SmugMug: “I’d like some black and white portraits of our employees doing something sporty”

The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks black and white portraiture is old school, classical, traditional… but the Von Wong filter translated that into: edgy! impact! extreme! special effects!

With only a couple days to pull something together, I had SmugMug‘s facilities manager Daniel Petrosia build a rain machine for me with a 10$ budget and a couple hours of hard work.

Check out the video and some tips after the jump:

1. Work with a good team

I’ve always wanted to make a rain rig. There are tons of tutorials out there but I’m not a very good handyman, and one of the rules of success is to work with people that are better than you at what they do. The solution? Enter SmugMug employee Daniel Petrosia. 20$ later, we had a solution.

From the SmugMug Blog:

After some experimenting, we ended up using brass/copper old-school sprinkler heads.

We connected them together using PVC pipe and plumber’s glue, and then we just connected a hose to it and made it rain!

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Photo by Kerry Ellis featuring the intrepid Daniel Petrosia.

2. Make the ordinary extraordinary

Keeping an open mind on how to leverage the environment around you is key to doing great work. A simple tire and rope combined with the right expression gave these images a sense of movement and life. Both are slightly awkward objects with no classic way to photograph them so being open to experiment until the image makes sense is key to getting great shots.

Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f/2.8 | Broncolor Move 1200 L & Scoro S 3200

3. Use Edgy Lighting

When you’re trying to carve out muscle and definition hard edgy and directional lighting works best to create definition on your subjects.

In my case I used 4 lights to achieve the effect I wanted, but you can pull off something pretty similar with just two lights in soft boxes 90 degrees from your models.

Bron LightningSetUp 7

4. It’s all about communication

Tweak the lighting and camera as much as you want to prep your set, but once everything is all ready to go, there’s no need to chimp at your screen. Focus on talking your model through different movements, exercises, expressions especially if they’re not professional models.

Even if they are, letting them know that they’re looking amazing as you’re shooting as helpful as coffee in the morning.

Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f/2.8 | Broncolor Move 1200 L & Scoro S 3200

5. Keep the postproduction clean

Regardless if you go for a black and white or colour, the main focus of the image has to always be the subject in question. Make sure that distractions are removed and that your subjects pop into focus first and foremost.

In my case, any distracting or bright raindrops were toned down just a little bit and a soft vignette was masked in so that my subjects in the centre would pop out just a little bit more.

6. Think out of the box

There are no rules if the only requirement is to make people look awesome. Don’t limit yourself to the same safe shots, try different things. You never know what you’ll discover.

In the shots below, we balanced a barbell bar between two ladders for the shot on the left to create a more dynamic position and on the right had our model simply jump while spinning in order to give the chains a more dynamic movement. Why not?

7. Oh and last but not least: Be Resourceful

There are a ton of ways to achieve a similar effect without thousands of dollars of gear. Don’t focus on the resources you don’t have, focus on being resourceful.

If you know your gear and understand it’s limitations you can work around it. For example, Speedlights have excellent flash durations when firing at low power.

I shot this in August 2009 with two speed lights and a bucket of water and a man wrapped in a black blanket.

Get out there, try it out. You just might surprise yourself.

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