female model on white seamless background
Niki - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

This is my friend, Niki. A little over ten years ago, I decided my ass was too big and joined the gym where she works. She's been my trainer since then, with the exception of one minor break due to a layoff. The good news is that she knows what she's doing. Shortly after I joined, she convinced me to sign up for a fitness competition. I won. More importantly, though, I lost 70 pounds of fat and gained 40 pounds of muscle. We did another fitness contest later and I came in second.

Those were the days.  Now, I'm heavy again, but I'm also still strong. Despite putting on some pounds because of a sedentary job, eating when I'm bored at the sedentary job and not doing as much cardio, I still know that my muscles are strong. That's because Niki makes me lift heavy objects, do lunges, squats and other things I don't like. She also makes me run up stairs now and then.  If I complain (which I do frequently), she usually ignores it. If I complain too much, she reminds me that I'm paying her to do all of these things.  It's hard to argue beyond that point.

Last week, Niki let me know she was contributing to a fitness book and asked if I could take her portrait. The publisher had some specific criteria, but it was basically a 3/4 shot on a white background. On Sunday, I visited her house with my gear and we setup a little studio in her living room.

I'm really flattered that Niki asked me to help and I was happy to do it.  Friends don't get any better than Niki. On the other hand, I'd never done a portrait on a white backdrop. I have, however, seen it done by Zack Arias at Photoshop World. Fortunately, Zack wrote up a great white seamless tutorial that I could review before the shoot. It was complete, full of examples and told me everything I needed to make it work.

Except, of course, that I didn't have everything I needed. For example, Zack's tutorial mentions using two lights to light up the white seamless behind bi-fold doors, and then use your other lights to light the subject. OK, but I only have two lights. Also, I don't have any bi-fold doors and, the way my timing was going, I didn't have time to go buy some at Home Depot. Finally, I didn't have a nine-foot roll of white seamless, though I did have a five-foot roll I've used for table-top shooting. Therefore, I relied upon the advice that Rick Hughes tells people at his workshops – “Figure it out.”

Since I knew that Niki didn't need full-length shots, I figured the smaller roll of paper I had would work. I put a reflector on one of my Elinchrom BX500Ri lights and the Deep Octa on the other one. I placed the reflector behind Niki and aimed it at the paper and then brought the Deep Octa up to light her.

It wasn't perfect, but it seemed to work out. I didn't really have to worry about the lights once I dialed in my exposure, which was after one or two shots. The image above is the first one we took. Shortly after about five frames, I realized we were making a mistake. The Deep Octa was to camera left, but you can see the angle of her body is away from the light. Live and learn.  We turned her position for a few frames, then I moved the light to the other side for more shots on the angle you see above. Another mistake I made was the ratio of power between the key light and the background light.  Zack's tutorial said that the background light should be a stop and a half brighter on the white seamless paper, so I adjusted that Elinchrom with that power. However, it was too much.  Well, duh! It was closer to its subject than the light on Niki, so the exposure on the background was more than a stop and a half. I knocked down the power settings and then we continued on without any more fussing with the flash power on either light.

Niki tried a few different poses, changed clothes a few times, and we ended up with a selection of shots for her book portrait. Once that was done, we had a little fun doing shots with her husband and two little boys. No sense in letting an opportunity go to waste as long as we had all the gear setup. We rolled the white seamless paper out further from the wall out on the floor so we could have more perspective, especially with the boys. Once we were done, we pulled down the white seamless and she had the brilliant idea of letting her boys use it for coloring. That ought to keep them busy for a while.

One we pulled down the white paper, we decided to grab a couple more shots just using the wall for a backdrop. I killed the background light and we came up with a few shots like this one.

Portrait of female model, personal trainer
Niki - © Copyright 2010 by William Beem

For a first attempt, I'm mostly pleased.  However, I'm not there yet. For example, I can't help but notice that the lower-right corner of the white background on the image isn't the same as the white background on the website. Photoshop tells me it's as white as white gets, but the Internet, it seems, is whiter than white. Maybe I'll try some bleach.

3 thoughts on “Niki”

  1. See, my first thought was “wtf, he told me he didn’t have any sort of studio setup”. And I didn’t notice the lower right corner at all until you said something.

    1. No studio required. We just tape up some white seamless paper in her living room. It would be nice to have my own space, but sometimes you just have to figure out how to work with what you have at hand.

  2. Thanks again Bill, you are the best! I didn’t realize until reading this just how technical it all was. Thanks for great shots and priceless photos of my family!

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