About twenty-five years ago my wife Judy and I were hired by a medical association in Washington to make photographs for its annual report.
The association needed a series of location portraits for its yearly report to its members and the public. The portraits were to be shot against different backgrounds in its downtown DC offices. The photos were to be in black and white and—most distinctively--the images were to be cropped to a severe horizontal: roughly twice as wide as high.
To achieve the kind of professional lighting that we needed, Judy and I dutifully schlepped our regular location lighting kit to the client’s office: light stands, photo umbrellas, high-voltage studio strobe lights, as well as the usual collection of power cords, extension cords, sync cords, stepstool and tripod.
Through a long day of shooting maybe a half dozen setups the routine was the same: set up the lights, make test Polaroids (this was back in the film days) make the photographs, then take the lights down, move to another office and set them up again, all in pursuit of a well-lit location shot.
The pictures turned out fine and the client loved them. The annual report, if I recall correctly, even won a design award.
It was a gratifying, enjoyable, job—but it sure was a lot of work lugging all that gear around.
Fast forward a quarter century to another client, this one a major DC law firm. Once again the client needed photographs. And once again…
…The photographs were to be shot against different backgrounds in its downtown DC offices. The photos were to be in black and white and—most distinctively--the images were to be cropped to a severe horizontal: roughly twice as wide as high.
The rub this time, though, was that, where before we only had to deal with maybe six different portraits in six different locations, in this case the law firm was redesigning its entire website and needed some sixty different environmental portraits: of every partner, every associate, every lawyer “of counsel,” etc., not to mention some artsy atmospheric shots of its offices and environs.
And, since the impressive-looking new website design already had been approved, the client and the web designer needed the images asap.
Given the time constraints (we wound up doing roughly twenty lawyers on each of three successive days) such a big assignment fairly shouted that we downsize our equipment into a streamlined package that not only would be portable, but also would be capable of producing real portrait lighting—on the fly.
We did it. And we did it with only one light and a few lighting techniques developed over years of location work, not to mention more than 600 weddings.
During the 25-plus years that Judy and I shot weddings—we don’t do them now, leaving the field to younger shooters with better knees—one of our best investments was in Quantum Q-flashes:
These high-voltage battery operated portable strobe units are much more powerful than garden variety flashes and, when used on a flash bracket, can provide just what you need for any number of location lighting challenges. (nb: a flash bracket positions any flash you use more than a foot above your subject and thereby does two important things: it lessens, if not eliminates, red-eye because light is not reflecting directly off your subject’s retinas, and it also throws harsh flash shadows out of frame, behind and below your subject.) For virtually all of our wedding work, Judy and I would use the Q-flash on a bracket and aim it directly at our subjects. We were, after all, working quickly and in any number of changing situations (chapel or synagogue, outdoors, reception hall, daytime, nighttime, etc.) However, we made sure also to use a white diffuser over the Quantum’s powerful bulb, creating pleasantly soft light even when the subject was lit straight on.
Shooting the first dance. Judy's in the foreground using her bracket-mounted Quantum flash. I'm to the left in the light slacks. How long ago was this? That bag hanging from my belt is holding rolls of 35mm film.
For the better part of our wedding career this worked wonderfully. The Quantum lighting was soft, red-eye simply didn’t happen, and, especially when used with very slow shutter speeds, the effect was magical. When working at speeds even as slow as 1/8th of a second, we were able to register the ambient light of, say, a darkened ballroom while freezing our subjects (eg: the bride and groom during their first dance) with perfectly exposed light from the flash.
Our law firm portraits achieved much the same look—only with one important difference, the result of a technique I developed shortly before our first session.
Knowing that we had to work portably and fast, I even ruled out working with a portable softbox—a separate diffused light that Judy or I would hold to the side of a subject while the other made the photo. We needed to be totally self-contained--and so, with the Q-flash bracket-mounted, I used the 360-degree tilting and pivoting flash head to best advantage.
Virtually the same rig as at the weddding, only now I am pointing the flash head toward the ceiling to create pleasing portrait light.
I was amazed at the different lighting effects I could achieve with this one light. Point the flash toward the ceiling and angled slightly toward the subject and the effect was a soft flattering light that still provided enough illumination to light up the eyes.
Turn the light 90-degrees from your subject, bouncing off a wall perhaps, and he or she suddenly is bathed in classic 3 to 1 portrait lighting, with one side of the face nicely lit, the other in enough shadow to delicately render the shape of the face. And since we were working on a bracket (nb: no direct light in the eyes) glasses posed no problem whatsoever.
The variations were endless and became even more so as we played with slower shutter speeds to register the various kinds of lighting in the law firm’s corridors, conference rooms and offices. In fact, some of the images we made this way give the appearance of a multi-light setup.
And all with only one light.
Lubec Photo Workshops at SummerKeys, Lubec, Maine -- Summer, 2015
Daunted by Rockport??
Spend a week of hands-on learning and location photography with award-winning husband and wife photographer-authors Frank Van Riper and Judith Goodman. Frank and Judy will cover portraiture, landscape and documentary photography during morning instruction, followed by assignments in multiple locations including Quoddy Head State Park, Campobello Island, NB and the colorful town of Lubec itself. Daily critiques and one-on-one instruction. NO entrance requirement. Minimum age for attendance is 16. Maximum number of students each week is nine. Students supply their own digital camera.
The Lubec Photo Workshops debuted in 2009 and were a huge success for their low-key, no-pressure atmosphere. Classes fill early.
New 2015 workshop dates are: July 6-10; July 20-24; August 3-7; August 17-21.
Come photograph in one of the most beautiful spots on earth!
The Umbria Photo Workshops:
October 10-16, 2015
(waiting list available)
Join internationally acclaimed husband and wife photographers Frank Van Riper and Judith Goodman for weeklong photographic workshops under glorious Fall skies in one of Italy’s most beautiful regions. Note: Workshops are limited to only six participants and include lodging at the spacious and inviting Villa Fattoria del Gelso in Cannara.
Frank and Judy, authors of the award-winning book Serenissima: Venice in Winter, will share their image-making techniques with a small group during a simpatico, low-key week covering everything from landscape photography in the verdant hills of Umbria, to nighttime photography using available and artificial light, to location portraiture in Umbria's closely held olive fields and vineyards.
Small class size assures individual critique and instruction.
Participants will travel by guided excursion to several of Umbria’s storied hill towns, including Montefalco, Bevagna and Assisi, and receive individual attention during daily critiques.
Package includes six nights in the fully restored 18th century villa Fattoria Del Gelso in Cannara, located on a 40-hectare working farm literally walking distance from colorful shops and restaurants and centrally located in the shadow of Assisi.
This is a trip designed for relaxed learning and sightseeing via foot, bicycle and van, taught by two experienced location photographers whose work has been exhibited in and acquired by major museums in the United States. Frank and Judy are molto simpatico teachers who will turn your photographic vacation into a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Fee includes villa accommodations, all breakfasts, daily wine and antipasto Happy Hour, welcome and farewell dinner, pizza night, transportation by private van. No entrance requirements beyond a love of photography, good food and fine wine. For details: go to http//:www.experienceumbria.com or contact us directly at GVR@GVRphoto.com
Van Riper Named to Communications Hall of Fame
Frank Van Riper addresses CCNY Communications Alumni at National Arts Club in Manhattan after induction into Communications Alumni Hall of Fame, May 2011. (c) Judith Goodman
[Copyright Frank Van Riper. All Rights Reserved. Published 3/15]