Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shooting the many faces of Richard Ruck and using ALL LIGHT OF DAY

Richard, a skilled cameraman, model and actor asked me to do a day´s session of photography for his z card.
We had a lot of ideas about what to stage and he, being familiar with behind-the-camera-work, was an eye-level partner in imagining and realising these shots. Michaela, a friend of his, did not only do all the make-up, but also proved to be a top-level moving lighting bipod, since she has a lot of film making experience. Basically, it was three picture maniacs working in the same direction while enjoying each other´s company. A perfect Sunday in Haidhausen, one of the many beautiful hearts of Munich.

Richard wanted some Shots he hadn´t done yet (he´d done some already). He´d bring all the props, including a Porsche, an Ibanez guitar and a surfboard. Our plan was to do:
- The Rock Star
- The Traditionally Dressed Guy
- The Business Man
- The Armed Secret Service Guy
- The Surfer

Off we go. Meeting at forenoon in Kunstpark Ost, a club area in Munich for the first Rock Star shots.
(PLEASE NOTE that I am showing you straight-out-of-camera-JPEGS without any retouching here!)

I knew beforehand that I was going to use all the light this hot sunday would give me. This incorporates the ugly (and mostly unusable) light of late forenoon. We started shooting at around 11am. I used no heavier gear than my trusted Metz 40MZ flashes and knew that they would not really be able to battle a summer days light if they were not bundled. So I decided to start with a large silver reflector which I gave to Michaela. We scouted a nice graffiti´ed wall and shot a few frames. Michaela is just out-of-frame to the left, giving Richard the full force of noon sun right into his face. I could take my picture at ISO100, f/3.2, 1/400 without taking care of flash sync. Easy start for me!

Note that I used a polarising filter for this shot to eliminate the sun´s reflection on Richard´s arm. He wanted to show his tattoos in the rock star pictures, but they would not have shown due to the sun´s reflection on his arm. This pattern of unusual portrait behaviour costs you something between two to three stops. No problem in full sun, but be sure to get a nicely coated (=expensive) filter to avoid flaring and ghosts. I shot this without any sunblocking shades and with a B&W multicoated linear pol filter.

If I had incorporated flash in this shot, I´d have had to work at sync speed, which is 1/200 with the EOS 5D. That´d given me one full extra stop of crap daylight I couldn´t have used for nothing.

By the way - I shot most of the session with my EF 2.8/100mm L IS USM which I love for its extraordinary sharpness, rigidity and versatility.

Next shot: topless!

Richard had not had any tattoo shots so far, so this was an important part of the session. I found a nice shade right next to our first location (LESSON: always park you car as close as possible and avoid moving ANYTHING as long as you can to retain quick access to your equipment even if conditions are tight!) and placed him there. I pretty much eliminated daylight with ISO100, f/3.2, 1/200 sync and let the bakground live, taking off the polariser. This required some flash (there was no daylight to bounce from any desired angle there). Hard men can take hard light, so I shot a Metz at him, some four meters from picture left at quarter power or so. That was that.


Bonus shots cost nothing, don´t take much time and come up in your mind quickly when you spot a chance which you´re prepared for anyway.
I fired the same bare flash at Richard, while looking up into the sun, lying on the ground myself.
This came to me like bang - I had him dressed the way he was, just moved flash, subject and myself and took five frames.

We moved to the next location, a wooden house in the middle of Munich to shoot the traditional dress setup.

Noon light prevented ANY setup but the one above. Also, there were mail boxes and numerous metal plates on the front of the historical building which I didn´t want to show or have to shop out. I could only place him in the shade and soften the remaining sunlight with a white diffusor, else it´d hit his leg and burn out completely. Some shots here.

Then, we did some shots in Sepia setting. LESSON: If on assignment, always shoot RAW and JPEG. The RAW file gives you full RGB editing capacities afterwards, retaining all there was in the original picture at the best quality your camera and lens can produce. If you want the result to be B/W or so, you can tweak the camera´s picture style to that mode and the JPEG will be a nice preview of what you´re going for. If you´re lucky (or skilled), the JPEG is the finished piece already without any photoshopping!

Some more shots, two meters to the right (still with the white diffusor overhead, blocking and softening the harsh sun)

BONUS SHOT No. 2! Turned around a bit to turn the soft main light into a soft edgy light and took three close-ups, not changing ANYTHING but the ANGLES and IN-CAMERA-CONTRAST SETTING (to taste).

Then, we went around the house where I found that the opposing (yellowish) building projected a nice even warm reflection into the backyard. The next two shots were done without any light modification or flash.

After that, we took a nice lunch break without wasting any time (as I mentioned before, mid-day sunlight is the ugliest light of day to work with, so there was NO way to waste any time - the light was just getting better from now on). LESSON: if things is crappy, take a break!!

Next thing to do was the business man shots. The order of outfits was dictated by the course of the sun vs. the locations and, even more important, the hair styling and shave! Richard shaved, had his hair done by Michaela and we went on. LESSON: always figure everything out according to inevitable changes and such. If the subject has to take a shave in order to change roles, his facial hair will be gone for the rest of the day. Also, the sun will move east to west every day. Think about all this before plannig a shoot! ISO100, f/6.3, 1/200 sync.

These shots were again taken with a polariser. That gave me another two or so stops to control ambient light and also control the reflections on the building, which was in full sun, reflecting the bright, lightly clouded sky. Subject light comes from a single reflecting umbrella with two MZ-40 at half power each, right out-of-frame.
Of course, the umbrella is a soft light, but due to proximity and exposure, the falloff of the light is so dramatic that we have a hard-contrast look with soft edges.
LESSON: When using flash, sync speed and maximum aperture determine your exposure minimum (when going for shallow depth-of-field). If you want less ambient, you will have to use a (ND) filter, but then you´ll have to power up your speedlights to cope with the filter! If you don´t want endless recharging times, double them up. Tape them together, whatever. Waiting time between two frames was long with this setup (it helps to have a flash that beeps when ready!), but no problem with Richard: he´s patient and always ready to strike a pose. All shot at 6.3, 1/200 sync. The difference in brightness comes from slight movements of the subject (light falloff - remember! Unedited JPEGs here!)

The next two shots were done around the corner, in the shade. Thus, I used f/5 at 1/200, powered my flashes down (still two in one umbrella) and discarded of the polariser, because the ambient wasn´t too powerful here anymore. Look at the change of overall appearance:

Now that I allow more daylight in, I use the reflected sunlight from the opposite building as a a soft edge and fill in from the left with my umbrella. With the sun being tad stronger than my flash, the black suit shows nice structure. ISO100, f/5, 1/200 sync. LESSON: light-to-subject-distance is a much quicker and more powerful control of light power. Use it wisely and don´t let it accidentally ruin your shot!

Woo-hoo, umbrella, tripod and sandbag in the shot! No matter: I´ll crop that out.

The greenish look in the last shot is produced by modern windows´ chemical coating! Nice look, anyway. Still f/5 at 1/200, ISO100 with my 2.8/100.
LESSON: always ask for permission if you shoot on somebody´s grounds. Here, we asked the guardsmen is we could do some shots and they replied, that the company does not appreciate it, but agreed we go on if we didn´t show too much of the architecture. I showed them my shots after we finished and they complied with the compositions. You don´t want to be thrown out in the middle of a good shoot just because the janitor called the police!

Enter James Bond.

Some unknown parking deck, a Porsche, a fake gun and a nice suit make for a good Bond! Being able to work in the shade again, I decided to rake two bare flashes across the scene, one from the left behind the car and one from the right, both a few meters away and zoomed out. The frontal fill comes from natural light. Although I found a strong composition with Richard´s face right out of the middle where all the lines converge, we found the background to be too disturbing. I wanted to incorporate some movement to blur everything but Richard´s face. ISO1250, f/5, 1/100

Here´s the old trick: Shade your subject as good as you can (Michaela held up a black flag), stretch your shutter time so you can incorporate movement (1/8th or so will do nicely) and zoom during the exposure with shutter synch on 2nd curtain. This´ll freeze the subject while blurring the background. Of course there will be some shadow artifacts around the face, but overall drama makes up for that. (all shots here with the f/4 17-40 L USM) ISO1250, f/5, 1/13 LESSON: a black flag can sometimes be of as much use as a white or silver reflector! Best, if you got a huge example of these 5-in-1-things. Mine is 2 square meters and features white, silver, gold, black and diffusing surfaces. If you´re on your own, a Tri-Grip may be your choice.

...another quick setup...

...and the classic Bond shot! Basically, this is a BONUS PICTURE, just a quick idea. Two flashes on tripods far left and right behind Richard give a strong rim light, mimicking the daylight effect behind him. Michaela with silver reflector  just above the camera and slanted down 45 degrees did the fill. 2.8/100mm again.

And here´s another BONUS PICTURE with only one flash simulating daylight and the white column providing the fill. Richard´s Idea.

All these shots were meant to be Black & White in the end, so I set the picture style to BW, yellow filter etc. to get good preview JPEGS - still retaining the RAW files. I don´t mind blowing out the whites in this case and also I don´t mind some grain, so I shot at ISO1250 in order to get decent shutter times while still having a living background. Ah, the freedom of Black & White!

Last shot for Mr. Bond and more of an experiment which I think worked out well. Two bare flashes fired from left and right on Richard and the Porsche. f/4 17-40mm L USM. There´s a lot of room for technical interpretation here, so eventually I´ll darken the sky, dodge the rims, lighten the legs and so on. But the BW JPEG gives you a good idea on where to start. I think I shot with a (in-camera) red filter at sync speed, so the "natural" sky is already the darkest possible. Could have gone with the polariser, too, but this would have given me an even stranger gradient across the sky and I would have had to take many, many shots to find out the correct setting of the filter for good reflections on the car while losing good light and straining my batteries.

On to the last setup:

A bit strained by the hot sun of day, we went on to the last location at beautiful river Isar. The sun was about to vanish (you can see the shadow creeping in from the left in the shot above), but I wanted to show some backlit wild water. The water was rather high from the last weeks´ rain and gave wonderful spray right under the waterfall. I pulled out my silver reflector, took a few quick shots at 1/640th. Then, I produced my flash, went down to sync speed and fired some shots, sitting on the steep wall of the barrage a bit above Richard, holding my flashgun high left. I somehow had lost the will to produce natural light, but nonetheless I think it looks pretty decent. Although anybody who knows about photography will claim that this was either shot in a studio and shopped in or shot in front of a photo paper of hawaiian waves, it´s just a small turn away from the above shot. LESSON: Always carry that silver reflector with you! It´s quicker to setup than a remote-controlled flash, can be positioned by hand very quickly in most cases, gives you what-you-see-is-what-you-get-light at once and provides fill and/or main light so natural that it can only be copied with a strongly modified flash! When panic strikes because the sun fades, this comes in handy.

That´s about it! I hope you learned a thing or two and enjoyed my pictures. Comments please!

Richard can be booked for your film, ad campaign and/or movie production under and  rickruck(at) The new pics will be up on his site soon.

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