meant a high shutter speed … which meant that I used the Profoto B2 in high-speed flash sync (HSS), to get this look. For more technical info, check the review: Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash.

Thank you to Erik for shooting and editing the clip; Anna Russell for patiently assisting; and Anelisa for fueling the creative spark, and for braving the cold.

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review: Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash – photo shoot

Over the years I have used a variety of off-camera lights on location shoots and at weddings, and have worked my way up from Dynalite and Quantum flashes (and speedlights), to the Profoto B1. The Profoto B1 (affiliate) has made such a difference for me in the ease of use, the speed of setting up, and the sheer power of 500 W/s of light. I love my B1 flash. For example, here is how I used the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding.

Profoto has now released the Profoto B2 250 W/s Air TTL Flash, and it comes as two options:
Profoto B2 Location Kit with two flash heads (affiliate)
Profoto B2 To-Go Kit  with a single head (affiliate)

The Profoto B2 immediately intrigued me for a few reasons. As a quick summary, the B2 offers:
250 W/s power. (Half that of the B1)
High-speed flash sync and
TTL flash exposure metering, as well as a
Freeze Mode where the flash duration is cut down to 1/15,000 sec. at lower power settings.
– It is much lighter and compact than the B1 – but this comes with a few penalties.

Before we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the Profoto B2 vs the B1, I have to mention that every review I’ve read so far, mentioned the B2 as a lower-cost alternative to the Profoto B1. However, I don’t see the Profoto B2 positioned like that – the single-flash unit is about the same price as the B1. So there’s no financial advantage there. Now, by the time you get to the 2-flash head Location kit, then the B2 kit is less expensive than two Profoto B1 heads … but still with certain disadvantages to it.

So really, I don’t think the Profoto B2 was meant to be a lower-cost option to the B1, but was meant to just be a different option to the B1. Just different. You have options. You get to choose what suits your needs best.

To test the Profoto B2, I met up with Anelisa and an assistant in Manhattan, to do a Fashion-styled shoot out on the streets. Exactly the kind of thing where the Profoto B2 is meant to excel – being a portable high-powered flash that offers high-speed flash sync, as well as TTL flash exposure metering.

The behind-the-scenes video clip adds more info about the Profoto B2. It’s a fairly long clip because we decided to keep in a lot of my dialogue with Anelisa as I direct her. That’s something to keep in mind if you work with models – talk to them, and guide them. It really becomes a collaborative effort then.

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business headshots in the studio, with a contemporary / modern look

When Matt Sweetwood, the owner of the largest Camera Store in New Jersey, discussed doing new new business headshots for him, we agreed that a more contemporary look suited him. There’s a large dynamic personality at work here … and using an 85mm f/1.4 lens wide open would place attention on his eyes and his expression. Nothing else is really in focus aside from his eyes, and this really makes for a compelling portrait that grabs your attention.

We shot various sequences, with the background brighter and darker. In the end we settled on a sequence of images with the lighting shown in the top photograph – it has an airy brightness to it, and looks modern. With the colors muted like that, it draws attention to his expression even more. No bright colors to distract.

We also had fun with various expressions just to mix it up a bit.

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photo gear & logistics: corporate headshots

With any professional shoot, forethought and planning is a necessity. For personal photography there’s always place for serendipity. But relying on luck with a professional shoot isn’t going to go all that far. The same goes for photographing on-location headshots – planning is essential.

With the on-location corporate headshots described in a previous article, I aimed for efficiency and speed. I set up various speedlights and soft boxes around the office place for environmental headshots. This way I could step each person through the various spots and get similar photos of everyone. But there was a certain flexibility in the final look that was okay with those portraits. Still, the setups were done beforehand. I also worked on my own, so I put some thought into how to do the logistics single-handedly.

I was approached by a large law firm in New York to do their headshots – more than 200 people that I had to take headshots of partners and personnel. The company needed corporate headshots that had a specific look to them, with a specific value to the grey background – all in a way to create a consistency with the photos, online and in printed material. With more than 200 people that need to be photographed over the course of two months on various days, there had to be a way to ensure repeatability. The look wasn’t environmental, but more conservative and traditional.

I decided to go with studio lighting gear, instead of speedlights. More power, larger light modifiers, and faster recycling times. The Profoto lights are also known for a more consistent color balance. Ideal to speed up my workflow afterwards when editing the photos. With the environmental headshots, the speedlights were sufficient because I was shooting at wider apertures and higher ISO settings to bring in the ambient light. With these more traditional headshots, the ambient light wasn’t a consideration at all and I wanted more juice than a speedlight.

This did mean carting most of my studio gear on location. I did a test setup when I first met the PR team to discuss this. This gave me an idea of the logistics. Just the logistics of getting all that gear out of the car and into the building, and setting up fast, meant I had to reconsider a few things. Then of course, at the end of each day, all this had to be done in reverse. And repeated over a number of days. Keep in mind that this is Manhattan where finding parking in front of a building to load and unload can be a real hassle. There’s just no time to unload a lot of bags.

With the test run, I had a large hand cart that I strapped bag and cases onto. But this was a bit too clumsy. It took a bit too much time to unpack the car on the sidewalk and load the hand cart. Then, navigating elevators were also not as smooth as I wanted it all to be.

More than struggling, I hate the appearance of struggling. There’s a real appeal in not looking clumsy in front of a client. Clearly it is just so much better to appear professional, well-organized and efficient.

This then is a description of just how I did that on the subsequent days where we did the headshots – rolling in looking slick and proficient and setting up fast!

When I posted an iPhone shot of the setup to Facebook, there were a lot of questions and interest in the setup, so I thought it might make for an longer discussion here. Oh, the crazy person at the top is my assistant on this shoot, Presley Ann. Before any of the company’s people sit down for their headshots, I need to be completely ready, and she sat in for the test shots.

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progression of an idea in a photo session – cosplayer, Ger Tysk

For me, there’s always some anxiety before a photo session – especially when you have the opportunity to photograph someone quite unusual and photogenic like Ger Tysk, a cosplayer. (She also creates cosplay outfits for others, and has published a book on Cosplay.) Her latest outfit is Black Widow (from Marvel.) Now, the stressful part before a photo session like this, is that there is the pressure of having a great opportunity, and then having to create a photo series that is worthy of the moment. Even if you don’t quite reach the peak of the Epic scale, you still want to have photos that look inspired and interesting. You know, something worthy of the effort and time and opportunity.

I can pretty much guarantee you now that when you see an interesting or striking photograph that someone created (as opposed to a pure  photojournalistic moment), it’s usually not success on a first try. Very often there is a series of images and attempts before an idea comes together.

I was armed with some serious gear – Nikon D810 (vendor) and Profoto B1 portable studio light (vendor). So really, if there is any limitation here, it would be myself. Everything was in place – a supremely photogenic subject, an interesting location a friend showed me, as well as some serious gear. Now it is up to me, as the photographer to pull something out of this mix that looks stunning. And that is where the pressure comes in. Time to look around, explore ideas and figure something out.

I’m quite proud of the final photograph from this part of the location, but it didn’t just immediately come together. There was a thought-process and various attempts and dead-ends before it looked like yes! this is it!

So I want to step you through parts of this photo session to show how fell into place.

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dramatic lighting with fresnel lights – photo session w/ Jen Rozenbaum

For the portrait session of Jennifer Rozenbaum, I wanted to show her in her “office” – the studio where she shoots boudoir images of her clients. But instead of photographing Jennifer in a boudoir style, I wanted this to be portraits of her, the boudoir photographer, where she works. Her office as such. Still, it needed to be sexy, a little feral, yet sweet, and very much her.

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