On Assignment: The Portrait in the Forest

Last week I had a photography assignment to shoot a portrait in the woods. Knowing I was going into the dark forest on an overcast day, I took my Norman 400B battery powered strobe and an umbrella and light stand, and of course camera and tripod.

The scenario was to visit a new forest park and photograph the man who was instrumental in getting the park created. The forest area was originally scheduled to be clear cut, but a team led by my subject, organized and was able to procure the area and save it from the saws.

My client is an editorial style travel magazine that’s main goal is to promote tourism in the county so this story was perfect for that publications purpose.

The Approach

We met in the parking area in the morning and began a short hike into the forest to find a location. The concept behind the shot was to frame a composition in a manner that showed it was an old forest, even though it had been logged eons ago, and have him strategically placed.

portrait photography in forest with battery powered strobe and umbrella
The Setup

We took a number of shots in a variety of places, but this image of him standing on the logs was the best.

The technique is simple; establish a flash exposure setting first and then introduce ambient light into the exposure.

I set up the 400B on the light stand and the camera on the tripod. I wanted shallow depth of field to force the background into a soft blur which makes him stand out.

As you can see here, the umbrella is just off to the side from him. I set the power setting on the strobe and took a test shot to determine if the strobe exposure would be correct and of course, I used the SWAG exposure technique (see below) to determine the strobe exposure.

Yes, I could have used a flash meter but as Chase Jarvis said in a post last year; Dear Light Meter; You’re Dead to Me.

The Best Flash Meter is Your Eyes

Why? Photography is about seeing and I determine a good exposure by ‘seeing’ it. That’s what the histogram is for; verification that my exposures are accurate.

So I shoot a test shot with the strobe and the shutter speed at 1/250 to block out the ambient light and so I can see only the flash. If the test shows the flash exposure is to dark I open the f/stop as long as the depth of field is the way I want or I go increase the power on the battery powered strobe. Flash exposure to bright?  I cut power on the strobe and test again until it is correct.

portrait photography in forest with umbrella and batter powered strobe
The Final Image

When the strobe exposure is set I look at the camera meter and determine what the shutter speed is for the forest and ambient light exposure. I usually, when using strobe, will set the shutter speed at -1 from what the meter is for theambient light. This makes the background slightly darker than the strobe exposure on the subject and this approach makes the subject stand out a little more.

You jockey back and forth on these settings until you like what you have and then shoot. I had to set my ISO to 800, which I hate doing, to get 1/30 of a second at f/4.

Really quite simple!

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