How I did it: Bethel Bakery
Happy Pi(e) Day!
Lighting in layers is how I approached the picture of Bethel Bakery president John Walsh. The agency needed a simple but somewhat dramatic portrait of the owner for an ad campaign. We started assembling the photo with the props, trays of pie, then rolled in the bakery rack. When the art director and I had a basic framework for the image, my assistant and I started working on the technical aspects.
For this shot, I needed enough depth of field to keep John and the foreground pies sharp, but fading off in the background. Not fading off to total mush, I just wanted it slightly soft, it still needed to read well at a glance. An aperture of f/6.3 did the trick.
My lens would be between 35mm and 24mm. Starting at 35mm, I would slowly get wider and closer as I built a rapport with the subject. I didn't want to charge in and immediately stick the camera in his face, even though I expected the 24mm would create the best picture.
The primary light needed to be directional but not super harsh. We used an Elinchrom 39" deep octa box, feathered, so the light fell just on John and the foreground objects.
The next layer I lit was the background. The oven and pies needed to be seen well but not overpower the primary subject. A 4'x6' softbox set using a C-stand far to camera left at about 45º angle. The light was adjusted to -1 from the primary using a Sekonic flash meter.
Finally, I wanted a slight rim light on John, so we set another flash, far to camera right, hid behind the baker's rack. We used a small Chimera, feathered away from the subject until it just kissed the edge of his face with about a -2 exposure.
We checked and double checked the lighting with a stand-in subject. Never waste your subjects time making adjustments. Have everything nailed down, then call in the talent.
The success of this picture is the result of a team effort starting with a great art director who carefully selected the pies based on size and texture. She then went on to the far background to clean up and rearrange the papers on the wall making the whole image orderly, but not sanitized. My assistant was outstanding, knew my gear well and how I worked through a picture. An extra set of skilled hands and sharp eyes is invaluable in shoots involving lighting. A good assistant is worth their weight in gold. Treat them as such.
It was a good day. We made a series of excellent pictures, had fun and left with a bag of donuts. It doesn't get much better.