On Assignment: ATM Man

I am working on a series of portraits of businesspeople for my county's Economic Development Authority, and it almost feels like I am back at The Sun shooting dailies for the biz section.

It's been awhile since we have done a full 360-degree OA, and this is actually a good example of working on top of a fluorescent environment.

So what the heck, let's go. Follow the bouncing ball…

Okay, so here's the assignment. Mr. Yong Cho is a made-from-scratch entrepreneur, starting out 14 years ago in the ATM business with a grand total of, lessee… zero customers.

Fast forward to today, where he has a healthy business with over 10,000 customers, and thus is exactly the kind of success story the EDA would like to highlight in attracting more business to the county.

First thought was to shoot him in a local commercial environment with one of his machines. But a quick scout did not show anything that would make a cool area in which to shoot. So I dropped by the office to find a small lobby full of ready-to-roll ATM machines. (And I say ATM machine only to piss off the pedantics, mind you. Your welcome.)

Okay, I can do something with this. Let's see what we got here:

(Note: Except for the final image—and one color shift I'll explain in a minute—these are straight out of the camera. What you are seeing is exactly what I am seeing on the back of my D3. Which is the whole point of this post.)

Yep, those are ATM machines, alright. And this is an auto exposure on daylight white balance. Wide open, aperture priority, ISO 400 if I remember correctly. Or thereabouts anyway. A little green for my taste. And the wall, which is already like a sea foam color, is greener still.

I could roll with this and green it up a little. You know, green = money, yada, yada.

Nah. It is too close to fluorescent to me. Maybe it is just because I have spent so much time getting rid of fluorescent light casts that I am biased against green tinges. I dunno. Let's go blue.

But before we do that, let's get rid of the fluorescents. So now I'll drop from ISO 400 to something slower. I am trying to bleed some ambient out of my exposure. Let's also crank the shutter up to the top sync speed (1/250th of a sec - sorry Canonistas) and drop down to f/8 or so.

Why those settings? I am just killing ambient and seeing what happens. I'll also see if I can turn off the lights. Because that is always the best way to alter a less-than-ideal ambient light situation.

So the lights all go out except for the one on the emergency circuit. Which of course is right over my shooting area. Oh well.

But look, my ISO/aperture/shutter change nuked that pretty well:

That's dark enough to build on. I.e., the ambient will not influence my photo. So let's CTB our first flash, an SB-800, and boom it overhead in a 60" Softlighter.

I am gonna start with that on half power, and here's why. It is pretty powerful (even through the gel) but still has just a 2-second recycle. And you can double-tap a half-power SB-800 instantly and get pretty much a clean second exposure. Works for me.

And my new exposure is pretty close to that new light, too. Just a lucky guess, and having done it about a bajillion times before:

If this would have been way off I probably would have simply adjusted it at the camera. Changed the ISO or aperture until it looked the way I wanted. I am already at a pretty low ISO and a medium aperture, so I have lots of wiggle room here.

Once that light and exposure is set, I will adjust all of the other light sources to hit that exposure as I place them.

So the ATMs are starting to look a little sexier and hi-tech now. Color and direction of light are working for me. But they are not very blue. Why not? Because I am (unknowingly, at this point) not on daylight white balance. I am on flash white balance, which I almost never use. And it is sucking the life out of my CTB. I'll end up seeing my mistake a few minutes later.

What next? Hmm, the wall is a little hot up top. I want the ATMs to be the second layer of interest, not the wall. Easy fix: let's rotate that Softlighter towards me a little. With its nice, flat diffused lighting surface, I have much more control than with a normal umbrella.

That's better.

Oops, there's some plastic showing on the left ATM. Lemme grab that. So what's next?

Okay, so the bottoms of the ATMs are pretty dark. Oh, I know. Maybe I'll inject some cool second color into the scene and get my Greg Heisler on. Maybe …. magenta.

Emmm, nope. I am not Gelmaster Greg Heisler today. Alas, I am still gel weenie David Hobby. (Plus, an allen screw in the boom stand worked loose, spitting out a shim and it is now being held together with gaff. It is a little iffy, and I am now reacting by sweating. A lot. So my confidence is not brimming over.)

Not making excuses. Just sayin'.

So I'll push my color envelope another day. I'll throw some more blue up from the bottom. Call it three CTB'd SBs on Justin Clamps in between the machines. Doesn't take much—1/128 power:

That's better, for now. Still want to take more chances with my gels tho. But later. Today I am a sweaty weenie.

The ATMs look good now, let's set the key and fill. The key will be a ¼ CTO'd dish on a monobloc, pointing down to keep that warm light from contaminating the blue background. (Really, it doesn't take much warm spill to kill your blue.) We'll want it close and gridded, to further control spill. Plus, when the dish is in close it is a great headshot light.

Fill will be another SB, ungelled, in a LumiQuest LTp. On a compact stand the LTp makes a great, targeted fill light for clamshell setups.

Let's bring in one of my two assistants, Mr. Hand:

Hey, that's pretty close for a first guess. "ll add another half stop or so to the key and maybe 2/3 stop to the fill beneath. I'll fine-tune that exposure and the light(s) placement with the subject in place in a minute.

But right now Mr. Hand looks a little warm, even with a half-CTO gel. Hey, waaaait minute. This is ALL too warm.... (And thus I figure out my camera is on flash WB.)

Fixed. And here is that same shot with the color shift applied in post for direct comparison:

And that's pretty much it. Just tweaked the key and fill after Mr. Yong was in place. Here is the setup, exposed for the lighting, in a pullback:

You can really see how the warm light is contained from this angle. Pretty much zero contamination into the blue background.

Here is a daylight (really!) WB auto exposure, ambient lights only:

The drastic color shift in the final image is possible only because we are working so far over the ambient. And that nice light on his face in the ambient pic is not really room ambient but rather the model lamp from the Einstein e640 that was used as the key.

Power-wise, I could have easily keyed him with a speedlight. But when working with a grid, the model lamp is very helpful for keeping him right where I want him in the beam.

Here's the final again, with some very basic post in Photoshop:

I like the color shift, I like the blue spilling over his shoulder from the back, the blueish rims mixing on his face and the ATM up lights. In fact, I just realized that every light in this frame is pointing almost straight up or straight down. Not by conscious design, just angling them to control spill and contamination.

He merges into the ATM a little, so that could be better. But overall, this is a pretty center-of-the-bell-curve biz portrait for me. A solid double, in baseball terms.

And don't knock a double. It may not make the highlight films, but if you can hit a double every time you step up to the plate you are guaranteed to end up in the Hall of Fame. After all, you batted a career 1.000, right?

Alas, I do not always get doubles. But I at least try not to ever strike out. I have an On Assignment in the hopper that's (charitably) a close-call single. And only because the tie goes to the runner.

But I was quite happy with it, if only because the pitch itself was a monster curve…

Next: Man on a Mission


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Blogger Unknown said...

Great to see your problem solving mind at work David.

August 27, 2012 3:16 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"1/250th of a sec - sorry Canonistas"

I shoot my Canon 40D + ranger quadra at 1/250 wireless, and 1/320 with pc-sync wire. Sorry Nikon.

August 27, 2012 3:17 AM  
Blogger tug said...

"So I dropped by the office to find a small lobby full of ready-to-roll ATM machines. (And I say ATM machine only to piss off the pedantics, mind you. Your welcome.)"

Shouldn't that be you're?

August 27, 2012 3:27 AM  
Blogger Tam Nguyen said...

Wait, whatever happened to your Phase One? Why the D3?

August 27, 2012 3:45 AM  
Blogger EricFerguson said...

Love this post, It's really great to read a salt'o'the'earth on assignment post, and it's interestng to see which metiulious things you decide to control (up-light on the ATM shadows) and which things you decide you really don't need to control (the emergecy ambient)

But really, let's just go ahead and talk about the elphant in the room here: "YOUR WELCOME"? That's just over the top man, it's too much to handle. You're a professional writer now! A role model! Think of the children.

August 27, 2012 5:08 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I apologize for being a pedant, but I'd like to point out that Einsteins are not monoblocs.

Your work is as always an inspiration, thank you :)

August 27, 2012 5:39 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Excellent post, one of your best OAs.

The thing I really like about these is that they include the things that really happen (wrong WB, boom stands held together with gaff, etc.) and not just the nice results.

Mr. Yong Cho and his machines look great.

August 27, 2012 6:22 AM  
Blogger Mead Norton said...

Love these kinds of posts David. Really inspiring. Why not put another strobe bare backlighting him to create a rim light to help separate him from the ATM machines?

Mead Norton

August 27, 2012 7:31 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

One of the things I enjoy most from frequenting this blog is seeing how you take ideas from one shoot (or the post-shoot recap thereof) and try them out in a similar situation on a future shoot.

The idea of separating the dark lower portions of the ATM's rather than lighting the from the front seems (to me) to be an implementation of an idea that came up in your recap of your Fencers group shot from Lighting in Layers.

Vicarious learning.

August 27, 2012 8:30 AM  
Blogger Ben Gramkow said...

Forgive me but: What's an OA?

August 27, 2012 8:33 AM  
Blogger michael anthony murphy said...

6 strobes! Mcnally, eh, I mean Hobby, looking good. Love the added lights between the ATM machines. brilliant. Great post!

August 27, 2012 8:45 AM  
Blogger John said...

Awesome walk-through post and I really love your final image!

The color balance is really cool (not temp) and I like how the light seems to be columnar down his face.. like he just walked in to it.

August 27, 2012 8:46 AM  
Blogger Hairy Drumroll said...

Sorry David, and please excuse the n00b question, but if you're shooting with the camera set to RAW does the WB matter? Or are you not using RAW...

August 27, 2012 9:01 AM  
Blogger Daniel Sullivan said...

Thank you for this post, David, but can you please elaborate a bit on what you did for your fill light?

August 27, 2012 9:14 AM  
Blogger nweez said...

@Unk: In what way are Einsteins not monoblocks?

August 27, 2012 9:32 AM  
Blogger notsh said...

Brilliant picture, as always. And even brillianter description, as alwayser.
It's fantastic what you manage to do with a crappy starting position and the way you describe it so even dummies like moi understand what the problems were and how you solved them.

One tiny, slightly off-topic, quibble though: you promised to add all the more recent OAs to the OA-page. Please, do it, please, soon. Please?

August 27, 2012 9:37 AM  
Blogger JP Manninen said...

Thanks for the post. Just wondering, did your middle ATM speedlight not fire in the final shot?

In any case, I like the three-dimensionality achieved with the color shift. Cheers!

August 27, 2012 9:53 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@tug and @Eric -

Really, you fell for that right after the "just to piss off the pedantics" sentence? Oh dear...


Yes they are.


Yep. It's just straight on, so the effect is different.


I never gave up my D3. I use both, probably a little heavier on the D3. Same as F3 and Hassy, back in the day.

August 27, 2012 11:10 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Just didn't. No reason.


Your clue is cleverly hidden in the headline.

August 27, 2012 11:12 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


True, but the camera processes the accompanying jpg (or displays the raw preview) based on the WB setting. Thus, good to get it right in camera.

August 27, 2012 11:13 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I will, promise. I had a basement flood while I was away on vacation, so I have kinda been in triage mode around here...


It's a Lumiquest LTp on a compact stand, which I mentioned in the post. I also linked to both and showed the exact location in a BTS shot. Maybe I could describe the smell of the plastic, or the feel of the surface as I run my fingers lightly over the LTp itself, but other than that I am coming up blank here...

August 27, 2012 11:17 AM  
Blogger Edouard Olszewski said...

Dear David,

Why not just pressing the high speed sync of canon speedlites and reaching 1000th or more like I do alllllll the time with any problem??? I really do not understand that. Would that hurt the pic anyhow? I m really confused... I use light mods, just push the button, even infrared remote with 4 flashes and never had any problem. Can you please enlighten me?

August 27, 2012 2:43 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


You need to learn more about how your hi-speed sync actually works (i.e., you are not getting something for nothing) and that is a bigger discussion than I am gonna have in a comment. :)

August 27, 2012 2:58 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Great post, always come away with helpful tips.
Thanks for sharing.

August 27, 2012 3:00 PM  
Blogger michael anthony murphy said...


those double As don't last forever and when you hit the HSS, it sucks the life from those batteries.

August 27, 2012 3:01 PM  
Blogger med-i said...

I really think the cravat tied it all in... were you aware of this as you were blueing up the background? I found it interesting that you tried to magenta fill the spaces between the AT machines. That may have been too much competition for the necktie... great call, and well done once again!!

August 27, 2012 3:08 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Wait, let's leave the using your D3 vs MF alone for a second... Einstein e640... like the ones that came out right after you bought your ProPhoto's (or was it Elinchrom)? What happened to those?

August 27, 2012 3:21 PM  
Blogger Justin Van Leeuwen said...

After your last post on Heisler using Gel's and basically needing a reason to "NOT" gel a strobe I found myself with a personal challenge: Shoot an assignment using only gel'd flashes.

I've got a series of five environmental portraits all going to print for a local magazine next month. I loved the look of mixed gel lighting CTG+CTS, then shifting my WB to create warmish green tones in environments that had, or could have, fluorescent lighting. It was a slight push out of my comfort zone, but once I focused on shooting like this I like the feel of my images that much more.

August 27, 2012 3:36 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I have Profoto as a primary and e640s as an aux/backup. I had a flood in my basement that knocked out all of my Profoto packs. (Not happy.)

But for something like this, an e640 mono as a single big source in the frame, light, lot of fine-tune control - prolly would have been my first choice anyway.

August 27, 2012 3:58 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

@David I love my 640s and didn't have the dough to splurge on the ProPhotos while I waited for the Einsteins to ship. I just remembered your reviews on the ProPhoto and comments about how they came out too late for you take advantage of them. Sorry to hear the flooding took your ProPhoto packs out!

August 27, 2012 4:01 PM  
Blogger Daniel Sullivan said...

Sorry for the stupid question about the fill light. I blame Mr. Hand, who sudden and orange appearance caused me to skip reading right after the key light details. I did see the clamshell set-up, but can't recall the last time I saw you fill from below, and thought that whatever it was below your subject was just reflecting the key. Thank you for setting me straight.

August 27, 2012 5:20 PM  
Blogger djaef said...

The noun of pedantic would be pedant :)

August 27, 2012 6:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

At the risk of sounding dumb... what size of a gel are you using in the beauty dish and how are you taping it in there? I always have issues trying to tape gels in my larger modifiers so there isn't any stray light spill out.

August 28, 2012 12:38 PM  
Blogger dave moser said...

Thank you, David, VERY informative. I'm not sure what I would have done, but it certainly wouldn't have involved C stands and sandbags. Kudos for going the extra mile.

August 28, 2012 1:22 PM  
Blogger John F. Williams said...

Love the 360 OA's David. Nice breakdown, especially appreciate you pointing out the challenges and slight missteps along the way.

August 29, 2012 10:37 AM  
Blogger Andy Kudlicki said...

Just thinking that the pic would be still cooler if all the ATMs were powered up with their LCDs on ...

August 30, 2012 7:15 PM  
Blogger George Quiroga said...

Great pose. Love the walkthrough step by step and the results is magnificent.

August 31, 2012 10:37 AM  
Blogger Peter Tsai said...

Always interesting to see the different ways we as photographers solve the lighting formula. I'm far more lazy then you in that I would have zoomed a slightly snooted sb800 and bounced it off the ceiling to yield the blue effect. Were you concerned about kickback from the back wall bleeding some blue onto your subject?

August 31, 2012 11:00 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Nope, in fact I welcomed that kickback/transition to tie him to the background a little.

August 31, 2012 4:29 PM  
Blogger dom said...

"Today I am a sweaty weenie."

lmao great post. I'm so glad I'm getting these by email now. I think your humility and openness about your thinking process is worth 200% more than your technical info and I freaking looooooove your technical info.

Thanks for not being afraid to be honest with the world and for awesome.

October 04, 2012 3:37 PM  

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