An Olympic experience

I'll start by admitting that one of my 2013 resolutions is to keep this blog updated as often as possible. As I've started to receive more e-mails asking about equipment and techniques, you'll see more of these kind of posts. I'll keep my wedding posts in there too, but where possible, I'll try to include some more technical stuff as well.
So, onto my first shoot of 2013, earlier today. Despite a busy few days with meetings and wedding bookings it took me a whole 15 days to finally fire off some shots in anger. I'm not complaining though, as it was well worth the wait as far as I'm concerned.
I loaded (as always) far too much kit into my Think Tank (www.thinktankphoto.com) Streetwalker HD bag, grabbed my lights, backdrops and away I went. (even though I know I probably won't use half of it, I always believe in keeping safe - just in case...)
Today's subject was Scottish weightlifter, Commonwealth Games medal-winner and Olympic Team GB member, Peter Kirkbride and I wanted to keep things simple. Having shot the Olympic flame on Ben Nevis last year with UK mountain biker Tracey Moseley, and in Glasgow prior to the Paralympic games, I was really looking forward to photographing one of Scotland's athletes who stood before the eyes of the World and made his country proud. As Peter would be wearing his Team GB tracksuit and training top I wanted to emphasise the colours a bit more. So, I opted to keep it simple (isn't that always the best way?)
I shot Peter against a blue velvet backdrop, with a vertical strip softbox at 45 degrees to camera-left, and backlights were a red gel and blue gel, both at 45 degrees as well. Both gels were metered at f5.6 and the key-light was f13 (I shot at ISO 100 and 1/200 sec and find that this helps keep my background  nice and dark, but still allows the coloured gels to show in a subtle way - the first couple of shots were at f9, but the backdrop wasn't dark enough so f13 it had to be - obviously, increasing the power on my key). I knew this would give me some strong shadows on Peters face, as well as providing some nice colours to compliment his uniform. By using 'short' lighting, like this, is also a good way to slim down a face - not that he needed it, but I felt it would help added to a more 'chiseled' look for Peter.


As Peter's training top was mostly white, it was crucial to set the correct white balance. Now, there are loads of different ways to do it, and I'm usually fairly confident about the consistency of my lights, but I  usually find it better to take a custom reading - especially when using mixed-colour lighting sources. So, I asked Peter to hold a white card while I took my test-shoot (I know some of you may use a grey-card, that works too, it's just my way of working - as long as it works for you, that's all that matters) This allows me to set a manual white-balance in Aperture then apply it to all the shots from that shoot.


After that, it was simply a matter of posing my subject to show of his powerful physique, while ensuring the Team GB Olympic logo and Union Jack were showing. All finished shots received some adjustments in 'curves' and a wee bit 'sharpening' (with the odd one or two having a vignette applied - mainly the b&w shots) and that was it. Nothing too complicated, no digital trickery, just nice, simple, effective photography. Did it work? Well, in Peter's words "...the pics look fantastic!" I can't ask for more than that.

First shot shows the red gel a wee bit more dominant than I wanted so I moved it slightly.


Taking my key-light up a bit taller cast some really strong, dark shadows under Peter's eyes, which was exactly what I was looking for to add some mood and aggression to his look (well, he DOES throw some rather large weights around - it's not as if he's an Olympic flower-arranger, is it?) Lowering my camera position also adds to Peter appearing more powerful and dominating.


Again, this shots showed a bit more red gel than I wanted, but when I reviewed it on the computer I felt it balanced quite nicely with the blue one. It may not be everyone's taste, but it would be boring if we all liked the same thing, wouldn't it?
 For the final couple of shots, I added a silver reflector underneath to give me some catchlights in his eyes.


Lights used were Neewer 300Di strobes - a cheap system, which I find work VERY well and have incredible colour consistency as well as fast recycling times and great reliability (although some of the fittings are a bit cheap and plasticky, so you some care is needed when handling them). I bought these as I don't often need portable studio lights and didn't want to spend thousands of pounds on a big-name for somethings which wouldn't get much use. For a home (or portable)-studio or occasional use I can't see past them.
For cameras, I used a Canon EOS 7D with Sigma 17-70 f2.8 at the 70mm end (effectively 112mm on FF) and Phottix Strato 2 wireless triggers (http://www.phottix.com/en/phottix-strato-ii-multi.html). I've been using the Strato 2's for about 6 months now and have no complaints, having used them at weddings, military events and studio shoots. They have 4 channels and 4 groups with 150 metre range and very reliable. Compared to some of their competition, they are also VERY attractively priced.

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