Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Anatomy of a shot

As some of you, faithful readers, have been asking about how I take some of my pictures, I decided to start a series of regular post describing the entire process and techniques involved while I’m shooting. I hope you will find this interesting!

Let’s have a look at this picture of Morgan (you can see more pictures of this shoot here).


What you have to know about this shot is that this is a shot I have been seeing during the whole time we were shooting. I have been preparing this picture the whole afternoon. I knew I wanted to get that shot exactly like this.

This shot was taken in Shanghai on the pedestrian part of Nanjing Road, the lights there are amazing, so I knew they would give me a great background. I knew I would get a nice contrast between the dark clothes of Morgan and the pink mood of the streetlights. I wanted to keep the global mood of the street so I knew I had to let enough ambient light in. But I also knew that I had to be fast. This is a very crowded area so I didn’t have a lot of time to do this.

As I said, I have been preparing this shot the whole afternoon on a technical aspect but also, and more importantly, on a human aspect. I have been running the settings I would use in my head but I have also been working on the development of the relationship with Morgan. As the area is really crowded and as it can get very intimidating, it is important to build the trust and confidence of your model / client.

Just so you see here is a shot I took to test what I would get if I shot ambient light only while metering my subject.


Iso 4000 – f/2.5 – 1/30 sec

This is not bad, it could work if it was what I was aiming for, but it wasn’t. As you can see the exposure on my model is perfect but my background is totally blown out and this is not what I wanted.

So I metered for my background and dialed down my Iso as this has direct impact on my global exposure.

This was more like what I had in mind. This is the kind of mood I was aiming for.


Iso 400 – f/2.5 – 1/40 sec

My background is correctly exposed but my model isn’t. Morgan is underexposed by at least 2 stops of light. So now I knew I had to setup my flash to give me light at f/2.5 Iso 400 (when you are shooting flash, your flash exposure on your subject is not impacted by your shutter speed). I am always using off-camera flash. This time I had a small softbox which would give me a nice soft and directional light. I set it up at 1/4th power on my camera right about 1 meter from my subject and took this last shot to check that my exposure was correct, while Morgan was getting ready.


Iso 400 – f/2.5 – 1/40 sec

My subject exposure was perfect but I wanted to have more ambient light so I dialed down my shutter speed. Doing this only has impact on my ambient light and not my flash exposure: as you can see in the final shot the flash exposure on my subject wasn’t affected but my background is more luminous. I then only added a camera shake while shooting. The flash was enough to freeze part of the action while providing a nice blur.


Final settings are : Iso 400 – f/2.5 – 1/10 sec

So as you can see lots of thinking in preparing this shot, I knew I was going to take this shot before coming to this place. I more or less knew what kind of settings I was going to use and in the end it took me less than 30 seconds to nail my exposure.

And as my flash exposure is set, I can use it infinitely to get the same consistent results from shots to shots.


This is only a quick recap of the process involved in creating a shot. There are obviously more explanations that could be given regarding flash exposure but I didn’t want to get too technical here.

In the end I think that it very important to master your techniques but this shouldn’t become more important than your vision. It should help you and support what you want to achieve and not the other way around.