Friday, July 28, 2017

How to take some fun and creative photos with speedlites and MagMod modifiers - My SNL photo shoot

A while back, I had a client ask me to shoot some portraits of their son in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. It is not uncommon for me to do a portrait session for a sign-in board or book, but this family wanted something completely different. Their son's name is Niles and the theme of his Bar Mitzvah was Saturday Niles Live (playing off the TV show Saturday Night Live).

As part of this theme, they wanted me to take photos that were similar to what SNL would do on their TV show. I loved the concept and embraced the challenge!

The first thing I did, was go to my DVR and bring up a bunch of past episodes of Saturday Night Live. I was looking specifically for the colors of the backdrops, the poses and even the layouts that they were using.

Here are some examples of what I saw on the TV show:

Property of SNL and NBC

Property of SNL and NBC
I saw these images and thought "I should be able to do this."  I just needed to figure out an easy way to replicate their look.

I did not want to bring a ton of equipment to their home, so I needed to figure out the best way to shoot these portraits without bringing a ton of equipment to the client's house. And it turned out to be pretty simple and effective.

Here is my equipment list for the shoot:

* Manfotto Light Stands (2)
* Lastolite Magnetic Background Support
* A Lastolite Black/White backdrop
* Canon 600EX-RT flash units (3 to be used and one as a backup)
* Canon ST-E3_RT Speedlite Transmitter
* Canon 1D X Mark II camera
* Canon 24-70mm II lens
* MagMod Basic Kits (2)
* MagMod Grid
* MagMod Creative Gel Kit

And that was it!

I started by setting up the white backdrop on the Lastolite Magnetic Background Support bar. God, I love this thing!!!! It is one of the least expensive items in my gear and a godsend. I then set up the 3 Canon flash units. I had the main flash on my left (Nile's right), and another flash to my right. The third flash was placed on the floor (and then moved to a nearby coffee table) behind where Niles was standing. It was pointing at the white backdrop.  Then I had to get them at the power levels that worked for me.

First, I wanted to determine the right camera settings and power to the flash on the background.

As you can see, these were not the optimum settings! This was taken at ISO 800, f/4, 1/100 sec with the Canon 600EX-RT flash in TTL mode. Way too bright!!!

I then changed the camera settings to ISO 400, f/4, 1/200 sec and kept the flash in TTL mode. Much better! Now I was getting the gelled background colors on my white backdrop. The goal was to change out the colored gels and create different backgrounds behind Niles without having to purchase and bring different colored backdrops. It also would have been a lot harder to change out a bunch of backdrops vs. changing a colored gel on a flash head.

OK, now that I had the background flash figured out, I needed to figure out the power to the main light and fill flash. I started with a normal portrait, just to test the lighting and power levels. This was one of my test shots. I liked everything about it, except for the harsh shadows on the left side of his face. To solve this problem. I moved my main flash and powered up the flash on the left side of his face. I placed MagMod grids on both of the front lights to make sure they were lighting Niles without spilling the white light on my colored background.

OK - so now I had the flash power figured out and the camera settings where I wanted them, and it was time to get some portraits.

I placed a green gel on the back flash and then asked Niles to have some fun with me. He loves drama and had some fun expressions for me.

After taking some portraits against the green backdrop, I changed to gel to purple and we started up once again. Remembering some of the SNL poses I had seen on my DVR, I asked Niles to give me some different looks.

After shooting a bunch of portraits of Niles, I looked around the family room to see what was laying around. I saw this big nerf gun and had Niles use that as a prop.

His mom was standing in the room with us and suggested that he hold one of their family books.

So we had some fun with that as well.

I asked Niles what other colors he wanted to be put onto the white backdrop and let him pick some gels to pop in to the MagMod gel holder. Here he is giving me his Trump imitation in front of a red background.

Then we combined the red and yellow gels to get this orange color. Looking through the camera, Niles reminded me a lot of Macaulay Culkin from the "Home Alone" movie. I had him give me that look too.

I asked Niles to tell me about his other hobbies and he mentioned drumming. I asked him to get his drum sticks for some more fun poses.

I took all kinds of fun poses with Niles, and even asked him to do some quirky things like putting the drumstick in his nose. Why did I do this? Because many of the SNL photos I had seen on TV has this type of quirky look and he was a funny kid who could pull it off.

A little later, I went back to the green gel and took more photos of Niles with the Nerf gun.

He picked up a guitar and posed for more photos. I had a lot of photos with him looking at me, so I changed it up and asked him to look away from the camera for this shot.

This whole shoot took about 90 minutes from setup to tear down. I then got home and posted all of my favorites to a Zenfolio gallery for the family to review.

The family picked out their favorites and then asked me to complete the process by adding the SNL lettering.

Here are the final images:

After I completed all of the SNL treatment to the photos, I sent them to their party planner. 

About a month later, it was mitzvah day for Niles, and you can see that the photos were put to good use. Here is his signature board that I designed for them.

They had a large video wall by the dance floor and used the images for that as well,

It was a great party with Niles performing his own skit and dancing the night away with his friends. The Saturday Niles Live theme was a huge hit, and I was proud to help them create the photos. Not only was it great to create the images that the family wanted, it was fun for me to try something completely new and different. 

If you are into photography, I encourage you to give this a try. It would be a fun weekend project for you! You do not need the big old expensive Canon 1D X Mark II camera for this, but you will need some flash units that work together wirelessly.

I hope this inspires you to try a new lighting project of your own!

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