Speedliter's Blog is thrilled to feature chic lifestyle portraits by Boston, Massachusetts based photography Bob Oei, aka Bobby Vowels. With a background in film, Bob brings a unique perspective to his photography creating evocative images with cinematic light.
MODEL: Chaihann Tress
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What gear did you bring to this shoot?
CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark III. It's not the newest model, but I’ve never had a good reason to upgrade to another system. A newer Canon 5D Mark IV or any of the Sony’s, while technically better, aren’t going to necessarily bring me $3000 more revenue than my current camera. And while some of the features are nice, I feel they’re more luxuries than necessities. When asked why he shoots on an older Nikon, Dani Diamond once said, “Do you only eat at restaurants that cook in new pots?” Likewise, I tend to put my money towards other things that I think will help improve my photography: lights, modifiers, and lenses.
LENSES: Canon 50mm f/1.4 and Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4. I plan to acquire more Sigma Art prime lens. Their wide aperture is great for bokeh and versatility, although I tend to stop down to f/2.8 since many lenses have small issues when they’re fully wide open (softness in the corner, chromatic aberration, and vignetting.)
LIGHTS: Godox AD200 with Flashpoint R2 Pro Transmitter. I chose Godox because it is a low cost option with a track record of reliable results. Dropping thousands of dollars on Alien Bees or Profoto or any other system seemed unnecessary on top of my hesitation to learn strobe photography in the first place (I was super intimidated to take that plunge). Godox allowed me to put a few hundred dollars down on an Adorama bundle with an AD200, a soft box, and a trigger, and I was able to learn and experiment with off camera flash before diving deeper.
MODIFIERS: Glow Easy Lock Medium Deep 41” Silver Umbrella and Glow Easy Lock 41" Umbrella Diffuser. I love large directional sources of soft light, and the diffuser really softens the light. There’s more spill than an octabox or beauty dish, but for outside work in open areas, umbrellas are fantastic. They’re also really cheap.
STANDS: Matthews Reverse Stand 7’. This stand folds up to less than 2’ so it fits in a suitcase. Its aluminum structure makes it fairly sturdy. It has held my Godox AD600 Pro with a 3’ beauty dish outside without much worry.
I shot these images while visiting family, so I had to leave most of my favorite lights and modifiers at home. The only things that would fit in the suitcase were a 41” umbrella, Matthews Reverse stand, and the AD200.
What was on your mind as you planned and executed this session?
I challenge myself to always be aware of my shooting habits and continually adjust. I’d been shooting with the 85mm a lot so for this shoot I tried a wider lens intending to bring the background into the visual narrative. I also planned to push color and saturation more in post while maintaining skin tones. Lastly, I noticed that when I shoot with strobes I don't always focus on good background light as much as I do when I shoot natural light, so I wanted to be aware of that during this shoot.
What challenges did you encounter during this shoot and how did you navigate them?
Shooting with wider lenses adds a ton of background elements, so it can be challenging to find the good spots with interesting, natural background light. But when you find the right spot, a wider lens allows you to incorporate the background into the image and there's more of a narrative element to the shot.
SETTINGS: 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 100
For this image I wanted a lifestyle feel. I wanted to create a character rather than just a beauty shot of a pretty model. We tried some sitting (below), but I liked the Captain Morgan pose the best. The little bits of plant in the foreground and shadows in the background push the viewers eye to the model.
SETTINGS: 1/640, f/2.8, ISO 100
At the same location as the previous photo, I asked the subject to sit on the bench instead of stand. I kept a similar angle because shifting right would put the light colored street behind her and I wanted to make sure the background behind the model’s head was darker than the model’s face. We pulled the glasses down her nose which helped to highlight her eyes and hide my reflection (although you can see my knees and a bit of the strobe).
SETTINGS: 1/400, f/2.8, ISO 100
A bit later during golden hour, we changed to this badass business look. I wanted to make sure the shoes were in the shot because their pattern and color offset the rest of her outfit and draw attention to the image. When shooting with strobes I try and keep most of the background about a stop or 2 below the the exposure of the model. This way the image looks natural but draws your eye towards the subject.
What software, tools, or processes did you use for post-production & retouching?
Any final thoughts on the session?
I’m pretty proud of these shots. I like how I incorporated the background into the photo to heighten the visual storytelling elements of the image. Like a lot of photographers, I used to be enamored with depth of field and lens compression and felt like more was better. But I noticed most of my favorite fashion photographers and the images I saw in catalogs don’t shoot "bokehlicious" shots - They created a narrative within the image.