Monday, November 22, 2010



Settings: Ambient is underexposed by 1/2 stop, and face is properly exposed using a small gridded softbox just outside frame left.

I saw this location when walking back to work from a coffee shop and knew I had to do a shoot. Their are boulders embedded in the wall, and ivy growing along the side. many of the boulders are high enough I knew I could crop out the ground and remove the sense of how high it was. I asked a friend to sit for me, and asked him to wear a suit. He told me he only had an older ill-fitting suit, but knowing his look, I thought it might work. He showed up in these ratty shoes, and at first I was a bit disappointed, but I think they work with the look. Newer shoes would have shown how disheveled the suit is.

Lighting was simple. I set my camera on a tripod and got the framing I wanted. At first I was using my 85mm lens to flatten everything, but I wanted to see a bit more of the wall, so I switched to my 50mm, which let me go closer and keep him larger in the frame while still showing a lot of the wall. Once I had that setup, I underexposed by 1/2 stop, set my small gridded softbox to the full 3 meter height of my light stand, and aimed it at his head height. I used the light meter to power the flash so it was properly exposing the face. This would give me a bit of focus on the face, without too much of a light intensity difference.

Once that was set, it was just a matter of getting a pose and expression I was interested in.

This image shows the before and after of the post work. I found the image overall was a bit too bright, and the wall lacked volume because the day was fairly overcast. I used the adjustment brushes in lightroom to make the top edges of the boulders pop, and another to deepen some of the undersides of ivy and boulders. Then I took it into photoshop, gave a bit of white sleeve to his left hand so it would look more balanced, then underexposed the whole image another small amount while leaving the face untouched. I cloned out the few small imperfections on the face not visible at this resolution, and went through my normal sharpening procedures to give more micro contrast.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Too long since a post, so I'm going to do a quick one based on some thoughts I've had this week from speaking about gear in a few forums. I have a shoot coming up this week I will post more real photography on, so never fear.

As photographers we can really get caught up in gear. It's so easy to believe our inability to improve is related to the equipment we own, when in reality the cheapest digital camera is in many ways better than high end cameras of yesteryear. We are limited only by our skills. I have lately forced myself, whenever I get bitten by the gear-bug, to instead of researching or pouring over online catalogs and reviews, to plan a photo shoot idea, and go out and shoot instead. Practice, a photo trip, or a new book (be it instructional, or inspirational) will do far more for our skills than a new piece of equipment.

That said, I want to lay out what I think the basics are, in case you don't have a kit yet at all, or in case you are wondering if there truly is a limiting factor on your current gear. This is assuming you shoot in a similar vein as this blog, mostly portraiture where you control the model placement and can zoom with your feet. None of this will apply to bird photographers or sports journalists.

A camera with wide, normal, and tele lens options.
A light source of some type with at least one constraining option (like a snoot) and one softening option (like an umbrella or softbox) and a way to trigger it.

Wide for me is 35mm, but some people like 24/28mm.
Normal is between 45-60
Tele is over 70, and for me is 85

The reasons for this is your composition. You can keep your subject the same size between wide/normal/tele and totally change what you see in the background. When you want a sense of location, you use wide or normal, and when you want isolation, or a very specific chunk of background, you use the tele, which will also enable closeup portraits without distorting the face.

The light is so that you can brighten portions of your subject, or bring a more pleasing light pattern for it. It's not necessary all the time, but having even a cheap LED panel can really open options.

If I were building a kit today from scratch with my current knowledge and preferences, here is what I would buy.

Perfect kit without waisting money:
Canon 5D I or II
35mm 1.4, or f/2
50mm 1.8
85mm 1.8
Elinchrom Quadra with silver umbrella large/small, softlighter II 60", and XXS softbox and grids, large reflector with 8 degree gridspot insert.

A more budget option would be to go with any decent crop body of any manufacturer with the tamron 17-50mm 2.8 (giving you from wide to tele of good quality and decent lens speed) with a shoe mount flash, or an alienbee setup with vagabond.

The cheapest route would be a Canon s90, and a cheap shoemount flash on a stand, with a white umbrella, and an optical trigger (set off by the s90's flash, just turn flash compensation down so it's as dim as possible)

Remember, we are in this to make photos. Gear can be a hobby on it's own, but then you're not in the business of making images to communicate, you're a collector. Focus on shooting more, pursuing ideas, and use the gear-bug to refocus your efforts on shooting.