As it's the week of Chelsea Flower Show, I thought that I'd talk about this quick portrait for Micheal Palmer - a garden designer who has been working his magic at my home. He has been talking to my wife and I for a few months now to get the design right and finally we got the garden planted last week. I had promised to shoot a nice portrait of Mike in the garden and I plan to have another go on a nicer day but I thought that this would make an interesting technique example of what you can do on a dull evening if you use the right light.


I was interested in shooting this because, despite hundreds of my portraits being on line, this was my first attempt to shoot a portrait whose prime use was going to be on the internet (on Mike's website). I knew that I could get away with shooting at any ISO setting that I wanted and the available light teading was as low as 1/90th at f2.8 on 200 ISO but I am a creature of habit and I don't like shooting with flash at ISOs much over 400. There's no technical reason why I have this limit - just a lot of years thinking that I cannot get the right picture if I go too high!

The point of the picture is a portrait with a hint of what the garden that he designed (and planted) looks like. This is a small suburban garden and so there are no sweeping vistas or anything like that. I started with a Canon EOS5D MkII with a Canon 24-70 f2.8L lens and one Lumedyne head on a Manfrotto 001B stand with a shoot through Westcott umbrella. In the picture above left he is looking directly into the light which was placed about three metres away from him and on full (200 w/s) power with the centre of the light modifier just above being level with his eyes. I wanted the garden to show up and so I decided to increase the ISO to 320 and set the camera to expose the background at 1/90th of a second at f5.6 - meaning that without the flash, he would be about 1 1/2 stops under exposed as he was sitting under a dark leaved tree in interesting but fading evening light. Between him and the flash is another planted border which would help to cast a small shadow from the flash near his feet.

The second picture above right is all about him and I moved the flash closer and turned the power down to 1/4 power (50 w/s). This meant that the lens was stopped down to f8 and I moved the shutter speed to 1/180th of a second to give the much darker background. The light was coming from the same angle and the combination of dark background and the larger (because it was closer) light source changed the mood of the picture. This was also on the 24-70 f2.8L lens - but right at the 70mm end. I also shot similar portraits with shutter speeds ranging from 1/45th to give a different feel in the background whilst keeping control of the light on the subject.

I couldn't do this technique example without including a picture of the garden...
© Neil Turner May 2009

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