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I need some advice for a portrait shoot

Discussion in 'People' started by Jim Strathearn, Nov 8, 2005.

  1. I have been asked to do a portrait. I do not know the person as she was refereed to me by a friend. I spoke with her today and this is what she wants:

    She says that she has some wallpaper that would make a great background. It is white ribbons on a white background. I asked her if the wallpaper was embossed and she said that it wasn't. I then asked her how can you distinguish the ribbons from the background and she says that you have to be looking at the right angle to see the ribbons.

    I then asked her how big the room was that the wallpaper is in and she said "it's at the top of the stairs". :eek:  Turns out that is is a "split foyer" home and the wallpaper is at the top of the stairs, probably in a hallway. I asked her if there would be room to setup a tripod about 5' away from her and she said that if I could maneuver my rear around a bit then perhaps... :rolleyes: 

    OK, so now I have a white on white background that has to be shot at just the right angle at the top of the stairs. Think that's bad enough? I then asked her what she planned on wearing and she tells me a black dress with gold jewelry. Oh, and then she says that she'll probably put some "goop" on her face...

    So, I'm looking for some advice; preferably as to how to shoot this as opposed to how to convince her to make some changes (which I may end up doing after I shoot like she has initially asked me to). I know that there are some terrific shooters here at the Cafe and I'm hoping to glean some help from you. I've already thought of shooting the wall separately and then using it as a background later. Not sure my PP skills are up to it but it may be worth a try...

    Any and all ideas and advice will be greatly appreciated!

    BTW, I have access to a total of three SB800's with stands (no umbrellas), a D70, 50mm 1.8, 105mm 2.8 (my preference if I can get the space), 80-200 2.8 and kit lens. I do have some white foam core to use as reflectors and she says that the room gets good morning light so we're shooting in the morning.

  2. Tell her it won't, and explain why. You're the expert. She expects you to orchestrate the picture.

    There's no sense doing the shoot if you can't deliver an excellent result.
  3. I'm hoping that it's not as bad as she described. Evidently, she went out and purchased/hung this wallpaper specifically for this portrait. Also, she will use this photographic portrait to have an oil painting portrait done. I may be able to just shoot the wallpaper "at the right angle" and let the painter do her thing... (Yea I know; it's never that easy...)

    Anyway, I guess my gut feeling is to expose for the face and let everything else fall as it may. Does that make any sense?
  4. Well.... no. You need to get it all right, including the dress, jewelery, and background. This is apparently a well heeled client, and/or a very vain one, as she's commissioning a oil painting of herself. I doubt that she'll be a happy camper if you don't deliver a shot that's excellent on all fronts (and backs :wink:) .

    You didn't mention what kind of portrait she's after... head shot, head & shoulders, half body, full body, etc. Seems to me that, other than a head shot, you're going to have to use your 50/1.4 in such close quarters. That's a good choice anyway, as you'll be able to rely primarily on the ambient light coming through the windows. Don't use too large an aperture, though, as you want enough DOF to show off the pattern on the wallpaper in the background. You'll probably want to use one of the flashes to eliminate or reduce the shadows she'll cast on the wall, and another to give the slightest touch of fill to her face.

    It's a difficult shot, so take lots of pictures and bracket both aperture and flash settings. But don't get so wrapped up in the technical aspects that you forget to look for a flattering pose and expression on the subject's face. Dont worry too much about the pattern on the wallpaper, as the painter can always add that from a sample.

    Good luck. If you can't get an acceptable shot straight from the camera, I'll be happy to help you Photoshop it afterwards.
  5. Jim, I assume you are using flash for this picture?? If that is the case, be sure you use a diffuser and/or bounce it off the ceiling. Because the wallpaper is important to her I would expose for that as you can recover her face if it is too dark. Check your histogram and drive the EV up against the right side so that you might have a chance of pulling her black dress up to the point where there is some detail. Do not blow the highlights.

    If you are using natural light, I would again expose for the wallpaper and then add +1.3 EV and then check your histogram. If necessary, add some more EV compensation in order to move the wallpaper to the far right of the histogram. Let the face and dress fall where they might and do any recovery in post processing.

    I also suggest that you bracket your shots.
  6. JeffKohn


    Apr 21, 2005
    Houston, TX
    What I would try to do is use a flash on the camera axis for bounce/fill (maybe use the diffusion dome). And another flash on a stand to one side as your main. If you can, position her and the main light so as to avoid getting much light from it onto to wall (you'll also want to avoid shadows). Putting as much space as possible between her and the wall will help. It would also be good if you could get an umbrella for the main since you already have the stand. That could make a big difference in the quality of light from the main.

    If the room really does get good light in the morning you might be able to rely on that for the ambient exposure and just use a single flash on her. But non-photographers tend to have a different definition of "good light" than we do so be prepared for the worst.
  7. Thanks for all the replies.

    UF: It's a head shot. I will probably need some PP advice so I thank you for your offer. Additionally, I think that your advice pertaining to "You're the expert. She expects you to orchestrate the picture. " will probably prevail. I've decided to evaluate the setting even before bringing my equipment into her home. I did some portraits for a friend a while back and this is a referral from that. Knowing my friend, I should have expected that this would not be a straight forward shoot... :eek:  Oh well - as you know, I am always up for a challenge. I just hope that I'm capable!!!

    Gordon: Thanks so much for your advice. The way she describes this wallpaper I thought that perhaps natural light would be the way to go but I do have one SB800 and will borrow two more. Never considered such aggressive EV but I will give it a go. And, I will bracket...

    Jeff: I hear you about the "good light" stuff. This was supposed to be a "Hey! I liked the shots you did for so and so and want a head shot!" and it's turned into the portrait from heck... Thanks for your reply.
  8. OK, that brings the 105 or the 80-200 into play. Just for reference, here's a shot I took last weekend of a young lady against the backdrop of a plain wall. Since I positioned her in a shaded area, the light probably approximates what you'll have in your indoor shot.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    The shooting data was 1/160s f/5.0 at 45.0mm ISO400, and I used fill flash at -1.0ev. If I had positioned her closer to the wall, you would have been able to see the pattern in it. Just offered as a starting point for you.
  9. Hi Jim,

    Ok if the spae is small then you get the first problems. The 50mm F/1.8, 105mm F/2.8 and the 80-200mm F/2.8 all need some distance to shoot from. Especially for full person shot. So I would forget about the shooting her in front of the wallpaper.

    So do a shooting at the place you find the easiest at your home or at her home or wherever you have the space. Tell her you will photograph the wallpaper. (don’t know what is so special to a white ribbon wallpaper) but ok she is giving you the task to photograph her. And if she pays for it then why not try.

    About black dress and gold is no problem. That she wears goop (I assume it is make up) is ok too. If you use green or blue background (paper or cloth) you can use some techniques to easily get the backdrop away. And put the wallpaper photo behind her.

    I have put my self in hard situations too before but I learned to control your surroundings more and more. If you think something will not work out with your skills or is to much work to get good result. Then you must think about if you really want to do it. Look you are the photographer so you must know what you are capable off. I get most strange thoughts of models and sure it will be able to make it happen. But sometimes you must try to change the mind of the model. I think the white wallpaper with ribbons is just not worth trying. One if you get the ribbons I think it will distract from the model. Two it will become plain white background.

    Any questions let me know and if you need pp help with the background. I will help you out if you need the help.

  10. Tell her you can't do it. She sounds like a control-freak with an idea in her head that no one can capture.

    Run away quickly :wink:

  11. Cool.... Poor girl she wants just the thing in her head to come true. But you are right about doing something that will not work. Because he must expose for the ribbons and hope the person is exposed good to. To much light on the ribbons and it is overexposed. To less light the background will not be evenly lid. So easy it doesn't look to me to control three SB-800's. So the girls demands are not reasonable. So Woody makes a point run or tell what you can do. And forget about the white ribbon wallpaper. Before you know it all people want portraits with there wallpapers.

  12. Thanks guys! I've decided to leave all my equipment in the car and go in and look/talk first, then we'll go from there. We're doing the shoot on Friday and if it goes well (or poorly for that matter) I'll post what I was able to get, if anything.
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