Light a portrait on location
Pro shooter Tom Barnes reveals how to create an atmospheric character study using flash
Shooting on location is tough and always throws up different and unexpected challenges, so preparing yourself can help you to avoid these hiccups and work through them effectively if they do rear their head. Here you will discover how to shoot a location-based environmental portrait setup, how to deal with any obstacles that may arise and how to successfully capture the shot.
Over the course of my career I have worked in some truly terrible locations and have experienced everything location shooting has to offer… My style of shooting has evolved to be very minimal; over the years I have found that the less kit you have to drag around, the larger the variety of imagery you should be able to get from a shoot – and it also means less to go wrong!
There’s also a retouch guide to run you through the tools to use in post- production to work up and retouch the final images in Photoshop, from opening the image right through to the final stages of prep and export.
What you’ll need
Camera and lens
Flash and modifier
Little to no wind
1 Scout and plan While rocking up and shooting is often fine, you will find that planning will help you get better shots. You can use a multitude of apps to help you plan location access (Google Maps) and the direction of the Sun at a certain time of day (Sun Seeker).
2 Set up You have to make sure you do not create an obstruction or make the environment dangerous for pedestrians. Take the minimal kit needed rather than everything you might need – this helps keep your footprint down when working outside, plus it keeps gear safe if it suddenly rains.
3 Choose the right lens Too wide and your subject will look far away and distorted, too long and you might find the shot is much more intimate than you thought it would be and you lose all the elements of a location shoot. A recommended lens for this sort of shot is the EF 24-70mm 2.8L II – no distortion and a useful range.
4 Expose the background When you have your frame in mind it is time to start exposing for it. One way to do this is to shoot without flash to gauge the exposure on the rear LCD screen of the camera. Shoot in Manual mode and adjust the shutter speed once you have set the aperture and ISO.
5 Balance the flash Once your background is how you want it to look exposure wise, you need to add the flash. This is very subjective and it’s up to you how light/dark you want your subject to be; you might find that you want to lighten or darken your background and if this is the case, repeat the previous step.
6 Different looks With the exposures all set you can move the light head slightly and change the angle. This will affect the way the light hits the subject, so you can add more shadows to create drama. The more you use your modifiers the more you’ll be able to tell which is right for each job – spend time practising with them.
Use a loupe outside
Stop the Sun from obscuring your view
A loupe blocks out any sunlight from hitting your LCD screen on the camera, so that you can see a much more accurate image displayed on the back. This makes it much easier to gauge exposure and lighting when shooting outdoor portraits. The Zacuto Z-Finder is the crème de la crème of screen loupes, but you can get much cheaper versions that do the same thing.
1 WB and Camera Raw Setting the white balance will affect the overall tone of the photograph. It’s at this point that you decide the base colour tone for the image and have the ability to correct for any colour casts and the like. Here we shot manual WB so we did not have to rely on the camera to get an accurate measure each shot. We also processed a little highlight and shadow detail recovery here to help with the edit.
2 Transform and correct Level out the image if required using the Straighten Tool, Here we also used the Patch tool to clean up any unwanted distractions that might divert the viewer’s eye; select from one area and drag to another to move texture and remove unwanted distractions.
3 Contrast There are multiple ways of adding contrast to an image but our chosen technique is to use an ‘S-curve’ with the Curves tool in Photoshop. This gives you control over the RGB as well as channels separately – you can also use Curves to affect colour.
4 Colour toning
For this you should mainly use the Color Balance tool, as you can affect the shadows/mids and highlights all separately, which makes it a very powerful and selective tool.
5 Look sharp
Before sending files out, finish them off by sharpening them up. What level of sharpening depends entirely on their intended destination, whether it is for print or web use and so on. Use Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen depending on the subject type.
6 Export and back up
You absolutely must back up your work. One copy of your data is not enough; you should always use the 3-2-1 backup strategy for your data (three copies of the data: two in the office and one off-site).