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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Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Immediately after returning from Skye, I was scheduled to shoot a very rare Performance Blue customised Jaguar XK-R for Jaguar World magazine. The brief was fairly straight forward - get some wide images of the car from the front, rear and sides; the interior & under the bonnet; and if time permitted, some motion shots.  

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

I used a pair of Quadras for all my lighting. Where two lights weren't enough, then I shot multiple frames with the lights in different positions and composited them in Photoshop. The image below is a prime example. There are two lights, camera left and right but I also wanted a little separation at the back of the car. So I moved one of the lights to the rear of the car and made another frame with this light only. Then it was simply a case of layering and masking in post.  

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Over the last few months, I've been experimenting with various different car rig setups. Aluminium I've discovered is simply too heavy. Carbon Fibre is the only way to go. So I've borrowed my brother-in-law's 8 metre carbon fibre fishing pole. I don't need the whole length. In fact fully extended, it's far too springy but with just two or three of the thicker sections assembled I can get 2 or 3 metres from the car and with a degree of rigidity sufficient for a 1/4 sec exposure. I'm nowhere near the 6 second exposures that GF Williams can get with his Car Camera Rigs but my current set up has cost me significantly less (read £0) compared to the £2k for the cheapest that CCR do. The problem is bounce. Even with the lightest body and lens combo I own, the combined weight with the clamps and ballhead to hold the camera creates a significant amount of bounce. So a more rigid pole is definitely in order in the not too distant future.  

The other problem doing these shots is learning to use your camera upside down. In order to get a nice low angle, you have to hang it upside down from the end of the pole. No matter how many times I do this, I still find myself struggling to find dials and buttons, and then turn them the wrong way. Might just try sitting with the camera in front of the TV in the evenings and see if I can master it the wrong way round...... 

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Range Rover Sport with small flash by Neil Alexander

The other week, inspired by Tim Wallace's shows on Kelby Training, I thought I'd have a punt at shooting a Range Rover Sport with some small flash and a newly purchased strip box. It's about 5' x 1' and perfect for this kind of work, however my lil' lights ain't.

Incidentally if you haven't seen any of Tim's work, I highly suggest you do - it's fantastic. He's here -

On the day I found a window to do the detail work, typically it was bright and sunny. I think my meter read F22 at 1/60, so in order to over power the ambient light and minimise background distractions I had to bump my shutter a couple of stops to 1/250. Even then it wasn't quite all the way there but that was the smallest aperture my glass had. It meant I was going to have to push the limits of my lights and get a little creative. I discovered, as I'd thought may be the case, that one little SB900 on it's own wasn't going to cut the mustard. I shoe-horned another inside the softbox, ratched them both up to full power and ate through about 4 or 5 sets of batteries constantly tripping the thermal cut out on them both.    

I persisted (I had several sets of spare batteries with me), and finally managed to get the shots I was looking for. I learnt several things though:-

  • Modelling lights would be really handy.
  • A set of Profotos or Elinchrom lights have surged their way to the top of my "must purchase when next feeling flush" list.
  • Sculpting the light on a car really is an art all in it's own right - and I'm going to do more, lots more - it was fun :-)

Incidentally, the wider shots were done on a separate day, clearly!

I've some more wheels to shoot next week, so I'm going to rent a set of Elinchroms from the Flash Centre in Leeds and see how I get on with them, unless anyone has any going spare? ;-)



Behind the scenes - Shooting a Range Rover with small flash

Behind the scenes - Shooting a Range Rover with small flash