Monday, April 20th, 2009 by Reed Hoffmann
My son Nathan is graduating high school next month, and had his senior prom this past weekend. And what kind of photographer/father would I be if I didn't turn this into an opportunity for photos?
Their prom was actually scheduled last last month, but an end-of-season ice and snow storm forced a cancellation and subsequent re-scheduling. They were fortunate that most businesses were graceful in not charging them for flowers and private room dinner deposits. And this weekend we has some rain, but warm temperatures.
So I asked Nathan if his friends might want to stop by our house for photos beforehand, and I’d set up a backdrop and lights. Our living room has a nice 9-ft ceiling, which gave me plenty of space (after moving furniture) to turn it into a studio.
Last fall I bought a backdrop stand (about $100) to replace the jury-rigged system I’d been using for years. I love it. Easy to assemble, the cross-pole can extend to 12-ft letting me use truly large backgrounds. At the same time I bought an “old masters” muslin background with nice dark warm tones. Most of the time I’d just use a pair of small portable strobes (Nikon Speedlights) with two umbrellas, but I’ve got larger lights and soft boxes, so decided to put them to work.
In the old days I’d figure out my exposure for this by using a flash meter. Nowadays I simply do a few test shots checking my highlight alert and histogram. I set the larger light for a bit more power so there’s some depth to the photos – one light being more powerful creates shadows. Setting it about 1/2 stop stronger gives me some soft, pleasing shadows without creating a lot of contrast. Last step of preparation was to shoot a white balance preset, to make sure the color was right.
Any time I shoot pictures, this is the way I like to do it. Get as much of the technical stuff as possible taken care of at the beginning. That lets me concentrate on trying to make nice pictures when I’m shooting. Plus, with exposure and white balance dialed-in, there was no need to shoot RAW format. I could shoot JPEG with no worries and save myself time at the processing stage.
Once they’d left for dinner, I headed to my office to download the photos. I used Photo Mechanic to make a quick selection of the best and then create a web gallery. Since I’d been careful with exposure and white balance there was no need to take them into editing software. And before they had even ordered dinner there was a web gallery they could access, and then download whichever ones they wanted.
I’m far from a perfect dad, so I’ll take brownie points wherever I can find them. The kids loved the pictures, and digital makes it easier than ever.