Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Senior portraits in San Francisco - Adding and subtracting light

Last Thursday I was up in San Francisco to take senior portraits for Hannah. The last time I photographed her was when she was 13, and she has grown up a lot since those days. She asked me if we could do the photo shoot in the city and using the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Knowing the area really well, I was happy to take her portraits there, but also well aware of the challenges that awaited us. The weather at this location is always unpredictable, and the lighting can be really difficult for portraits.

The day before the shoot, I told them that I was coming up with a plan A, plan B, and plan C in case things were not cooperating with us. I even woke up at 4:30am thinking about the challenges of this shoot.

I thought I would take you all through my photo shoot to tell you what I did to get the shots. Let's get started...

First of all, here is the equipment I used:

* Canon R6 camera

* Canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens

* Canon RF 24-105mm lens

* Canon 600 EX-RT flashes (2) and Canon ST-ET-RT transmitter

* Pro Grade Digital memory cards

* Powerex AA rechargeable batteries

* MagShoe and MagRing

We arrived in San Francisco around 3:30pm and headed straight to the Lands End area of the city. The sun was still pretty high in the sky, so there were very few places to place Hannah without having harsh sunlight in her face. I found this one location we had a good clear view of the bridge in the background, but also where she would be shaded by a tree. I set the camera to expose for the background (ISO 400, f/20, 1/250 sec) and then asked Hannah's mother if she would hold a couple of remote flash units to my right to light her daughter. 

After fighting the light for a little bit to get the above shot, I decided that our next location would be the Legion of Honor museum, which was 2 minutes from our first location. 

Due to the pandemic, the museum was closed, but I still used the columns of the building exterior and the shade to get some nice portraits.  

Since we were in a shaded area, the light was much easier to control. I took these photos at ISO 100, f/4.5 with a shutter speed of 1/160 sec. 

We were walking back towards the parking lot when I saw this wall, also overlooking the bridge. A portion of the wall was in shadow, so I decided to try some portraits here. To try something different, I asked Hannah to hop up on the wall, and I asked her mother to hold the flashes to my left.

Our next stop was over to some really cool tiled stairs (which were also 2 minutes away). We timed it perfectly, since the sun was low enough to not spill any light on the stairs, but still backlight Hannah's hair. Now I just needed to add light to Hannah.

Her mom was being a good sport, being my VAL (Voice activated Lightstand). As you can see here, I mounted two Canon 600 EX-RT flashes to a Magmod mount. I also added two CTO gels to help match the color of the sunlight. This mounting system made it easier for her to hold the lights. 

After taking a bunch of portraits on the stairs, we climbed to the top of the staircase and I had Hannah sit against this tiled wall for some more photos. I sat on the same ledge and took photos of her straight on. 

Then I stood on the ledge, asked her to look up at me, and took some photos looking down at her. All of the above images were taken with the Canon R6 and the Canon 70-200mm lens.

Our next stop was down to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, at Fort Point. This is one of my favorite photo locations in San Francisco. I decided to shoot these images with the wider Canon RF24-105mm lens to include more of the background.

Hannah decided to change into a dress for these photos. I posted one of these photos on my social media and people were commenting on how lucky we were to have the golden sunlight on her face. But as you probably guessed, this was not the sun, this was the two gelled flash units that her mother was holding to my left.

You may be wondering why I was using two remote flash units instead of one. The answer is this: I knew that I would be competing with the ambient daylight, and needed to add a fair amount of light on Hannah to bring her out of the shadows.

 Without those two flash units firing, the image would look like this. Not nearly as pleasing is it?

We went over to the Palace of Fine Arts and took some photos there, but the light was a little too flat and I was feeling underwhelmed. 

Our last portrait location was Baker Beach. This is the location that Hannah had requested in the months prior to our shoot. We got their at 6pm, knowing that the sunset was at 6:15pm and we would have golden hour light. Hannah was a good sport because it was REALLY cold at the beach. She was able to withstand the frigid temperature and pose for me a couple more times. For this shot, I asked her to look out towards the sunset and think about her future life as a college student. 

We were just about to pack it up and call it a day when I saw this post and asked Hannah to lean against it. The golden hour light was so perfect that I just had to get one more photo to highlight her eyes. I set the camera to f/7.1 so that Hannah's eyes would in perfect focus but also allow the bridge to be visible in the background. It I had taken this photo at f/2.8 or f/4, the bridge would have been so out of focus that it might not have been recognizable. It was the perfect last shot of the day.

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Unknown said...

This is exactly what I like to do! Thank you for the tips. Uh, you have the same problem as I; It's the ST-E3-RT transmitter. I can never get the name of it right, either. lol


John Smith said...

Very useful Photography Tips for new photographers.Thank you.

Lisa Saad said...

Very interesting, good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog.
Lisa Saad