Last week I was in Las Vegas covering the 2013 Miss America pageant on behalf of WV Magic. On Friday I could get some one-on-one time with a handful of contestants before the big event. In lieu of interviewing them with silly questions, I used the time to try and take some studio-esque portraits. I was inspired by the amazing portraits of Olympic athletes from their media day. The Olympians are in one big room, and all of the photographers from the big publications like Time, USA Today and CNN go around and take some time to take their photos. They have props and portable lighting and get some great photos. In my scenario, I got about five minutes with four of the contestants. I didn’t know what the lighting conditions would be like before I got there, and it ended up being a busy hallway. I came prepared to try and get some unique portraits, given the conditions. Click below for more.
Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: f/5.0, Lens: 40mm, ISO: 200, Remote flash, Gary Fong Lightsphere
What I wanted to pull off, was getting as intentional, or professional, a look as I could get in a tight time frame. The challenge came from not knowing what the conditions would be like, and, I don’t have a ton of experience with studio lighting. The most important tool I had with me was the Yongnuo Wireless Remote Flash Trigger. The biggest difference between a pro portrait and a snapshot from a point and shoot is the direction of light. Once you get the light source off of your camera, it looks a lot better. To soften the light, I put on a Gary Fong LightSphere . This tool is great for bouncing the light when you don’t have a ceiling or wall nearby. I didn’t know what I would have at my disposal, so I brought it with me. Though there ended up being a wall I could have used, the lightsphere allowed me to position the Miss America contestant wherever I needed her to be. Once I figured out the settings, I asked the girls to act confident and happy and grabbed a shot. My main intention was to get a dark background, so it would look less like a hallway and more like a studio environment. This worked great unless the subject was wearing something dark and then we’d miss highlighting their figure. Like what happened with Joanna Guy, Miss Maryland, above. So for this one, I went ahead and illuminated the background. I mean come on.
This photo of Miss DC, Allyn Rose, is what I was aiming for with this whole set up. I really like this photo, but if I could do it again, the flash is a little too close. When I work with models, I try to spend some time getting to know them a little bit, and try and capture something genuine beyond a cliche’d pose or expression. In this scenario, we didn’t have a lot of time at all. This wasn’t really a problem, as these exceptional young ladies are quite experienced with taking photos, and don’t need too much convincing. I had met Allyn once before, and she actually remembered me. That was a big deal to me because she’s met about a million fans and photographers since the event we met at. But that made me want to get the best pics of her that I could. I chose to go back into photoshop and darken the background to make it more consistent and not take away from how great she looks. To her point, I didn’t need to photoshop her at all.
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 50mm, ISO:320, Remote flash, Gary Fong Lightsphere
In addition to studio style shots, I wanted to experiment and get something that really stood out. You can change the shape of the bokeh, the fuzzy circles of blurry light, by placing a shape over the lens. I got a Custom bokeh kit for Christmas, and it came with several blank discs for you to cut out your own shape. Now, it’s a fun kit, but the appropriate times to use this effect are limited, and I would in no way rely on this effect to be the strongest point of the image, it should be subtle, and rely on nothing more than “oh cool!” reaction. The problem is I haven’t had a ton of experience with the custom bokeh, and I’m really only beginning when it comes to setting up studio lighting. So trying to get something extra was a bit risky (I’d waste their time and have nothing to show for it) so I made sure to try and get two or three “regular” photos first to have something nice. I had the custome bokeh filter rubber banded onto the 50mm f/1.4, so to save time, I would switch between that set up, and the 40mm f/2.8. I did have two camera bodies with me in Vegas, but I only brought one to this interview period. Here’s how the filter looks on the front of the camera.
The kit comes with several pre-cut shapes, but several blank discs to make your own, so I made a crown shape with a box cutter. I’m surprised the kit doesn’t come with a standard five point star, as that’s the first thing I’d use this kit to get. I’m actually considering buying a spare lens cap that fits this lens, and drilling a big enough hole to use with the discs instead of this rubber band scenario.
Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: f/5.0, Lens: 40mm, ISO: 200
I wanted to do something else that would be unique from all the other photos of the individual girls. I liked the idea of using the mustache on a stick. At first I wanted them to do finger tattoos, but that’s not as obvious as to what’s going on, and there’s no way they’d let me draw on their finger, or apply a temporary tattoo. I also had self-adhesive, fake fur tattoos, but there’s no way they’d stick something to their face with all of the make-up and prep that went into their look. So I thought I’d go with the mustache on a stick. It’s funny, it won’t mess up their make-up, and it’s instantly recognizable, and there’s no way you could think there was a double entendre or something salacious about it. I come up with jokes all the time that could be double entendre’s, but they’re innocent. Since I only had three or four minutes, I didn’t want to waste any time trying to convince them that it was a funny joke. My biggest sad trombone moment of the weekend was attending the autograph session on Saturday morning. I thought it would be all 53 contestants lined up, and I could make an effort to go around and get a mustache pic with each one. That would be an awesome gallery. So I got there early and stood in line for a half hour with my checklist and a fist full of mustaches. As I walked into the ballroom, instead of 53 gorgeous 17-24 year olds, it was all prior Miss Americas, signing autographs. That’s right, Miss America 1973, Miss America 1964. These are all classy dames, no doubt, but the sensation was kind of like going to sit on a chair, and it is 18 inches to your left and you end up on the ground with a thud.
Here is a photo of my set up, I draped battery-operated Christmas lights over the back of the booth-benches, and I had a 430EX flash on a Yongnuo remote trigger on a tripod that I could move around. I had done some experimentation with passers by just before we got started so I’d have an idea as where to place the light and the stand. The flash also had a Gary Fong lightsphere on top, which helped soften the light and give a little of bounce regardless of how high the ceiling was. As far as reaching goal, I think I pulled it off. I was really intrigued by the challenge of not knowing the lighting or environment I’d have to work with, but still getting several different photos with each subject, in a very short amount of time. I wanted photos that looked as intentional as possible, and for what the space looked like, and how it was lit, I’m pretty happy.
Shutter: 1/80, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 15mm, ISO: 1600
And then I got very lucky. Celebrity judge and Olympic superstar McKayla Maroney was quickly walking through the press room, (shout out to Reza for giving me the heads up) I got up to her right as she was going to duck behind the partition and I was able to ask her for a quick mustache pic. She said yes! This was gold! This just about made up for the old-lady snafu earlier in the day. The other lucky part was that I had the 70-200mm loaded on my 7D and had adjusted my setting for the stage, this was off stage and being this close would not work with the zoom, so I quickly switched on my 40D back-up, which still had the fisheye on it. I thought I had popped it into Auto, so I could get a quick pic without holding her up while I took several shots. But I hadn’t, it was still on Manual, and still adjusted for the auditorium lighting. But it worked out and I got a good pic without having to ask her if I could take it again. Sweet!
There are several more pics from the “studio-session” photos below, here is my big write-up on the prelims, the press conferences, and the main event. There is also a 4.5 minute video of the whole adventure. Or you can check out all of my Miss America photos organized into galleries.