Quick and easy location portraits by Neil Alexander

Recently I was asked to shoot some portraits for a construction company at their offices up in North Manchester for their new look website. This was a rare occasion in that I’d been unable to do my usual pre-site visit to see what the location would be like. So on the day, I headed up there laden with everything including the kitchen sink in the worst rainstorms I’ve seen for some time. The combination of not having seen the offices and the torrential rain was beginning to make me nervous. It meant that no matter how awkward the office was to shoot in, there was absolutely no chance of shooting outside instead. Guess what I found on arrival? Small windowless rooms and long narrow corridors. It was going to be extremely problematic to shoot in. I had no choice but to make it work, somehow.


It came down to using a dark long narrow corridor shaped like a T, no windows, fluorescent lighting and without a great deal of room to manoeuvre. At one end I threw up a white seamless and put a Lastolite Ezybox on a stand. There was very little room to position the light and not get it in the frame. In fact the corner of the soft box is in the top corner of every frame. As the subjects varied from a tad shorter than me to way way over my head, I made a conscious decision to tripod my camera and crop the softbox out  after the fact. 

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Quick location portrait set up shot

I dialled in an exposure just sufficient to get a completely black frame, and then incrementally added flash until I had the light I was looking for. The Ezybox wasn’t quite enough on its own though. As a result of the only position I could put it, I was getting too much fall off on the far side of the subjects' faces and bodies. I set up another Quadra on the other side and directed this at the white wall so that it would bounce back and provide a little fill. Worked a treat.

It was all going fine until somebody mentioned a group shot……

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One light group portrait by Neil Alexander

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The other week I was asked by a PR agency that I've done several jobs for lately if I'd pop down to their offices to shoot a client they had coming in. There'd be 5 gents and, as well as individual portraits they wanted a group shot on a white background.

Not knowing exactly what to expect from a lighting perspective, I duly packed the kitchen sink into the car and headed off.  

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On arrival, it was obvious there was no lovely clean white wall that I could use as a backdrop. Fortunately, I'd packed my  9 foot white seamless and support stands and found a spot in the middle of the office to set this up. I'd brought several lighting options with me, but I wanted to try and keep it as simple as possible. Envisioning 2 rows of subjects, I simply set up one Quadra with the largest of the Lastolite Ezyboxs and set this up about 12 feet from the background to try and provide an even light on all the men. I set the light up slightly off centre to avoid throwing my shadow into the mix. However, In the end we decided to put all 5 subjects side by side and the result is the image you see up top. 

I'm a firm believer in the ol' KISS adage (Keep It Simple Stupid) and the result is exactly what the client was looking for. 

A day in the life of a taxi by Neil Alexander

Before Christmas I was contacted by the largest taxi firm in Sheffield regarding getting some new photographs for their website and marketing materials. Terms discussed and agreed, we pencilled a couple of dates in the diary and were all set to go. And then the snow fell. And fell and melted a bit and then fell some more. As the images were to go on their website all year round, heaps of snow in the photographs would not be ideal. In fact it was about two and a half months before we finally managed to get the job done, and even then it began snowing again as we began to wrap the day up. 

Being such a big player in Sheffield, they had initially suggested 90+ locations that they'd like to photograph. After some gentle persuasion we managed to trim this down to a more manageable number. The brief was to shoot "A day in the life of a taxi" and the key was to get as many of the main locations in Sheffield photographed with one of the cabs outside as well as some generic photographs of key landmarks. The firm lined up a couple of cabs for us to shadow and a 4x4 to use as my office for the day, along with a portrait shoot outside the town hall to demonstrate the wide racial mix of their drivers. 

It was a great but very long day. One aspect of photographing a taxi on city streets that became quickly apparent is that you can pretty much park them anywhere for a short period in order to get the shot and nobody, police, traffic wardens and security guards included will even blink an eyelid. Try that with an ordinary car and we'd have been moved on time and time again.