Many of my blog posts start of with philosophical statements or they dive right into a backstory, but this time around I’ll be breaking the trail and venturing into technical details. If your not a striving professional photographer, then this post probably won’t keep your interest.
The shoot came out of left field. A student from Manual High School, Meg, touched base with me about doing a photo journalism project on my photography. I was both flattered and delighted. I immediately started planning a shoot that would fit within Meg’s deadline. Several days later, we had a shoot booked and plans in place. I took the opportunity of a fashion forward shoot to experiment and try some new lighting techniques that had been on the back of my mind. Several months ago, I happened on a photograph in which the photographer used industrial peg board to build a set and shoot light through the holes. The images were pretty poor, but the idea was definitely there. I wanted to take the idea, put it in the realm of fashion photography and expand on it.
I stopped by Home Depot and stumbled onto 3 decent size peg board sheets. I knew I needed something large but also mobile. So, I decided to create a 3 piece section using hinges, so I could fold it to fit in my car. The construction took every bit of 3 hours to piece together, but once the assembly was complete, my confidence was raised.
Day of the shoot. The models arrived and styling began immediately. Meg showed up and I made introductions then started working on my setup. I kept my cool, but was slightly frantic. Everything was improvised, first thing was first; I didn’t exactly know how I would hang the peg board to cover the 3 quarter portion of the models body. So, I went to the first thing that came to my brain, duct tape. Fortunately, Josh had some white duct tape laying around. I setup a background set and duct tape the center sheet to the horizontal bar. Then set up stands on the corners to hold the remaining weight.
I knew I needed to shoot light through the board, so I started with bare bulb Alien Bee B800 strobes bouncing of the parallel walls for a wide span of light. First test shot, nothing. The light simply wasn't wide enough to pour light through every hole and not nearly powerful enough. So I turned the lights around directly to the back of the board, it worked, but I only had a 14 inch diameter of spotlight coming through. So I started messing with modifiers to cover a greater area.
An hour into hair/makeup I was still locking in light. I had finally landed on a large Octobox and small softbox to cover the right side of the peg board, this would be my main source of lighting. Behind the center sheet and left sheet I placed two large stripboxes for fill.
My next challenge was key light. I messed with grids, bare bulbs and even beauty dishes in front of the boards. Granted it was perfectly exposed and looked great, but it really washed out the back lighting and nothing was creating the drama I wanted. So, out of pure experimentation, I setup a 30-inch silver reflector in attempt to bounce all the back-lighting to the subject, just like that I had the drama I wanted. But there were still several issues…
Because of the shape of the octobox, the entire right side was peering out from behind the peg boad and created some nasty blow out highlights. So I taped a double thick white diffuser on the right side of the octobox to reduce the light and it worked perfectly.
After every bit of two hours messing with the power levels and diffusion of the strobes through the peg board, I had it tested and ready to go. Conveniently, as I locked in the lighting, the models were ready to rock.
The first set, absolutely rocked. I gave myself a pat on the back and was proud of the setup. I knew it would require some slight post processing, but I was very happy with what I was seeing on my camera. By the second set, I knew I was forgetting something… fog. My original intent was to have the lights gleam through the peg board and have a mysterious aura about them with fog rising from below. Instead, I got a much better result. A consistent washed out look that couldn’t be done with post processing. The fog acted as a natural diffuser that played in my favor.
This what I was seeing on the back of my camera. This shot is 100% straight out of camera with ZERO editing:
As we blazed through sets, I began experimenting with the position of the stripboxes and changed it up many times. However, the bulk of the final images used the exact setup throughout. The styling really played a crucial role in the look of the images. I’m so happy with the team we had that day, the images shined because of everyone’s part in the shoot. I think Meg walked away with a fun understanding of how we spend our days with lights, models and makeup.
We closed the evening with another set in which I solely used two lights with stripboxes. A true experimentation, but that’s for another day.
I use shoots like this to both challenge myself as a photographer and also to find new unique ways to use artificial lighting. Many photographers get stuck using the standard 3 light setup and get wrapped up in client work to much to have fun. I’ve learned to step away and use opportunities like this to step outside the box.
Everything was captured on video by photographer and now videographer, Josh Eskridge. Check out the behind the scenes video below to grasp a bit more of the actual peg board challenge.