Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Light Festival


One year ago, a company called Vegalume came to Reykjavik with their light costumes for the light parade. I was asked by the company to photograph the parade. They were quite happy with the results, and so when their next large gig came up, they asked me to be the photographer. In Germany. This is probably my largest professional gig yet, where they covered my flights to and from Germany, as well as my photographers fee. This is an example where your reputation is extremely valuable. There are a ton of photographers in Germany already, who actually speak German (unlike me) and most likely at least a few who can do low light photography. However they did not know any off the bat, so a time-tested photographer they have worked with before, and that they know can deliver the results they want, is worth the extra expense of flights. This was a very expensive and one-time event, in front of the Dom cathedral in Cologne (the largest gothic church in northern Europe), and a repeat was not going to happen. They had to be sure the shots came out right the first time.


The event itself was too quick and large to use my flash equipment, so this is all available light. The costumes themselves provided most of the light, but there are street lights and lamp posts littered around the square. This required my camera's fullest light gathering abilities. I was using the 35mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 1600, and 1/60 of a second (to be sure to avoid hand shake, and to freeze the movements of the actors as much as possible). The noise levels are acceptable, and the illumination is sufficient. Post processing involved boosting the light areas, and then increasing the deep shadows, as noise is always most evident in the dark areas. By lowering the deep shadows, the worst noise gets damped down into black. On my favorite images ( including the top image) I make a new layer, use noise ninja to do aggressive noise removal, then use a mask to reveal it only where the noise is offensive visually. This results in clean areas of low detail, but leaves detail in the more busy areas.


Toward the end, one of the actresses was given these flaming wings, and she performed alone. The fire provided a lot of extra brightness, but she was moving much faster than the other dancers, so instead of decreasing ISO or aperture, I decreased the shutter speed, to be sure I froze her actions.

With any less light gathering capability to my gear, I would not have been able to achieve this level of illumination. With an f/2.8 lens, I would have been boosting my ISO 1600 shots to ISO 4500 or so to get a similar illumination level, which would have far more noise and less color accuracy and less dynamic range. (color accuracy and dynamic range decrease as ISO increases, as well as the obvious sharpness and detail of the image). Ideally I would have used the 24mm 1.4 lens, to get more of the cathedral in the background showing, but the rental agencies in Germany were already closed when I arrived the day of the shoot, and I do not own that lens. It's on my lust-list however.

The remainder of the set.

light_festival2-8 light_festival2-6

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Belly Dancers part 3


Settings: Ambient was 3 stops below neutral grey. One flash into a 60cm umbrella above and to the right, at 2 stops above ambient.

One of the dancers from the original shoot asked me to come out to Akranes (a smaller city about an hour north of Reykjavik) and photograph her dance team, as well as some individuals of herself. I used save, even lighting for the group shots, but once I could focus just on her, I could play with more contrasty lighting. I used only my 60cm umbrella, as she had great skin that would work well with it.


Settings: Ambient was 3 stops below neutral grey. One flash into a 60cm umbrella above and to the right, at 2 stops above ambient. There is also a bare flash on the ground behind her, pointed straight up, at 3 stops above ambient. You can see the rim slightly on the bottom of her forearms.

It was great to have someone so eager to perform in front of the camera, and the costume made it even better. Once I had my lighting ratio setup, I was able to ask for all types of poses, and as long as I stayed in the same general angle to the flash, I was getting good lighting with contrasty shadows. On this fullbody shot, I had placed a bare flash on the ground behind her aiming up. I got a little bit of rim light separation, but I should have zoomed it wider so it hit more of her veil to really light it up.


Settings: Ambient was exposed at neutral grey.

After getting some good lit photos. I wanted to try some warm candle lit photos. I asked her to lay down on a pillow, and I moved several candles in close to get as much light as possible. I cranked my camera to maximum light gathering mode (ISO 1600, f/1.8, and 1/80) The shutter speed was so low that I had to brace my elbows on the ground to avoid camera shake on the 85mm lens. Normally I try to use 1/160 of a second with this lens. Even with this much sensitivity, I had to boost the brightness about .6 in lightroom, making this about ISO 2500) The soft candlight really added a nice mood. However her makeup had an odd reaction to the candle light and slightly discolored her face to a green color. I made a quick brush adjustment with a color overlay of a light magenta, which popped it back to the color of the rest of her skin, and much more natural.

The rest of the set.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Belly Dancers part 2


Settings: Ambient is 4 stops below neutral grey. One flash into 110cm umbrella, 2 stops above neutral grey, on the right, and one flash into 61cm umbrella, at 1 stops above neutral grey, on the left. Both flashes were set to maximum height of about 2 meters, and angled at 45 degrees to the group.

These are from the same shoot as the last post. This dance group needed promotional shots for an upcoming show and asked me to help. Luckily they had a black seamless paper roll set into their ceiling, which made for a nice backdrop. Despite the sun streaming through the blinds, by using 1/250 and ISO 100, I was able to completely kill the ambient for some nice contrasty shadows. I asked the ladies to stand as far away from the background as possible, so that the shadows would be as unnoticeable as possible.


By putting the two lights at 45 degree angles, and at the maximum stand height, I could be sure that everyone would receive lighting, and there would not be too much shadowing to obscure details. This way I could focus on the ladies expressing themselves with the different dance poses, and not have to worry about them moving outside of the lighting area. I made sure to do the group shots first. It was the main reason for the shoot, so I wanted to make sure I had it in the bag, before people's energy wore off, or possible equipment failure.


Next I wanted to shoot individual portraits against the black seamless. The seamless was at a 45 degree angle to the camera and the subject. This ensured it went to full black, since less light was received by it. I also had a smoke machine outside frame left, which I turned on briefly before each shot, in order to add some interest to the floor level, rather than leave it plain.


Settings: Ambient is 4 stops below neutral grey. One flash into 61cm umbrella at 2 stops above neutral grey, to the left and at maximum stand height, facing down. Second flash is through gridspot, at 3 stops above neutral grey, to the right, aimed at just the head and shoulders.

This time, with only one subject, I had more freedom with lighting. I placed the 61cm umbrella to the left, aiming down. This would ensure the face and upper body was fully lit, but the lighting would fade out toward the floor, creating a natural focal point. I put my gridspot on the 2nd flash, and put it behind the subject, and to the right. I used the modeling light to ensure it was only hitting the head, and was gone by about the waist level. This gave me a bit of separation against the black background, ensuring the silhouette is clearly visible.


I wanted the dancers to look a bit regal, so I was crouched on the floor, to have a bit of an upwards facing angle. In post, I used a curves layer to make the smoke extremely punchy, and the background go extremely dark. I made a quick mask to keep it off the subject, and blurred it to fade smoothly. I used an inverted version of this mask, to warm the subject slightly. This color contrast also gives it a bit of pop between subject and background.

The shoot was quick and fun, and the girls had a great attitude about it. The fact there was no one there but myself, one other photographer who assisted me, helped keep them at ease, which enabled great posing and expressions. Too many extras might have introduced some self consciousness and stiffness. I was glad I did a bit of pre-visualization before heading out, as I was able to work much faster after getting there and setting up.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunlit blinds


A coworker of mine is involved in a Tribal Dance troop, and they needed photos for an upcoming show. She asked me to come over and do a few group, and individual shots.

When I got to the studio, the first thing I noticed was the awesome wooden blinds against the wall, and how the sunlight poured through them. It was quite convenient that it was one of the few sunny times in past days. I wanted the almost blown out look of the blinds, with a good bit of warmth to the light, and let the edges of the model be almost rim like in light quality, with a dark front to the face. I started at my lens maximum aperture (1.8) and the lowest shutter speed I could get away with handheld (1/100 to be safe). This still left the model a bit too dark, so I bumped ISO to 200, then 400 before I got a good overall light level.


Once I had good settings, I was free to let the models pose as they liked, as long as they stood in generally the same place, so as to have nice framing against the individual window frames. The light was very forgiving. This was the type of setup that would be almost impossible to emulate easily with my lighting setup. I would need to set up a bedsheet with strobes behind it, both at full power, and blinds directly in front of the bedsheet. Even then I would probably need to work at ISO 800 or 1600 even to get the light as bright. This is one of those cases where you're presented with a great existing light setup, and you should work with it as best you can.

If I were to experiment with anything else, it would be nice to put one of my flashes in my small 61cm umbrella, at lowest power (1/128) very close so it only hits the face. That might still be too bright, but would be fun to experiment with.

More from the same setup:

bellydancers-6 bellydancers-7

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Work with what you've got


Settings: Window light to the right, tungsten ceiling lamp to the left.

A few days ago, one of our PR people asked me to take some photos of two employees at work. The problem is that she asked me the day that she needed them, and I hadn't brought any of my equipment to work, not even the camera. I asked around and a friend has his 400D plus 50mm 1.8, which is a perfectly usable camera and lens. (normally I prefer my 40D with the 85mm 1.8). Now I at least had a camera, but I needed some light.

Unfortunately, this time of year, Iceland only has a few hours of daylight, and it was nearing the end of these, plus it was overcast, so I had very little window light to work with. I scooted a couch right next to the window, and had a nice set to work with. The window light is on the right, and an interior tungsten is on the left. I angled the couch so it would be easy to get the window light onto both sides of the face if they turned towards it a bit. Had the couch been perfectly perpendicular, they would have had to rotate unnaturally far. The light was so dim, I was working at ISO 1600, f/1.8, and 1/80, pushing the limits of the camera sensor and lens.


Settings: Window light to the right, tungsten ceiling lamp to the left.

Once I had the two photos, it was off to processing. First, since ISO 1600 is quite noisy on the 400D, I reduced all chroma noise. I personally don't mind luminance noise in an image, I think it can have nice qualities to it, so I always leave it in, smoothing only on large solid colors that might be in the background. Next I needed to make a custom White Balance mask to suck out the yellowy green of the tungsten light on the left side of their faces. Then I did a quick highpass and smart sharpen to bring out a bit more micro contrast, and desaturated the shirts to make sure focus was on the face. This layer is masked to only contribute fully on the face, but fades out of the shirt and background.

Could I have done a lot nicer job with my full kit? Sure, but for a last minute corporate headshot, these work fine. Look for nice light and settings wherever you are.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Covered Garage


Settings: Ambient is 1 stop below neutral grey (other than the lighting fixture itself, which is 3 stops above) Main flash is into a 61cm umbrella at 1.5 stops above neutral grey. Secondary flash is aimed at the wall behind the circular opening, and is about .5 stops above neutral grey.

Several weeks ago, I passed a really interesting covered parking garage here in Reykjavik. I knew instantly that I wanted to use it as a backdrop for a photoshoot. The concrete and the long lights provided so much interest, and would contrast really well with a subject. In my mind, I wanted to do a full body portrait with a lot of the garage showing, but those shots didn't turn out so well. It was all the impromptu posings and backgrounds that worked best.

This was actually the final area/pose of the evening, and I think it worked best of all. I saw the circular opening, and knew I wanted to use it as a framing element. I asked her to stand inside it and put her arms out. The first several poses had good compositionl, but the way the light fell on her face wasn't very flattering. I took some time to examine the back of the screen, and asked her to move her head a bit forward so that more flash would reach it. This is one of those times where sticking to the shoot and asking for more, to ensure you get the right shot.

The post processing was actually quite involving, but because I felt there was so much potential to be had. Lately I've been shooting all my flashes ungelled, and color correcting in post, because I ended up doing that anyway to get the right colors, and this way I save time from having to bother with the gels. The first thing I did was to clone out the other circle in the top. It sucks because had I noticed it at the time, I could have reshot crouched just a bit lower, and it would have been gone. Once I had a clean plate, I used the liquify tool to slenderize her arms and waist a bit. The coat was extremely thick and killed her curves. Next I used the magic lasso tool to make a quick mask for the background, and used the cooling photo filter in photoshop. Then I made a custom white balance layer to subract the yucky green color from the flourescent lamp. I had to custom paint that mask onto her face and the concrete in order to remove it correctly. I liked the lamp a lot for what it adds to the composition, but the disgusting green had to go. Finally I used a slight warming filter on her skin to give it just a bit of warmth. Once the photo was where I wanted it, I used my typical high pass and smart sharpen combo to add some more micro contrast, but masked it away from everything in the face, other than the eyes, and edges of the nose. Female skin works well soft, so I left it that way, but eyes tend to look good with some sharpness.


Settings: Ambient is 2 stops below neutral grey. Main flash is into a 61cm umbrella at 1.5 stops above neutral grey.

This one is the result of a technique I've been trying lately with models. I asked her if there was any pose she was interested in trying, or thought would look good. She suggested having her hand by her mouth, and it worked out great. It took a few times of arranging the light till I was happy with how it fell, but I really like the final.

For the post on this image, I cooled the background, reduced the neon green of her ribbon, and tucked in the front of the jacket, and jacket sleeve. The shadow from her back made her look unnaturally wide, so I used an exposure layer to bring up the edge of the jacket and sleeve a bit, as if there was bounce light from the wall. I also fluffed up her hair a bit using the liquify tool.


Settings: Ambient is 1.5 stops below neutral grey. Main flash is into a 61cm umbrella at 1.5 stops above neutral grey to the right and in front of the subject, above head height. Secondary flash is zoomed to 105mm and through a gridspot, aimed at her head so that it only hits her hair. The secondary flash is about 2 stops above neutral grey.

This one is closest to my original mind's eye image of the shoot. I used a classic female pose, found on a 70's tutorial somewhere, and it helped, as originally she wasn't 100% sure of what pose to assume. We tried several, but I think this one was the most feminine and confident looking.

This one took the most time in post. Immediately I used liquify to remove the effects of the thick coat. During the shoot I asked if it was possible for her to angle her arm back in such a way that I could see a triangle of the wall between her elbow and the small of her back, as that's a very feminine aspect of the body. It was too constricting of a coat, and too uncomfortable of a position, so I added that part in photoshop. I cloned a bit of wall in to look like you're seeing through, then darkened the coat to make it look as if it really ended there.

Next I adjusted white balance on everything, neutralizing the green of the ceiling lights, and warming her face just a bit. I used a curves layer to add a lot more contrast to the background, and then used a technique from the Platon copy that I did. I used the mask of her figure to create an exposure layer, that darkens the image in a halo around her. It's only by about .4 stops, but it emphasizes her silhouette more and brings attention to her as the subject, allowing the background to fade away.

It was a great shoot, and many thanks to Chantal for being a lovely, willing model, and to Árnór who assisted.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inspired by Platon


Settings: Ambient was at 3 stops below neutral grey. Main flash was into a 61cm silver umbrella, directly in front of the subject, and high above facing down at 45 degree angle. Main flash was at 2 stops above neutral grey.

I was looking at the photography of Platon Antoniou, better known as just Platon, today. I really like his use of single lights for portraits. I'm not sure what light modifier he uses, but it looks either smallish, or if it's larger, a bit further away than normal so that it might as well be smallish. I believe this because the shadows are soft, but there is still a lot of definition and rake to the lighting, which would only come from a beauty dish or smallish softbox. The nose is dark, and has a hard, yet fuzzy shadow, which also makes me believe it's a smaller light source.

This made me use my new 61cm umbrella instead of my normal 110cm umbrella. The larger one would have made much too soft of shadow edges, leaving no real black, and would have contaminated the rest of the room, filling the few shadows it did make.

I asked a friend over specifically to try to emulate Platon's lighting style. First, I placed the lighting source directly in front of him and above. You can tell from the nose shadow that the light is directly in front of his subjects, and the size of the shadow means it's above the head a bit. I fired some test shots till I had the brightness correct. I was working at 1/250 shutter to kill the ambient. I wanted my shadows dark, not contaminated by any lamplight from the apartment.

In order to get the light directly in front of him, I had to hold the camera in front of the light stand. I was essentially hugging the lightstand, in order to have it at the right distance. The subject was sitting about half a meter in front of the wall to prevent any shadows from showing. The first shots, the nose shadow was too little, and the face was too well lit, which kept it from showing the skull structure. I raised the light stand further to get some deeper shadows. I didn't want it so high that I lost the highlights on the eyes, or it would look dead.

Once I had several good photos, I loaded them up in Lightroom. I did some quick blemish removal, a little contrast, and desaturated a tad, then brought it into photoshop. First I changed the background from a dull yellow to a brighter blue-grey, and desaturated the tie a little. Then I brought in eyes from another photo that had better catch lights and less shadows. I liked how the cheekbones and overall head was in this shot best, but the eyes were a bit too dark. After that, I used high pass and smart sharpen to create a much higher contrast/sharper image, but masked it so that it only contributed to the face and tie, not the hair or sweater. Finally, I added the fake vignetting. If you look through Platon's portfolio, he must do this in post. Any of the full body portraits, the darkening follows the silhouette perfectly. It looks like he shoots on white seamless (a white background) and then adds this darkening in his post processing. I made a mask from the background, used the minimize filter to expand it 100 pixels, blurred it 100 pixels, then used that as a mask for an exposure layer, where I pulled it down 2.5 stops. I used a curves layer set to just this exposure layer to bring in some blue and green so it wasn't a completely linear fade.

Once back into lightroom, I added +5 to the blue White balance, and desaturated again a bit.

Pushup self-portrait


I was watching the movie, "Never Back Down" which was a bit cheesy, but fun. They did a section where they filmed the main character doing pushups, but did it with the camera oriented on it's side, then righted the footage so that the character looked as if he was pushing off a wall instead of the floor. I thought it would be a cool opportunity for a photograph, so when the movie was over, I set about emulating it.

First, I knew I wanted to use something soft-ish for the main light, but I wanted to create as much volume as possible, this was a good opportunity for my new 61cm umbrella. My main umbrella is 110cm, which would have made a much softer light, which would not have defined the muscles as well. 61cm is a great in between a bare flash and a huge umbrella when you want strong details that still have a soft edge. I had to move it toward the camera a few times until it revealed just the right amount of detail. I wanted a rim light that still raked across the muscles on the front. It's still slightly behind the subject, aiming a bit forward.

After the main was set, I started with the second flash. I tried at first to place it directly behind the head, and use as a bright rim light all around the head. It wasn't quite strong enough though, and didn't really give the effect that I wanted. I moved it off of the light stand, and attached it to the small stand the flash came with. It was about even with the main flash, and aimed up at the subject's head. However it spilled onto the arms, making them far too bright. After attaching a gridspot, I was able to keep it only on the face/torso and not on the arms.


Settings: Ambient is 5 stops underexposed. Main flash is into a 61cm silver umbrella at one stop above neutral grey. Secondary flash is at 1.5 stops above neutral grey, and is using a gridspot to keep it only on the face/torso and not on the arms.

After rotating the image to achieve the original planned look, I was quite happy with the result. The background did not go quite dark enough, as you can see from the setup shot. A quick pass with the burn tool gave me a true black background, which I think adds to and heightens the mood of the shot.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008



Settings: Ambient is about 4 stops underexposed. Two bare flashes zoomed to 105mm at full power on either side of the model and behind, aiming at the head to provide dual rim lights. These are 2 stops above neutral grey. Two studio strobes at 45 degree angles in front of the model at 1 stop above neutral grey. One was through a white umbrella, the other through a softbox.

This shoot was for an internal magazine where we write about various projects the company has going. Their is a rock band from inside the company called RoxoR, and we needed group and individual shots for the article. I had access to our studio lights, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with 4 lights at once. I used my normal lights as rim lights, and the studio strobes, one through a softbox and one through a shoot-through white umbrella.


The nice thing about this, is that there was so much wrap light, that the pose and angle of the head and body didn't matter much as long as they were standing within the same general spot. It's very clear and well lit, which was good for how fast I had to shoot all of these. Anything edgier would have taken a lot longer.


While it was fun for this shoot and will probably work well for the magazine, I'm not sure I'll try to repeat this light too often. I definitely enjoy more shadows and contrast, and this is a bit overly lit with two few shadows for my liking.

The rest of the set.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Andres Portraits


Settings: Ambient is 2 stops underexposed, Right light is into a silver umbrella at 1 stop above neutral grey, and left light is a bare flash zoomed to 105mm and aimed at his head, at 1.5 stops above neutral grey.

This was a shoot that I´d been planning for several weeks and I only finally had time this past weekend. I´d originally planned to reuse the fishtank setting, which is why I asked the model to wear all white, but the office was extremely busy so we improvised. This is a nice park near the model´s house, and it offered some really interesting settings. It was cold and we needed to work fast. Luckily I had an assistant to hold my lightstand so I could use an umbrella. The lighting setup was very simple, the main flash was into a silver umbrella for a nice even and soft light, and the rim light was a bare flash zoomed to 105mm so that only his head and shoulders would get rim lighting and I wouldn´t get a 2nd ugly shadow on the ground. As we moved from setting to setting, we only had these two, very light, light stands to move around, and it enabled me to quickly get all the shots I wanted. As the ambient level dropped, I was able to just open the shutter more to compensate.


Because his skin is a bit darker, I needed to make a bit brighter exposure, but this risked blowing out the bright white clothing. Luckily my 40D has quite a bit of raw headroom to bring the highlights down, so it worked quite well. I just used a little bit of the recovery slider in lightroom to bring the clothing down, while leaving his face well exposed. The white clothes help to contrast with his darker skin tones, to bring more attention to the focal point (his face).


For this one, because I couldn't physically put the rim light behind him (we were on the edge of the dam, so only open water was behind this railing) I put the second light against the railing, and it provided a bit of fill, giving an almost glowing affect to his face that I like very much. It manages to not quite overlap the main light, so you still get some nice shadows to give his face volume. If either light had been brought around closer to the camera axis, they would have overlapped and been flattening to his facial structure.

Once I had a good lighting ratio, it was all about getting a good pose, and composition. It was so nice to have that freedom of knowing I would get good light, and be able to focus more on the portrait experience. I could switch lenses quickly for different framing aspects, and I mostly used my 28mm, my 35mm and my 85mm lenses.


For this headshot, I would have changed the height of the rim light so that his collar didn't create such a harsh line on his chin. The light was in a ditch and it was already at it's full height. I should have moved the model to the ditch and placed the light a full meter higher to ensure the collar didn't cast a hard line across his chin.

There is something to be said for using classic lighting setups. You can be sure to achieve a nice result lighting wise, and can concentrate more on the subject and the composition.

View the rest of the set.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Simple portraits


Settings: Ambient is 3 or 4 stops underexposed. Left light is a flash into a silver umbrella at 2 stops above neutral grey, and right flash is through a Lumiquest softbox 2 at 1 stop above neutral grey.

I have felt a bit like I might be trying too hard to deviate from "safe" and standard lighting, so I have been wanting to try some more traditional lighting setups. By putting the umbrella at the same height as his head, and aiming it horizontally instead of angled down, it emulates window lighting quit well, and is very soft. The right side light does an ok job of filling, but I think either another umbrella, or just bouncing that flash off the ceiling to raise the light of the room would have looked nicer. It would have kept the harsh shadow from the left side of his nose.

The background is just a piece of black posterboard taped to the wall. I'm going to add to my kit a length of black, and white fabric to use as quick backdrops.


Settings: Ambient is 3 or 4 stops underexposed. Left light is a flash into a silver umbrella at 2 stops above neutral grey, and right flash is bare, zoomed to 105mm at 3 stop above neutral grey.

For this shot, first Agust got ready for the Gothtasm Halloween party by dying his hair and applying makeup. Since it was such an effort, I decided it would be good to document it. This is a fairly standard setup also. The silver umbrella is a little high and aimed down, to produce nice directional lighting. The right flash provides a really nice rim light along the cheek and back of the head, for a bit of separation from the background. I think this is easily my favorite lighting setup.

I had to get in on the action too.


As a slight aside, I recently purchased a photo editing monitor. The HP LP2475w. It's a 24" monitor that uses an S-IPS panel, which is a true 8 bit panel, that does a very wide gamut of colors. It's a huge upgrade from my little 17" laptop, both in color accuracy and brightness. I also got a monitor calibrator to ensure color accuracy. Even just looking at other people's photos is more fun now, because I can see so much more detail and dynamic range. I highly suggest ensuring you have a good monitor with accurate color (either an S-IPS or S-PVA panel, not all LCD panels are made the same way, TN and TFT which is the most common used panels, are not true 8 bit color) and a monitor calibrator to ensure you're getting your colors correct. I know I've been over compensating for my poor monitor quality in past photos by pushing the contrast and colors a bit too far.

Monday, October 27, 2008



Settings: Ambient light is -3 stops below neutral grey. Green rim light is +1 stops, and Main fill is +1 stops. Rim light is from the right, through the fishtank, slightly behind the subject but aimed toward subject head. Fill is snooted and aimed directly at head, and is forward from subject and to the left (of camera).

This was a quick test over the weekend for a shoot I have coming up. I wanted to be more familiar with the setting, what works, and what doesn't. The main worry of mine, was that I wanted a flash coming through the fishtank to use as a rim light. It took some experimenting to get it to work. First I tried putting the flash on the opposite side of the tank pointing forward, but that created too much flare, and didn't give me the rim light I was looking for. Then I put the flash on the right side of the tank, and aimed it forward. This gave me the rim light that I needed. Now it was a matter of balancing ambient and the main flash.

On the above photo, the green light on the right side of my face is the rim light from the flash aimed through the tank. Even though the flash was at 1/1 power, and full 105mm zoom, I had to bump the ISO up to 400 and drop my aperture to f/3.5 in order to get that rim to the brightness I wanted. This was my hard point around which all other settings had to revolve, because this was the only option that worked.

Next, I figured out my ambient level by opening the shutter till it was where I wanted (I almost always start at 1/250 shutter when using flash) I wanted the ambient to remain dark, so it's about -3 stops from neutral grey. I had a few with it opened up more, but it was not enough contrast for my taste, and the fishtank started to blow out.

Now that I had my ambient balanced with the rim light, I needed my main light. I started with it at 1/128 and 105mm zoom, aimed directly at the head, but this was still too bright. The face where it hit was completely blown out. Since the 580ex doesn't go lower than 1/128, and I didn't have any ND filters with me, and the other settings were already anchored down, I only had one choice, and that was to start backing the light away from the subject. Every time the distance doubles, you get 1/2 the light. The more I backed it up, the more of the subject that would be lit, and I wanted it restricted to just the face. I popped on my grid-spot, to constrain the light to a tighter beam, and that did the trick. I got my main, ambient and rim all balanced in a way that worked.

After shooting, there was some cleanup. I had an unsightly shadow on the right from the snoot, and some junk in the fishtank that didn't add to the composition. This is where Photoshop comes in.

First, I boosted the shadows a bit. I could have gotten this by opening the shutter another 1/3 stop when I was shooting. Next, I cooled down the white balance of everything but the subject's skin. Then I removed the shadow on the couch and grey fishtank, and then cloned out the junk in the fishtank itself. Finally I used highpass and smart sharpen to bring a little extra medium and micro contrast to the face and hands.

Now I feel prepared to do a more elaborate shoot in this location based on this experiment. The majority of the problems have been solved, and I'll just have to concentrate on composition with a group and directing my subjects. If I'd left these technical aspects till the shoot itself, I would have either frustrated my subjects with all the back and forth, or I would have rushed myself and not gotten the result that I wanted.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kitty Cowboy


This was an incredibly fun shoot, and came together so well for such a last minute thing. Some of it was luck, but also just developing a shooting style that works fast and furious and being really comfortable with my gear helped a ton. Because of how cold it was, I had my lighting stands already assembled with umbrella swivels attached, flash attached, and skyports velcroed and plugged in. This let me start shooting within about 5 minutes of arriving to the shoot location.

The settings for these was fairly simple, and I'm going to follow David Hobby's advice and stop listing details and start listing the useful information.

Camera was set to about -2 stops from ambient (meaning the sky was about middle grey, and the model was almost black with no flashes)
Flash one was set to +4 stops from ambient, and flash two was set to +2 from ambient level. This means flash two was making sure the model was properly exposed, and flash one was giving me some bright rim light.

I started by shooting without flashes, and getting my sky at the exposure that I wanted, ignoring the model. Then I raised one flash stand to full height, and one to about waist height. I was planning to use the tall one for my bright rim light, and the low one for fill. As I shot, I was constantly repositioning the flashes to work with the pose and setting. This is where having light, easy to relocate light stands was a real benefit. Every time I wasn't happy with the light position, I just picked up the stand and moved them. No cables, no weights, no light mods to worry about.


For this one I wish I had lowered the output of the secondary flash (the one on the left) so that her face wasn't lit so evenly, but it worked out alright.


These old gears were too awesome not to use as a prop.

For these shots, I tried using my flashes "un gelled" meaning they were pure white. This way I can color correct afterwards. It takes a bit more time, but I was finding that I was doing this even on my gelled shots to match everything just the way I wanted. This makes it faster for me to not have to use and balance gels, knowing I will do the correcting at the end.

I also placed the stronger light always in the same direction as the sun light was coming, so that it would look more natural. I think in the first shot, it isn't completely apparent that flashes were used, which is a look I'd like to be able to control on command.

There are more shots in the remainder of the set.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Tunglið and Spheres


2x 580ex II
Main flash at 1/128,
at 105mm zoom,
light stand at 2 meters height,
2 meters to the left and 1.5 meters forward from subject,
Rim light at 1/128,
at 105mm zoom,
light stand at 1 meters height,
2 meters to the right and slightly behind subject.

This weekend I did two different shoots, one outside and one inside. My main goal was working with bare lights and trying to come up with flattering positions for them. I feel like I've learned a bit more how to use them, but I'm also realizing there is a limitation as to how flattering you can make bare flashes, especially outdoors where the ambient is low. The next few weeks I'll be investigating how I can soften the light while still having some good throw.


2x 580ex II
Main flash at 1/128,
at 105mm zoom,
light stand at 2.5 meters height,
3 meters to the left and 2 meters forward from subject,
Rim light at 1/128,
at 105mm zoom,
light stand at 2 meters height,
3 meters to the right and even with subject.

For these, I knew I wanted to do a shoot with this subject, but wasn't 100% sure on the location. However driving to his house, I saw how great the moon was over the distant mountains. Ideally I would have arrived about 30 minutes earlier and it would have been a lot nicer with a higher ambient light level. Even with the flashes to freeze the subject, I would have liked to have had a tripod with me to help use even slower shutter speeds, especially with the sitting shots, as I used an 85mm zoom lens for those. There were already lights present for the ship statue, and they illuminated the subject enough to cause blurring with shutter speeds any slower.


2x 580ex II
Main flash at 1/128,
at 105mm zoom,
through gridspot,
light stand at 2 meters height,
directly in front of subject 1 meter away aimed at his face,
Rim light at 1/128,
at 105mm zoom,
light stand at 2 meters height,
1.5 meters to the right and 1.5 meters behind subject.

For this, I wanted to utilize these glowing ball lamps that I had. It didn't turn out quite how I envisioned in my head when I wanted to do this shot, but it was still fun and gave me practice. I started by placing my camera on a tripod to the height and angle that I wanted. I then positioned the light spheres so the fit into the frame composition how I wanted. I placed a backpack in the position that the subject's face would be, and arranged my flashes so that I could determine placement and power. The front flash had a grid spot on it to confine the flash only to his face.

Once I had the placement and power of the flashes, I was able to darken the ambient by increasing the shutter speed to 1/250. If I had wanted to decrease it even more, I could have changed to ISO 100, increased power to both flashes by 1 stop, and left shutter speed and aperture the same, and the ambient would have been one stop darker.

More from these two sets: