This is another photo from the years at Norsk Fotofagskole. As one of the first assignments we got during the two years, we had to do a sports portrait whatever style we wanted to do. At that time my comfort zone was flash photography lighting scenes and a lot of dramaturgy. I might have changed my style a bit since then, but still I really like to do these kind of shots the strobist way.
When I first got the assignment I had an idea of photographing students at my gym (TKBK), but I figured I should take it a step further and really go for martial arts with larger and more artistic movements other than just the raw punches that a kick boxer serve. I had also just seen “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, “House of Flying Daggers” and “Kung Fu Panda” that gave me some ideas on how my shot should look like. The only thing that concerned me a bit was that we did not have any bamboo forests or steep mountain sides with a Buddhist monastery on top. The closest I could think of was Kristiansten festning, a fortress from 1685 which is located ontop of a hill overlooking the town center of Trondheim. That would do for this shoot.
Fortunately I knew there was a kung fu gym in town and luckily I knew one of the students there, Kristian Vintervoll, who I asked to do this shoot for with me. He agreed and we meet the following day at the location. He had brought his friend a bag with their pj’s, weapons and his friend Roy Lyngstad. While I was rigging my light I asked them to do their warm up routine so that I get some ideas on what they were able to do and what not, and how I was to compose the shot. The weather forecast that day stated that we should expect thunder and lighting by night fall, giving the skies this perfect, dramatic looking backdrop I had hoped for. We did some shots with the guys sparring, doing high jumps with kicks and other cool stuff, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I asked them to do some poses like you see on the movie posters, they got the idea of what I was looking and we ended up with this shot.
The lighting setup in this photo I had two flashes on each side of the guys as a kicker, rim light or high light, to separate them from the background. A third flash was mounted on the hot shoe on my camera pointing directly at them. This is what I call an almost fail safe light setup. What I did was to meeter the ambient light and got probably a reading around f/8 at 1/125s on ISO400. The next thing was to set my separation lights to expose two stops above the ambient light, and the key light / main light to expose one stop above the ambient light. This darkens the ambient light and exposes the subject properly. The side lights should expose at f/16 at 1/125s on ISO400, and the main light should be f/8 at 1/125s on ISO400. Be sure to just have enough distance on the light on each side and have the same power output so they expose the separation light equally. I fitted white shoot through umbrellas to the separation light to make the light source larger wrapping the light around the subjects with a smoother grading.
When you are photographing, have a plan, depend on a bit of luck as I did with the weather, know your gear. If you don’t have a light meeter you can always take test shots and walk each light down to a decent exposure. I use a light meeter because it is a lot faster than taking one shot at a time adjusting the power output on each flash before testing another one. One of the reasons I started working with Nikon cameras was because of the Creative Light System (CLS) where you can command all flashes on camera instead of having to go to each speedlight and adjusting the output. Using speedlights instead of studio strobes you can be very mobile doing such shoots at remote locations without carrying around heavy equipment and gear. The downsides are that you don’t have any modeling light to see how the image will turn out. To use this system you need to have some insight on how light works and what each setting does. Know your tools. If you can’t afford high end flash units there is always cheaper stuff with less functionality at ebay. The gear I used on this particular shot was 1x Nikon D800 with Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5 – 5.6, 2x Nikon SB-900, 2x white 80″ truculent umbrellas with mounts and 2x light stands.