Early last week, Patty asked me if I would take some family photos for a work friend whose husband was being deployed to the Middle East right after Thanksgiving. I had taken their photos before, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could improve upon.
With rain, and possibly snow coming to the area later in the week, Sunday, November 11th, would likely be one of the last nice days with the fall colors. So we went out, and in just about an hour, Patty and I shot about 225 photos (Patty handled the flash and softbox.), of which 59 turned out to be keepers. The experience was a fun reminder of what life was like when our kids were young. And it gave this young family something to hold onto while Daddy was away.
The camera I used was my Nikon D850 Full Frame Digital SLR. For the lens, I was debating between my 50 mm, 85 mm, and 105 mm f/1.4 prime lenses, or to just use my 70 – 200 mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens. I decided to start with the 70 – 200 mm zoom, because having shot these kids before, I knew that they were very active, and somewhat camera shy. So, the zoom would give me the reach I needed, and it would help me compose shots faster than I could with my feet, but with the sacrifice of some bokeh, due to the smaller f/2.8 aperture. I didn’t figure that the smaller aperture would be much of a sacrifice, because, since with the bright sunny day, the f/2.8 aperture would probably let in enough light (at fast enough shutter speeds to prevent motion-blur) so I could still use the camera’s lowest sensor gain (ISO 64, auto-ISO turned off) to maximize the dynamic range of the images (I shot most of the images at f/2.8, but for the group shots where there was some depth, I closed the aperture down to f/3.2.). Doesn’t it figure? You need a sports lens to shoot young kids!
I knew that for these shots I would want to position the subjects with the sun at their backs. That would light up the colorful leaves in the background, and it would create a rim light to separate the subjects from the background. But this meant that I would need to use artificial lighting to brighten the subjects’ faces relative to the background. As bright as it was that day, I was a little concerned as to whether a single Nikon SB-5000 AF speedlight would be able to “overpower the sun” (especially if I was covering the lens with a dome diffuser and a softbox). I think the results speak for themselves.
As far as positioning the speedlight was concerned, I knew that I would need to be flexible. That is where Patty came in.
Although I brought a C-stand with me, just to have it available (C-stands are much better outdoors due to their heavier construction, and the propensity for lightweight light stands with a softbox attached to topple over with just the slightest bit of wind.). I was pretty sure that I would have to be more flexible than a C-stand would allow. So, I asked Patty to be my light stand.
I had bought an Impact QuickStik Telescopic Handle (MFR #QB-QS) just for this purpose. The problem with this that I anticipated was that, because I wanted to use my smaller Fotodiox 50 cm (20 inch) Quick-Collapse Flash Softbox (because it would catch less wind than my Westcott RapidBox 26″ Octa Softbox), the fact that the interface between the QuickStik and the Fotodiox softbox is just a thumb screw bearing on a cylindrical groove in the 5/8″ pin, it probably wouldn’t be able to react much torque without loosening. I tested this that morning, and I was right (This would have made it pretty hard for Patty to keep the light pointed a the subjects.). Luckily, the QuickStick also has a 1/4-20UNC thread interface at the top. So, I just screwed on a Manfrotto 119 Short (16 mm) Adapter Spigot with 1/4″-20 & 3/8″ Female Threads, because it has a flat surface machined into the cylinder for a thumb screw to bear on, to allow the joint to carry torque. This seemed to work fine, and this is probably the setup that I would use to shoot outdoor Senior Photos, etc.
To control the flash, I wirelessly triggered it from the D850, and I set it to Through-The-Lens (TTL) automatic exposure control (I’ll provide a blog post review of a CreativeLive course on TTL flash control sometime soon.). I thought the results were very consistent. At one point when it seemed like I was getting some over-exposure, I adjusted the TTL control to take out -0.7 eV of exposure. With these settings, in post-processing I had to do almost nothing with exposure levels.
1. When shooting young kids, you might as well use continuous autofocus
When I was considering camera settings for this shoot, I assumed, since I would be doing portraits, that I could use the single autofocus mode (AF-S). I figured that this would allow me to focus on the subjects, and then recompose the image to bring in background elements, etc. What I forgot was that these kids are always moving. So as it turns out, I was a little disappointed that the focus for a few of the images was a little soft. It wasn’t really motion-blur (I was shooting at a shutter speed of 1/125 seconds.). It appeared to be soft focus, which was due to the kids having moved between the time when I focused, and the time when I pressed the shutter release. Next time, shoot in continuous autofocus (AF-C).
2. I need to replace the handle for my Fotodiox 50 cm (20 inch) Quick-Collapse Softbox
I am happy with the light that comes from this softbox. Unlike the Westcott RapidBox 26″ Octa (with or without the internal deflector plate), due to the internal secondary fabric diffuser, the light from this softbox has no detectable hot spot. Unfortunately, the rest of the assembly is made of plastic. It hasn’t broken yet, but the plastic handle prevents the attachment thumb screw from being tightened securely enough to prevent slippage due to the weight of the softbox and an attached speedlight. In addition, when I returned from this trip, I found that my Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight had detached from its mounting interface. This is likely because the cold shoe attachment point allows minimal engagement of the deployable locking pin on the speedlight. I need to replace this hardware if I’m going to let Patty wave this thing around in the wind.
3. I love taking photos with the Nikon D850 Digital SLR when I can control the lighting
Images shot using the D850’s minimum sensor gain (ISO 64) have such incredible depth, due to the maximum possible dynamic range. Once you see it, it is hard to be satisfied with less.