by Sean Setters
Kat is a musician and operates a music instruction business that is literally a stone's throw away from my mailbox. I often see her going in and out of her studio when walking to the nearby grocery store.
One day we struck up a conversation and, naturally, I mentioned that I was a photographer. With a look of surprise she said, "Really? What a coincidence! My music partner and I were just talking about doing some promotional shots for our business."
Kat would go on to explain that she had teamed up with Laura, a cello player, and they were doing side gigs playing wedding receptions and various events. They wanted a few images to promote their own music (single portraits) and to promote their instrumental duo.
When I asked what Kat what kind of look or feel she wanted for the images, she replied, "Something with nature."
I told her I'd come up with something.
One evening a few days later, I was visiting a friend when I noticed a home in his neighborhood that featured a beautifully landscaped yard. The yard had fantastic rock formations, a stream and several trees that all screamed "nature." Another benefit of the location was its proximity to the road and a small area off to the side for parking. In short, the location was close to town, easily accessible and could be framed in a way to make it look like we were out in the middle of nowhere. Perfect.
I immediately knocked on the home's front door with the intent of asking the homeowner if I could use his yard for a shoot (a bit bold, yes). The homeowner wasn't home. I took a few pictures of the yard using my cell phone to document the location with a mental note to return again to introduce myself to the home owner.
I returned the following day with a typed, signed letter introducing myself to leave for the home owner just in case he/she was once again not home. When I pulled up to the home, the homeowner – a very nice gentleman by the name of Danny – was blowing the leaves and grass off his driveway obviously having just finished mowing. He looked a bit standoffish as I approached, likely because I looked like a traveling salesman or an evangelist walking down the driveway.
The first words out of my mouth set him at ease. "Don't worry, I'm not selling anything. I simply have a favor to ask. My name is Sean and I'm a local photographer..."
I continued to explain about my clients, their desire for a natural setting, and how the images were intended to be used. I complimented his yard and landscaping several times in the conversation (sincere flattery) and noted that I thought it would be absolutely perfect for their needs. A little to my surprise, Danny didn't even hesitate. "Sure, come over anytime. It doesn't matter whether I'm here or not. No need to tell me you're coming. Just be careful around the rocks."
I love the South. :-)
I emailed Kat the location images I had snapped with my phone and she thought the scene looked great. With the "go-ahead," we scheduled the shoot.
On the day of the shoot I arrived a little early to set up the lighting gear. Using the Photographer's Ephemeris web app
, I knew that the sun would be positioned behind the spot I wanted to use around 4pm. This would have been ideal. Unfortunately, Kat and Laura were only available in the morning, meaning I would have to fight the sun which was positioned in front of them.
I tackled the direct sunlight problem by shading the duo with two umbrellas camera left (boomed above). I originally intended on shooting my tripod-based images with the umbrellas in the scene and then shooting a reference image without the umbrellas so that I could remove the umbrellas from all of the images in post. When the cloud cover arrived later in the shoot, I simply removed the umbrellas. All the example shots in this post occurred after we removed the umbrellas from the scene.
Here's how I lit the scene:
- White Lightning x1600, camera right, diffused by a 43" octabox
- White Lightning x3200, camera left, diffused by an extreme silver parabolic umbrella (with diffusion cover in place)
- Canon 580EX, camera left (behind subjects), 1/2 CTO gelled
You can see the setup below.
For my camera and lens, I used a tripod mounted 5D Mark III
and one of my favorite lenses, the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
with a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo
. The 85mm focal length was a good fit considering that I had to position the camera on the other side of a ditch between the subjects and myself. Being pretty far back from the scene, the 85mm focal length also allowed for a not-too-tight / more loosely framed composition which would give Kat and Laura more ways to crop the image for a wide range marketing materials (letter, postcard, brochure, web, etc). The variable ND filter (mounted via a step-up ring
) allowed me to utilize the lens's wider apertures (f/1.8 in this case) while keeping the shutter speed at or below the flash sync speed for a more blurred background.
While the setup was a lot of work, the results proved worth the effort (I think). Here were some of the individual promotional images we shot.
Kat and her Violin
Laura and the Cello 1
Laura and Cello 2
- Always be on the lookout for good locations. You never know when and where you'll run across something that's just perfect.
- Don't be afraid to ask permission to use a location. The worst they can say is "no."
- Arrive ahead of your clients if you anticipate needing a decent amount of setup time. Doing so will ensure your clients are ready to shoot fresh upon arrival.
- Frame loosely for promotional images that won't be used in a large format. Doing so gives your client much more flexibility to use the images on a wide range of materials with varying aspect ratios and typesetting needs.
In the end, the clients loved the images and even gave me a bonus on top of the agreed-upon fee. It proved to be a great session all-around.
You can find higher resolution images on my Flickr photostream: