Despite hours of planning, everyone occasionally runs into problems finding the light. It happened to me this past weekend. We have a local community of photographers, models, and make-up artists who gather quarterly to meet up and do a little shooting. Saturday we met where it all began for this group, at the Maitland Art Center.
I decided to try something new for this session, and it failed miserably before I even got started. It happens. That's when you need to have a fall-back plan or two.
My PocketWizard Plan
These little meet and greets start with a VIP session to shoot. That's the nice part. The not so nice part is that they run from high noon until 2:00 pm when the sun is overhead and harsh.
It was a beautiful day. Temps in the 60's and not a cloud in the sky. Seriously, not one damn cloud. No big soft box effect on this day. To make things a bit more complicated, the Maitland Art Center has plenty of live oak trees. Combine that with a harsh sun and you get dappled light. You get a LOT of dappled light.
The photo above ought to give you an idea how bad it was. Mind you, there are some photographers who like this look. I am not one of them.
My plan was to rely upon technology. I brought my Nikon SB-910 flash, a 24×24 EzyBox and a set of PocketWizard MiniTT!/FlexTT5 radio transmitters. Despite owning the PocketWizards for more than a year, I'd never actually used them.
I spent a few days before the shoot working with them at home. I updated the firmware, put in fresh batteries and snapped test photos around the house until my dogs were walking into the walls. I could adjust my flash exposure compensation easily on my Nikon D800 camera, so I was all set.
Mostly. Of all the stupid things, I forgot to bring the brass adapter to connect my flash to the Justin clamp, but a friend helped me out. Then I started testing with my flash and…nothing but disappointment.
The flash never fired. Not once. It worked perfectly at home, and the SB-910 itself was fine. The damn PocketWizards wouldn't work, though. They had fresh batteries, I followed the same steps that I used at home, but all I got was abject failure. So much for the reliability of radio.
The reason I brought them is because I knew that using CLS on such a bright day outdoors had its own problems. That's when I made the decision to ditch the plan and fall back on my TriGrip reflector and diffuser.
Finding The Light In Changing Conditions
The diffuser worked to shade the models from dappled light, and sometimes it provided beautiful light. When it wasn't enough, I asked for help with the reflector. Most of my shots in the first hour of the day had two assistants, one holding each TriGrip.
It works, but it's also limited. You can only reflect the sun when you're at an appropriate angle, which means you choose your location and background based upon where you can reflect the light.
As happens, we ultimately wandered into a place where there was just no hope of reflecting light.
The room had light from the open wall, but it seemed a bit dim in there. However, my friends and I liked the color of the artwork and thought it would make a nice background for a portrait.
My initial thought was that I was just going to watch them work. I'd already put the soft box back in my car and didn't feel confident about getting available light portraits that I would like. Then I realized I had a friend in the room.
The white wall.
I put my flash on top of my camera and aimed it at the wall. Lovely, soft light reflected back at my model. I could even bounce light on the other side using the white pillar holding up the roof, so I had a bit of control over the available light coming from outside.
That let me drop my exposure compensation a bit to darken the background and it really highlighted my model.
Things don't always go as planned, but you still have to make a photo. Take what works, mix it up with what you find and make a shot.