Behind the Image, Salt Barn

Jody and I just got back from Toronto where we were guest Keynote Speakers for the Exposure Show and now we are back and rockin out today’s tips!

Today, we are going back to a series we started last fall where we take images from weddings and workshops, and break them down for you guys so that you can do them as well! Ready? Here we go!!


So this image above, although it can seem crazy looking, is actually not that difficult to pull off and the entire look was done all in-camera with zero Photoshop! Images like this are something that we do for workshops, for engagement sessions and for bridal shoots (or if we shot senior sessions, this would be something we would rock out) because we have a little bit more time to set them up and light them.

The above shot was taken later in the afternoon (about 45 minutes before sunset) in front of this cool salt barn that is just near our house in Franklin. Here is how we did it.


Exposure Settings on the 5D Mark 3 with 24-70L 2.8 lens

ISO 100, 2.8, 1/100th of a second

Here is an image that we took of the barn with a down the middle exposure trying to capture a little detail in the sky and a small amount of detail in the salt barn itself. As you can see, it is MUCH brighter in the sky (the sun was setting behind the salt barn so it is back lit) and much darker in the foreground of the composition. We wanted to see a cool, moody sky, but also see the details of the metal roof inside the barn, and of course, see our models faces.


ISO 100, F/6.3 1/100th of a second

The first thing we did was get the exposure that we liked in the sky. All we can do is control the sky with our camera settings, and then we can add light with our flashes into the dark areas that exposing for the sky gives us. So we under-exposed the sky by 2 stops to give it a very moody feel. Typically, we will under-exposure the sky by one or two stops at the most and usually not more than that, otherwise we will have lost almost all detail in anything that is not in the sky (like the trees, grass and anything else in the foreground). We also always keep our shutter speed (to start) at 1/100th of a second when using flash.

ISO 100, F/6.3 1/100th of a second (same as previous shot)

Next, we took 2 580EX flashes, put our remote Cyber Sync CSRB receivers on them (so we can fire them off from our cameras Cyber Sync CST Transmitter), put FULL CTO Gels over the flashes (using Velcro) and using the little boot stands that those flashes come with, put them on the ground just inside the barn and pointed them straight up so they would reflect off the metal ceiling.

Using the CTO Gel over the flash gives a nice, warm glow which looks great when using them late in the day (because the sunlight also warms up as it sets). We simply powered them up until they lit the metal ceiling at the settings we already set our camera to in the previous shot. We watched our blinkies on our camera screen and watched the histogram making sure what these flashes were lighting up was not under-exposed, or too overexposed and just lit the ceiling with nice detail.


Exposure Setting same as above image

Now we added the main light (we turned off the background lights so you could just see the main light). The main light is a 24×32 Westcott Softbox, powered by the Einstein mono-light and the Vagabond mini.

We simply set up the light to camera right (making sure the center of the light source was above the center of the eyes), moved it just far enough away so it was not in the shot, then powered it up to match the settings our camera was already set to.

Since our camera was set to under-exposure the sky by two stops at ISO 100, F/6.3 1/100th of a second, then IF we power our main light up to those settings (so that same amount of light hits our subjects face) then we will get a perfect exposure on our client while under-exposing the sky by two stops. So, we used our Sekonik L358 light meter, and on the meter manually put in the ISO to 100, the shutter speed to 100, then kept powering the light up and taking meter readings until the f/stop read 6.3.

Now to add that extra drama on our client and to light up the ground just behind her, we added a fourth light! We had another set up that was exactly the same as our main light (shown just to camera right above) but took off the front diffusion panel so the light shot straight out of it (you can see that light to camera left with the big white arrow pointing at it), giving it a contrasty look (smaller light sources make the light contrasty). We kept the main part of the softbox attached so the light would shoot in her relative direction, and not shoot back into the camera. We had to turn that background “kicker” light so that we could not see the bare bulb, but the model could, otherwise we would get lens flare which would give away the effect we were trying to create.

That background light came in high and at a 45 degree angle to her right shoulder. That way it does not hit her face and create hot spots on it. The exposure for the background light was done using the light meter held just over her shoulder, then we powered the background light up (using the exact same settings as the main light, ISO 100, 1/100th of a second) until we reached the exact same exposure of the main light of 6.3.

We typically power a Kicker light like that to either 1 stop under the main light exposure, or the exact same exposure for added drama. Remember, even though your camera is set to ISO 100, 1/100th at 6.3 and you meter the background light to those settings, the highlights will look blown out because light gets brighter as it comes towards the camera. So under-exposing by 1 stop will give nice detail, and exposing the same as your main light will give it a ‘hot” flashy look.

Here is a behind the scenes image with all the lights powered up.

Now, in the final image, we composed it so you saw the cool details of the model, background and sky, shot it a little low for drama and made sure to place her head inside the domed ceiling so no lines were intersecting with her face. We then did a quick clone job in post to remove the small 580 flashes that were in the background (normally, especially for a wedding, we would hide those small lights behind our client, but we needed two of them to properly light everything up and could not hide them in the final shot).

Final Image Settings:

Canon 5d Mark 3

ISO 100, 1/100th of a second, f/6.3 at 35mm on the 24-70 2.8L lens.

Edited in LR4

We also rocked a few shots with our other awesome models! You can see the bright lines on the background light on his right arm (camera left) and how it adds that sharp, contrasty pop to him.

We hope you guys enjoyed this Tuesday Tips and Tricks!

(Want to learn how to make MONEY shooting your gigs and put your kids through college? Check out our BRAND NEW Harvest Business DVD HERE! Talk with you all soon!!)