Wednesday, December 23, 2009



Settings: Ambient was completely underexposed, 3 stops or more. Large white softbox from camera left at neutral grey, and small gridded softbox from above and to camera right at +1.5 stops over neutral grey.

This one was a little different than most of my stuff, being that it was a real studio shoot rather than a location based outdoor shoot. I was inspired by a real life lighting situation. I was riding the train, and sitting in one of the small glass booth partitions. It had a glass back wall behind my head, which let in the bright soft light from the main car to provide a dim fill, and a spotlight embedded in the ceiling lit up my forehead and cheekbones while leaving my eye sockets relatively dark. The reflection on the window behind me gave a brighter background to show the silhouette of my face. I knew I wanted to use this lighting setup, but it would require more equipment than I have.

Luckily a coworker allowed me to borrow his grey seamless background, a hensel studio flash and giant 1x1.2 meter softbox. First step was to setup the seamless, fairly easy, just two stands, a cross bar and a roll of paper. I have to get me one of these. Next was his softbox. I kept the power as low as it could go, because it was a 1,000 watt unit compared to my 400 watt running the small softbox. The large one was to keep anything from going black, to illuminate the background, and cast a nice soft shadow onto the background, anchoring the subject.

I set my camera to iso 100, 1/125 and f/5.6 to get sharpness and enough depth of field. I was using an 85mm lens to get rid of any distortion from being a full body shot, and to make sure I only got grey seamless background. (longer lenses compress the background, shorter lenses show more, subject size staying the same) The background was featureless so there was no room to isolate or try to over increase dof. The softbox had to be boosted just a tad to get the right lighting on the face. Most of this initial time was spent with my friend acting as assistant (more on this later). I had to move the softbox forward, closer to the camera axis to get the light to fall correctly and fill both eye sockets. I also kept it about 3 meters back to evenly light him and the background without too much severe light falloff. The dark color of his suit, and the lightish grey of the background paper is what gives the nice silhouette outline. The softbox adds just a bit of volume to the suit, but it's too low to brighten it fully. The grey paper background reflects a lot more, giving a good tonal change. The soft shadow on the background paper is from the large softbox.

Once the fill softbox was dialed in, I added my small 30x40cm softbox with 20 degree grid to a boom, directly in front of the subjects face, about 2/3 of a meter above the head. I wanted the light to hit his face, but only on the forehead, and cheek ledges, not fill in his eyes. This would give me several things key to the look: Deep eye sockets, falloff from head to toes bringing attention to the face, soft edged shadows from the apparent size of the softbox being so close to the face. Without the giant fill softbox, the eyes would have gone way too dark, and had no catchlight, making a much more sinister look. The bright area around his feet are from the beam of this overhead softbox.

I really like how clean the final result came out without looking too soft or safe. It has some edge and contrast to it, with a clear focus point of his face, and nothing important getting lost.

Thursday, December 17, 2009



Settings: Ambient was all over the place, the lightbulbs almost clipping and the shadows near black, but it was a neutral exposure with no flash. Flash at 2 stops over neutral grey providing the rim light on his shoulders and hair.

Above is the final composite, click through for large.

Below is the animated gif of all layers, with images brought in fully, then the next frame showing the masks applied to cut them out.

  1. First was to get the main background plate more symmetrical. The benches were slightly offset, so I evened up the front most bench. The farthest two benches on the left were broken (not illuminated) so I cloned over the benches and lit tree trunks from the right side.
  2. Darken the farthest trees so it would fade well into the next layer.
  3. Comp in 2nd photo of the same benches, but I was further away. This required scaling the image way down and careful placement to make it fit.
  4. Color correction for the main background plate.
  5. Using an exposure layer, I boosted the foreground path, and then comped in some empty ground from one of the bench shots with no subject. It was made by copying just the ground in front of the bench, then duplicating it, and flipping it vertically to be now above, doubling the height of the lit ground, then using perspective scale matched to the perspective of the bottom chunk. Then I used the clone brush to get rid of the seam or any other identifying details you saw near the flipped edge.
  6. Add in fake shadow from the bench using another exposure layer set to reduce exposure.
  7. Pull in the bench, then mask away the dark background. I mainly used the marque selection with a 1 pixel feather built into the setting (only CS3 and above). I used a magic lasso for the non geometric bits, and a paintbrush to clean up, working in the mask.
  8. Bring in the subject and arrange him in place, mask him out using magic lasso and then a brush for cleanup.
  9. Exposure and contrast boost on his face. I liked this body pose and another face, so I comped that together also.
  10. Final color correction on all layers.

I found a new trick for matching White Balance on separate layers, and that's to make a Hue/Saturation layer at the top of the image with saturation set to 100%. This makes color discrepancies really obvious and can be turned on and off by hiding the layer.

In the end, the final composite looks very similar to my original vision I had in my minds eye. Shooting everything at the same time and in the same lighting conditions, as well as with similar standing heights and angle the camera is aimed will make sure these composites work. If the lighting is lying between layers, or the perspective radically different, your white balance matching and perfect masks won't have any affect on unifying the image.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


This is a super quick mockup, sloppy layer masks, no real color correction, but it lets me preview the final result and see what sizes and where I need to focus my retouching on.

You can see the layers in the animated gif build up below.

I like the general layout. I'm going to have to work on the perspective of the front bench, clone in some ground so that the ground below the front bench doesn't fade into green grass, but into more dry dirt path, color correct, fix the masks, and balance the values of the different layers so that his face is still the focal point.


A friend of mine mentioned that there are fluorescent tube park benches near my work in Dusseldorf. I knew I wanted to do a shoot there, and struck out on a research trip during lunch. The park benches were cool but there wasn't much behind them providing interest. I knew I'd need to do a composite of some sort. I was pretty sure the park benches would make a nice scene when looking down the lane with them on either side, and there was an interesting building in the background as well that could be used.

Once I arrived with my subject, we focused first on getting the shot I wanted of him. I like symmetrical poses, but I wasn't absolutely sure of what I wanted, so we shot several, focusing on his leg position, how slouched or straight he sat, and whether he looked directly at me, or off to the side. I plan to roughly mock out the final comp with my 3 or 4 favorite poses and see which one feels right.

These are my initial shots in lightroom, no post processing yet. I imported the entire shoot, and went through adding one star to all the ones I thought had promise, or the best background plates for the final comp. Then I turn on ratings with only one star, so that all the rest are hidden and I can focus on these.

You'll notice that most of the poses are similar with slight variations. I won't know which one is best till I mock up the final comp and see how it feels. The background plates show that I got a clean shot of the bench with no light stand or subject, and then a few views of the park benches to pick from. The building will most likely be so blurred in post that it's ok there are some cars and pedestrians, but in all the shots I waited till the scene was empty of people as much as I could.