Langebaan lifestyle

Posted: November 9, 2010 in Older posts, Shoots in short

This must rank as one of my toughest shoots ever. Small budget, no assistant, no time. And the shotlist was huge – golf landscapes early morning, lifestyle shots with models thereafter, interior design shots by midday, more lifestyle in the afternoon, then golf atmospherics at dusk, closing the day with indoor lifestyle shots with the models at sunset. It’s a tall order. Now throw in inclement weather, a near-drowing and a boomslang on the loose, and you have the makings of an interesting two days.

Johan "Bakkie Man" Winterbach aka the Human Light Pole with models Hanri and Staff

Bakkie Man playing silly buggers. Note the eyewear.

Fortunately the agency’s Johan Winterbach was at hand to help with the equipment and art directing. Always ready with a joke, he’s a mood enhancer on any shoot. Not to mention handy with holding the odd Speedlight and bounce board. Catch him as the Bakkie Man on Supersport’s “Oor die Kole”.

What made this even tougher was the range of work we had to do – interiors, tripod work, to exteriors with flash. I could not use the studio head outdoors as there was no AC power to work from, but had packed my Quantum battery system and softbox. Sadly, because of a huge cold front rolling in, we had to condense a day of outdoor shooting into two hours. Which meant no time for the fiddly Quantum setup. I used the single SB800 speedlight to brighten up colours on the models where needed, and for the larger group shots, used a daylight reflector from the down-sun side. Fortunately the day was not too contrasty, and the ambient lighting quite pleasing.

Staff doing his Captain Morgan impersonation.

For the outdoor shots, I used the Nikon D700 and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 almost exclusively, and almost always on f5.6. There is something magic about this f-stop on the lens, sharp as a tack, and the background pleasingly out of focus with beautiful bokeh in the highlights. For the rest of indoor work, I used the 24-70 f2.8 on around f11, and mixed the outdoor lighting with my Bowens strobes to fill in the darker spots and add accent on furniture. This could be tricky, as the outdoor light frequently gave me readings above the 250th top synching shutter speed on the D700, which forced me to compromise by overexposing the window lights a bit. But remarkably, the D700 retained detail. This was my first big shoot with the D700, in which I used it in a variety of lighting situations and could check how it handles noise in dark areas, detail in highlights and colour shifts in mixed lighting situations. I come back simply astounded – post-processing required, compared with images from my D300, is cut by at least 70%. It is simply too good to be true.

One of the beautiful bunkers at Langebaan golf courseAnd nowhere was this more visible than when shooting golf landscapes. These are typically shot within ten minutes after sunrise and ten minutes before sunset. You want loads of contrast, very low light and very bright highlights all in the same frame in order to shape the undulations of the course. If you’re going to have problems with noise and artefacting in the low light areas of the image, this is it. But there was very little to discern. In fact, retaining highlights remain the biggest problem (in the sky), so I used a Lee neutral density filter to bring the sky detail back into range where possible. Of course, shooting straight into the sun left no chance of that. Hence the post colouring of the sky, to give some detail at least.

All in all, the D700 handled it all very well, even where it had no help from external light sources such as in the golf shot to the right.

If you want detail in the course lawn, you have to shoot low angle, straight to the sun. That’s a recipe for disaster normally, but in this case, the camera pulled it off.

After having put it through its paces outside, I was wondering what the D700 would do indoors, with mixed lighting from outdoor sources and strobes and a firelight. We shot a sequence in the golf club loungeIn the lounge, the four-light setup that required extensive use of mixed lighting, from the standard lamps in the corner of the rooms to matching the exposure of the exterior light filtering through the window at the back, and exposing for the flames. I started by measuring the exposure for the flames, and set a combination of f11 and a shutter speed of around a 20th/sec.

Then I matched the output of the Bowens strobes to f11. I had two accent lights around the corners of the hearth to the right back and left back, respectively, to add a tiny highlight on the models’ cheeks, an umbrella keylight from left to add detail to the front and to the furniture, and fired all with a set of Pocket Wizards. Of course, the models had to keep reasonably still at 20th to avoid movement, but the slow shutter speed is in your favour when shooting flames, as it slightly blurs the movement and makes it look a bit more atmospheric. White balance was set to auto – I did not bother custom white balancing because I liked the slight warm tinge from the background lamps. And shooting at a 20th allowed just enough of the ambient tungsten to creep in and warm up the light balance.

Little Mia shortly before the incident

I did mention a near-drowning and some snake action. One of the models, 2-year old Mia, fell into the pool after the shoot, and sank like a stone. When she hit the bottom, she managed to kick and come up to the surface, but by now the frantic mum threw herself into the water, clothes and all, and fell straight on top of the youngster, pushing her down before she could get air. Quick as a flash, she was out with the child – no harm done, and hardly a whimper from Mia, who was running around the pool lawn five minutes later – and then nearly cut off her toe, presumably on a sharp piece of paving. Mild panic as we tried to stop the profuse bleeding, and once we got that under control, I left the pool enclosure – to walk straight into a huge boomslang in a tree. These are common occurences at Langebaan.

Although hectically poisonous, they are back-fanged and extremely timid. The poor thing tried its best to escape the estate snake catcher and his long tongs. It hid in the garden, and after some broomstick prodding, came blitzing out – straight through my legs and into the garden behind me. It took a two full seconds after he had disappeared before I yelped and jumped several feet into the air. So much for good reflexes!

End of a perfect day

  1. frenske says:

    what a great article, Jaco. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from top to end! Love the way you describe a lot of the background to the shoot, the cameras and your lenses and settings. All useful informaton that you are happy to share. Good luck with the rest of the story! 🙂

  2. jacow says:

    Thanks Frenske. I suppose writing about something technical like this is like a mission debriefing – you don’t get to talk to your partner or friends about it, because quite frankly, they’d be bored stiff with the details. But somehow you need to get it out of your system. This blog is great for it.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Nie besef die lewe van n fotograaf is so opwindend nie. Sjoe, amper-verdrinkings, slange en boonop nog uitstekende tydsberekening. Alles op een dag. Lekker blog.

  4. Maureen says:

    Jaco, this was a great read, enjoyed it thoroughly and although I’m still not at the stage where I could understand all of the tecnical stuff in what you wrote, it was so satisfying to take in most of it. Your pictures inspired me to get out and do more. Must say I had a giggle at the mental picture of the delayed leap – a photographer’s life is exciting, hey? From my point of view, extremely addictive too!

    • jacow says:

      If it’s any consolation, no-one ever gets there. You get better, not best, at something. But it’s a helluva exciting journey getting there!

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