May 2nd Maternity Shoot – Technical Details

I mentioned that I’d share some of the technical details of the May 2nd Maternity photo shoot.  For this article, I’m going to focus on the belly shot where the mom-to-be is holding a stuffed giraffe.

Here is the photo from the shoot:

Here is the lighting set up diagram:

The details of the equipment set up:

  • Background light: Elinchrom BX500Ri with 90 degree reflector and green gel over it to give me a green background using white seamless paper.  I positioned the light and subject through trial and error to get the right amount of lighted green area with a fade to dark towards the edges.
  • Background: White seamless paper.  Keeping the subject further away from the background allows a lighter background to become dark, which means the subject to background distance and background strobe  to background distance were critical in getting the right effect.
  • Main Light: Elinchrom BX500Ri with 25.5″ x 25.5″ Elinchrom Port-a-light Softbox.  I used a technique called feathering, which means that I didn’t point the softbox directly at the subject, but more in front of the subject.  The reasoning for this was twofold: Feathering gives you “softer” light, meaning there is a more gradual transition from the lighted area to the shadow area.  The other benefit is that it kept more the main light from hitting the background, which would wash out the green effect from the gelled strobe.
  • Strobe Settings:  Using a light meter for the main light along with trial and error on the background light, I was able to determine proper settings.  Since I didn’t take the time to measure all the distances, the actual light settings wouldn’t mean too much.  I think I was on the low end of the power range of the background strobe, and probably decently high on the power of the main light since most of the light wasn’t actually on the subject anyway.
  • Camera/Lens: I used a Canon 5d Mark II with a 70-200mm f/4L IS lens.  On a profile shot like this, it is important to use a telephoto lens – the bigger the focal length, the better. With the space I was working in, I was able to get to 106mm.  The idea is that if you were to use a wider angle lens and shoot from closer to the subject, the features of the subject that are closest to the camera will appear larger compared to the objects farther away from the camera.  In this case, the arm is closest to the camera, and I can assure you that most women would not want their arms to appear any larger than they actually are.  Especially since the focus should be on the giraffe and the baby bump for this photo.  For the rest of the camera settings, I set the shutter speed to 1/160th of a second, ISO 50, and set the aperture according to the light meter reading, which suggested f/14.

Post Processing (using Lightroom 2):

  • To make the giraffe stand out more, I used the Saturation Targeted Adjustment Tool (below) directly on the giraffe to make the colors a little more vivid.  The Targeted Adjustment Tool automatically adjusts the sliders according to the color of the spot you click.  For the giraffe, it ended up as follows: red +1, orange +30, yellow +41, green +1.

    Targeted Adjustment Tool

  • As I mentioned, I used a green gel to create a green background color using white seamless paper.  Once I looked at the photos on the computer, I decided that I wanted a different shade of green for the background.  In the HSL section of lightroom, I moved the Green Hue slider all the way to +100.  Fortunately there wasn’t anything else green in the photo, so it was an easy change.
  • While the light meter reading is pretty accurate, I ended up preferring this photo with the exposure increased about 3/4 of a stop (+.76).

Below is the before (left photo) and after (right photo) of the shot.  With some upfront work to get the lighting right and a little bit of post processing, we got a pretty cute shot.

Before (left) and After (right)
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