Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Shooting Charlie Waite, Landscape Photographer & Author

Charlie Waite, a fine landscape photographer and author
In my opinion one of the great landscape photographers

Ben & I recently visited Landscape Photographer of the Year Exhibition 2011 in London with a group from the Brighton & Sussex Photography User Group (BASPUG) where group members had the opportunity to meet and talk with Charlie.

As it happens, we had the opportunity to photograph the great man; Charlie Waite is one of the living legends of landscape photography and has done much with Landscape Photographer of the Year to get more people involved in one of the most accessible genres of photography.

What follows is a step-by-step breakdown of how we created the image at the top of the page:

From start to finish the whole process took less than 13 minutes - check the meta data if you don't believe me!


This is my grab shot of the scene for exposure and colour balance. Camera in aperture priority and daylight white balance - it's always best to have a standard starting point when you pick up your camera each day. Scene is too orange if shooting with flash and a tad dark. At this stage I wasn't too worried about ISO etc.


Now I adjusted the camera white balance to tungsten/incandescent which gave a more neutral tone the scene. The camera was set to record both RAW & JPEG files with the white balance only affecting the JPEG preview file; the RAW file is not affected by this setting.

I then measured the flash exposure using a Sekonic flash/ambient hand held light meter (this particular model allows me to measure reflected light, incident and lighting ratios) and balanced the portable flash output so that the background was under exposed by a stop or so in order to create a sense of depth whilst giving context to the portrait. Charlie is the founder of Landscape Photographer of the Year

I used a single Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX A head fired with a Skyport radio trigger. I chose the Quadra in place of a Speedlite as I can use the Portalite 56 cm Octa soft box which I consider one of the better compact portable light modifiers, taking up less space than a Lastolite Ezybox of similar size.

We must bear in mind that the local ambient light is predominantly tungsten (orange), whilst the flash is daylight (blue). So with the camera set to tungsten white balance giving the background neutral rendition, the foreground would turn blue (the complementary colour to orange). So, the flash needs to be corrected to tungsten. To carry a sheet of Rosco #3407 CTO gel would be impractical as it either has to be rolled or carried flat, and the standard 20" x 24" sheet doesn't fold easily. Enter Rosco #3082 1/2 Straw Grid cloth;

Rosco #3082 1/2 Straw Grid Cloth alongside Rosco #3442 1/2 Straw Gel

Rosco #3082 1/2 Straw Grid cloth was originally intended for use in the film and TV industries for correcting and diffusing large areas of light. I use it as a means of correcting the large soft box light sources used in stills photography as it colour corrects and 

Rosco #3082 1/2 Straw Grid Cloth folded and packed with the disassembled Portalite 56 cm Octa

gives diffusion all in one textile sheet that folds up small - a 30" x 30" sheet fold to 4" x 4" by about 1/4" when compressed for travel, so packs easily with the collapsed Portalite 56 cm Octa. Rosco #3082 1/2 Straw Grid cloth is also a useful option to CTO as it's spectrum is less red


As you can see, the corrected flash balances well with the local tungsten light - RAW file converted to 4850 K to show overall tungsten balance.


This is the one of the early frames where there is no influence from the local ambient light - settings; shutter 1/20, aperture f8, ISO 320, white balance tungsten. Images are as shot with basic processing in ACR.

The shadow area on the left of frame is dark as I chose not to fill with a reflector or light. The shutter speed prevented the ambient light from acting as a fill light to the shadow. At these light levels I could have used a Rosco Litepad as a fill light, but didn't have one as I was travelling with a shoulder bag and nothing else.


In order to give me options I adjusted my camera exposure; shutter 1/15, aperture f5.6, ISO 320, white balance tungsten. With a commensurate drop in flash output i.e. the flash dropped by 1 1/3rd stops whilst the camera opened 1 1/3rd stops, letting the ambient fill the shadow side and add warmth to the foreground.

As the local lighting was patchy and in pools we had to position Charlie where there was minimum influence from the ambient tungsten illumination and still get the background we wanted.

Lighting Diagram for Shooting Charlie Waite

  1. National Theatre, Lytelton Foyer
  2. Charlie Waite
  3. Elinchrom Portalite 56 cm Octa, front white diffuser, no deflector
  4. Rosco #3082 1/2 Straw Grid cloth, clipped or pegged to front diffuser
  1. Distance from Charlie to wall approx. 30 feet giving good DoF effect even at f8
  2. Quadra to Charlie about 6 - 8 feet. Ben acted as VAL (Voice Activated Light stand) as I was travelling light - all kit, Quadra, camera & prime lenses carried in a Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 40 shoulder bag, but this is a story for another blog, another day!

Elinchrom & Rosco products are available from The Flash Centre in London, Birmingham or Leeds in UK. Contact Simon Burfoot at the The Flash Centre and mention this blog if you're interested in any of the products mentioned above.

Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition 2011 winners runs until 19th February 2012 - if you're in London it's well worth a visit and even better, the exhibition is free.

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