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Friday, December 19, 2008

Setting The Stage

Environmental portraits tell a story with setting, props and creative light

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setting the stage Moriatis says that with his photography, “It’s important to take chances.” One of the great advantages of digital is that you can see if those chances work out a moment after depressing the shutter, and adjustments can be made quickly. This leads to more creative photographic results. Moriatis photographed San Marcos golf team member Robert Garske at Sandpiper Golf Course in Santa Barbara, Calif., at a scenic area on the course with the ocean in the background. Moriatis positioned himself with the sun in the background and partially exposed for it. He set up one flash to the right of the golfer on a stand and adjusted its output until he got the desired results.
Moriatis also has refined ways of doing artificially lit environmental portraits with multiple Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight flash units, eliminating the weight and bulk of separate power packs and strobes. Moriatis points out that, like most enthusiast photographers, newspaper photographers don’t have the luxury of photo assistants to lighten their load.

Moriatis can control the intensity of his remote flashes from his camera position with the Nikon SU-800 Commander unit attached on the camera’s hot-shoe, or, if he uses another flash unit such as the SB-800, up to four separately controllable lighting sources with built-in flash compensation of plus or minus 3 EV in 1⁄3-step increments can be used.

The SU-800 Commander communicates with the remote Speedlights by an infrared signal up to 66 feet away. The sensor on the Speedlights must be in the line of sight for the infrared signal to be read, but the signal is powerful enough that it will bounce off reflective surfaces and be received by the flash units. If one of his SB-800 remote units doesn’t fire because the infrared signal doesn’t reach it, the flash can be triggered simply by the pop of the other flashes. The drawback to this is having to adjust the intensity of each flash directly on the individual unit.



Moriatis arranged to meet basketball player Frank Nordin, a Swedish exchange student, at the player’s house where he had his own basket. The photographer decided to use the flag as a prop since being an exchange student was part of the story. Moriatis set up two flashes
with softboxes placed to the right of camera and one slightly behind the camera. Another flash used behind the flag had no softbox

This photo was taken in Topanga Canyon, Calif., on a student film set. The light was “real dodgy” because of clouds streaking across the sky. This was a simple setup with one flash that was used to bring out the faces of the actors in the ghillie suits. (A ghillie suit is a camouflage outfit designed to resemble heavy foliage.) The flash was positioned to the left of and slightly above camera.

For lighting on location, Moriatis usually carries four Nikon SB-800s, a Nikon SU-800 Commander unit, several small light stands and several small Photoflex softboxes. As with other types of strobes and flash units, color gels can be added to either color-balance mixed lighting situations or to create a dramatic surreal-looking image. The main advantage of working with Speedlights rather than strobes and power packs is portability. Moriatis can set up his lights without the need to find external power sources, get his shot and pack up quickly, so he can move on to his next assignment.

While not all photographers may be able to invest in this sophisticated flash setup, all photographers who are interested in environmental portraiture should begin building a flash system. To achieve the illumination necessary for smaller apertures and greater depth of field, mastering artificial light is the key. When multiple flash units aren’t available, look for other ways to add light to a scene. Move a lamp, reposition the subject nearer to a light source or use a reflector.

To see more of Mike Moriatis’ photography, visit www.mikemoriatis.com.

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