Strobist.com's Boot Camp 3: 2 Lights (BC3:2L) started a couple of weeks ago with the first assignment, a portrait of a person from your community.
I had some difficulty choosing the subject, partly because we're new to the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Initially, I thought of taking a photo of our local neighborhood watch captain or maybe a city official, but I thought those choices were kind of boring. I then thought about the qualities that first attracted us to our city, such as its laid-back, casual atmosphere. I started thinking about people who might represent that quality, and then I thought of Chef Hiro.
Chef Hiro owns Sun & Moon Cafe, a sushi bar that serves Japanese fusion cuisine just a block from the beach. The bar is a well-known hangout among locals. The first time we went to his bar, I saw all the eclectic, somewhat chaotic decor, with Japanese umbrellas and daruma dolls beside drawings of surfboards. I thought it was a little wacky but cool in a down-to-earth way, which reflected the personality of Chef Hiro.
When I asked him for an appointment for a portrait, I introduced myself and offered to shake his hand. He offered me a fist bump instead. That's Chef Hiro. He has bragging rights for having been an Iron Chef in Japan but you'd never know it by talking to him because he's entirely unassuming, and the first time you meet him, he already makes you feel like you've been buddies for years.
For Chef Hiro's portrait, I thought it would be nice to have an environmental portrait in his bar because it showed his personality. On the other hand, the background could be very distracting. I did consider bringing a white popup background to create a relatively easy high-key portrait but that wouldn't do justice to Chef's colorful restaurant or his personality.
To make the background less of a distraction and more helpful to the portrait, I thought of some solutions such as a low-key portrait where a shaft of light illuminated only part of the background. However, I thought that the low-key portrait didn't suit Chef Hiro's bright personality. Instead I decided to use a background light to draw the viewer's attention to Chef Hiro.
For the light on Chef Hiro himself, I initially thought about using a softbox - a safe choice. But again thinking of what I wanted to convey about the subject, I decided to keep it simple and natural - like Chef. I decided I would rely on ambient light from the large window and for the fill, I would use a reflector.
To maximize the chances of executing my vision exactly as planned, I did a dry run at home, which forced me to think of things like where I would place the light, and which tools I would use.
Speaking of positioning the light, the bar is small and narrow, and there's not much room to maneuver around. I couldn't use my favorite light stands with its 52-inch footprint. I decided to use a tripod for my background light. I brought a couple of super clamps and justin clamps justin case. (har har)
To trigger the light, I would use the Radiopopper JrX Studio - it would be more reliable than CLS AWL (although I would give up the precision of exactly specified flash exposure and instead rely on the JrX dial). When I packed my gear, I connected the speedlight (already gelled) to the RP Cube, and the RP Cube to the receiver, set to its frequency, all ready to go. Getting everything ready this way would minimize the setup time, thus saving Chef Hiro a bit of time from his busy schedule.
I got to the sushi bar a few minutes before the appointed time. I set up the light in just a couple of minutes, taking some test shots and chatting with the lovely waitress while doing my best to insert what little Japanese I could in the conversation.
Finally, Chef was ready. He was game from the first shot, so I needed only a few shots (3 to be exact) to get a good expression. The gesture I captured here is 100% Chef Hiro. I didn't 'direct' him or anything, although that's exactly what I imagined he would do (partly why I chose a wide focal length and short shooting distance - to exaggerate the gesture that I expected).
In post-processing, I applied a radial blur with a layer mask to keep the viewer's attention on Chef Hiro.
And with that, my first BC3 assignment was done!