I love to experiment with photography and had this idea for a while to shoot a subject on an overpass with flash but having all the bypass traffic as long light streaks in the background
I asked my friend Chris if he could pose for me, he’s comfortable in front of a camera and being a guitarist I loved the idea of him holding his guitar like he’s busking or something! I guess props can really make a shot more interesting and help tell a story or just tell us something about the subject.
Here’s some techy details of what was used to accomplish the shot for those who are interested! I had a Canon 5D Mkiii, Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC, Giottos tripod, Bowens heavy light stand, 2 x Canon 430 EXii, 2 x Pocket Wizard Flex TT5, Pocket Wizard Mini TT1, Pocket Wizard AC3, small stepladder. I also had my 52cm Lastolite Ezybox which I didn’t end up using due to the wind.
When we arrived on the overpass it was about 10:30 at night, very cold and very windy – not ideal conditions but I really wanted to get the shot! I set up the tripod and camera and placed Chris in the shot to compose, once I was happy with the composition I had Chris stand to the side. I set the camera to ISO 100, F8 and a shutter speed of 30 seconds. This was to shoot the light trails from the cars on the bypass, the way I decided to do the shot was a composite of two shots, one being the background with light trails and the second of Chris using the flash.
It was at this point when I was on top of my step-ladder looking into the camera a police car passed by and as expected turned round to come and investigate! I launched straight into my explanation as soon as he wound down his window and told him I was shooting a photo of my friend with his guitar and I was shooting the light trails of the cars. He was obviously concerned with the possible use of flash on the overpass that might startle traffic passing below, I think honesty is the best approach so I told him I did plan on using flash but would only require a few shots and would make sure I do it when there is a break in the traffic. Happy with my explanation he left us to it.
Next up was shooting Chris with the flash. I brought along my Lastolite Ezybox which is a fantastic portable softbox for use with speedlights, I would highly recommend them but unfortunately on this occasion it as really just too windy and even with the big heavy Bowens light stand I was worried a strong gust of wind could throw it off the overpass onto the traffic below.
I had Chris stand in position and fired off a few shots. The flash was positioned just to the right of the camera and I had him look towards it, I think off camera flash is so important and on camera should only be used on camera if there is no other choice! Helping me achieve the correct exposure quickly and accurately were the essential Pocket Wizards. I absolutely love the Pocket Wizard ETTL system, as mentioned above I have 2 x Flex TT5’s, a Mini TT1 and the AC3 Zone Controller. The AC3 is fantastic as you can quickly and independently dial in flash compensation if your using ETTL or use the dials to alter the power of the speedlights if you’re using manual mode. You can mix ETTL and manual groups, quickly turn off and on each flash groups – it’s just a fantastic system and I love it! I do like to use the AC3 on manual but for this shoot I needed to work fast and couldn’t fire off too many flashes due to time and also the fact I had to wait for a break in the traffic below to safely fire them. They did a great job of getting a good exposure first time and although I had a second speed light I used as a rim light I only had time to fire off two shots with it after getting most with just one.
I actually have a great tip for anyone using the Mini TT1 – keep spare batteries in your camera bag/pocket wizard bag! It seems obvious but one time I left it on and it drained the little button type battery (CR2450 3V) it takes and they aren’t the type of battery every shop will stock, the AA batteries of the Flex TT5 are a different story as just about everything takes them and everywhere sells them. In fact just make sure you have plenty spare batteries for all your kit!!
I shot everything RAW and used the lens profile to correct for distortion since I was shooting the lens at it’s widest setting of 24mm, white balance was also fine tuned. Once I had the shots processed and expoted as TIFF’s I was ready to composite them.
It was a little harder than I imagined to blend the shots, I had hoped I would be able to use layer blending modes but they just didn’t end up looking the way I imagined. I ended up basically using the quick selection tool to separate Chris from the background but due to the darkness I had to do a lot of very magnified manual work. I had planned to use the second 430EXii to highlight his left side but due to time I wasn’t able to adjust it before it was time to go which is a shame – I think it could have looked a bit better and it would have made it easier to composite. That’s what happens when you agree to pick your mum up from the train station and your friend Chris leaves it late to start shooting his short film which we were doing just before we came out to do the photo! I could have really done with an extra 5 minutes to really make it great but oh well, I’m fairly happy with how it turned out.
I spent a bit more time and salvaged one of the two shots that I fired the rim light on, his hair was blowing in the air in this one but the expression was better. I decided to give it a cooler colour treatment in Photoshop.
I love experimenting and hope to share some more interesting photos in the future.
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