Tag Archives: Portrait

Lockhart BBQ Tour – Part 3

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This is the 3rd and last blog post that documents my experience of attending a photographic excursion lead by Wyatt McSpadden to some premier BBQ restaurants in Lockhart, Texas. This trip occurred back on February 7, 2013.

Wyatt is famous for his photography of family-owned and operated Texas barbecue establishments. He has published a beautiful book on Texas BBQ, named appropriately enough “Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden“.

In my first post of this series, we had visited Smitty’s Market, which was in a building built about 1890. Our second stop was at Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites”), which was built 100 years later, in 1990. Our third stop, and the subject of this post is Black’s Barbecue, which was built in 1932.

When we arrived at Black’s Barbecue, it was nearly 2:00 PM in the afternoon, and the sun was about as high as it will get in the sky here in Central Texas in early February. I still had the excellent Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens on my little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.

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Note that Black’s Barbecue is open 8 days a week… That must be a strong indicator that they are something special. Indeed they are! From their website, on the Black’s Facts web page, you will find these words at the bottom:

Black’s Barbecue was selected by United States President Lyndon Baines Johnson to represent Texas barbecue at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Black’s Barbecue has been recognized by both the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives for their part in Texas History. The New York Times, Southern Living, Texas Monthly, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The Food Network, Money Magazine, The Travel Channel and many others have all written about the Texas Legend – Black’s Barbecue.”

Let’s head on in and see this special BBQ sanctuary. As you enter the front door, you find yourself in a narrow hallway that leads you directly to the counter where you place your order. BBQ is usually sold “by the pound”, and they cut it up and weigh it right behind that counter – and then you pay for your order.

I didn’t order anything, as I had just eaten two meals in the last two hours, but I did stop long enough to take this photo over the counter.

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Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I went past the cash register, which takes you into the main dining area. It is quite the contrast to the cavernous Kreuz Market building that we had just left, but much more modern than Smitty’s Market (even though Black’s was built 80 years ago). It has obviously been through a renovation or two over that time.

I checked out the lighting, and it was a mix of tungsten and fluorescent lights, so I just left my White Balance setting on the camera to “Auto”.

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This place looked like a living museum of Texas memorabilia!

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A clock in the shape of the state of Texas, mounted horns from longhorn cattle, deer antlers, photos of football teams… Yes, this is the Texas that you would expect to see in a Hollywood movie.

The area that you get your plastic silverware, napkins, and white bread put an old safe to good use as a table leg…

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Now any respectable restaurant in rural or small town area of Texas is required to have the trophy bucks (male deer) mounted on the wall for all to admire. Just above the bubble gum machine is as good a place as any…

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Something about that deer on the right seemed to warrant a closer look. Damn, that taxidermist was good. That deer seemed to be looking right at me!

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Now I don’t know why it is, but there is a drink served at almost every BBQ joint in Texas that is known as Big Red. I think I might have had it once… about 40 years ago. A lot of people drink it, but I only see it consumed where BBQ is served. I have no idea why that is. I did like their neon sign, but my photo of it really does not capture the brilliant colors that it was creating.

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Almost all of the photographers had set themselves down at a long table that had been reserved for us, but I was still wandering around snapping photos of whatever seemed to interest me. I arranged these items on the plastic table cloth. The empty pepper sauce bottles become toothpick dispensers.

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Some of the other photographers had engaged in a conversation with the Caldwell County Constables, who were just finishing up their BBQ lunch. They seemed like nice guys to me!

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That is Andrew Auten on the left, Jay Defoore in the red jacket, and I don’t remember the photographer’s name who is on the right, but I do remember that he was also using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, and that he had flown in from Denver, Colorado just to be on this BBQ tour!

I was still wandering around, and went back to the area that was using the old safe as a table leg. I turned the labels on the special bottles of pepper sauce so that the labels were facing forward, and focused that 25mm lens as close as it would go, and took this simple photo.

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Turning to my left, this little splash of color seemed to catch my attention.

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Besides the bubble gum machine and the old CRT television on the wall, I think this was the most colorful item in the entire place….

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Now that photo above, although just a snapshot, speaks volumes to me. Mounted trophy deer, longhorns, photos of decades of the high school football team, barbecue… yes, this worthy of the Texas Legislature’s recognition!

I felt like I had “carpet bombed” the place with my little camera, so I went to the long table with the other photographers, and pulled up a chair next to Frank Grygier. While sitting there and talking to Frank, I casually arranged these items on the table, and we had a good laugh about shooting this “still life” arrangement.

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(See Frank, I told you that I would use that one!)

We were sitting close to the bubble gum machines, and since I’m drawn to color light a moth is drawn to a flame, I just had to snap this photo too.

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Turns out it isn’t bubble gum after all…

About this time, I noticed that Wyatt wasn’t with us anymore, and Taylor Jones’s tethered shooting station wasn’t in the dining area, either. I asked if anyone knew where Wyatt was, and someone responded that they thought he had gone to take a photo of the owner.

I went back to the counter where you ordered your BBQ, and asked if they knew anything about the owner being photographed. One of the guys pointed to the area through the windows behind him. I could then spot Wyatt setting up his tripod through those windows.

I asked the servers behind the counter if it would be OK if I could go back into the kitchen area where they were. The first guy gave me a look like “no way”, but before the second guy saw that, he said “sure come around the counter, and I’ll show you how to get there”. Score!

Besides Taylor Jones and Jeff Stockton, who were helping Wyatt, I was the first of the “signed-up photographers” to see what they were up to. They had Barrett Black (the owner’s son) in action as the pit master.

Wyatt explained what he was going to do to light this scene the way that he wanted. The room was rather dimly lit by a few “track lights” mounted so that they would shine into the pit when the lid was raised. Since these were tungsten lights, Wyatt was going to use only the modeling lights of his portable studio strobes that he had brought. The modeling lights were also tungsten lights, so they would match the color of light from the track light. The model lights would not flash, but instead they would be constant light sources.

Now this was just like what Kirk Tuck described in his wonderful book that I had read a year ago, except that Kirk was using LED lights for shooting portraits.

Now I am not going to take any credit for the next photo, other than to say that I pointed my camera in the right direction, and released the shutter. Wyatt composed this shot, like a maestro conducts a symphony. He knew and understood what each component was supposed to do to contribute to the whole effort.

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Barrett Black, the pit master, being photographed by Wyatt McSpadden, the photographer who is a legend for doing exactly this. I was almost giddy with the thought of what was happening right in front of me!

Wyatt had Barrett turn the exhaust fans off, so that the light positioned behind Barrett would light up the smoke behind him.

In the photo above, Barrett is looking directly into the lens of Wyatt’s Nikon D800 camera. I had my little Olympus camera held “stinky diaper” style” directly above Wyatt’s head, and snapped that photo. Well, almost above Wyatt’s head… I should have held it just a little bit higher; that’s the back of his black ball cap in the lower left corner of my photo.

After I got my photo, I helped one of the lady photographers by dragging over an empty 5 gallon bucket, turned it over, and helped her climb onto it, so that she could also see what was transpiring and to get a photo or two as well.

Wyatt’s photo looked absolutely stunning on Taylor’s tethered shooting station!

It was getting terribly smoky in that little room so I headed outside to get some fresh air. Several of the other photographers were already outside.

Soon Wyatt was out there with us, and he was looking for an appropriate place to take a portrait of Barrett and his Dad, Kent Black. This picnic table was in the sun, but the old sign on the side of the building behind it was in the shade. This would be the spot.

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Wyatt planted his camera in the same location that my camera was in for the photo above, and then he did a great job explaining how he was going to compose the lighting. First, the exposure for the background was established. The sunlight coming from behind the two “subjects” would create a bit of “rim light” to help separate them from that background. Finally, Wyatt had Jeff assemble to large octagonal softboxes, one positioned to the camera’s left, and one directly over the camera. Using a light meter, Wyatt worked with Jeff to get the strobes to flash at the desired output levels to give the effect he wanted.

The strobes were triggered wirelessly. After Wyatt got the photos that he wanted, he offered to let us take the same shot. I didn’t hesitate one instant!

My tripod was set up about 30 inches to the right of Wyatt’s camera position. I dialed in the shutter speed that Wyatt had used, but since he had been using an ISO setting of 100, and my Olympus only went down to 200, I closed up my aperture by one stop from what he had used.

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Barrett seemed relaxed and comfortable, but I got the impression that Kent was wondering if he was really expected to keep sitting there while a dozen different photographers took their turn – one by one. He never complained, and he sat there patiently, but we let him off easy, as only about half of us took our turn.

The only time that I changed my lens while at Black’s Barbecue was to put on the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. I did that just so I could get a couple of wide angle “behind the scenes” photos.

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That lens is considered a “kit lens”, but even so I still use it more than all three of my prime lenses combined.

Wyatt then announced that he was going to be going back to Austin in the equipment truck with Jeff and Taylor. He needed to get back to town and then get ready for some Texas Photo Roundup event that was being put on by the ASMP (Austin and San Antonio chapter) and the Austin Center for Photography.

We watched Jeff and Taylor skillfully, and quickly, pack up equipment you see in the previous photo, and then the rest of us went back inside the building.

We were told that’s where we would be served our “sample” of Black’s Barbecue…. After all, it was 3:30 PM, and we hadn’t eaten any BBQ in nearly an hour and a half now. I was surprised to see my fellow photographers eat more BBQ here than they did at the previous two establishments!

We eventually got back onto our bus, 30 minutes behind schedule. Nobody cared about that, and everyone was happy. I know that I had a great time, and I got the impression that everyone else did too. Even though we got caught up in some of Austin’s terrible traffic during rush hour on Interstate 35, I still felt like we were on an adventure to remember!

I learned a lot from watching Wyatt’s lighting demonstrations in action. It seems so much more relevant when seeing it in person, rather than seeing it on creativeLIVE, or reading about it in a book by Joe McNally or Syl Arena. Don’t misinterpret me here – those are still great learning methods. Seeing it live, I got a feel for how much time it took, and saw the measure pace that Wyatt worked at – and you simply do not get to see that by reading a book.

I was extremely appreciative of the access that we were provided in these BBQ establishments. It was because we were with Wyatt McSpadden – and believe me, these places know exactly who Wyatt is and what he means to their industry – that we were allowed unrestricted access and allowed to photograph anything that we wanted to. Wyatt had earned that privilege through years of hard work, and we were allowed to tag along with his reputation. For him to share that with us was truly impressive to me.

Lastly, as we rolled into Austin, I felt very happy to realize that my previous concerns about getting in “over my head” were not warranted at all. I was comfortable around all of these other photographers all day long, and everyone treated me pleasantly and respectfully.

I hope that you enjoyed at least some parts of my three-part blog post about Wyatt McSpadden’s photo tour of three very famous barbecue establishments in Lockhart, TX

Thank you for visiting my blog!

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Lighting Set-up for Portraits at Curves

This post describes the equipment in my portable “portrait studio” that I set-up at the neighborhood Curves facility for their 10th anniversary celebration. To walk through it, I’m simply going to describe what you see in the photo above, and the crappy iPhone photo below.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Before I get into the equipment, I want to draw your attention to the far right side of both of the photos. There, affixed to the large mirror on the wall are several of the photos that I had taken for the Curves Member of the Month photos back in 2011. If you look close, you may even spot the two portraits of Barb that I showed at the beginning of my previous blog post.

OK, now on to the lighting. As you can see, my whale gray backdrop was positioned halfway in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that was allowing lots of morning sunlight to come streaming in. To make my backdrop more opaque, I simply draped a king-size bed sheet behind the backdrop, and used 4 red handled A-clamps to hold it in position.

The facility was brightly lit with probably 100 banks of fluorescent lights in the ceiling. The sunlight was streaming in from the window on the left. I wanted to use my small portable Canon 580EX II Speedlites to illuminate the people in the portraits. To complicate things further, all three of those light sources emitted a different color (spectrum) of light. How the heck was I going to make these women look good under such conditions?

To start, I put up a round reflector on the left side of the photos above, to block the sunlight from coming in from the window and directly hitting the model, who would be sitting on the posing stool that you see in the middle of the set-up. The round reflector is a Creative Light 5-in-1 Reflector, which is 47″ in diameter. I put the black cover on this reflector facing the posing stool. I used a Paul C. Buff RBH2566 reflector kit mounting arm to attach the reflector to a standard light stand. I have wasted good money on three other such arms in the past, and this one is not only the best that I have used, it is also the least expensive!

As for the fluorescent lights, I borrowed the step ladder at Curves, and climbed up to disable the two light banks that were directly overhead of the set.

At this point, the ambient light was what it was, and I was just going to have to deal with it. The way that I deal with it, is to “kill it in the camera”. What the heck is that?

I wanted to underexpose any picture that would be taken with just the ambient lighting. To make the digital sensor of my Canon 5D Mark II the least sensitive to light, I set the ISO to 100, which is where this camera also captures the most detail that it is capable of. The “sync speed” of this camera is 1/200th of a second, so that is the fastest shutter speed that I would be allowed to use later, after I turned on my flashes.

With the ISO at 100, and the shutter speed a 1/200th of a second, the only thing left that I could use to control the exposure was the aperture (the diameter of the opening in the lens that light passes through).   So before I turned on my flash units, I took a few test shots, where I adjusted the aperture down to a small enough opening that any photos that I took would be severely underexposed – effectively killing the ambient light “in the camera”.

The photo above was taken with the aperture set at f/ 5.6. Notice that this is the same photo at the very top of this post – except in this photo, the flashes were not turned on. You can see the white bars of the exercise equipment, and you can see the gold star balloon on the right in both versions of the photo. So, even without the flash, there was still some of the fluorescent lighting that was going to contribute to the exposure, but it wasn’t going to be very significant.

I could have made the aperture smaller by setting it to f/ 8 or even f/11, but that would mean than when I did turn on my flashes, they would have to put out twice (from f/5.6 to f/8) or even 4 times (from f/5.6 to f/11) the amount of light. That would drain the 4 AA batteries in each flash unit twice, or 4 times, as fast.  By  leaving the aperture at f/5.6, I was expecting to get at least 100 flashes before I would have to change the batteries.

So those were my camera settings: ISO 100, shutter at 1/200th of a second, and the aperture at f/5.6. About the only other thing to mention about the camera itself is that I put the camera into “mirror lock-up mode”, and I use an electronic cable release to trip the shutter.

I put the camera on the tripod, and put a Speedlite in Master Mode into the hot shoe of the camera. This Master was set so that it would communicate and send commands to the 4 Slave units I was going to use, but this Master would not put out any light that would contribute to the actual exposure. I pointed the Speedlite up towards the white ceiling, so that it could bounce its control pulses of lights to the Slave Speedlites that I was about to use.

The lens that I chose to use that day is a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. This is not a high end Canon “L” lens (L for luxury), but it is still a wickedly sharp lens. The 85mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera, like the Canon 5D Mark II is a allowed me to back up about 6 to 8 feet (2 to 3 meters) from the models, and that’s about all the space that I had to work with before I would be bumping up to the exercise equipment.

At that distance, with that 85mm lens set to an aperture of f/5.6, I was going to have to pay careful attention to what the camera would focus on. I wanted to use autofocus, because even though I was going to have them sit on the posing stool, I was expecting that they would be swiveling back and forth as we experimented with more than one pose. I was going to be dealing with less than 1 foot (~10cm) of depth of field (front to back in focus). If the camera focused on the front of the model’s blouse, her eyes could be 6 inches behind that, and therefore not very sharp – and her earrings would certainly be getting blurry. I also knew that I would have to really be paying attention to this later in the day when I had a mother and daughter couple shot, and that the last time slot was the largest group of the day – a family of 4.

Since the camera and lens were set-up, the next thing that I worked on was the background lighting. I wanted the gray backdrop to be lit consistently (the same for every shot) and I wanted a vignette effect (a darkening of the corners of the photo) to surround the head of the model.

I put a Canon 580EX II Speedlite on a small light stand (the right-most stand in the two set-up shots above). I put it into what Syl Arena calls “free agent” mode. This is a mode that allows you to shoot with both E-TTL and Manual control of Speedlites at the same time. This is all described on page 148 of Syl’s book “Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites”.

To get the vignette effect, I first put a large ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders onto the Speedlite and bent it into a shape that I thought would create somewhat of a spotlight onto the backdrop, directly behind the model. I never could get the somewhat uniform spotlight effect that I was after, and so after about 10 minutes of trying, I took off the FlashBender, and replaced it with a ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid unit.

I used the 45 degree honeycomb grid, and the spotlight pattern was easily obtained!  All I needed to do now was to dial in the amount of light (intensity) that this Speedlite would put out each and every time it fired.

Even though it is a trial-and-error effort, because I was using a whale gray backdrop, it is a very simply process. I would simply put the camera on the tripod, and take a photo of the backdrop. Since it was gray, I wanted a large spike on the histogram (on the back of the camera) to be positioned a little to the right of the center of the graph. (I wanted it to be brighter than 18% gray.) So I would take a photo, look at the histogram, walk over to the flash and dial up or dial down its power setting, and go back to the camera and take another photo, look at the histogram, rinse, and repeat. It only took a couple of shots to determine that I wanted this Speedlite set to 1/4 power.

Normally a well lit backdrop is sufficient to separate your model from the backdrop, but I like to do a little more. I like to use a “hair light”. This is seen in the two set-up photos above as the little light on the end of a small “boom arm” that puts it high, near the middle of the backdrop. The stand that I use, is a black Manfrotto 420B Combi Boom Stand, which Syl Arena had recommended. You definitely need to use a sandbag as a counterweight to the boom arm, and I also add another one at the base, since the entire rig begins to get rather top-heavy.

I also put this hair light Speedlite into the “free agent” mode, and attach the ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid to it, using the 45 degree honeycomb. I used the same method described above to get the power level set the way I want. I used a small step stool so that I could change the power lever on the back of the Speedlite, without changing the position of the light (which can be very frustrating). I asked Barb to be my model, and had her sit on the posing stool while I took several photos to try and dial in the power setting of the hair light.

In the photo above, the hair light was still a little too “hot”. You can also see how the light on the backdrop is creating a big spot of light centered behind her, and that it is creating the vignette effect (darkening of the corners). This photo is actually out of sequence, (because I had my main and fill lights also firing, which I will describe shortly), but I use it here to support my story.

With the camera in Manual mode, and the background and hair lights in free agent mode, they were not going to change – ever (well, not until the batteries in the flashes were run down).

Now it was time to set-up the main and fill lights. These two lights are “inside” of the two black umbrellas that you see to either side of the posing stool in the two set-up shots above. Instead of shooting the flashes through a white umbrella, I like to bounce the light off of the inside of the umbrella. I use a somewhat unusual 45″ Bowens Silver and White umbrella.

If I put these lights into manual mode, I could put them in position then use my light meter and dial in the amount of flash output they would need to produce to get a correct exposure with my camera’s aperture set at f/5.6. There are two problems with this, though.

The first problem is that my Sekonic L-358 light meter doesn’t work well as a flash meter with my Canon 580EX IIs. When the master Speedlite sends out the “pre-flash” burst of light, it triggers the flash meter, instead of the “real flash” that occurs just milliseconds later.

OK, so I could simply dial in the exposure by having Barb sit on the posing stool a bit longer and adjusting the power of these two lights (which can be done from the back of the camera – unlike the free agent mode slaves) – but there is another problem. I tend to move my main and fill lights around a lot. It seems like I’m either trying to avoid getting their reflections in the model’s eye glasses, or I want to bring them further up or farther back, depending on the features that I want to accentuate (or diminish) on the model’s face.

For these reasons, I like to keep my Speedlites in E-TTL mode for these two lights. I always set the lighting on the main light to be twice as bright as the fill light (a 2:1 ratio). Sometimes to “fine tune” that lighting ratio, I’ll simply move the fill light closer or further away from the model (than the distance of the main light to the model).

OK, so now with all 5 Speedlites on and operational, I had Barb sit on the posing stool, and I made my final adjustments to the lights. I dialed down the power of the hair light to its final setting of 1/8 -0.7 power. (That’s a funky way that Canon uses to describe a power setting that is 2/3rds of the way from 1/8 power to 1/16 power.) Her blond hair no longer seemed to be “blown out” at this power level. I also added +2/3 stop of Flash Exposure Compensation, which only effected the main and fill lights, which were in E-TTL mode.

I photographed one lady late in the morning, and two more in the early afternoon. During the late afternoon, during a two hour downtime, I recharged the batteries in my Speedlites. After that, as I was turning everything back on and making sure that my settings were all “good to go” for the two groups that were coming in, I sat on the posing stool and talked Barb through how to capture this portrait of myself.

The main light was to the camera left (my right side), and was set to twice as bright as the fill light, which was to the camera right (my left side). You can see a hint of the hair light on the top of my head – it really lights up my gray hairs – but more importantly, that hair light also lights up the top of my shoulders, which separates my gray shirt from that whale gray backdrop. Lastly, you can also see that the light on the backdrop is fairly well centered behind me, and is producing a nice vignette in the upper corners of the portrait.

Now I realize that my efforts are very “amateurish” as compared to any experienced and talented professional, such as Kirk Tuck. But I’m sharing what I have already learned, as maybe it will help someone less experienced than I am. I realize that I didn’t mention anything about posing, and I suppose that it’s because admittedly, that is something that I still need to learn more about.

I have heard back from all 5 of the ladies that I took portraits of, and they all seemed to be very pleased with the photos that they have seen. I am choosing not to include the photos of my clients in my blog posts, but I will soon include them in the “Studio Portraits” section of my “Photo Gallery” that you can find under my large banner at the top of my blog home page.

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Portrait Setup at Curves

Almost two years ago, in February 2011, while taking a Lighting and Composition photography class in The University of Texas Informal Classes, one of our homework assignments was to take a portrait of someone. I was less than excited, as I wasn’t interested in photographing people, especially in a true portrait style. Since I hadn’t been interested in this type of photography, I hadn’t given any serious attention on how to go about doing it “properly”.

A couple of years earlier, I believe in the spring of 2008, while visiting my local camera store, Precision Camera, where I had purchased my first Digital SLR  camera, as I was leaving the store, I stopped to look at the books on display near the door. One in particular caught my attention. It was entitled “Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography” by Kirk Tuck.

When I got home, I eagerly started to read this book. Right after the Table of Contents, was an “About the Author” section. It started by saying “Kirk Tuck attended the University of Texas where he dabbled in electrical engineering and English literature before accepting a position as a specialist lecturer teaching photography in the University of Texas College of Fine Arts”.

I found that fascinating. I got my electrical engineering degree from the University of Texas, and I was very absorbed in my hobby of photography, so I wondered if I would ever meet this Kirk Tuck guy.

Anyway, his book was my very first introduction to any sort of lighting techniques for photography. He seemed to know what he was writing about, but as my first exposure to this subject, I didn’t quite grasp it all. Besides, Kirk was advocating using old Nikon flash units and operating them in manual mode, and I had a single Canon 580EX Speedlite at that time.

As a result, I ended up purchasing a very simple lighting kit for about $100 from B&H Photo that included two small light stands and a couple of small umbrellas. I also bought a new model Canon 580EX II Speedlite.

A couple of years later, I read a book entitled “The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters” by Joe McNally. This was a fascinating book to me, as it described the “behind the scenes” stories of how he had captured the portraits of many famous celebrities. He wasn’t taking these portraits in a studio. He was going to where the celebrities were and taking their portraits on location wherever they were.

Joe included descriptions of the equipment that he used for the photos, but most of what he described was a foreign language to me. As I read through the book, I jotted down a rather lengthy list of strange lights (Elinchrom Rangers), stands (C-Stands), lighting modifiers such as reflectors, flags, softboxes, octobanks, etc. At the time, I was very impressed at how Joe made it sound to use all of this “portable” equipment.

Sometime after that, while photographing some of Barb’s Silpada Jewelry display cases, I dropped my older Canon 580EX Speedlite, and broke a switch that Precision Camera wanted $250 to repair. I simply replaced it with the newer 580EX II, to match my other Speedlite.

Back to February, 2011.

For my class assignment, I also remembered seeing somewhere that Scott Kelby recommended putting the subject (model) near a north-facing window for indirect lighting and then bringing a white bounce card in close to the opposite side of the model to fill in the shadows a bit. So I asked Barb to be my model, and I took her picture using the technique that Scott Kelby had described. To make it a bit more visually interesting, I positioned my tripod so that our fireplace was about 8 feet (a little less than 3 meters) behind her, and I had it lit, even though it wasn’t really cold outside.

I cropped the photo a little, and submitted it as my homework assignment. It is the photo shown above. I don’t remember why, but I also took one with her standing. I think it was to show off her new figure, after she (and I) had successfully shed a lot of unwanted weight.

As it turns out, a few months later, the Curves facility on Oak Knoll Rd. in northwest Austin where Barb had been working out had named her their very first “Member of the Month”. That was in recognition of her recent weight loss, which was achieved by working out at their facility and following their dietary guidelines. They asked if she had a picture of herself that they could put on their bulletin board to go along with the Member of the Month announcement. I printed the two photos above on letter size paper and that’s what they used for the display.

When the next month came around, and they had a announced their 2nd Member of the Month, they asked if that lady had a few photos of herself that they could use. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but someone at Curves asked Barb if I would take the photos of the new Member of the Month.

I was “interested” but also terrified. I had never been asked to photograph anyone for money. My initial reaction was very hesitant. I was not a professional photographer! Photography was my hobby. Besides, in most of my photography up until this point, I waited patiently for as many people as possible to get out of the scene before I would take the picture…

After a week of discussing it with Barb, I finally agreed, but I wouldn’t do it for free. If they were willing to pay me for the on-the-job training, I would do it for $35 – and if they didn’t like the results they wouldn’t have to pay me anything.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to use Scott Kelby’s technique, and I would be using my two Canon 580EX Speedlites, and the couple of umbrellas on light stands that I had bought from B&H Photo a few years before.

As it turns out, it worked out just fine, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but I knew that I needed to learn how to do this better. I went to Amazon.com and searched for books that would explain more about the Canon 580EX II Speedlites than the Canon owner’s manual did.

I ended-up finding one specific book that significantly helped educate me in revising my technique and guiding me in acquiring a few more pieces of equipment and how to use it. That book was “Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites” by Syl Arena.

I ended up doing the portraits for the next 10 Curves Member of the Month. Some of those months had groups, or Members of the Month, which meant to me that I had to learn to photograph groups of 2, 6, and even 11 ladies in a group. I added more Speedlites, a few key modifier for shaping the light coming from those Speedlites, as well as a few larger umbrellas.

Evidently, during the year, several of the women who worked out at Curves (members that probably would never be chosen as the Member of the Month) had asked about the photos on the bulletin board – and about the photographer that had taken them.

In November 2011, this Curves facility was celebrating their 9th anniversary, and they were inviting a few local merchants to come and participate in their celebration. For some reason they asked if I would come in and take portraits.

I agreed, and I realized that if I was going to be charging a dozen or so people for taking their portraits, that legally I should also be collecting sales tax. On November 1, 2011 I went to the appropriate state government office and registered myself as an official photography business with The State of Texas. I also obtained two insurance policies; one for insuring my equipment, and another as small business general liability policy.

And so on November 16th, 2011, I photographed portraits of over a dozen individuals, couples, and families that had signed-up for a 20 minute time slot at the Curves anniversary event. During that day I took several very good portraits, and a few not-so-good portraits. I found that I really enjoyed engaging with the people that I was photographing, and that 20 minutes was really rushing things.

I let people sign-up for different levels of print package deals. No one purchased the deluxe package, a few bought the middle package, and the majority purchased the least expensive ($35) package.

During the next few weeks, I ended-up spending numerous hours retouching multiple poses of each person, and ended up printing one or two 8” x 10” photos, and multiple 6” x 4” photos of the numerous poses. I enjoyed the work, and learned a lot, but financially it didn’t make any sense. I earned more money in one day at my engineering job than I did for approximately 60 hours of effort in this endeavor.

Zoom ahead one year.

This November (2012), the same Curves facility was celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they asked me if I was interested in participating again this year. After thinking about it for over a week, I finally agreed, but said that I would need to do a few things differently this time. Randa, the owner, was quite agreeable.

And so it was, just a few weeks ago, on Election Day (Tuesday, November 6th), I took the day off of work so that I could take portraits of those who has signed up for 7 of the 25-minute time slots. The evening before, Barb and I went to Curves to look at the sign-up sheet, and I was pleased to see that 5 would be of individuals, 1 was going to be a mother & daughter couple, and one was going to be a mother and her two teenage children.

That was great news to me, as I find it much easier to set up my lighting equipment for individuals and couples. I decided to “go light” and use my Speedlites instead of my Einstein studio flash units.

Here is a crappy iPhone behind the scenes (BTS) that I took in the early afternoon, during a couple hours of time that no one had signed up for.

You can see that I had put up my whale gray muslin backdrop in front of a large window, and there was a lot of light coming in from the left side. The insides of the Curves facility are brightly lit with dozens of fluorescent lights. I was using small Canon Speedlites. All of these light sources emit different spectrum (color) of light.

Here is another photo that I took from further back using the same camera that was on top of the tripod in the previous photo.

I am going to attempt to describe some of the equipment that you see in the previous two photo, and how I used that equipment, in my next blog post. (There is a piece of exercise equipment in the foreground in the photo above that is not photography related.)

So how did it go?  I’ll let you judge that later. But in the meantime, here is a photo that I talked Barb through to take a photo of me later in the afternoon, as I was making sure that I had my lights adjusted how I wanted them, about an hour before the busy evening sessions were to begin.

I know, I know…. A gray shirt with a gray background isn’t very appealing, but I didn’t have any intention of having my own portrait taken when I got dressed that morning.