A Portrait Of: A Gun Smith

During a recent visit by my Dad to the UK I had an unexpected opportunity to photograph a Gun Smith in his workshop, now in full transparency the Gun Smith is a relative which can makes things a little easier (not always) on an ad-hoc shoot.

I just about to leave to take Dad shopping and was asked If I would photograph David in his workshop…not one to pass up a challenge I said yes.

Dave Bradbury .. Environmental Portrait

Upon walking in to the workshop I was greeted by a mix of tungsten desk lamps, fluorescent tube lights.. you know those crappy kind found in most offices and schools and some natural (overcast) window light.  Quite the mix of colour temperatures to deal with.  The space was also small/tight due to the equipment, lathes & tools around.. so wide lens it is then.

Ok so I have 10 minuets to take no Make an environmental portrait under mixed lighting conditions and all I have with me in my smaller bag is…

Canon 500D
Canon 18-55 IS Kit Lens
Canon 50mm F1.8
Canon 430EX II Speedlite – I always carry a speedlite
TTL Cord

No Light stand, no modifiers, no wireless triggers, no tripod – I was traveling light.

My first thought as David set a rifle on the work bench was focal length.. I needed something wide, the 50mm is to tight a field of view on a crop sensor for this space so its got to be the 18-55 somewhere around the 24mm mark.  Next though was oh crap I have a shit storm of different colour temperatures to deal with already and I'm about to add another.. flash, as you can see in the shot above we already have Overcast Day light (not enough to work with alone), Tungsten, Fluorescent and the flash I was about to add matches none of them exactly.

One way to deal with this problem would be to gel the flash ... that and a slight problem the gel packs are sitting in my main bag at home about 30 minuets away. Ok only thing I can do is find a white balance that gets me close.. flash white balance would of made things too warm, tungsten.. nope not going to cut it flash will go cold as would the day light same for fluorescent. So AWB it is, I rarely shoot AWB as I prefer the consistency of locking to a particular white balance but at times it can save the day as it will let the camera do the heavy lifting for me. Using AWB has warmed the flash up a little and balanced out the lighting better than locking the camera into a set white balance.

After finding my composition by dropping low I took an ambient light reading F6.3, ISO800, 1/60th sec .. ok looks good, windows has blown out but that's not important , time to bring in the flash, attached via a 1.5m TTL cord I set the speedlite to ETTL (yes i do sometime use TTL) set the flash head zoom to 24mm to cover the scene handed to to my VAL (Voice Activated Light stand AKA Dad)  and shot the first frame. Always let your subject know you just getting dial in.


First frame, ambient looks ok and I'm happy enough with what AWB is doing but I can drop the ISO  2 stops from 800 to 200 taking my shutter speed from 1/60thsec to 1/15th sec – Why?  It will give me a cleaner file and  I nor my subject are moving, how ever as always dropping down to a slower shutter speed I think got to keep things steady ( I did in the end bump back to ISO400 for a 1/30th sec shutter speed). Looking at this first frame of 3 made the flash exposure is off (+1/3rd Flash EV needed) and the flash is too far off the side so I directed the VAL Dad to bring the flash round a little and took the second frame.


Second frame is looking better exposed I'm happy with the flash exposure and the ambient also  the move of the desk lamp far right has provided a nice rim light on the rifle.  Problem is composition needs shifting a little and the flash is too side lit and too low casting a distracting shadow on the window behind David and to the right of the lamp.

For the final shot I brought the light further round and higher to drop a shadow under the chin and to deal with the shadows on the window panels which can be seen in the final shot below, you can see David’s shadow is now gone (its behind him) and the lamp shadow is now less distracting.  You can still tell this was lit with bare flash (hard light) if you look at the shadows on the apron, rifle strap and the handle of the vice.. also the highlights on he front of the rifle give the cooler temperature of the flash away.  I did not direct David to much as he fell in to this pose and it looked right, confortable for him the only thing I did was direct his chin/head position to avoid loosing light in the eyes and reflections in the glasses.

Dave Bradbury .. Environmental Portrait

Overall I am happy with the final image as were David and my Dad, could it be improved. yes with additional gear but that takes time and a stronger back to carry all that crap around, remember it not the amount of gear or tools you have.. its what you do with them that ultimately matters.

Now I will be going back to shoot some more environmental portraits and details shots in he new year and yes I will take more gear with me (modifiers, lights, Running Manual Winking smile ) but only because I know what they will do for me and the results they will give me, you can do allot with bare flash but its never a soft light and its indiscriminate to what it hits. I’m looking forward to seeing the results from the new year.