A few weeks ago I was in the Netherlands for the last overseas film shoot for Back to the source. I went there to see Maarten Kamphuis and Youval Kuipers of ProGauntlet. Youval is also the director of Noorderwind, a group of Historical European Martial Artists who are also stunt performers. He asked me to if I could get him a few photos he could use on promotional material. As I needed some more promo photos for the film myself, I was happy to oblige. This turned out to be the most “guerilla” shoot I’ve done so far, but I’m pretty happy with the results all things considered.
On occasions, Noorderwind trains at Muiderslot castle, which is located about 20km South East of Amsterdam. I was there mainly to interview Youval about Noorderwind, but since I was around the whole day, I wanted to make sure to put a couple hours to the side to take some stills. For various reasons, the interview lasted longer than planned, and by the time we were ready to take some stills, the castle was nearing closing time. We were given 45 minutes before we had to vacate the premises, which effectively meant we only had just about 30 minutes to shoot.
Because this apparently wasn’t challenging enough, I also decided to use some gear for the first time! I wanted to see how the Fuji X-T1 handled itself with strobes and I also wanted to try out my freshly bought set of PocketWizard remotes. What could possibly go wrong…
Youval was looking for an “industrial” look to contrast with the medieval outfits the performers were wearing. He also wanted to have a mix of modern and medieval equipment to signify Noorderwind’s double nature. To that effect, we decided to shoot in a sort of underground theatre made of concrete that was next to the castle.
As Youval knew what he wanted the scene to look like, I let him deal with the models while I was preparing the gear in order to speed up the process. That’s when I got scare number 1. After setting up the Pocketwizards, I couldn’t get the camera to trigger the flash. As it turns out, there is an order in which to do things, i.e. the Transmitter has to be turned on BEFORE you put it on the camera’s hotshoe, or it won’t work.
Crisis averted, time to get on with the shooting. The scene involved three people and I only had one strobe, my Canon 600EX-RT. To get the biggest light source possible, I set up the flash to shoot through an umbrella, and to get the lighting as evenly distributed among the subjects as possible, I got someone to hold the light stand over our heads.
Because of the time constraints, I chose not to mess with the strobe’s settings so I basically used whatever settings it was already on (35mm, full power) and used my “voice activated light stand” and the lens’ aperture to wrangle the light.
I got interesting pictures as a result, because they were a bit unlike what I usually shoot. I tend use a very shallow depth of field if I can help it. In this case I had to stop all the way to f/9. This allowed the background to keep its texture, making for a much cleaner image.
This was the first I time used the X-T1 for a “lit” photo shoot, and this came with its lot of surprises. While the EVF is usually “what you see is what you get”, this obviously doesn’t work when you use an off-camera manual flash. Looking through a very dark viewfinder made composition… challenging. It also slowed me down quite a lot as I felt the need to double-check my pictures. I only discovered after the fact that you can turn off the exposure simulation, which then gives you a bright viewfinder regardless of your exposure settings. I actually already knew about the feature, but I didn’t see the point until I needed it (and by then I’d forgotten about it).
After the group shots where done, I wanted to get a few portraits in. Used a similar set up to the group shots and got on with it.
While the group shots were taken with the XF 10-24mm f/4, I used the XF 35mm f/1.4 for individual ones. These lenses are absolutely terrific. Sharper than the swords in the pictures and such a breeze to use thanks to their aperture ring. And the Classic Chrome film simulation is the icing on the cake. I went into this shoot to see how the X-T1 is doing as a photoshoot camera, and I must admit I’m very impressed. I’m seriously considering making it my main stills camera.
In retrospect, there are so many things I could have done better on this shoot, but all things considered I’m pretty happy with the results. The main takeaway from this shoot is that once your light is set up, don’t fiddle with it and keep shooting. Move around your subject and keep shooting. You’ll get way more out of the session and everyone will be the happier.