What’s up Pussycat? Özkan Özmen goes on a Portrait Safari
Özkan Özmen is a portrait photographer based in Frankfurt Germany with a penchant for photographing subjects that can bite your head off. No, we’re not talking about models and celebrities with attitude here. We’re talking lions, tigers, and rhinos. As Dorothy famously said to the tin man… “Oh MY!”
According to Özkan, he’s always been into things that crawl, chirp, growl, and purr, and it wasn’t long after he began taking shooting studio portraits for a living that he decided to put together a compact lighting kit and try his luck outside of the comforts and convenience of his studio. Özkan Ozmen’s personal project ultimately took him on a multi-continent journey in which he’s captured wonderful portraits of the sort of wildlife most of us only see in zoo and safari parks, though seldom as in-your-face.
Özkan understood the logistics – not to mention danger involved in trying to capture tight portraits of wild animals using lights. Still and all, rather than being technically boxed in by the harsh ambient lighting conditions common to shooting in the extreme locales he planned on visiting, his goal was to light his subjects and select-focus at wider lens apertures similar to the way he would when shooting portraits in his studio.
His original plan was to mount a portable soft box onto the side of the mostly-open SUV, but the realities of photographing subjects that look back at you and only see lunch was enough to make him scale back to a smaller and easier to secure lighting arrangement.
The lighting system he ultimately set out with was a space-conscious system consisting of a quartet of Canon 430 EX II TTL Speedlites mounted on a flash bracket. To add a touch of warmth to the often harsh, UV-laden light of the open plains, Özkan placed CTO filters in front of each of the flash heads. Though at times he wished he had more powerful Speedlites, the system invariably provided enough punch to power them through successive full-power flashes when needed, which was often the case.
Though he recently switched to Nikon, for this project Özkan shot with Canon EOS 7D and 5D Mark II camera bodies coupled to Canon EF 70-200mm/f2.8 IS II, EF 300mm/f2.8 IS, and EF 35mm/f2 lenses. To synchronize his cameras and lights, Özkan took along five PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers and two AC3 ZoneControllers.
Even though the lighting can be spectacular out on the prairies – especially at sunrise and sunset, more often than not photo opportunities turn up when the ambient light can be brutally harsh.
Özkan’s goal from the start was to shoot portraits, not pictures, and this meant shooting at wider apertures having total control over the quality and modeling of the light. To sync his cameras and lights together and make it all work as he envisioned, Özkan Özmen placed his trust in his PocketWizard radios.
The native sync speeds of Canon’s 5D Mk II and 7D top out at 1/200th and 1/250th-second respectively, which is hardly sufficient when shooting flash at wider apertures under a bright, mid-day sun. In order to capture the images he saw in his mind’s eye, Özkan often set his camera/flash/PocketWizard system to HyperSync® or Optimized High Speed Sync, enabling him to use shutter speeds up to 1/800th-second, which along with truly freezing movement, allowed him to shoot at maximum aperture regardless of the ambient lighting conditions.
Some animals didn’t seem to mind or even notice the flash of the Speedlites as he worked, while others displayed less pleasure in his presence. Biding by the advice of more experienced wildlife shooters as well as his inherent appreciation of other living things, Özkan sensed when it was time to stop shooting and move on.
As Özkan tells it, his run-and-gun wildlife portrait system performed as he had hoped and he has the pictures to prove it. And he credits his PocketWizard radios for pulling it all off.
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