Composition and light – AKA – the struggle for a good shot



Yesterday I had evening classes photography. I am currently in the module about people and portrait photography, and we had the task to make some combined environmental+flash light shots from some of our colleagues in class.
We had a hard time finding a current output outdoors, schools apparently avoid these at all cost. We only had limited cable (30m) and no battery pack to power the monoblocks.

I just want to show you the process we’ve worked trough, in order to get what I call a good shot. (I’m not pretending being perfectly capable of producing the ultimately composed shot, … just trying my best in producing a decent image)

This is the spot we started working in. I just made this shot to see how well I could reduce ambient light by just closing the aperture. Shot at ISO 160, f18 and 1/200 sec. All shots with Canon 17-40 mm f4 and 5D mark II.

I decided to open up aperture a little, and lower the iso value. (lens performance is best at an aperture value of 11-16, in general) so for the next images I worked at ISO 100 and f14, 1/200 sec. We setup a monoblock at about 3 meters distance from the subject, and 5/6 full power (Bowens G500). A standard reflector completed the setup. As you can see, I’m aiming straight into the sun, and I get a little flare spot on his belly.

This image was ok for light, but a bit boring, and my subject seemed like very far away, so I closed in a little, and got a lower camera angle, to make my buddy Bart look more impressive. At the same time, Bart is covering the sun and I get rid of the flare.

Still a bit boring, so why not try jumping (with the basket goal in mind)

Bart wasn’t much into jumping yesterday evening, so we abandoned after a couple of shots. Let’s try getting a little closer.

Hmm, not bad, but not good either, the building in the back doesn’t say anything, and I get no depth in the image.

Now the line on the pavement adds a little perspective, but the building still isn’t of great value, let’s try a horizontal orientation.

Now that is what I call perspective and depth, although mu subject is a bit far, and not really standing out from the background. (in the mean time, we changed the position of the flash, and I have turned to f11 to compensate)
Time for some close-up work then. I also asked Bart to close his eyes till just before the shot, and then open them a bit wider, because we had rather bright environment light and he had ‘peeping eyes’.

And for the final shot:

Some shots during the break. Claire was sitting in front of me, enjoying a warm coffee. All shots with available light with 50 mm lens. First at f5 1/15 sec.

Although this shot is not bad, I’m wondering what she is holding in her hands, … Let’s try vertical, I opened up the aperture to make for a safer shutter speed: f2.5 at 1/25 sec.

Oh, she’s having coffee, right, but I would get claustrophobic if I stayed too long in such a tight frame, so I leaned back a little to re-do the horizontal shot.

That says a lot more to me, she’s having coffee, in a sort of bar, and there’s other people, … Notice how I moved my subject of centre, to get some dynamic in the image.

After the break, Claire wanted to do something with the red lockers. All images taken with Canon 135 mm f2 @ f6.3 and 1/160 sec.
We set up one flash again, bare light with standard reflector we measured f6.3 at the subjects distance. It looked very very boring to me, and to Walter also, obviously.

How about you Bart, wouldn’t you like more light in here?

So I decided it was time to get out the second flash and put it further away in the corridor, set at full power because quite far away from the subject.

Now how’s that for a change. The reflective floor and ceiling make for a nice light-pattern all over the image. Some reflections are blown-out, but I don’t mind.
Some further compositing work. This is my first shot of Walter only, posing with his gear like a real pro.

I thought the light was great, but the compo was cluttery. I missed the lockers here. I tried a horizontal shot.

This was better already, but I found it had too much disturbing elements at the right side. I moved a little to the right, and aimed a little to the left. I had seen that I had the rear flash straight into the camera, but I still wanted to give it a try.

The composition was good, but clearly the flashlight is pulling a lot of attention away from the subject, so I moved back just a little, keeping the same viewing angle as much as possible. Note the beautiful line starting in the lower left corner, leading the eye into the image. Here too the subject is off center, at about 1/3 from the right. This was my final in this setting:

We worked with 3 Cactus V5 transceivers, we had one monoblock set to cell (making it react to the first flashlight) and we could shoot with two photographers at the same time.

Thank you for reading, hope you found some interesting tips here.