A good portion of the type of photography that I do for clients is “environmental portraits”. This is quite an interesting type of photography as you get to see the subjects working in their everyday environment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all types of photography, however this type seems to be one of the more challenging, as I don’t always have control over the lighting or placement. Let me explain.
One of my regular clients is working on promoting the city that they work in to help get businesses and younger families to move there to help boost the economy in the area. What they have done is devised a marketing plan that covers marquees in metropolitan airports, magazine print ads, TV commercials and web media to help show what the city has to offer. I received a call from the client, and I was asked to photograph a local cabinet shop that has just moved into the city. When starting a project like this, I like to ask if they have a “shot list” in their head so I have an idea what they are looking for. We rattled off a few ideas and would nail down the specifics when we arrived at the location.
A couple of days later, I arrived at the location and it was going to be apparent that this was going to be a challenging shoot. This was during the winter months, so we had some beautiful weather here in Florida. This meant that all of the roll up doors were open in this huge warehouse. This being an “environmental portrait”, I don’t like to mess with the scene too much to make this looked staged. We got the nickel tour and we started to collaborate on what would make some great photographs of the business.
First off, the client knew that they wanted a portrait of one of the admin personnel to help give the company a “face”. The gentleman that was showing us around made a perfect subject as he had a nice embroidered polo and was the age that the city is targeting. Since the roll doors were open, I placed him just on the edge where the shade and the direct sunlight was coming into the warehouse. I then set up a light stand with a 43” shoot through umbrella to camera right. For the light itself, I used my trusty Nikon SB800. I had the camera on a tripod and triggered the flash via the SU800 Commander unit. The camera and the flash were set to manual mode. I took a couple of test pops and found a great exposure. I fired off a couple more in portrait and landscape so the client would have some options and that one was out of the way. Here is one of the most important tips when using a light stand/umbrella combo, make sure that the stand is weighted down with a sand bag or have someone hold it. I had my assistant hold the stand for me. It was breezy outside and the whole assembly wanted to take off like a kite.
As we looked around the warehouse, we came across an employee that was cutting the material into the appropriate sizes to make the cabinets. I knew that I had to light a large area so I came across this with a two light set up. On camera left I had a SB800 bare bulbed and on camera right I had the same umbrella set up as described above. In this particular photo, you can see him working on cutting the material. We also did a portrait of him when the material came out of the saw. This is why I went with the soft light on the one side. I wanted to show this photo here instead of the portrait so you can see the stack of material that he was working on. While I was setting up this photo, I wanted to drag the shutter enough to bring in the ambient light, however I also needed a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action. I hear people say, “the flash will freeze the action”. I find this not to be true all of the time. It has to do with the t.1 flash duration of the particular strobe that you are using and what power it’s set to. We’ll save that basket of fun for another day.
Right behind us was the next step. This gentleman was applying material to the side of the boards. Once I saw this scene, I knew it was going to be trouble. Ideally, I wanted to keep the details of what could be seen outside. Here’s the problem, I didn’t want to turn the rest of the warehouse into a black hole. Again, I dragged the shutter enough to bring in the ambient light and I also adjusted the flash power that was lighting the subject as to not to burn or blow out his white shirt. I took a couple of test photos and the client and I collaborated and they were what the client was looking for.
I was watching what this particular machine did. The way that it worked caught my eye. It was like a merry go round for the board pieces. The worker would feed a few pieces into the machine and it would alter the wood and the pieces would spin around and come back to him. I watched this a couple of times and I wanted to get a shot of this for the client. This was the same lighting set up with the umbrella combo. Since I had to throw the light quite a distance, I cranked up the flash power to 1/1 or full power.
Our last stop for the day was the gentleman that was applying the hardware to the wood pieces. Same lighting scenario as before, I placed the umbrella combo to camera right. I also did a portrait shot of him, but as before, the client seemed to like the “action” shot better.
I learned a lot as I usually do on these types of shoots. Not just the photography experience, but how and why things work. I think that is really one of the benefits that I really enjoy doing this type of work. If I were still working at “Corporate America”, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see all of these neat places and learn new things. If you’re a “weekend warrior” I would recommend contacting some of the businesses in your area and offer to photograph them. This will give you not only photography experience, but will also show you what and how is being manufactured in your area.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean