How To Create an Unforgetable Christmas Gift

Starting at Defense, #11, Chris Miracle, originally uploaded by Miracle Man.

in under 3 hours

The clock was ticking. It was December 24th, there was going to be a strong possibility that we would open our gifts that evening. Tradition has it that I buy the Mrs. a gift on Christmas Eve. We had been talking since last hockey season about a dramatically lit portrait similar to what the NHL and Verses used for a promo commercial last season. Chris, our hockey player, has always been my stand in model when testing lighting and he really doesn't like getting in front of the camera these days unless he's playing. After talking things over with a co-worker, it hit me, that now was the time for this portrait. Chris had his gear and jersey with him while he was home for the holidays. Digital Photography has definitely allowed for fast turn around, but with roughly 5 hours to go from concept to wrapped gift I was going to be pushing things. Logistics were stacked against me. I didn't have a frame. I didn't have a way to get Sherry out of the house long enough to shoot the photo. Flashes going off would be a sure sign of mischief. To compound matters, Sherry was getting off work at 3pm and I would have to pick her up, and carpool home. That 3pm turned into 3:30 which cramped the tight production schedule even further. But I was committed at that point. Prior to picking Sherry up, I took advantage of the time that I could control and made a stop at AC Moore and went frame shopping. I was rather disappointed in their selection. I wanted something modern, probably silver that would look good on Sherry's desk. I found a nice "gunmetal" brushed frame. We got out of Sherry's office and back home by 4pm. I had talked with Chris and he had gathered his stuff together so we wouldn't be caught moving his gear around. The wrapping paper was still downstairs and we would have to relocated that. "Chris, since we are done with the presents, can you take the wrapping stuff upstairs?" Sherry got busy in the kitchen. Chris and I went up to the bonus room which is not a good place to shoot photos. I setup lights, Chris geared up. 4 test shots later, I had the lighting I wanted. We shot for maybe 5 minutes. I popped the card into the card reader, made a fast edit pass, picked the shot. Since I didn't have a clean background to shoot against, the background had some window shades showing up that needed to be touched out. Cropped and toned and spewed in the inkjet. I tried to mount the photo in the frame, but it was still wet enough that it was sticking to the glass in the frame. I was out of time and needed to make an appearance downstairs or suspicions would grow too high. We had dinner and were getting ready to open the gifts after the meal, but the present wasn't wrapped. I cleared my place and while everyone else was finishing up, I sneaked upstairs framed and wrapped the now dry print. On the way back to try and get the present under the tree, I found I was too late. Everyone had gathered in the family room. The kitchen table still sat with everyone's plates and serving dishes. The lure of the wrapped gifts could not be held back any longer and I was caught red-handed with the gift. "Whats that?" Sherry asked. So it was the first gift handed out. "It feels like a picture frame" she said. We handed out the rest of the gifts and Sherry went first and went straight for the photo frame. Now to refresh, this s a shot she had been wanting for a long time and of course I hadn't shot it yet, so she was quite surprised to find this photo framed and ready for her desk at work. Needless to say, I love digital. This is also another example of using one light to illuminate a photo.  This is very similar lighting to what I used for my Raleigh Flickr Group Summer Project entry (see the blog post 1 Light, 4 Moods, Part 1 below). I used a single SB800 speedlight on a light stand camera left 90 degrees to Chris.  I used my homemade snoot, a rice box cut to size and held together with masking tape.  I've since pimped it out with some black gaffers tape to line the inside.  The snoot restricts where the light goes, creating a tight beam.  The bonus room is an aweful place to try and shoot this because we have so much stuff in there and light spill would be a photoshop nightmare to clean up. I really needed an assistant for this because I would have liked to have had a reflector 90 degrees camera right to bounce some fill back to soften up the shadows a bit and get some more light on the "E" at the right end of the name plate on the sweater.