Create a Mini-Studio Wherever You Are

Grumpy’s was the sign over the door, but the door was padlocked. Then a friendly face appeared and guided me round to the other door signed Canal View and I went in. Two different names, two doors, same business – same building. No wonder I was a little confused.

But it can get a bit like that when you’re engaged to take some pictures in a place you not only don’t know, but you’ve also never heard of before. The barman showed me my space. It was at one end of the bar, about six foot by eight with a cushioned bench along one wall and a big Grumpy’s sign filling the wall at the back. I was rather hoping I could get away with using a wall as my backdrop. My lighting stands were useless since they would have to be out in the walking space where the inebriated would inevitably trip over them.

Looked like a night of on-camera flash and the resultant awful lighting that would produce.

The barman seemed to think this space was fine because the guy with the computer doing keyrings the other night was happy with it.

Mary, who had asked me to photograph her and  Jo’s joint 50th birthday party, and I had a word with the boss. It turned out I could use the entrance space where I’d come in – the Canal View hallway – sort of. She locked the door, took the padlock off the Grumpy’s door and I suddenly had a 15’ x 15’ studio to work in. The wall wasn’t suitable so I gaffer taped a piece of black velvet to the wall. That would take care of any hard flash shadows. Set my lights up, attached brollies, asked Mary to pose for a shot or two while I got the exposure sorted and I was good to go.

I was using two Yongnuo YN-560 II manual flashguns. These are great little low-cost manual flashguns with plenty of power. You can pick one up for less than £40 now. They don’t do any of that fancy E-TTL stuff so you have to understand exposure to benefit from using them. One the things I most love about them is that they have built-in optical slaves. I set them both up as slaves and used an on-camera Metz 58 AF-1 pointing up to the ceiling to fire the Yongnuo’s. I had a wireless trigger in my bag but having the Metz on-camera, rather than the flash trigger, gave me the option of easily adding a bit more light to the subject should I need it.

The Yongnuo’s were on lighting stands with Lastolite Tiltheads. These are great little devices that allow you to fasten a hot-shoe flash to a lighting stand, or tripod, attach a brolly and adjust the angle of the flash. The camera was a Canon 6D with 24-105mm L lens attached. Everythign set up, test exposures completed and I was good to go.

My hosts had provided a dressing up box filled with silly hats, feather boas, giant sunglasses, and the like as well as a selection of empty picture frames. Now I’m not really a dressing up person but the guests loved them and had great fun.

I came home with almost 200 images and started work the following day.

Most of the images were vibrant and fun, but a few were suitable for a little special treatment.

This one cried out for some Black & White treatment. The black background made it easy to incorporate a subtle dark vignette to focus all attention on the faces.



For this one I thought it might be fun to remove the colour from outside the frames, so I played around with a Layer Mask in Photoshop to achieve this.



For this one I wanted to create a vintage look. I tried a load of Lightroom pre-sets, and tried some toning in Photoshop but none of it fitted the image. In the end I de-saturated the image and found that gave me just the look I wanted.



This is the set up.

It looks most uninspiring and very lo-tech – which it is – but it just goes to show that you can create pleasing images without needing to spend a fortune on lighting equipment.

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