Being fully in vacation mode, relaxing in my backyard, enjoying a cold drink and soaking up sun rays, I was totally unaware I had received several messages from friend and fellow photographer Simon Sutcliffe. I read the text that said "Doing a photoshoot with model. Would like to try direct flash. Looking for wingman. Open to further suggestions. Let me know if you're interested". As the previous photoshoot was so much fun and using flash is something I'm trying to get more experience with, I was totally game. I packed my gear, charged the batteries and jumped on my bike and rode to the hotel where the photoshoot was going to take place.
On the second floor of the hotel I walked into the conference room, where the shoot would take place. The model hadn't arrived yet, but Simon had. He was fully surrounded by lots of equipment. Camera, lenses, light stand, flash, different types of diffusers, grid, a mysterious metal construction. The amount of stuff was impressive and intimidating at the same time. Although I recognised most of it, I had almost no experience using it. After we got a beer at the bar, we returned to the conference room and discussed the plans for that evening. Not much later our model (Marie) arrived with a friend of hers. We decided we would start of using direct flash. The idea was creating kind of grungy pictures, with hard shadows, creating a retro look. Simon started taking the first pictures of that evening.
After a couple of minutes, it was my turn. The crux with using direct flash, is to keep it positioned in front of and above the model. Otherwise the shadows will become too harsh and distracting. A test shot of her, while I was looking for the best position and hight of the flash, turned out quite nice.
First I asked the model to do certain poses, which is still one of my weak points because of my lack of experience in portrait photography.
After I had taken a couple of shots, I wanted to capture movement with the help of flash. I asked her to turn around quickly, swaying her hair. Normally the drive function of the camera would be handy in these situations. But with the gear I had, I could only trigger one flash at a time. So it was all in the timing to capture the right moment. After a couple of tries, I got the shot I wanted.
We ordered some more drinks. The atmosphere was fun and relaxed and we talked about what we could try next.
Simon said he would have liked to have a fan to blow the model's hair, but unfortunately he couldn't arrange one in time for this shoot. Marie suggested using the reflector instead. Strangely enough, next it was not Simon but me taking the photographs, while Simon was working a sweat flapping the huge reflector up and down. I must say, the resulting photo I liked very much.
Next we used a chair and took some shots of Marie sitting down. Simon had a clear vision of the pictures he wanted, where I was somewhat struggling to come up with ideas. The resulting pictures where okay, I liked the muted colour tones and the overall moody atmosphere, but his pictures were clearly better.
Right after, it was time to try out the ring light diffuser, which gives nice circular highlights in the eyes. Being a micro four third shooter, I'm used to holding a small light portable camera, which is easily manoeuvrable. But attaching the diffuser to the camera made it big and bulky and more difficult to handle. It made it also more difficult to look at the model as I'm used to looking over my camera and at my screen and hardly ever use the viewfinder. Most likely not a piece of kit I will use again.
Next was the clam shell. One flash with diffuser at the top and a reflector at the bottom, with the camera sandwiched in between. This resulted in very glamorous shots. Very soft even light with almost no visible shadows. The resulting photos will probably make any female model happy, as the results are very flattering. Where I edited the pictures above in a gritty (hipster) style, these shots needed a more clean and sharp look.
Time flew by, the sun had set and it was becoming dark outside. Meaning, also less light coming through the many windows of the conference room. This made it more and more difficult for my camera to lock on focus, as it uses contrast detection. So we decided to shoot the final couple of pictures, where we tried to create a dark background by using high shutter speeds. After only a couple of tries I got my shot, which is probably my favourite photo of this shoot.
Conclusion. It was a great evening! We had a good laugh, we had fun experimenting with the equipment and were very lucky with the model we got to work with. I learned quite a lot about what I can do with flash and I'm more familiar with the different types of gear and its possibilities. Also, observing Simon and Marie gave me ideas about posing which will help me next time I'll do a photoshoot. I realise my shots aren't perfect. But getting the opportunity to practice, will hopefully make me a more competent portrait photographer.
If you're interested in Simon's pictures, you can find them at: