Black-on-black – the lighting challenge solved!

Shooting blokes dressed all in black sports compression wear against a dark background is never going to be easy, especially when the client Virus Action Sport Performance wear wants the shots to look dark and edgy, but you still have to be able to see the clothing and the details on it. Spill too much light into the background as it goes to grey. Have none at all and it looks like a Photoshop cutout. Add in the complication that the athletes should be wearing the ubiquitous flat peak cap, and shadows all over the face become a problem.

And of course, it’s all on location as both studio shots and location shots are needed too. So everything had to be packed into the trusty VW van and moved to the agreed place to meet the very nice people behind Virus and their three motorsport athletes.

Showing detail of the shiny fabric on the back was vital to Virus and needed hard cross-lighting
Showing detail of the shiny fabric on the back was vital to Virus and needed hard cross-lighting

In a large workshop, a Lastolite Colorama black background paper was put up on a Manfrotto background support system, and weighed down with sand bags. Shooting on my Phase One 645 DF+ with Schneider leaf shutter lenses means quality is sublime, with amazing tones that only a medium format can give. Try 60MP files from a big sensor and full 16-bit files once and you’re hooked. Of course, later we were to move outside so beating the sunshine outdoors with Elinchrom Ranger flash wasn’t an issue, thanks to its 1/1600sec sync speed. Glorious.

Indoors with plenty of power sockets I used my mains powered Elinchrom monoblocs – 600RXs, 1200RX and a pair of the new ELCs with a mix of Elinchrom light banks and Chimera softboxes.

Controlling the light with gridded softboxes and beauty dishes, mainly from 45 degrees or wider to the camera positon for more draatic rim lighting, is key. This makes pools of light that pick up the athlete’s face and the clothing. But of course with such pin-point lighting, they can’t move around much or else shadows fall awkwardly. A single strip softbox was placed at my feet to fill in the shadows on the face caused the peak of the flat cap. It’s all the rage, I believe! Three atheletes, some with bikes and some without, in all sorts of different clothes, took the majority of the day.

Look mean I say. Check!
Look mean I say. Check!

The client still wanted some location “lifestyle” shots of the riders getting ready for action. So with everything loaded back into the trusty VW Transporter and moved to the side of the nearby track, we were quickly back in action.

Adding a bike added complexity and needed a change in lighting set up
Adding a bike added complexity and needed a change in lighting set up

Three 1100Ws Elinchrom Rangers with beauty dishes were used for some harder-edged light. The Square 44 is one of my favourite modifiers and works a treat. And the smaller Elinchrom beauty dishes with a silver lining work well for blokes, and they are very light efficient. Thoroughly recommended. Bit of a cool tone suited the shots, I thought.

Overpowering the sun is easy with powerful lights and high-speed sync from medium format
Overpowering the sun is easy with powerful lights and high-speed sync from medium format

The background was underexposed by two stops and the power of the lights increased until the right exposure was attained. With no HSS cleverness needed with real fast sync, getting the exposure right is easy as you can meter it with a proper lightmeter.

Shades make reflections worry, so you just have to watch for them on the LCD screen. Huge screen on the Phase One IQ back makes it easy
Shades make reflections worry, so you just have to watch for them on the LCD screen. Huge screen on the Phase One IQ back makes it easy

I used the touchscreen Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478DR. It has built-in triggering for Pocket Wizard radio receivers but the Phase One has a built-in Profoto Airsync transmitter so I used Profoto Airsync receivers on the flashes as they are the only way of reaching the 1/1600th sec maximum sync speed. Easy when you know how! (And have invested loads of cash in doing it and time in getting it right!)

Bot of real flare.No Photoshop needed!
Bot of real flare.No Photoshop needed!