Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday Rembrandt and the Strobist

Megan at McCombs Man, what a blistering day in Austin! The day was absolutely gorgeous despite it being so hot. Like most other Sundays, I met up with some of the folks from Strobist: Austin at Opal Divine's on South Congress. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, the meet up was fairly low key: only 8 of us I believe. We BS'd for awhile, ate, and came up with a few ideas for the group going forward.

One of the things that came up was discussion about lighting in cinematography and how film makers use light to carve out depth and intensity to a scene. Christopher and I agreed that picking a few movies and watching them as a group might lead to an interesting discussion on how we can use similar lighting techniques in our photography. Near the end of the meetup, Ron piped up and asked if we wanted to shoot his daughter Megan. Being the eager Strobists that we are, we all hesitated about half a microsecond before saying yes!

After lunch, most of us ended up up at UT to do a bit of shooting. The campus was virtually empty. Hot, but empty. Megan at McCombs SetupWe scouted around some of the buildings around Littlefield fountain, looking for some interesting textures to shoot against with Megan. The sun and heat conspired against us, driving us inside to the comfort of sweet, sweet air conditioning in the McCombs School of Business.

Tangent: One thing about UT that I really like is the sheer number of interesting textures and alcoves to shoot within. We found a bit of trellis work that would have been great to shoot under had the sun been lower in the sky. It was just too harsh and hot to work with. Definitely something to keep in mind for when it's darker and cooler, much like some of the other areas we found and passed by.

So, back to the climate-controlled haven. We all stashed our stuff while waiting for Megan to arrive. Peter and I walked around the 2nd and 3rd floors looking for backgrounds worth shooting against. In the depths of the building is an atrium that houses a small cafeteria. Surrounded by brick at every level, it is topped off by a large set of frosted skylights. It was just enough to let in some of the sun and provide a nice tweak to the ambient. The second spot we found that had lots of potential was a big open entry-way on the east side of the building. There were large concrete columns and some great ambient flooding in from the wall of windows leading to Speedway.

Peter and I wandered back and found Megan with the rest of the folks from the meetup (Bob, Ron, Christopher, and Mike). Picking up our things, we led them back and quickly set up. During this first set of photos, Peter kept talking about Rembrandt lighting. I'd heard the phrase before but wasn't sure what it was. Christopher took a moment to explain it to me. In Rembrandt lighting, you arrange the light across the face of your model such that a small diamond or triangle appears under the eye farthest away from the light. Megan at McCombsYou start out by setting up your main light so it's 30 degrees off of center from the nose and then 30 degrees above. Learn something new everyday! This style of lighting is based on the lighting found in Rembrandt's paintings.

I didn't take many photos in this first area at the atrium. I'm finding that I'm still having problems visualizing just what I want in my photos, so I'm going to have to make it a point to review my lighting folder for ideas before I go off and shoot something. Plus, I'm realizing that I really want to get some better (and faster!) glass. Christopher let me use his 90mm Tamron. I got frustrated because, like most lenses, it's manual-only on my d40. It's a nice lens, don't get me wrong. Just hard to deal with when you're trying to get something tack sharp on a camera that has no way of controlling that itself.

After everyone had shot some, we meandered down to the floor below to the other big atrium-like area. Christopher found a chair, Megan changed into a black, strapless dress, and we parked near the windows for the rest of the afternoon. By this point, I had started to relax and get into a better mindset about photographing her. It's strange, the first half-hour to an hour, I tend to psych myself out. I'm realizing that I've done this every time I shot with a group of people. Megan at McCombsJust something to work on I guess. Once I got into the right headspace, I was finding it much easier to work with Megan. Directing her certainly became less of forefront task and more of a thing that I just did while framing my photographs.

One thing I'm figuring out is that I like dark, moody photographs. I keep wanting to kill out most, if not all, the ambient in a photo. The d40 makes it "easy" because of the electronic shutter. I still need to pay attention to the exposure histograms; just because it looks good on the little LCD doesn't mean it's going to look good when I get it back on the Mac and in Lightroom. More practice with being consistent in my lighting will help with this, but that means I need to work more one-on-one with models. This would be easier with fewer people around. Or, I just need to learn to jump in and take some time with the model instead of being "nice" and letting others take as much time as they want.

Around 4:45, one of UT's fine police officers walked up on us. I suspect someone reported us being in the building. He asked what our project was and who we were. I explained to him about Strobist and what our group was about. He seemed satisfied and left us to our own devices after a few minutes. Nice guy. Hopefully all my future encounters with police and security will go that way (ha! doubtful!).

I wrapped up around 5:30 or so. Home again, home again.

Obligatory Christopher ShotThe model above is Megan, Ron's daughter. She's graduating and going off to college soon. She's also an artist and a photographer. Right now, she focuses on macro photography and doing selective colorizing in Photoshop. She was definitely great to work with. The first photo is one of my attempts at Rembrandt lighting. You can see the small triangle of light piercing the shadow under her right eye.

If you'd like to view more of this shoot, check out my Megan at McCombs set on Flickr.


imzadi said...

Hmm... she doesn't look comfortable in most of those photos. Maybe even bored at times? Definitely not engaged like the majority of our experienced models.

How much interaction did you have with her? Did you talk directly with her throughout the whole thing? I find I have a very hard time thinking about all the technical aspects, creative aspects *and* engaging the model.

I love that first shot. I'm glad we don't have to bail you out of UT jail!

Travis said...

I'm not sure how experienced she was. By the time we got to this point, we had been going awhile, so she was tiring I think.

My interactions with her were slightly more involved than I'd done in the past. I'm also trying to get to the point where I'm not chimping after every photo, so I was throwing that in there too.

As I mentioned in the post, one of the hardest things I'm dealing with right now is actually knowing what I want the image to become, so posing the model is really tough for me. That might be why some of the photos make her look bored and not engaged.