Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Keep It Simple workshop

The idea behind the workshop I ran in Zurich a few weeks ago was to get away from lugging around loads of lighting gear and heavy camera equipment. I hadn’t done an extensive portrait session with my Fujifilm X100 and I arranged this workshop so that I and other users of smaller cameras could give them a go in such a situation.

The idea was to take portraits simply: without setting up lighting and taking ages to come up with scenes. To let imagination and the surroundings dictate the shots. The results were pretty good, thanks to the diversity of the locations we found. Although some attendees used hand-held flash guns and fold-out reflectors, my main focus was to use just the camera and the ambient light.

We began at Paradeplatz; a location I’d pre-selected as it was near to the meeting point and the tram-stop building features attractive curved wooden benches. The main picture in this blog post was shot there, using only available natural light and an extension of my usual post-processing technique to level-off the tonal range. The shallow depth of field – which pervaded almost all of my shots – was thanks to the use of an wide aperture.

I managed to find three other locations nearby: two of them on the street, including broken multi-coloured glass panelling, a simple doorway with two adjacent lamps, and a daylight-illuminated marble hallway. The engagement of volunteers Sara and Leila meant that despite relying on the ambient light instead of lighting trickery, their movement and energy helped achieve images with impact.

After a lunch break, I and the other participants hopped on a tram and headed for the Chinese Garden (Chinagarten) in Zurich’s lakeside Zürichhorn district. The staff have been very cooperative on both occasions I’ve organised photo shoots there, on the understanding that we pay the regular entrance fee and avoid blocking the paths for other visitors.

Within the garden, there are plenty of different little places to shoot: my favourites involve the small arched bridge and stepping-stones across the ornamental ponds. We were lucky to get some sunshine – despite an earlier threat of rain – and I enhanced the contrast between the bright sunshine and Leila’s dark outfit in Lightroom whilst post-processing the image.

I also managed to use a hand-held flash to get a pretty nice portrait of Sara amongst the bamboo; obliterating the ambient light by underexposing considerably – (1/500 @ f8 in a very shady spot) and allowing the direct flash to provide all of the light.

Thanks to all who came along and who have shared their photos in the Flickr pool – previously Swiss Strobist and since re-named to include non-flash-based technique photos – and who made the day such a success.

One response to “Keep It Simple workshop”

  1. Habi avatar

    Thanks for organizing a great day, even though I was only able to take part in the Chinese Garden part.

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