Over the coming months I’m real excited about some of the well known Photographers that are going to be appearing here as Guests on the blog to give all sorts of advice, hints, tips and insights. That being said, it’s always been my intention to use the ‘Monthly Guest Blogger’ Post to also introduce you to photographers that you may never have heard; Professional and keen amateur.
I’m a big believer that everyone, regardless of skill level has something to offer or to ‘bring to the party’. None of us know it all and I think the day we believe we do is the day that we become complacent, our work suffers and we enter the slippery slope to arrogance.
Now despite the fact that we’ve already had a great Monthly Guest Post in April by Rick Wenner, I didn’t want to delay sharing this post with you put together by Quoc-Huy Nguyen Dinh; a very talented London based Photographer I’ve got to know through Twitter…
As a lot of photographers I didn’t know that Twitter would change the way I communicate my photography to the world. It is a collaboration tool where you can gather the skills you need from local or remote talents. This is where I met Glyn who was looking for guest bloggers for his website and invited me to write about my recent shots “Vik Moreno as James Bond”.
First, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Quoc-Huy NGUYEN DINH, but everyone call me Huy. I’m Vietnamese of french nationality and now living in London since 2006. I’m a portrait photographer based in Ealing. My photography path started with concerts and gigs when I still was in France, then I got more interested into portraiture after my move to London. The most important change in my photography work is the day I started to learn off-camera flash. What a really fantastic discovery! My Nikon SB-900 and SB-600 are now my own available light, always ready to help me out whenever they are needed.
Several months ago, I met a gentleman asking me to take a portrait for him and his family. I went to his place for the photoshoot and soon discover he was a former UK spy. I was really surprised because the only spies I’ve seen are in the movies. Another surprise (although I should have expected it) is that he just looks like me and you, not the sexy and charming Roger Moore or Sean Connery. But if you think a bit, then it is not surprising as a good spy needs to travel incognito so looking like everybody is how they should be.
This is when my project, code name “Project S”, started to build up in my already busy little head. I want to show the contrast between Hollywood spies and reality spies. Recently, my project got me the cover and a 4 page article in Eye Spy Magazine, a specialist magazine dedicated to espionage and intelligence.
My first photograph for “Project S” is the one above: “Vik Moreno as James Bond”.
I was lucky to have met Vik Moreno at one of the London Strobist meetup group’s event. For a little while, I was preparing my project and trying to find the idea, the model, the location that would suit the first shot. And there we go, I went to the group’s event organized in “Life Club” a night club in Vauxhall. We were something like 16 photographers and 8 models, if memory serves. So I started to shoot solo as a warm up when my buddy Tim Saunders was taking some shots of Vik at the bar. Wandering around after my first victim was shot (not to death…) I was attracted by Tim’s work and having moved to his position, I had a vision. Vik with his suit and watch was just matching the image of the James Bond I had in mind. So I asked Tim’s if I could join him and modify the 2 lights setup he was using by adding my own strobes. Then directing Vik to try to get a facial expression that is saying: “I’m sexy, charming and confident”.
Before going into details on the lighting setup, here is the setup shot:
Now to help visualizing my explanation here is the lighting diagram:
Taking photographs in a very low light location such as a night club during the day is quite a challenge. First you have to deal with all the stuffs they have in the background and clear up the space, then you have to deal with the lack of light in the location and also avoid including not sexy lights that were on. To get the shot I wanted, I needed to show the model in an environment that looks like it could be a scene from a James Bond movie, maybe a Casino or something.
In order to get what I wanted, I actually had to neutralize all ambient light coming from the artificial light sources in the room, it was fairly easy as they were pretty weak. Having my Nikon D300 with a 105mm micro lens at f/10, ISO 100 was enough. The shutter speed wasn’t important and any speed faster than a second was fine and the image still sharp thanks for the freezing property of a flash pulse.
The Fill Light
It is greatly advised to start exposing your lights one by one and one good way to start is with the fill light. Getting the fill light right means you have set your shadows to their darkest level maintaining all the details where you want them to be. For my fill light, I used a hot shoe softbox at camera left with an SB-800 in it. The SB-800 was set to remote CLS in manual and group B. I started to take some test shots until I was happy with my histogram and how the shadows look like: until I got details without revealing too much. I tweaked the results by upping or lowering the flashgun’s output power never changing my camera’s settings. I used the softbox as a fill light for its wrapping property and because I wanted to reduce the contrast that will be created by my harsh key light and rim lights.
The Key Light
Switching my fill light off, I then set an SB-900 at camera right set to remote CLS in manual, group A. It was mounted with a grid spot, the grid would create a very tight beam of harsh light allowing me to light just the model’s face leaving all the rest of the scene for the other flashguns to work with. My key light was very harsh and created deep shadows on Vik’s face, in couple of test shots I managed to find the best position and angle for the SB-900 by assessing the position and direction of the shadows. Then I switched the fill light back on and started to expose for the key light with some more test shots and tweaking of the flashgun’s output power.
With my fill and key lights, I could have stopped there and take some good shots. As they were pointing towards the back wall, I already got my ambiance, and although it was already detaching the model from the background, Vik’s hair and suit was a bit lost in the darkness. The solution was then to use some hair lights and rim lights. Another SB-800 and SB-600 were used for this effect. Having both of them behind Vik and high pointing down, they were doing double duty lighting both his hair and body. Having not brought any gobo or snoot with me I had to position them in such angle that they didn’t produce any lens flare. Because my Nikon D300’s popup flash can’t trigger more than 2 groups in CLS, my only way to control the two rim lights was to set them to group B (as I preferred more control on the group A for my key light) and move them closer or farther away from the model.
Ready? Steady? Shoot!
That’s it, got all the light right. Now it’s time for the shoot baby! This is where you need to make the model feel comfortable and direct him/her to get the pose and expression needed to get your mental visualization of the final image. Tim and I took lots of shots until we are both happy with what we got. We tried to add a 5th light coming straight behind Vik’s head but I found the halo around his hair a bit too much for this shot, I liked the results from the two rim lights as they were revealing his hair without distracting.
Also helped giving interest to the shot was the reflective surface of the bar, and Vik’s watch. It could have hidden a mini video camera, a laser beam or whatever gadget out from Q’s brain.
This James Bond portrait is one of my favorites out of my popular photographs, when looking at it, I’m happy to see how my lighting skills have evolved, giving me more confidence. Now having Glyn inviting me as a guest blogger to talk about this image is even more encouraging and gratifying. Thanks mate.
* If you’ve any questions or comments for Huy, or just want to ‘share the love’ please post them in the comments section below where I’m sure Huy’s waiting with fingers poised at the keyboard 🙂