I just returned from weeks shooting assignments in Alaska; over 13,000 images. One of my assignments was for a tourism bureau photographing a variety of activities, places and people. A typical day might start out at sunrise (4am in Alaska, ouch!) photographing moose, then onto some nice scenic mountain vistas. Next up is photographing a musk ox farm, and then onto a golf course shoot. And after shooting the fairways and putting greens, it’s off to a brew pub to photograph beer. Now I must admit it is hard to photograph a beer pub since I would rather be sampling the beers! But the real challenge on a shoot like this is working fast. Really fast, as in you might have 30 minutes to shoot the entire facility, interior, exterior, sampling room and create some nice portraits. The portrait above was shot in the brew pub in two minutes from start to finish. Here’s my technique to get a nice portrait on location when you only have a few minutes.
First up, the tools you need. For this shot I used my Nikon D810, a SB5000 and a SU800 to trigger the flash wirelessly. Next, to get that beautiful soft quality of light, I use a Lastolite 30″x30″ square Ezybox. This softbox pops open like a collapsible reflector, and can be set up in 30 seconds…I don’t know of another softbox that sets up faster. The box (retails for $156) has an interior and exterior baffle to create soft light. You can either mount the soft box on a stand, or in this case I had my assistant hold the box.
Here is my workflow. First, set up the soft box; 30 seconds. Next, I set my exposure using manual mode in my camera. I normally under expose my background by about 1/2 stop when shooting inside. This takes me about 30 seconds. That leaves 1 minute to take the shot. I use TTL mode for my flash exposure, which normally is just about right. Knowing where you want your subject to stand and what position for the light ahead of time will eliminate extra time you could use shooting the portrait. One big light shot wirelessly using TTL produces great results fast.
Practice at home or with friends. The faster you master the ‘two minute portrait’, the more images you can create. I often use this exact technique on travel photography trips. Gauchos in Patagonia or Balinese dancers may only have a few minutes to give you for their portrait. Make that time count!