When faced with the task of deciding on a new home, I had one requirement – an extra room (or garage) that I could convert into a small studio space. Previously, I would have to clear a portion of a room (usually the living room) and set up my lighting equipment only to tear it down a few hours later in order to conduct a portrait session in my home. Having set up and broken down my equipment many more times than I care to count, I was relieved when we found a new home with a large extra bedroom that I could convert into my dedicated studio space.
But even though the room is a decent size for a bedroom, I worried that it would still be a little cramped for studio use. I needed a real-world portrait session in order to understand the benefits and limitations of the room. That's where Melinda comes in...
Melinda is a personal trainer who wanted some marketing images to promote her business via website and social media. This was the opportunity I had been looking for to give my new studio space a real "workout." We scheduled her session for Labor Day and I immediately started planning for the shoot.
I actually started setting up equipment two days in advance in order to test out a few ideas before settling on the setup you see below.
Don't let the [Rokinon] fisheye perspective
mislead you – the space is not nearly as roomy as it appears. The width of the room is only 12'. Subtract the amount of space required for the background, subject separation (from the background) and the amount of room the tripod takes up and you're left with a relatively small working space between the camera and the subject.
Here are some thoughts and details regarding the setup:
- It took me a while to decide on what backdrop I wanted to use. At first I used piece of black felt fabric I had but 1) it was a bit too small for anything more than a headshot and 2) it absorbed so much light that I couldn't effectively use colored gels with it. I then tried a Botero 5x7 Collapsible Background but eventually decided it was too small. Then I remembered that I had something else in the closet – a 6' x 50' roll of weed block fabric that I had purchased for a previous shoot (the weed block fabric was significantly less expensive than a traditional fabric of the same size).
I had originally cut the weed block fabric into three sections and hung it from a background support crossbar to use as a dark background. I thought it would work well for this type of shoot, too, especially if the sections were doubled over and hung over the crossbar with folds like a curtain.
- To give the background some color I used two gridded Canon Speedlite 580EX flashes with CTB (blue) gels. The grids helped me limit the background light to specific areas while also keeping the colored light from hitting my subject.
- I wanted to create a strong rim light on the subject. That's very typical of the athletic/workout image genre and I thought it would work well here. I used two monolights with small gridded strip boxes to keep the light from contaminating the background (light spilling from ungridded modifiers on high-powered lights could easily kill the color in the background).
- I used a RoundFlash Ringflash Adapter affixed to an on-camera 580EX to provide a touch of fill light to capture details in the shadow areas and trigger every other light in the setup using optical slaves. With this light dialed down, it didn't wash out the background light very much.
- I used a monolight and gridded 16" beauty dish boomed above the camera as a main light whenever the subject was looking at the camera. The position of the light (above) and the fact that it was gridded helped keep the light off the background. Note that I'm using a drop down pin to suspend the monolight from the boom arm. The drop down pin allows the monolight and its modifier to hang so that the weight is supported by the tensioning knob, not the screw that would usually simply attach the rig to the top of a light stand. That particular screw isn't designed to support a large amount of weight but simply keep your light perched in its place and pointed in the right direction.
- As for the camera and lens, I was using a Canon 5D Mark III and the ever-so-useful EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. The great focal range of the 24-105L allowed for a lot of flexibility in framing, especially considering the relatively small working space.
The only specific concept that I wanted to try during the shoot was to have Melinda punching her fist into her palm causing a cloud of talcum powder to erupt from the impact. Unfortunately, none of our attempts to capture that particular shot were satisfactory enough to post-process. The rest of concepts/poses we captured were conceived in a collaborative manner as the shoot progressed.
Below are some additional images created during the session. Note that the boomed beauty dish was not used in the last image.
I cooled down the color of the shadows, adjusted brightness/contrast and varied the saturation of the blue channel (mostly affecting the background) in post-processing.
You can see high resolution images on my flickr photostream
The client was extremely happy with her images, so it was a successful shoot overall. My takeaways from the session:
- The studio space is certainly adequate for headshots; not so much for full-body portraits and/or 3/4 portraits in landscape orientation (especially when using a background that isn't the wall).
- I probably should have tried different background options but I was happy with the results we were getting and didn't want to risk ruining the flow of the session by taking the time to change the setup. Having another background at hand (rather than in my closet) may have changed that decision and allowed for more variation in the images.
- Shooting with a ring light complicated things a bit. I had to adjust my focal length/framing a couple of times to avoid hard vignetting caused by capturing the inside of the ring light in the shot.
- Care must be taken when using the strip boxes so that light doesn't leak out the side in between the mount and the speed ring (washing out the background color). Adjusting the flap of the strip box material can usually solve this problem.
- Suggesting that the client bring several props can be a real benefit. I don't have much workout gear (my one dumbell was relegated for use as a door stop only a month after its purchase several years ago). The clients dumbells and gloves looked great in the shots and gave the client something to do with her hands.
I hope this session has demonstrated that you can produce professional results in a relatively confined space. I'm sure this isn't the last time you'll see me utilize this space for client work.