Mike McGee Creates Cinematic Portraiture with the Raven
We all get comfortable with our photography techniques with time and often shy away from trying new ones. Mike McGee on the other hand, likes to push boundaries with lights, backdrops and his camera equipment to expand his photography style. He is a strong advocate of “not buying more equipment - instead, expanding the versatility of what you have.” But we thought it might be fun to let him try one new piece of equipment and see where he could take it.
So we introduced him to the FusionTLC Raven.
Mike was born and raised in Oakland, California. He works in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a member of the Nikon Professional Services (NPS) group. Once a landscape photographer, he now exclusively shoots portraits for everyday people, models, actors, fashion, and corporate.
Mike recently shot a series of cinematic portraits with the talented model Jerusha. Cinematic portraits are images that look like screen grabs directly out of a movie. His creativity captured the essence of a science fiction warrior using just a camera, three lights, and a basic projector, all brought to life with the help of the Raven.
The Cinematic Portrait Setup
Mike used a Nikon Z6 II with an 85mm prime lens, using a Paul C. Buff LINK Flash Unit as the key light source. He attached a gridded 47 inch octabox lined with a teal colored gel to the LINK, then added two DigiBee DB800s with gridded softboxes, lined with orange gels, for kicker lights. An Epson HD projector displayed abstract images on the wall and the setup was seamlessly connected and triggered by the Raven.
Photo Credit Mike McGee
He placed the projector at waist height, twenty feet from the background wall while Jerusha stood around eight feet from the wall and Mike another seven feet further. Mike doesn’t always have a detailed plan for his shoots. He loves the organic structure of portraits and feels he can “capture more with fluidity”.
Techniques for Creative Portraiture
For this setup, Mike kept the studio dark to enhance the brightness and vibrancy of the abstract backdrop projected on the wall. He then used a feathering light technique that aimed the light towards the subject at a 45 degree angle, rather than hitting straight on. Gridded lights helped accentuate the directional style, increasing his control of the light while reducing the direct light output onto the subject. Mike likes to constantly change his shooting position as he floats around to compose his shots.
Mike started by asking Jerusha to pose at a specific angle. He then “placed the key light to the left of the camera high up to create shadows on her face and used the kicker lights to the right of the camera to accentuate her ears, shoulders and arm.” The orange kicker lights highlighted her torso, making the pose look even more powerful. Mike’s description: “She looks like a bounty hunter meets ninja assassin.”
Photo Credit Mike McGee
With the same lighting setup but a different pose from the model, Mike was able to create and capture a completely new look. “As she gets more attention from the kicker lights, Jerusha gives a fiery flame vibe and that dramatically changes the mood”, he said.
Photo credit Mike McGee
Next, Mike created a hybrid of the two previous shots by having Jerusha face away from the kicker lights. He had her look back into the key light, thus accentuating the teal highlights. With the dramatic lighting, this still image looks like it leapt right off the movie screen. The Raven’s intuitive controls allowed Mike to adjust his lighting on the fly for a perfect cinematic portrait.
How the Raven Came In To Play
Mike has been shooting for years with different equipment. One specific feature of the Raven that he loves is the compatibility between brands. In the past, he would have needed to use multiple systems to fire different lights but now he can trigger and adjust the lights directly from his camera’s position, using only the Raven. The Raven is compatible with Paul C. Buff, Profoto, and Godox products as well as PocketWizard radios and can trigger two different systems at once.
One of Mike’s favorite features is the Raven’s unique RF Noise Detector. Mike’s studio is in a shared building with 24/7 interferences from nearby WIFI and other technical equipment. “The Raven’s Channel noise indicator feature saved me from the frustration I would have had, had I used another trigger” smiled Mike.
By simply scrolling through the Channels, you can find the best option for your specific shooting environment. A long green bar means you have a good signal with little interference while a red or yellow bar warns you to try a different option. For Mike, this was a game changer with huge benefits. "I love the channel noise indicator feature of the Raven. The Raven helped me gauge the interference across channels instead of manually testing it. No more unexpected results!"
Mike is excited to try other features of the Raven such as High Speed Sync and SyncView, which will allow him to sync his strobes at faster shutter speeds. The Raven also offers an intervalometer and can trigger remotes by sound or light, among other features. He urges all photographers to simply get out there, shoot and be creative.
Learn more about the Raven from our Knowledge Hub:
In-Frame Credit: Jerusha @jerusha.kae
Photo Credit: Mike McGee @mikemcgeephotography
Personal Portfolio: www.mikemcgeephotography.com