Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Long shadows


I saw an advertisement several months ago of a man on a concrete bench, and the lighting cast long shadows across the concrete. I thought it was a really nice mix of soft lighting but with the shadows of harder lighting. I wanted to emulate the setup.

1 Vivitar 285hv
set to 1/2 power,
into silver umbrella,
at middle zoom setting (this fills the umbrella with no spill)
light stand was at 2.5 meters height,
light was flush against the wall outside of frame right,
aimed at subject.

The silver umbrella increases the size of the light, so that the lighting and shadows are softer than the bare flash would create. The fact that it's almost flush with the wall is what creates the long shadows. This is also why I wanted to use a construction site. The room had 3 walls, blocking the light from all but the right. This way the flash would work with existing light, though I did use 1/200 sync to bring the ambient down as low as possible. The "rake lighting" would not only create the long shadows, but reveal the texture in the concrete walls.

The whole shoot was quite short, as I had an idea in mind, and as soon as I hit it, I was satisfied. If I were to do it again I might experiment with a snooted second light aimed just at her head from the left side.

Post processing was fairly basic. I masked out the white pipe and reduced it's exposure. It was drawing too much attention, and since it was so close to the flash, it was the brightest thing in the scene. Now that attention was squarely on the model, I used a curves layer to play up the translucency of her skin, locking down the red channel in the highlights and deep shadows, but boosting it in the transitional shadow area. This helped to make her look extra alive and vibrant in a setting of inorganic materials.

Full set
A few more shots from the shoot:

elin_model-4 elin_model-3

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

B&W Male portraits

This started as an attempt to emulate another photographer. She had some amazing black and white, one-light portraits. I sat a subject down and started playing with light sources, angles, and ratios. I liked the end result so much that I started asking more of my friends to sit for this same treatment, and it sortof evolved into a photo project over time. The goal is to get to 50, and I'll be doing a coffee table book. When it's complete I'll put the details on how to order here so that readers can get a high res print if interested. Just for my information, if anyone knows now that they'd be interested in this book if it's high quality, and around 30 USD (plus shipping) please leave a comment.


2 Vivitar 285hv
Main set to full power,
through white shoot-through umbrella,
at middle zoom setting (this fills the umbrella with no spill)
Rim set to 1/4 power,
through Dave-Honl 1/8" grid-spot,
Full zoom setting
Main light stand was at 2 meters height, rim was at 2.5 meters
Main light was slightly in front of the subject, at 45 degrees, just outside of the frame
Rim was 2 meters behind subject, 1 meters to the left,
Rim light was aimed at his head, main light aimed directly at the right eye.

The goal was to reveal the volume of the skull, and the texture of the skin, while still being "soft" lighting. This means I needed what's called "rake light". You put the light at an angle to the detail, and it will be revealed more than with a more frontal light. The main white umbrella is shooting across the face, so it acts as a rake light. However it's so close and so large that it comes across as quite soft at the same time.

The rim light is so that the head does not get lost in the black shad0w of the background. Speaking of background, it's actually my dining room. There is no drop cloth, and it's quite light outdoors. The two lights are just so bright, and so close, that by adjusting my aperture and shutter speed for them allows the ambient to practically disappear. I have to do some slight burning to remove one or two light spots, but it's practically dark when I bring it in.

The post processing is a bit complex. I have a b&w preset that brings up the black point, adjusts curves to show maximum volume without clipping, and pushes contrast and clarity quite high. Then I jump to photoshop, make sure the background is solid black, do any physique fixes (sometimes I emphasize muscles or straighten posture or head angle), then use smart sharpen to really bring out the pores and texture. After it's saved and brought back into lightroom, I have a b&w final setting that mostly just ups clarity again to 100%.

I think this project has emphasized to me how good photo series/projects are. Whenever I'm lacking for other ideas, I can ask someone to sit for this series. It's also given me a larger body of work that is more identifiable than my other random attempts.

Here is the full set.

I'm at 10 now, but aiming for 50 before I do the first book print.

More examples:

b&w_agust-1 b&w_gregk-1

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rim light!

I posted before about using natural window light for portraits. The main idea of them being to use the window light as a large main source, and trying to minimize lighting on the other side of the head. Now I'm going to talk about rim light. I define rim light as a strong light that just hits the edge of the main subject of the photo. It's used mostly to define a border that would otherwise be lost.

Here is another portrait with no rim light. I put a piece of black paper on the wall behind him to purposefully prevent any bounce lighting from the wall giving him even the slightest rim light.


Now here is a portrait with a strong rim light.


This lighting also came from a window, but since this room was much smaller, and all white, I knew there would be a lot of bounce and fill. This would have made the first style portrait impossible. I opted instead to let the window light be a rim light, and all the bounce from the small white room to be the fill. I metered his face where the rim light was, and let it read +2. This means the rim light would be very bright, but not clipped (unrecoverable white pixels). This would mean that the fill would be as bright as it could be without letting the rim clip. If I metered for the fill light (the main part of his face) the rim light would have definitely clipped. Cameras hold shadow detail far better than highlight. In fact on my camera (the canon 40d) it will hold highlights up to 3.4 stops above neutral grey, but 5.7 stops below. So it has almost double the shadow range than highlight range. This means that even if his face was a bit dark, I can boost the shadow area in the post-processing stage, and recover the detail I need. I only had to do this a little bit, as I liked the ratio it gave me.

Here are two more using the same room, and just a slightly different head angles. This shows how once you have a nice setup with good lighting power ratios, you can get a lot of utility out of it by just rotating the subject within the setup. (or rotating the setup when you can)

_MG_4267 _MG_4275

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Window light


My new project is to figure out a way to emulate this light with a flash. It's a large window to subject left, and it's a very bright, but overcast day out. The inside of this room is large (an old church) and the walls are dark. This contributes to the contrasty, dark shadows. The large window creates the soft light.

The two main problems:

Large light source for the soft shadows (my current 43" umbrellas aren't large enough)
Controlling the spill of light, so that it doesn't bounce around the room enough to fill in the shadow side.

My plan, is to use a 60" softliter umbrella that I've just purchased to provide the large lightsource. The fact it has a white diffusion screen on the front will hopefully make the light even softer than from my silver umbrella, while still controlling spill unlike the white shoot through umbrella (the white shoot through bounces all kinds of light out of the back, which will bounce around the room and raise the brightness of the ambient)

To darken the room, I'll use a black card, as well as wait until the outdoor lighting has gone down. I currently don't have a studio, so my options are limited.

I'll post again once I've properly tested this theory.

Here's another in the same setup.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Natural light

Rather than only post on times when I do an engineered shot, I want to be able to post more often, so any time I take a photo that has light that I've thought about, be it natural or artificial, I will do a quick rundown on the thought process. The backbone of the site will still be flash based lighting however.

This weekend my parents were in Iceland and we took them out sightseeing. On our first stop, the sunlight was rather harsh, which would have made some deep shadows were I to take the photo unmodified. However I keep a lastolight silver/white double sided reflector folded up in my camera bag. It's perfect to modify the light with a super small footprint. The silver side acts as a long throw reflector, but must be aimed carefully. Since I'd given my dad my camera with the 85mm lens attached, I had Agust's sister stand just outside frame left with the white side bouncing light into our shadows. It resulted in a much less harsh shadow. You can clearly see that the shadow is nicely filled, rather than the dark shadows normally associated with direct sunlight.


We also stopped in a small museum/village and there were interesting lighting conditions galore. One in particular that I noticed on the drive in, was a double row of trees. It provided a framing option to have them recede in the background, but even better is that the way the trees were in relationship to the sun, it only let in soft white light from one side. I knew this would make for a powerful lighting setup and background. On the way out I made everyone stop and wait as I took a few shots in this setup. Here is the result. Notice the soft white light on the left side of his face.