In a recent portrait session, I had the creative opportunity to pull out a little Joe McNally style magic, and wanted to show how the image was created. Justin gave me a call and wanted an image that was creatively a little different than the expected, so that’s what we did. He has an awesome bar in his basement, a family crest carved in a glass water fountain illuminated with blue lights, and we both thought that could make for a fun, yet relative, background.
The lights in the bar room were on dimmer switches, which made setting up the room in anticipation of the shoot easy. Beyond using dimmer switches, I was also able to control the ambient light in camera with shutter speed; longer shutter speed, more ambient light, and vice versa. I wanted Justin to be the brightest exposed in the frame, leading your eye to him, and wanted the warmth of the ambient lights to mesh with his skin tone. I also knew that the Nikon SB-900 flashes were powerful enough to overtake the ambient light if needed.
The main light is at camera left with a color temperature orange (CTO) gel on a Nikon SB-900 flash, set on a 12′ Manfrotto light stand in a 15″ Lastolite EZ Box Softbox. A black shroud taken from a Westcott umbrella was used to cut the light from falling onto the background, further isolating the light onto Justin’s face. The bar is normally illuminated in blue, but with the presence of the main light, the blue light on the background was diminished, chiefly at the center of the family crest. The edges remained blue, but the middle went flat. I took a s second SB-900 covered in blue gel and snooted it with gaff tape, placing it on the bar aimed right at the crest. Both flashes were controlled with PocketWizards, the Mini TT1 and an AC3 ZoneController on my Nikon D3, with two Flex TT5 Transceivers on each flashgun. Knowing that I could control the light on Justin with a) the PocketWizards, b) increasing or decreasing the distance of the softbox to him, and c) as the ambient light by changing the shutter speed, I started by dialing in the blue background light. Each flash was zoomed to 200mm to focus the light on the narrow targets: Justin’s face, and the family crest.
Working in close corners, I had enough flash power to get my ISO down to 200 for a cleaner image, even at f/4. Because it was nearly pitch black in the bar area, I created an impromptu LED focusing light by gaff taping my Apple iPhone 5 to the light stand. A free flashlight app kept the light on and I had about an hour of light that made focusing a piece of cake. The flash power was strong enough that the camera didn’t pick up any exposure from the iPhone.
For Justin’s body position, I wanted something relaxed yet confident. He is wearing a black sweater in an already a dark environment, so his arms are spaced to create dimension and intentional shape. With the light high and to the left, his profile has strong definition. The shadow cast by his nose is kept out of his left eye. The front of the bar is also inherently lit with built in lights, which also added to the definition of his form in front of the dark surface.
The image has a more commercial, yet colorful feel to it. It is almost as though Justin is inviting you into his home to have a drink with him, and if you know him well, that’s probably what’ll happen. From the gorgeous bar to the radical lighting, nothing is expected, and coupled with Justin’s charm, that’s what makes it work.