Charity Portrait Shoot #1

This last Saturday I did the first in a series (hopefully) of portrait shoots that will raise money for my neighborhood association.  I used a studio backdrop and a couple of radio triggered off-camera flash guns with umbrellas to set up a controlled environment rather than doing the photos by available light, which I also enjoy in many circumstances.  Since this was the first time I used the backdrop and two flashes, I thought I’d document a little about the setup and the results.

The backdrop I have consists of two tripods with tall center poles and a cross pole between the two.  The backdrop itself is basically a 10 foot by 20 foot piece of tie-dyed muslin with a long loop in one short end that goes on the cross-pole.  I ordered the stand and back drop from Amazon, the stand is the Linco Single Crossbar Background Support System and the back drop is the CowboyStudio Hand painted 10ft X 20ft Tie Dye Gray Muslin Photo Backdrop.  This is all fairly easy to set up and take down although it is nice to have helpers to fold the muslin backdrop.  I’d say it works pretty well and for $135, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

One of the flashes I use is a Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for Canon EOS Digital SLR Cameras, also bought through Amazon.  The second flash is a “Sunpak auto 30 DX” that I bought used for about $40.  This Sunpak has a manual adjustment for light output and a guide number of 100 feet at ISO 100 (pretty bright).  The off camera kit is the ePhoto UB4 Double Off Camera Flash Kit with Carrying Bag with 2 each of 7 Foot Stands with Brackets, 33-Inch Reflector Umbrellas and 32-Inch White Umbrellas from Amazon. The wireless trigger setup is the CowboyStudio NPT-04 4 Channel Wireless Trigger for External Speelights with 1 Trigger and 2 Receivers (NPT-04+extra receiver).

Finally, I used a Canon 5D mark II camera body with a 135mm F/2L lens for all of the images.  This 135mm lens is wonderfully sharp but I do wish it had image stabilization built in.  I can usually get sharp results at 1/200 second and, of course, when using a flash, the movement problems are generally eliminated by the short duration of the flash.  This body syncs at 1/250th of a second although I sometimes get shadows at this speed so I almost always shoot at 1/200th second.  Since I generally like to use a shallow depth of field, I’m shooting anywhere from wide open at f2 down to f5.6 to get multiple people in focus (In some cases, I should have used f8 or so because one of the two people in some of the images is a bit soft).

From above, the setup looks like this:

Image showing my portrait taking setup from above.

Image showing my portrait taking setup from above.

I used a white, pass-through, umbrella on the flash illuminating the subject.  I sometimes used a white pass-through umbrella on the flash illuminating the background and sometimes not.  I moved the position of the camera around a bit and faced my subjects in varied directions.  I also did some available light shots near a window during this shoot but I’ll describe those elsewhere.

During this shoot, I had one dog and two people to shoot.  The dog was a Yorkshire Terrier and stood about 6 inches tall at the shoulder.  The two people were adults, a man and his girlfriend, the man being about 8 inches taller than the woman.  Shooting the Yorkie was interesting because she was so short.  I lowered the flashes as low as they go and shot some images of the dog in her master’s lap.  Later I just got on the floor and shot her as she ran around the room, the light from the flashes illuminating the scene but not really pointing where I would prefer.  In the case of an energetic little dog, you just have to do your best!  Here is an image of Lola (the Yorkie) taken during the “running around on the floor” stage.

Photograph of a Yorkshire Terrier

Lola perks up her ears at a sound.

After having some fun with Lola, the people were next.  I shot the couple together and seperately.  First is a photo of the two together.  Here I made some mistakes because I didn’t have the aperture set small enough to get enough depth of field to get them both in focus for some shots.  Fortunatly, I was moving around, so, in some shots, the plane of focus was close enough to both of their faces to get them both in reasonably good focus although I never got an image where both were tack sharp.  This one is pretty good (they chose the shirts and we didn’t do any makeup).

Portrait of a man and woman

Portrait of the couple in reasonably sharp focus.

Finally, here is a photo of the woman, she has a nicer smile than the man!

Portrait of a woman

Portrait of the woman, with a nice smile.


About Dyer Lytle

I'm a software engineer at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. I love photography and am exploring avenues to turn it into a vocation.
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