This a guest blog post from freelance photographer Marc Lebryk.
After a while any photographer learns that it’s not only difficult to make your vision 100% reality, but it’s almost impossible. That’s not meant to be a discouraging statement as much as it is meant to be a reality in the sense that even the Rockstar Photographers out there (Nikon Ambassadors, or Canon Explorers of Light, for example) have bad days too and don’t always get the shot they were looking for. As a photography instructor at a college and various workshops I like to refer to this as Polishing Turds.
You never know what you are going to get when you get to your location or meet your subject, but you have to make the best of it because that’s the nature of the job. As a photographer you have to trust your equipment to do what you need, when you need it. Everybody is different but I trust Nikon for my cameras, and Phottix for my lighting. Let me explain.
That’s our location above. It was a tropical 15 Degrees the day this was shot, so standing around outside all afternoon to get the photo wasn’t an option. My Nikon gear has never once failed me in cold weather, we still needed to move quickly.
My older strobes, Paul Buff Einsteins, would have been Full Manual, meaning that any adjustments I made would have to be at the strobe head. The Photix ODIN transmitter allowed me to make all adjustments from the camera, but what adjustments did I need to make? Do I have a built-in light meter? (no). To do this I started out like I almost always do for an environmental portrait and that’s with a frame using no lights to get the background where I wanted it so that way I could light only what I wanted to see. Work smarter, not harder.
That’s what I want the background to look like. My plan was to only use 1 big light (A Phottix Indra 500 in this case) with a 47” Octabox to illuminate my subject. This would be the safe shot, but not necessarily the most interesting.
Because of the Phottix ODIN and the Indra’s ability to do TTL, I almost immediately had the frame above. Is it a bad frame? No. But you can create this with most lights, and I wanted to make something different, something unique because as a Freelance photographer being unique (even just a little) is how you get jobs. This is where the Phottix ODIN and Indra 500 really shine, because all I had to do was change my lens and camera settings to get the depth of field and amount of background light I desired. The ODIN and Indra 500 did the rest.
That’s a much more interesting shot in my opinion, but generally when I’m shooting I like to give my clients options so I needed one more final frame to go with the safe F/7.1 shot, and then this shot wide with the depth of field. I decided to use a longer lens and start over but this time with a twist.
That’s my starting point. I like the amount of ambient light that’s flooding in but I can’t see anything in regards to background to my subject. This is where the modular nature of the Phottix System comes in, and what drew me to the system in the first place. I pulled my Phottix Mitros+ out of the bag and all I had to do was turn it on and see what group it was set to before putting it into place with a warming gel to give our background a bit of a glow.
I decided to just forgo the TTL on the speedlight for this shot and just set it to 1/1. If it was warmer outside I’d have gotten another Indra 500 out to light the background but as I mentioned previously it was a beautiful 15 degrees while we were shooting so I wanted to be done as soon as possible. If I really needed more power I could have put an ODIN receiver on a Nikon speedlight and set it next to the Mitros+ and still had my TTL and remote control, but I decided that the background in the frame above is what I was looking for.
That was it, that was my frame. From there, my subject and I did a dance of joy and got back into the car after packing up as quickly as humanly possible. In the beautiful 15 degree day that we had, our total shoot time was 15 minutes of shooting along with likely another 20 minutes of setup/cleanup. The location wasn’t perfect, the lighting options weren’t ideal, but as polished turds go, I am pleased with the outcome.
One thing I can say though, is that this is one of the reasons I love my Phottix gear and I appreciate being given the opportunity to talk about it. Making the deicison to drop one kind of gear that you are already invested in for another is always a tough decision, but I have no regrets. Hopefully you found this an interesting read and a glimpse in to my brain as it comes to location lighting/polishing turds.