December 21, 2009

Dickens on the Strand #1

I recently finished processing photographs that I took at Dickens on the Strand in early December. I must admit that I was disappointed in my work at Dickens on the Strand and at the Texas Renaissance Festival in November. I felt that neither session produced the quality of photographs that I did last year. I know that I understand lighting and basic posing much better this year than I did last year, but, the fact is the photos from last year sessions were better.

I have been studying both last year’s and this year’s photos to see if I could determine why last year’s photos were better. After a while I noticed something very interesting: last year, I generally took 10-15 photos of each subject whereas this year, I usually took only 5-7 shots of each subject. Because I have gained more skill at lighting a portrait over the last year, I know that I am able to get the exposure I want much quicker, but, then my photos this year were worse. Why?

I thought about a Joe McNally seminar I recently attended. Joe, who knows significantly more than I will ever know about photography and lighting, would start each portrait session very simply and then would tweak his lighting ever so slightly until he got what he wanted and then he would start working with his subject. I was quite surprised how he worked each situation until he got what he wanted.

At the Renaissance Festival and Dickens on the Strand, I did not work the situation. I got the lighting right and then I stopped. As a result, I got photos that were generally properly exposed, but nothing more than that.

What attracted Steve, Doug and me to this man was his unusual eye glasses. We decided that the red building would be a great background, but there was a considerable difference between his exposure in the shade and the building in the bright sun. I got the shot relatively quickly and then decided to shoot only part of his face and the glasses. On the second shot, I got luck to include the face of someone else.

However, here is where I should have continued working the scene. Image a shot where I positioned his wife, who was dressed in a interesting Victorian dress a few feet behind him and positioned her so that she was what was being magnified by his eye glass pieces. I could then light his face and her. The photo would have then been about what we found most interesting to begin with.

I hope I learned something from this, but, knowing me, I will have to learn this lesson a few times over before it will stick with me.


Camera settings: Nikon D3, Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 at 42mm shot at ISO 250, f/9.5 and 1/250th of a second with a SB800 with softbox attached right and left of subject and set to ½ and ¼ power and triggered with AlienBee radio triggers.

Post Processing:

Lightroom—Set white and black points, added mid-tone contrast, added clarity.


  1. I like your commentary. It says volumes about your thinking. I also agree that the photos have some interesting quality but they do not jump off the screen. You have given me something to think about.

  2. I can see what you are saying about this photos not being very exciting, but not all photos should be exciting. Sometimes photos are just a reflection of what is there. Here, his glasses are the more interesting elements of the photo, but, his clothing and the man himself can also hold a person's attention. I think both of these photos suffer from too much detail in the background as opposed to the subject not being the optimal part of the man.
    The Professor

  3. I agree with the professor, I would like to see the building more out of focus. That would add impact to the man.

  4. I agree the glasses are what attracted us to this gentleman. I think the backdrop is what we felt was our best chance of setting him off from the background. There were several very bright buildings and distractions that we were trying to work around.

    I agree having a more OOF background by reducing depth of field may have worked better here.

    One thing to keep in mind when we are shooting scenes like this is how little time we have to set up the shot. We literally have minutes to get the shot. Most of these people have so many requests for photos they get a little impatient if you take too long setting them up.

    They are also used to seeing snapshots, not what we have been doing. When they see our results they are glad to have taken the time to pose. They don't know that before we shoot, so they are a little wary of giving that much time.

    That is one reason we have to get in and get out. So setting up a shot like you envisioned later, and mentioned here, would be difficult given those parameters. I think we do quite well considering those factors.

  5. I like both of the photos. They show different elements of the man.

  6. Not very good. Why are the glasses a good subject? They are just old.
    Charles M

  7. I think both photos need more focus.