Just over a year after I decided to consider going into photography professionally, I’ve reached the milestone of getting my first paying client. Granted, it was someone I already knew, but you need to start somewhere, right? My client was my Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) instructor Martin “Oz” Austwick, who needed portraits to use on his websites and on social media. Here’s how it went.
We started with an online conversation, trying to pin down the type of mood he was looking for the images. He came up with a list of adjectives: professional, effective, hardcore, edgy, dark (metaphorically and literally). We thought about having a punching bag as a prop, as a representation of the martial arts theme. As HEMA involves swords, we also planned for some shots involving them.
The photo shoot was set to take place in an industrial unit refurbished into a gym, with a dojo-style room. This is the location where Oz teaches a weekly wrestling class. I didn’t have the opportunity to scout the location first, so I was going to play it by ear.
On the day of the shoot, I discovered that the location was a bit unimpressive: spotless plain white walls and ceiling. Determined to make images that didn’t look like a passport photo, I scanned the room for props to use in the background. I rapidly spotted an old dark blue thin crash mat, and decided it would make a nice backdrop. We set it up against the wall, hung a punching bag next to it, and started shooting.
I started with a simple single light set up (pictured above) which I used to do some basic shots to make sure we end up with a few good shots no matter what happened. The crash mat was actually fairly narrow, and since I didn’t want to have any of the white wall in the background, my options for framing were limited.
Playing with the specular reflection of the flash-lit umbrella on the crash mat, I was able to get a nice gradient on the backdrop.
We then moved on to do some shots with the punching bag. I kept the umbrella where it was, and brought in a second light in a vertical strip to light the bag and bring up the shadows on the left hand side of Oz’s face.
Again, the backdrop being a bit narrow, the options were limited, and having Oz hugging the punching would have probably sent the wrong message. Instead, I decided to play with the shooting angle.
The same lighting set-up was also used to get the shot below:
For the last set of shots, I wanted to get a slightly darker mood. To this end, I sort of reversed my lighting set up:
The umbrella and the strip have swapped positions, but the umbrella’d flash is still the key light. The combination of the umbrella being a bit further away from the wall, and the beam from the light strip being a bit more restricted meant that the area of the backdrop above Oz’s face would be darker than it was in the previous set up.
We took some shots with with the sword, making sure to get some nice reflections on the basket hilt, and finished with a a few pugilism related shots, with a focus on the fists rather than the face, but maintaining a significant depth of field to keep his face sharp enough (stopping the aperture down to F/16 on that last shot below).
I’m usually extremely harsh when it comes to judging my own pictures, but I’m actually really happy with the images I came up with on this shoot. And Oz has been a pleasure to work with.
For a first gig, things could have gone a lot worse, so this is very encouraging for what’s to come.