//
22
Feb

Zachariah’s Portrait

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Blog

While in Liberia last month, I met a wonderful man named Prince Kondoh.  He goes by Pastor Kondoh, and he has dedicated his life to serving those who can not help themselves, and teaching the children in his community.  During the recent civil war in Liberia, he was basically a prisoner in his own home for 14 years.  Not able to go outside without risking his life.  Now that peace has returned to Liberia, he works harder than anyone I have ever met with the hope he might be able to make up for lost time.  No minute is wasted, and no challenge is too great.  He has started multiple schools in Buchanan, one of which is called Chariot Daycare and Elementary School.  We were asked to visit the school one morning before we headed out to one of the villages where the wells were being built.  Because of the economic situation, there are many children who’s families are not able to pay for school, and I was asked if I would take a few pictures of the students needing sponsorship.

I was thinking I would take a few snapshots and it would be a quick thing.  But then I realized I didn’t pack all of these lights half way around the world to take snapshots, even if this wasn’t in the plan.  So all of the gear was taken out of the truck and we set up the lights.  As I was finessing the lights into place, something caused me to slow down and look around.  I wasn’t thrilled with how the portrait was turning out, and then I had a realization.  The natural light was near perfect.  I struggled with this idea for a few minutes, trying to convince myself it wasn’t possible.  Natural light never does exactly what I am looking for, especially in the middle of the day.  The picture won’t turn out.  But finally after a few tests, I decided to shoot this one with just my Hasselblad and nothing else.  It was very freeing to say the least.  For some reason, I had it in my head that it wasn’t possible to shoot a picture in my style with only natural light.  Natural light never seems to have the pop to it I am looking for, or if it does, the light isn’t at the right angle etc.  Most of the time natural light isn’t what I am looking for, but this instance proved to be an exception.  It wasn’t until we were back at our house that night, and I loaded the images on my laptop, that I was hit in the face with the detail and clarity of this portrait and the others I shot that day.  It was a great lesson for me to be aware of what is going on and to be open to improvising or even deviating from a plan.

But enough about lighting for now.  If you can’t tell already, this is one of my favorite pictures from the trip.  His name is Zachariah and he is a student at Chariot.  I could stare at this image for hours and continue to find new things I like about it.  Zachariah is one of the students in need of sponsorship, and I figured the very least I could do was provide a link to sponsor him or any of the other children who need support.  The cost is $15 a month and that covers clothing and food, as well as education.  If you decide you would like to sponsor Zachariah, please write me after you have done so, and I will send you a free print.

The Child Sponsorship Program is run by the Well Done Organization which is the organization building the wells in Liberia that my client MiiR Bottles partnered with.  I can personally vouch for the people working for WDO, as well as the organization itself.  Some really great things are happening in Liberia with the support of WDO.

Here are the links one more time.  I know not everyone is able to help in this way, but hopefully this might plant the seed in just one person who has the means and desire to help.
Info About The Child Sponsorship Program

Children Still In Need Of Sponsorship

It feels good to start posting images from this trip, and as promised there will be more in the days and weeks to come.  My developer just showed me round one of the revisions to my website tonight, and once it is finished I will have a new portfolio section with pictures from Liberia.

21
Jul

Lighting Technique: Three Lights and the Sun

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Lighting Technique, Personal Work, Tools Of The Trade

Portrait of a retired university professor and his wife.  Photo by John Keatley.

A month or so ago, I was hired to photograph several people for a marketing publication.  They were looking for lifestyle type portraits.  So I shot most of them in natural light, often with a reflector or two.  Warm, happy, and beautiful was my direction, and so I was looking for bright colorful backgrounds.  When I arrived at this couples home, I went through the usual introductions and before long, I was taking the grand tour of their home.  It’s always funny to me that as a photographer, I can walk into a strangers home, look around in all of their rooms, and tell them what to wear.  Years ago, this took a bit of getting used to, but now it feels somewhat normal.

There was not much in the house that lent itself to what I was looking for, so I decided we would head to a park.  As we were leaving, I took notice of this room with the piano, the old lamp, and the bright sun streaming through the window.  For a moment, I turned off the filter in my head that was only looking for commercial lifestyle type portraits.  The muted colors and the overall feel of the shot that began forming in my head was not something that would interest my client, but I decided that it was worth exploring for myself.

This was a really fun lighting process, and there were some elements that I don’t often get to work through.  I know a lot of you are often curious, and email me about my lighting, so how about a lighting walk through.  Take out a sheet of paper and a number 2 pencil.  Here we go.

Direct sunlight was coming through a large window on the left side of the frame.  You can see the bright spot on the floor pointing toward the piano.  There were soft rolling shadows all over the wall and furniture from the sunlight bouncing off the white carpet and other light surfaces.  It was beautiful light, but the range between the light on the floor and the shadows was too wide to capture with detail.

I took several frames with just natural light, to get a rough idea of what the shot could feel like.  After I felt confident that something interesting could develop, I ran out to the car and brought in all of the lighting that I had with me.  Three strobes in this case.  I almost didn’t even bring them because I didn’t think I would be using lights that day.   The first thing I did was get an exposure that had some detail in the  sun spot on the floor.  I wanted it to be bright, but not blown out.  My goal was to mimic the natural light, but bring the range from highlight to shadow down to something that is within the camera’s range of capturing.  I shot at ISO 100, and the exposure was 1/125 at f/9.0.

Exposing for the brightest spot in this case made the rest of the frame very dark.  The next step was to add in light and bring up the shadows.  I like to add and work with one light at a time when I am building my lighting setups.  I start with the brightest light source.  The sun in this case, and work my way down to the fill lights.  I feel like this gives me more control, and allows me to better see the results and consequences of each light that I am using.

Equipment: Before I get into how I used my equipment to create this shot, here is a list of the actual equipment I used along with links to the product pages.

Camera: Canon DSLR
Lights: Elinchrom Ranger Battery Pack and Head x2
Extra Elinchrom Ranger Free Lite A Flash Head
Light Modifiers: Photoflex Large Softbox
Wescott 45” Umbrella x2

The Key Light: I set up a large softbox on camera left, in front of the window.  There was a lot of furniture and items in the room, and although I did rearrange quite a bit, I didn’t want to make a complete mess of their home.  There was not enough floor space to set up a stand where I wanted the key light, and even if there was, it would have cut into the frame of the shot.  So I set up a C stand with a grip arm and mounted the softbox on the end of the arm.  I swung this over the couch and up against the window so that it was angled down toward the floor and feathered away from the wall (pointing across the frame toward the right side of the room).  The reason for feathering the softbox from the wall was because I wanted to create a darker shadow in the upper left corner of the frame.  The more the softbox is pointed away from the wall, the larger and deeper the shadow in the left corner becomes.  I also wanted the light to be a little more even across the frame, and feathering gave me more reach.  You can see a slight shadow with a hard edge on the floor on the very far right at the base of the drawers.  This shadow was from the softbox.  If I had the softbox pointed directly toward the couple, the light would not have reached that far.  And finally, let’s not forget.  It is kind of important to actually light the subjects with the key as well.  So I made sure that the light was hitting them how I wanted.   The head and softbox were actually a little too large for the C stand arm, so I did have to do a little work with some tape, clamps and an extra light stand to keep the softbox from pointing straight down.  Clamps and tape are a must if you ask me.  Now we have a floor highlight that is not blown out, and properly exposed people on the piano bench.  But, the right side of the frame was still really dark.

Fill Light #1: The goal for the fill light was to control the shadows.  I don’t want this light to be even with the sun, or the key (softbox).  What I want out of the fill is to bring up the dark shadows to a level that has detail, but still looks and feels like a shadow.  I used a 45” umbrella with black backing that I bounced a strobe into.  So the strobe is actually pointing away from the subject into the umbrella and bouncing the light back onto the frame.  I experimented with a number of positions for the first fill light, but I ended up placing it about a foot or so behind me, and two or three feet to my right.  The height of the strobe head was about a foot above the subjects head, and the umbrella was not angled much.  The umbrella rod was about parallel with the ground.  You can see the shadows created by this light on the ground behind one of the piano bench legs, and the right piano leg.  There is also a very soft and subtle shadow on the wall to the left of the drawers.  This tells you that the actual strobe head was just to the right of the edge of the drawer, but the umbrella just swept over the edge to create that soft shadow.  If I would have moved the light further to the right, the shadow would have grown and become darker.  If I would have moved the light more to the left, the shadow would have disappeared completely.  I left the shadow in to create some depth on the right side of the frame.

Fill Light #2: I also set up a second umbrella for fill light.  I placed this about 9 feet away from me on the right side of the frame, and used it to fill in the shadow on the wall to the right of the drawers.

And then it was time to start shooting.  After a number of different poses, I decided on this one.  I really like this shot.  The man is a retired professor, and it turns out that he taught photography for a few years.  This was many years ago, and the program eventually was shut down when funds became tight.  But it was a lot of fun talking to him about cameras and equipment.  It was also the first time I had a subject offer to set up and take down stands and actually know how to do it.

I hope you found this interesting, or helpful.  Feel free to post any comments or questions.  I will do my best to respond and answer any questions you may have.