The Little Chalet That Could
Photoshop closes the deal. (1/60 @ ƒ/2, ISO 100)
I was meeting a friend at a small country house, up north, for some portraits. When we arrived at the location, I realized it was a place that could have found its way in Shelby Lee Adams' work—a rather unattractive setting, to say the least. It didn't really matter, because we were going to shoot against a seamless, but had it been a rustic round wood chalet, we could also have shot something completely different...
"Well, wait a minute, she said, I know a guy a few minutes from here who just built an awesome chalet, I'm sure you'll love it!" And boy was she right! That place was amazing; a dream house taking shape. It was obvious great pictures could be made there ... but maybe not just yet, because the place was still under construction—there were building materials and tools lying around everywhere. Also, whatever we did, we had been given about half an hour to do, so it would have to be thrown together in a rush.
Still, I had to make the best of the opportunity, so I settled for a shot where she was sitting in the stairs—an angle of view that would allow me to avoid the distracting elements at ground level and meant we didn't have to move stuff around. Oh, and did I mention there also wasn't any electricity? This is when you're glad you brought your battery packs.
The key light, before and after ND.
First things first: I quickly put up a large brolly on a boom aiming down at the stairs. The brolly was perfect for this situation, because it can be set up in a breeze—unlike an octa, for example. I also was going to shoot at a large aperture (on a normal lens) to diminish the background noise, so the key light was simply too powerful. I slapped a few stops of ND in front of my lens and moved on.
I tried desperately to have my fog machine running, but these things simply cannot work on battery packs. (Note to self: car power inverters die when you plug fog machines in them you moron.) I decided to blast a light towards the lens to create a healthy dose of flare so as to mimic the haze of the fog I couldn't get.
Setting up additional lights.
The first attempt (top, left) looked great, in a way, but also didn't make any sense. The CTO gel, on the other hand, worked beautifully to infuse a warm feeling to the image. I moved the light (in a beauty dish) to the other side of the stairs (top, right), but by then it looked flat—it had lost its magic.
I ended up placing the light at the top of the stairs and cranking it up to cause more flare (bottom, left). All that was needed was to add a third light (bottom, right) to bring up the background to a more manageable contrast with the foreground. This last light uses a regular reflector with a grid and some CTO as well—I didn't want to wash the entire place with light, just wake it up and still have a gradient going on, which was a simple matter of aiming the light to taste.
If you look at the first test shots, while I was setting up the light, you notice immediately that the handrail is nothing more than a rather distracting element. But when the subject is bracing it or otherwise interacting with it, it suddenly legitimizes the handrail so that it's no longer out of place.
With simply no time to tweak the light, I had to finish the job in post-production. Considering how fast this was put together, I am very pleased with the result!