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.