One Light Portrait, Barbro Lindgren

June 19, 2014 · 5 comments

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This is a portrait of Barbro Lindgren, famous Swedish author and the winner of The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) 2014. I have worked with this organization for many years now, and this part of my assignment is always the most fun, and the most challenging. Once a year I have an hour to produce good publicity portraits that they can use for press and information.

This year the weather gods were happy and we had a nice sky with small fluffy clouds that made a good background. It is a pretty hectic schedule trying to shoot as many portraits in different styles on this small island in the middle of Stockholm, so I tend to travel light with as little equipment as possible.

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Start with the hardest part

I did as I usually do, start with the most complicated part of the photo session, in this case Barbro inside the sponsor car and right outside it. It was a nice but windy day, and I brought my own car, so chosing a heavy C-stand felt right a smart move.

The driver helped me by holding the stand with the Speedlight right outside the frame, we wouldn’t want the stand to fall on the car, or Barbro. And having a shoot-through umbrella a windy day is like having a small sail that can tumble even the heaviest C-stand. But to get the light from the Speedlight, I needed something, and the umbrella was enough for that. And a simple solution.

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Speedlight and a sunny day

The first thing I did was to expose to get the sky dark and the fluffy clouds not too blown out. After that I turned on the Speedlight and dialled in the correct exposure to lift the shadows in her face. As you can see in the photo above, the umbrella is just outside the picture and a bit higher up than her head.

When using a Speedlight (in this case a SB-910) outdoor on a sunny day you really need to get close to your subject with your light. Ok, the umbrella steals a little light, but a shoot-through is more effective than a bounce version were the light have to travel a longer distance to the subject. And you get more contrast with a semi-transparent, which I like.

I use Profoto Air remotes to trigger the Speedlights, it would be easier with PocketWizards, but I haven’t yet bought any. So I have to work with 1/200 second as my fastest shutter speed. That makes it a little hard to use Speedlights outdoors, but not impossible. But the aperture is pretty restricted to 11 and above. Here I think I used f/16 most of the times.

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A special kind of sunglasses

I have taken portraits of Barbro Lindgren earlier this year, and that time she wore the same glasses. They are of that kind that reacts to light and turn dark to spare her eyes, but the problem is that they get very dark outside, especially on a sunny day.

The workaround I thought of was to place her inside the car, in the back seat, and taker her portrait there as well. Looking at the photo above, you can see that if you want a nice deep blue sky, the rest of the photo will be very dark.

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To be able to have parts of the car in the photo, I had to place my Speedlight away from it all. Using an umbrella would be impossible, the light would be too weak to improve the picture at all.

I tried having it a couple of meters away, but that didn’t work, so I got closer with the light and the stand. My first idea was to have the whole car in the picture, but now I had so solve that by using a different angle.

So I tried using the Speedlight zoomed in but a couple of meters away.

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Fooling the glasses

This is the result of a lighting setup with the flash closer to the car and my model for the day. It worked, her glasses turned back to being not totally dark and I could see her eyes again through the glass.

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Just to try a final setup of the same scene again, I put the umbrella back on the swivel mount of the stand. This time the Speedlight is very close to the car as you can see, and thanks to the angle there will be a big reflection in the car paint somewhere. After experimenting with angles a little bit, I found this that placed the oval reflection right on top of the logotype.

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This is the last photo from this setup, with more sky and background. And a little natural lens flare as a bonus.

Speedlight vs studio light

I have been planning to buy a Profoto B1 after the summer, and here I would really liked having one. Speedlights are light weight and quite easy to work with, but fast they are not. Especially not when you have to use them on full effect. An external battery pack might have helped a bit, but it can’t beat the recycling times of a studio light. When I sorted through the photos after the session, I had to delete quite a few were the Speedlight didn’t flash on full effect.

And I think a beauty dish would have been perfect for this, both for being able to grid it easily and because it is not acting as a sail on this windy day.

After this part of the session we continued shooting portraits near trees and stuff like that, but then I just needed a diffusion panel or a reflector.

Portraits like these are something I really want to do more in the future, and I am still working on a flexible setup for it. Now I can pack almost everything I need into my camera backpack, except for a large stand that I carry separately.

If only Profoto would fix the TTL for Nikon, and everything would be perfect.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tom Lim June 20, 2014 at 17:36

Great article. Have you concerned getting a multishoe bracket and having 2 or 3 speedlights on it? That’s what I’ve done and it helps tremendously. I have 2 YN-560III and an SB-700 shooting into 1 umbrella.

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2 Kevin November 1, 2014 at 19:09

I just discovered your website and I really like how you explain things and talk us through your thought process. I like seeing how other people deal with unexpected problems, like her photochromic eyeglasses. Keep up the good work!

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3 Stefan Tell November 5, 2014 at 00:24

Thanks for the comments, and sorry for the late reply.

I now own two Profoto B1, so next year I will a lot more flexible with what types of light modifiers I can use. Speedlights are good for many things, but if you have invested a lot in one brand of modifiers, it feels better to be able to use them.

And regarding the glasses, it was the first time I encountered that problem outside. Now I know to check for it better next time, even if it turned out good.

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4 Tony Hicks December 16, 2014 at 17:49

Just found your English blog, Stefan, and love it! I shoot with a Nikon D800 as well and with Elinchrom monoheads, but will be switching to Profoto over the next year for a variety of reasons. My local supplier just got the Nikon TTL B1 in stock and I rented two of them last weekend (along with a couple of reflectors and grids) and had an awesome experience!! I’m also not a huge fan of speedlights for the reasons you mention so for outdoor location shoots I often use one of my Elinchrom Brx500s or my Brx250 but then have to carry along a battery pack which is heavy and doesn’t last as long as the B1 battery. Too bad the B1 is sooooo expensive here in Canada!

Keep up the great work! Like a reader above, I also really appreciate hearing your thought processes.

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5 Stefan Tell January 26, 2015 at 13:43

Thanks for the comment, Tony.
I think the B1 is expensive everywhere, but as soon as you have bought your own you forget the cost pretty soon. I did. It really makes everything so much simpler, I rarely bring my D1:s out to clients anymore, even if I know that there will be electric outlets everywhere. Not having to worry about people tripping over cables or when you need to get that shot a couple of meters away is fantastic.

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