Charity PR portrait

©Neil Turner, July 2013. The Victoria Education Centre & Sports College

©Neil Turner, July 2013. The Victoria Education Centre & Sports College

Back in July I was commissioned by Livability to go to the Victoria Education Centre & Sports College to shoot a range of pictures for their in-house publications, websites and PR work. I’d worked on news events a couple of times with the charity before but this was the first time I was shooting this kind of job for them. The afternoon started in the horticulture department where a team of professionals and volunteers works with students and clients growing a range of plants for use around the college and for sale to visitors and the public.

The young man in this picture volunteered himself for this picture and he chose which of the several hundred plants he wanted to be photographed with which made my job rather easy. I found this railing in the woods behind the greenhouses and poly-tunnels (where the work gets done) for the portrait. I chose it because I liked the way that the light was coming through the mass of green foliage, because the rail was sturdy and a great height and because I could see the scope for lighting the foreground in balance with the lovely ambient light in the background.

The photograph that you see here is completely ‘as shot’ with no cropping, no white balance adjustments and only a very simple tweak of the shadows in Adobe Camera RAW from the Canon CR2 files from an EOS5D MkII.

I knew that I wanted to shoot with a relatively shallow depth of field so that the background was sufficiently blurred. I was able to get back a decent distance and so I decided to shoot on my 70-200 f2.8L IS Canon lens and to light the subject with my Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with a shoot-through white 100cm umbrella. Once I had everything set up:

  • The flash was just under two metres away from the subject
  • About 30 degrees from the axis of the lens and ten degrees above his eye-line
  • A quick Custom white balance using the Lastolite EzyBalance grey card
  • It quickly became obvious that shooting at f2.8 or even f4 wasn’t really going to work – I wanted to have the whole plant in focus as well as my subject and then have the whole background as far out of focus as possible.
  • I shot a few test frames and looked at them on the LCD screen before opting for a third of a stop wider than f8 (f7.1 according to the EXIF data) and a balancing shutter speed of 1/80th on 200 ISO.

This gave me the lighting balance that I wanted and the depth of field was as good a compromise as I could get. These shoots are always a mass of compromises and that’s one of the biggest lessons that I try to teach when doing seminars and workshops.

I often get asked about the time it takes to shoot these kinds of pictures and the answer in this case was from the moment I unzipped the bag with the light stands in to shooting the first meaningful frame was just over four minutes. I then had another three minutes before other people were demanding the subject’s attention and it took a final three minutes to pack the kit away again – a nice round ten minutes from start to finish. That’s nowhere near being a record but it was comfortable for me and the subject and it really helps that the client liked the results.

Back when I first started to use portable lighting in this way I used to have a Lumedyne head already on a stand in a sling bag with a pack already connected and used a simple umbrella with Pocket Wizard triggers. I used to boast that my kit was not only lightweight but well planned and that I could be ready to shoot in under forty-five seconds from the time I touched the zip on the bag. When I did seminars and talks I’d even get people to time me getting the kit out and regularly beat forty-seconds. These days I’m a bit slower and I carry a bit more kit (I’m also a fair bit older by the way) and so a three minute set-up and break-down time is pretty good (three and a half minutes if there’s a softbox involved). It means that even if your subject is watching you, they don’t really get the chance to get bored waiting.

The rest of the day was fun and the other highlights were the students playing Boccia (a sport that I hadn’t encountered before last year’s Paralympics), one young woman showing off her excellent art and spending time with younger students and their rather docile rabbits.

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