Above is an image from a series I took of a family during their holiday in Mexico, and this picture of the mother is one of my favorites. I wanted to create a series of images that told a story about the family’s time on vacation and how each member of the family experienced the respite from their normal routine. I believe to accurately tell that story, I have to create images that are as unique as each individual family member, without churning out the typical vacation pictures of the family all standing in front of the beach, perfectly centered in the frame, in harsh light, with an iPhone. Side note, even if I had wanted to take that picture, it wasn’t an option since my iPhone is currently in a bag of rice in the futile hope that it will be resurrected after a brief swim in the pool.
The main floor of the estate is open on almost all sides and the light just pours into the area. This is good and bad. It’s great if you have your subject just inside the covered area facing outside, like a giant softbox. But if you’d like to incorporate any of the outside areas into the image you’re going to have problems with the exposure having blown out highlights and/or all shadow detail lost. If you’re looking to have a silhouette of your subject in the sunset, that’s the way to do it, but that wasn’t the image I was after. To overcome the vast latitude in exposure I needed to compress the image, that is to say, lower the highlights and/or brighten the shadows. My plan was to use a simple speedlight and a shoot through umbrella on my subject to reduce the contrast to range my camera can capture. Ultimately that is what I did, but getting to that point was surprisingly challenging. The outside ambient light was so bright that I just couldn’t overpower it with my speedlight. Once I had the flash at half power and wasn’t anywhere I needed it, I added a second speedlight rubber banded to the first one to double my light without having to wait for a full flash dump recycle time. Closer, but still not there. I moved the light stand as close as I possibly could without being in the frame which helped, but wound up setting both flashes to full power to have the balanced lighting I was after.
On another side note, I would have simply added enough speedlights to keep short/no recycle times, but I needed all of my gear to fit into a very small backpack, laptop and all, and two speedlights is all I could Tetris into it. One of the flashes fell about 10 feet onto tile floor, expending batteries, plastic and various freshly freed pieces of bezel. Thank God it somehow managed to still work despite all of the new “vents” is was now sporting. Note to self, get a bigger backpack. Also consider getting a FUJIFILM X100T since it has a leaf shutter that can sync with a flash at pretty much any shutter speed. I shot this image at 180th of a second, my camera’s fastest shutter speed that my flashes can be synced. I was trying to shoot as fast as possible to lower the ambient light as much as I could to even have a chance that my speedlights could illuminate the image.
The bright ambient light wasn’t the only culprit necessitating the need for more power. To match the flashes’ color temperature to the sun’s color temperature, I had to put a full CTO gel on to each flash which devours a full stop of light. If I didn’t gel the flashes I would have had white light on my subject and orange light everywhere else. If I had been desperate, read, if my dropped speedlight didn’t work anymore, I would have had to pull the gel and would have probably just made it black and white. I could have also waited until the sun had set more, but the timeline for all of the shots planned didn’t allow for it, I needed the orange ambient to be my key light for a different shot that I’ll post later.
The goal for this image was to have a glimpse into a private, quite moment, with my subject lost in thought, simply enjoying the sunset. I wanted her lit, but just barely enough to keep shadow detail, with a rim light to separate her from the background. As conceptually simple as this sounds, in practice, it was more difficult than I expected given all of the shoot’s particular circumstances. One of the main elements of the image, and the reason I chose this specific spot for the photograph, was the gentle sweeping S curve of the railing. I have to mention just how excited I was to see that the specular highlights of the sun fell right on top of the handrail like a signpost for your eyes, beckoning them to explore all of the elements of the photograph. That little streak of light, hands down, makes this my favorite image of the series.
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