A while back, I took senior portraits of the beautiful and lovely Sydney.
We started by taking photos at a nearby winery, which is one of my favorite locations in the area. I love the rustic old wood and the patchwork of stone. Since we met late in the afternoon, the sun had already dropped behind a nearby hillside and we had flat light. This was great, since we did not have to worry about harsh shadows on Sydney, or patches of bright sunlight and shade in the background.
My wife brought along some of her favorite props, and we shot this photo for Sydney's thank you cards.
After shooting at the winery for a little while, we decided to move to a park in my home town. As we were walking around, looking for good spots to shoot, I saw sunlight coming through some local trees. I asked Sydney to stand by this tree and move back until the sunlight hit the back of her hair. I used my Canon 1Dx Mark II with an on camera Canon 600 EX-RT flash turned down by one stop. The small amount of flash helps to fill her with some light and also adds some catch light to her eyes.
My wife went back into her stash of props and put together this grouping of scrabble pieces. I zoomed the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 II lens to capture this photo of just her shoes and the scrabble pieces.
Even though the light was dropping quick, I had Sydney sit down at the base of this tree to get a more relaxed pose. I had my wife hold another Canon 600 EX-RT flash to my left to get more directional light on our subject.
I saw the sunset starting to go dark behind Sydney, and was taking photos of her on the grass when my wife grabbed a pen and wrote on the bottoms of her shoes. Great idea!
We were just finishing up, when I thought of another idea. Ever time I shoot photos, I try to do something unique. Seeing the sunset in the background, behind the park, I thought it would be cool to get an action shot. I wanted to get a shot of Sydney jumping in the air. I had her go to a spot with a good background, and then I moved back to frame her correctly. I set my flash to high speed synch and changed the camera settings to ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/500 sec. The problem was...it was so dark that I could not lock in focus on my subject. I turned on the flashlight on my iPhone and handed it to Sydney's mom.
I asked her mom to go right over to her face to give me enough light to get a focus point. Since I use back button focus for most of my photography, once I achieved a good focus point on my subject's face, I was good to go.
Using manual mode, I metered the Canon 1DX Mark II for the sunset and chose to increase the shutter speed to darken the background a bit. I then had my wife go behind Sydney and point one Canon 600 EX-RT flash right at her back. I used the on camera 600 EX-RT to trigger both flashes at the same time. Since my shutter speed was 1/500 sec, I had both flashes set for high speed sync mode. The on-camera flash lit Sydney perfectly, while the flash in the background back-lit Sydney and helped to separate her from the background.
Soon after this shot, we were out of light and we decided to stop shooting for the evening. We wanted to do some photos of Sydney using a backdrop, but had to wait a while to set up a second time to shoot.
I was off traveling for a couple of weeks and then we met up for the second shoot. This time, we met at our house and I shot some photos of Sydney in our backyard....
...and in our front yard. As you will notice from the last couple of photos, my goal was to find a nice foreground and background that would compliment, not compete with, Sydney. The photo in the backyard has very neutral light, while this photo has a little more directional light coming from the sunlight. I got down low to the bush and angled the lens up, bringing the colorful leaves of the plum tree behind her head. I shot at f/2.8 to make sure that my foreground and background were nicely out of focus while Sydney was tack sharp.
And then it was time to try our "studio shots".
For the shoot, I set up one of my black Lastolite reversible backdrops in the backyard. This time I used one Canon 600 EX-RT flash on a Manfrotto light stand and the Canon ST-E3 RT transmitter on camera. I had Sydney sit down on a wood stool and I shot some photos of her. I wanted to get some nice photos of her, but also wanted to test my lighting for our upcoming "prop" shot.
Sydney's mom had seen a photo of someone blowing glitter towards the camera and wanted to know if I could shoot a photo with her daughter like this. I loved the challenge and was excited to give it a try. This photo was one of our first and did not have the effect I was looking for. I knew that we would need more glitter to make this look really cool.
This time I poured a whole bunch of glitter into Sydney's hands and told her to blow really hard. As you can see, the effect was pretty good, but her expression was not right. I suggested that on the next try, she blow really hard but try to do so while keeping her eyes open. Not easy! The problem was that the glitter was blowing back into her eyes. It was also getting all over her, which meant that we had to try and clean her up after every take.
On top of all of those challenges, I also noticed that the glitter was not lit enough, so I put a second Canon 600 EX-RT flash behind Sydney and pointing at an angle towards me, to backlight the sparkles.
We had been saving the blue and gold glitter for the final take, since it was her school colors. I decided to go for broke on this last photo. I poured all of the glitter into her hands for one last "take it or leave it" shot!
And it paid off.
We had Sydney move her hands a little farther from her face (to avoid having the glitter blow back into her eyes) and I counted her down. With one big breath, she was able to disperse the glitter but also keep her eyes wide open. Voila!
We looked at the LCD on the back of the camera and knew that we got the shot. Then it was time to relax and have some fun. I handed her a Jeff Cable Photography hat and we took this shot for some shameless self promotion.
There are times when these types of experiments work and times when they don't. But this one went really well with Sydney happy to get some really cool senior portraits and me happy to have tried something new and achieving a really cool result. I hope that this inspires you to go out and try to shoot something fun and unique.
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