Last week we took Chiang Mai Photography Tours to the hills. Customers who were booking a four day workshop had expressed a desire to visit a hill tribe village so we arranged for this to happen through our connections with the Akha people in Mae Salong. We had a great time with them going out to the tea fields and seeing them in their village environment.
One afternoon we set up my outdoor ‘pseudo’ studio and had a lot of fun (despite the heat!) in making portraits of the four lovely Akha ladies who were working with us for the day. I hadn’t set up my daylight studio in a village for a long time but it just took a short while to erect and tweak before we could start shooting.
I love shooting with the studio in a village location for many reasons. It is such a fascination for the locals to see us setting up and the Akha in the village at Mae Salong were certainly interested. I have shot some portraits in this village a number of years ago, but not with the studio as I have it now. Teaching our customers to set their cameras to get a good exposure on both the black and the white side of the studio was enjoyable. Explaining to them that the essential reason the pseudo studio works so well is all about the light ratio between the subject and the two different backgrounds.
Having a background that is significantly darker or lighter than the portrait subject, with a nice touch of back lighting to help separate the subject and background, produces a pleasing result. The reflection of sunlight off the bare earth in front of the subject softens any shadows under the chin and eyes, giving an nice even light on the face. The resulting photographs are similar to the one I used as an example in my previous blog post.
Ensuring that your exposure is set correctly is most important. Using manual mode we took a meter reading off the ground that was in the shade of the studio. The ground was a similar tone to our subject’s skin so was reflecting about the same amount of light. We could also have taken a spot meter reading from our subject’s face to find our correct exposure. If we had taken a matrix metered reading our exposure would most likely be incorrect, especially against the white background, if the background made up a significant part of the composition.
With our exposure set correctly for our Akha ladies’ faces the black background was under exposed by 2-3 stops and the white background was over exposed by 2-3 stops. This provided us with a very clean, even background which our subjects stood out from looking magnificent in their colorful traditional clothing.
The two portraits below have had minimal and identical post processing processing mainly to adjust white balance and contrast.