I must admit, even if I have learned so much reading the Strobist blog the last couple of years, I have not once tried adding a Speedlight to the mix when shooting outdoors. Don’t really know why.
But, when the stand-up comedian I had helped with studio portraits earlier this year called and had an idea for new photos to market his new show, it was time. But not Speedlights, just one Profoto AcuteB 600R and a flash head.
The idea for the photo
He wanted something simple, but with a twist. Just him standing in a crowded street where people rushed by in a blur. If this would have been a music video, it would look exactly like that. And it has been made a thousand times. But I haven’t tried it yet.
We started by chosing a spot on what normally use to be a busy street in Stockholm, not that wide and only for pedestrians. And with buildings on but sides that could make a nice fram to it all.
But before that I set up the battery powered flash outside my studio just to dial in how to balance the light so the rest of the image would look ok. Takes a couple of minutes to do, but saves time later.
I never work with an assistant so I have to carry everything myself. So I went with the AcuteB, a flash head, a light stand and an white shoot-through umbrella (which I never used as it was far to windy that day and I didn’t want the light stand to fall and break my equipment).
Trying to overpower daylight
To get everyone except Erik blurry from motion, I took some test shots to get the “flow” right. 1/8 second was the most I could handle, even with a stand, any longer and the photo would be overexposed and Eriks small movements would make him look a bit blurred as well.
For that to work the aperture were dialed down to f/16, and I had to add a ND-filter on the lens to get the exposure right. It would have been a lot easier if we would have done this later in the day, or when it is dark. But, it was to late for a change of plans.
People are always avoiding cameras
Even if we had chosen a street that normally would have been very crowded with people out to lunch or shopping, it almost never showed in the photos. It was almost like we were some force of nature that repels anything coming into our sphere of influence.
In short, people avoided us, or just me with a camera. Or maybe were they just polite and did not want to disturb us? The result was that we never got that “flow” right in one single photo, so I had to cut and paste from different shots to make it look as if there were people passing by closer.
With the camera on a stand and Erik standing really still, it was quite easy to add a few people here and there. I just added the different shots in new layers and masked out everything but the figure and some shadows to make it look natural (or as close to natural a shot like this can look like).
If I try something like this again, I might add a bowl of candy just behind his back that might draw more people into the photo, or just use extras.
Before and after retouch
After the cutting and pasting was done, I just adjusted the white balancing and the colours so Erik would stand out a bit more in the crowd. That was his idea, and even if we never got that river of people passing by in i blur, we could at least make it look like he was frozen in time. Or what you might call it.
All in all, it was a good experience and the next time I will try something like this I will be better prepared. And maybe choose a better time to try it, a shorter depth of field would have been nice for example.