Flashing In Front of the Capitol

A client wanted to revamp the photos on his website with specific instruction that I incorporate the Texas Capitol Building in the background.  There were no clouds in the forecast and it was expected to be quite warm - This is August in central Texas after all.  Immediately I knew I was going to have to solve two problems for the image to be a success.  One, control that overbearing sun and two, come up with some way to frame the Capitol Building without having the negative space of a cloudless sky dominating the image.

I like to pack light where I can.  Well, I like to pack as little weight as I can get away with.  (I'm going to pack a light, obviously.)  Canon recently released an update to their top-end flash, the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, with the headlining feature being an integrated radio transceiver.  Communicating with the flash will be a Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter which gives me the freedom to place the flash just about anywhere I want without having to worry about cables.  At the business end of the flash we'll attach a Westcott Micro Apollo using an Opteka CL-1 Clinch Band.

Westcott Micro Apollo fitted onto a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

I chose the Micro Apollo because I needed something to enlarge the light source, which softens the light, and since I was going to be walking the State Capitol grounds I needed something small and extremely portable.  Besides, who wants all the attention from the guards or groundskeepers that would surely follow setting up a proper strobe system and full-sized softbox out in a downtown promenade?  This handy mini softbox meets all those requirements.  Not to mention it'll also make those all important catchlights.

Okay, so now we need to solve the problems created by shooting with a bright sun on a cloudless day and we need to do it quickly since our subject will no doubt start to perspire soon.  For this I chose a Lastolite TriGrip 2-stop diffuser.  Lastolite, a subsidiary of Manfrotto, make sturdy, high quality lighting accessories and their products come highly recommended.

Lighting diagram

To solve the unwanted cloudless sky asthetic I put the subject near the tree line so that the Capitol Building was framed over the right shoulder and leaving the trees to consume the negative space over his left.  The trees are themselves "negative space" but are a far more visually pleasing frame filler than uninterrupted blue sky, no matter how stunning that blue is.  Using the diffuser to homogonize and tone down the harshness of the light pouring through the trees I placed the flash with mini softbox inside the shade it created and fired a quick test shot.  Canon's TTL algorithms do a fantastic job of metering for fill but, possibly due to the subject having dark skin and wearing a dark suit, I felt the flash was overcompensating.   I changed the FEC (flash exposure compensation) to -2/3 and tried again.  Perfect.

When lighting outdoors be mindful of the sun's position.  Sometimes, often subconsciously, it helps to sell the authenticity of the light when the flash creates shadows that are similar to the shadows created by the sun on objects elsewhere in the picture.  Of course, as with all photography guidelines, disregard if the art of the shot compels you to.

The cloudless sky wreaked still more havoc in post as there was a strong blue cast on the scalp.  After a quick masking and color fixing the blue cast was eliminated and no one's the wiser.

Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM, 1/80 sec @ f5.6, ISO 100, -2/3 FEC

In bang-bang fashion, using Canon's new wireless flash technology and some small, lightweight light modifiers, we were able to capture a profile pic worthy of publication and we were able to get it in the can before anyone melted.

-JD