Category Archives: commercial photography

Repurposing a light box to be a light table

I saw a very interesting blog posting on how to shoot flowers using a light box. I took a different approach since I did not want to build a cardboard box so anything else. I took my large softbox and flipped it upside down. I could do this because I use C stands with boom arms and it becomes very easy to change the orientation of a modifier. I just made sure that the legs were in the right position to take up the low weight and added a few sand bags for good measure.

I then put a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the softbox or now light table and put my subject on top of that. I have a Photogenics 1250 strobe but now I would pull it and put in the 600 instead. The 1250 is too strong even turned down as low as it can go. I plan to try it with white plexiglass whereas I’m shooting with clear right now. The white should be worth a couple of stops.

White on White Lilly

 

 

I had a second mini softbox using an SB800 in SU mode on a monopod that I held over the subject. I manually set the SB800 to something around 1/8 power and about 3 feet high. I tried straight on, sideways and all kinds of angles. The best results seemed to be feathering the small soft box slightly to pick up some edge shadows.

I used a pair of Atlas pocket wizard clones on this shoot only because they were handy and my real PWs were packed away. I shot with:

 

SB800 flash mounted to small softboxLight table set up shot

Next time I will put the small light box on a second C stand instead of holding it. That was just too much trouble but I was in a real hurry to try this and get back to the family outside. The ladder was the only way I could get enough hight to shoot down on my subject, anywhere else and I was shooting across it and it did not work nearly as well.

 

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Behind the scenes of a photoshoot

Photographers love to show of images from their last photoshoot. Everyone likes to “ohhhh and ahhhh” over the images that are retouched, mashed up and worked over in a good way we hope. But, personally, I love to shoot the behind the curtain shots. You know, the things that make a photoshoot what it really is and can have you really appreciate all the more the very cool image when the environment is anything but cool.

I attend a monthly workshop that is a mix of a social hour, some food, shop talk, instruction and shooting over at Redgum Creative Studios. A friend of mine, Richard Radstone is the instructor and mentor for those of us who regularly attend these socials and it’s always fun to be there and be involved in the day’s shoot. We have a model or two with a MUA (make up artist) present plus the crew at Redgum to help pull it all together.

So in the spirit of sharing, I’m posting some of the set up and during the shoot shots of mine of the last social/training/breakout Redgum Studio shoot. It really will give you a sense of the afternoon and what a real photoshoot is like. I’m not talking about a “shoot” where the softbox is made from a empty box of corn flakes and the light stand will blow over with a single breath. I’m talking about a real photo shoot, with real models, make up artists, real grip equipment and a real studio setting. The only thing missing is the stress of  having the client on set breathing down your back.

I’ve already mentioned the MUA and I would like to point out the use of C Stands (century stands) instead of the more common tripod stands. These are portable only in the sense that you can carry them from one side of the stage to the other or roll them if they have casters. They are very stable and with the sand bags, they will not be falling over unless you really go out of your way to try to knock it over. The same goes for the big gun strobes, the hot lights, various bit of grip equipment holding it all together and the rest. Things are taped down, locked down and safe. Many photographers would do well to take some notes of the set up of the gear, I know I did when I first started and I have invested more than a bit of “extra” equipment that just makes putting a shoot together a bit more enjoyable and safe for all concerned.

In the other images you can see some of the students from Brooks Institute that were visiting, the cameras of choice for the day and of course, the model getting prepped and having some shots taken.

To myself one of the most interesting things are how the lighting is set up. You can see the lights used, the scrims and/or diffusion used and how the stage is configured overall. There is alot to learn from these types of events. And when you understand that the four hours of social mixing, shooting and listening only costs 25 dollars, you can see how it is a real bargin.

I hope you enjoy this short visit to the backside of a photoshoot and I hope you enjoy the detail shots. So here are two of the final images from the day. So now you know both sides of the shoot, the prep and set up of the shoot and the final outcome.

Final Portrait

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Playing director on a shoot

One skill that any photographer of people needs to work on and constantly improve, is the ability to direct clients/models/subjects to be where you want them, how they need to look and generally for them to feel comfortable with you. After all, you are shoving a camera in their face and most normally people are not used to that sort of thing. Professional models are more used to it but even they only give you what you ask of them.

A few years ago I would have never put myself down as a “people person” or a photographer that enjoyed shooting portraits. My how things have changed over the years. I used to shoot anything except people and now I tend to shoot just people with other things on occasion. I just had a client give me what I consider to be one of the best compliments in a long time when she said I was “a very relaxed photographer and a great people person”. On this one shoot I had adults and a child to work with and I had a ball with them.

High Key Child

High Key Child

The relaxed photographer comment showed in the images. My clients were happy and really having fun with each other and part of this was I was gently directing them where and how to be. To really get good images, you need to connect with your client. Standing behind your camera and just shooting without any direction or encouragement is a recipe for a disaster of a shoot. This is true even for a professional model. They need to know what is expected just as much as a average joe client. Sometimes even more so.
In the case of my little client here, I had connected with her about her stuffed bunny and I had let her rummage through my collection of AA batteries. I took a few fast shots of her goofing and let her see the preview screen and after a bit of time, she was used to be me being there and taking pictures. When I goofed around with her, I got very natural smiles and great expressions. When the parent were sent the proofs, they were thrilled as you can imagine.

 

Along with the personal connection, you need to tell your subject how to move, pose or look. They WANT your direction, you are the EXPERT and if you have made the personal connection, they TRUST you. Along with direction, running feedback for the subject is most of the time a good thing. Especially for non-professionals who are not sure of themselves or if they are doing what you asked. This “patter” is one of the most important skills a photographer can have.

Another “skill” you must have is the ability to make it look like “you meant to do that”. Very few things unsettle a client more than the photographer wandering around mumbling to themselves, looking lost, fumbling with equipment or looking at the camera view screen and going “oh sh*t”. You really need to know what you are doing, how you are going to do it and when you are going to do it. Or at least act like you. There isa quote from a set of commercials with celebrities  saying “never let them see you sweat” and that is so true in photography. You need to, no, must project confidence in yourself and how you make images in order for the client to be comfortable and to trust you. Dont mistake arrogance for confidence, there is a difference. If you are arrogant, you come off as a jerk and with confidence, you are someone that they can trust.
Happy Family

So after an hour or so, I was able to shoot this image of my clients and have everybody relaxed and interaction at a very natural level. It shows in the image with the body language and how everyone is comfortable with each other in this moment.

These types of directing and interaction people skills are something you need to learn and to practice. Salesmen know this and use it all the time. Watch a good salesman at work with a customer, they make the customer comfortable and feel relaxed around them. As a photographer, having good people skills is just or even more important than having that new hot shot 200mm F.28 super portrait lens. If you clients can not relax around you, it will show in every single picture you take.

So relax a bit, loosen up and enjoy the time with your clients instead of viewing it as drudgery.

PS – a friend of mine had some really good thoughts on this also:

Thomas Churchwell “Do not let the escort take control of the shoot. The first 15 minutes will always be your worse pictures even if they are great. The Tension and anxiety will take about 15 minutes before the models stops her posing that she knows are winners and relax enough to be herself. If you act as though your not there to be impressed but to have a good time then you will get a more pliable model who will stop trying to impress you and start being your muse.”

Thomas makes a very good point that when you are the director, YOU are the director, not the escort, not the model, not the friend, YOU are. Your images will sink or swim by how well you do your job not just as a photographer but as a director.

 

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More hotlights and vintage portraits

I’m have a ball with my new hot lights. The vintage portrait project is coming together as I work out how to use the lights, get Lightroom and Photoshop to rework color to black and white and get a good workflow down. I’m also relearning how to shoot film as part of this project.

So the last entry on this subject was about shooting with a single light and this week, I’ve taken it to two lights. The idea is to provide some fill and highlights. And lest you think that one needs an expensive studio or alot of room for this style of shooting, that could be further from the truth. The sample shot I have included this week was taken in a 5×5 space right in front of my front door entry way with some white polarplus gaf-taped to the wall. Pretty low tech if you ask me.

So here is the “studio” shot. I have used my Wacom to mark it up a bit. As you can see, not very high tech at all or expensive.

Vintage studio in house marked up

Vintage studio in house marked up

But the results you can get are pretty amazing. I used Lightroom and Seim’s Power Workflow 3.0 Snapped B/W as my basic conversion from color to Black and White. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this one but it’s a starting point. I then moved it into CS5 and used Focht’s Touchflow Palette to smooth out skin and add a touch of pop. I also used my Wacom to paint in and paint out extreme shadows, hot spots and such.

Blowing a kiss to fans

Blowing a kiss to fans

Not bad for the price of a doorway studio huh? I’ve found a book at Amazon called Hollywood Portraits: Classic Shots and How to Take Them
which goes into quite a bit of detail in how the old school Hollywood shots were created so that has been ordered. I’ve also ordered up Nik’s Silver Efex kit since it’s on sale at Adorama for a killer price. And yes, it soon will be 64 bit which makes those of us running 64 bit Photoshop very happy. You can download a free 15 day trial from Nik and give a workout to see if you like the outcome but I have to say, it makes some really nice B/W conversions.

I’ve mentioned the clone of the Arri lights before but here are the real deal if you are inclined or feel more comfortable with the brand named item. This can be very important if you want to rent out the kit as grip equipment or the like. This is the complete kit with 3 650 watt lights, roller bag, stands, barn doors etc.

 

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Hollywood Glamour and Noir Portraits

One of my newest projects is ramping up to offer old school style of portraits in the Hollywood Glamour and Noir style. This type of portrait was made famous by photographers such as George Hurell in the 30s, 40s and 50s.  They were a very dramatic black and white picture with very distinctive light and shadows. Many times these were shot with fresnel hot lights that normally would be used to shoot movie films. Many folks have tried to reproduce this style of image using strobes, snoots and reflectors. But while these can get close, the old school equipment has some unique qualities that add subtle but very important changes to the image.

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Lets take a look at the one of the biggest difference between shooting with continuous lighting vs. shooting with strobes. Many photographers of the digital age have no idea what a hot light (I’m referring to continuous lighting here)  is since all they know are strobes. In their mind, who would want to use a light source that is big, bulky, can run very hot (unless shooting fluorescent bulbs ), need AC power, barn doors, scrims, dimmers and more? The “disadvantages” are many in most photographer’s minds.

There is one very important detail among everything else that the hot lights excel at. And that is the small fact that since the light is continuous,  you can shoot as fast as you can hit the shutter. So when the model hits her/his stride in providing the EMOTION of the shot, you can catch it without fear of the strobe being in the middle of recharge cycle. Most strobes require a second or two to recharge unless the photographer is shooting with multiple strobes and the power levels dropped down to encourage the faster recharge rate. Or the photographer is shooting with very expensive packs that can recharge very fast. Either way, speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?This does not really apply if the photographer is shooting posed shots where the model is set in place and needs to hold that pose specifically, I’m talking about the more organic style of shooting where the model has some latitude on the pose. In the static poses, you can afford to wait the 1-2 seconds between pops of the flash since the model’s job is to stay still till told otherwise.

Other points in the hot light’s favor, in particular, in the fresenel’s favor is the ablity to focus the beam and that the light is fairly constant over the diameter of the beam. Also,  the beam has a naturally soft edge which is great for feathering the light on the subject and the ability to very quickly and easily adjust the shape of the light with barn doors. All of this leads to a very flexible lighting solution for portraiture shoots.

One more possible advantage is that with the hot light, the photographer does have to work around the model flinching every time the strobes fire off. This is not always the case, a model used to strobes would not normally  have this issue but a new model or someone who is a non-professional paying client will not be used to the bright strobes firing off in their face every few seconds.

For my glamour project, I looked at different brands of fresnel hot lights because I really wanted to recreate the old school hollywood glamour and noir images. So I went back in time a bit and decided I would use equipment close to what was used then for my lighting. I had tried strobes and I was not at all happy with the results. What really changed my mind was a shoot I went to a few months back that used hot lights and I had very little experience then with hot lights. I had grown up on strobes so I was really curious to why we would be using such old technology. I know that the film industry used continuous lighting but I could understand that but why use them with still photography? After shooting for a few hours and seeing how I could catch very small but critical changes in pose and expression, I got it.

So I went shopping to find some hot lights of my own. I could buy used lights but the bulbs can be very expensive if you dont know what you are buying but ARRI lights are bucks. I found some ARRI clones on eBay but over at Coollights, I found the same basic clone ARRIs, scrims, nice air cushioned stands, barndoors and a good quality roller case as a package deal. The ARRI package was 1800 and Coollights package was 1,100 USD. So for a savings of 700, I have what is for all intents, three ARRI 650 frensel lights, stands, scrims and case. The big difference is the stand mount, the cut edges are not as cleanly cut as the ARRIs and the aluminum is not beaded and coated. I can live it for now. I have pictures below of both lights

So what you do with hot lights? Set your white balance to tungsten and rock and roll. One piece of advice, get a light meter. It’s far easier to meter tungsten then trying to chimp when you have ratios of lights. I also bought 3 cheap speed controllers from Harbor Freight which are perfect dimmers for the hot lights to get the lights right on the money in intensity without having to move anything. Also get some toughspun for diffusing the light.

Hot Light Glamour Shot

Hot Light Glamour Shot

This shot was taken using a set of ARRI 650s. The shot below was taken with the Coolight ARRI clones. I could not find any difference in shooting with them or in post with them.

Hot Light Noir Shot

Hot Light Noir Shot

Above all, be careful and make sure everything is secure on the set. Use sand bags and plenty of gaffers tape to secure everything down. Hot lights are, well, HOT.. very hot and will remain hot for several minutes after you turn them off. Keep in mind your model is baking under the hot lights and so breaks every 10 minutes or so is the norm. It’s also very hard for a model to look directly into a hot bright light so dont think you will put a light head on and have the model gaze into it.

A parting trick is to get the 650 hot lights and then put in the 300 watt bulb if the 650 is too much all the time. You can always do down in wattage but not up. Also, using a dimmer to cut the output by 20% or so can give the lamp about a 50% increase in lifespan. The bulbs for the ARRIs and clones will set you back about 15-20 USD and they are rated at 200 hundred hours when used at full power. Never touch the glass of the bulb with your skin, the oil will cause the bulb to get a hot spot and burn out very quickly.

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SSD and the need for SPEED

a 2.5 inch Solid state disk, E-disk from Bitmicro
Image via Wikipedia

Faster, everyone wants to go faster, have a faster computer, a faster disk drive or a faster application. Once a VERY expensive option, the SSD (Solid State Drive) drive has become mostly affordable now they are being made in large volumes. You can get them in all kinds of packaging so you can put the drive into a PCI-E slot or replace an existing hard drive. The most common use for photographer is either as a extra volume or a replacement system volume.

Before we look at the speed of a the SSD, we need to understand how they work and what makes them differently than a traditional hard drive with a rotating plater. The traditional hard drive for years has been made with a motor of some kind spinning a metal or glass platter(s) in a rigid cast metal chassis. They were heavy, took a fair around of electricity to move the platters and it took time to move the heads across the platters. Over the years, the motors were improved, the platters were made lighter and higher capacity and throughput was improved with the new interfaces like eSATA (enhanced  Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and SAS (Serial Attached SCSI). But even with all the improvements such as 15K RPM drives, glass platters, low power electronics and very sophisticated storage algorithms, they were still a very slow device  when compared to the lighting fast access times of a memory chip.

But memory chips had some issues like they lost their contents when the power was removed and they were expensive in the number needed for any decent capacity. Time passed and now we have FLASH based chips that keep their contents even with power removed, we can write thousands of times to the same locations without the memory location burning out and they are cheap enough we can build an array of chips to supply a reasonable amount of capacity on par with the traditional hard drive.

This brings us pretty much up to date where we can buy a 240 gigabyte SSD drive in an external case with Firewire, eSATA and USB interfaces for about 500 USD. You can buy a bare 500 gigabyte SSD drive with an eSATA interface that drops in as a replacement hard drive for about 750 USD. But why you ask? why spend four times what it costs for a 1 terabyte hard disk drive? In short, SPEED.

The SSD is very fast compared to a normal hard drive, there are no moving parts so the drive is immune to shock therapy and it can be easier on power but not always. Most of us are into the speed for our applications.

For example, I have a 240 GB external SSD from OWC attached using Firewire 800 to a dual quad MacPro tower. My testing of Photoshop, Lightroom and overall usage like file copies showed some very interesting results.

  • VMware Fusion booting Windows XP takes 22 seconds from power on vs. 1:20 for a internal HD
  • Copying 55 GB of data from the MacPro to the external SSD took 19 minutes
  • Photoshop CS5 starts in 17 seconds vs 22 seconds. This does not seem like much till you start using it. Then the speed becomes very apparent between loading large files or files with alot of layers and/or high resolution. It also becomes very apparent in running actions and working with video files which means moving larger chunks of data to and from the disk.

Now the downside to the SSD used to be  the limited lifetime usage of the NAND chips. But that has been overcome to a large degree by over-capacity and by “data leveling” where the data is written out to ALL the chips over time instead of the same group time and time again which is like a traditional hard drive.Each memory location is rated at something like 100,000 writes. However, the cheaper SSD drives are not created equal and one of the corners cut is the over capacity and data leveling.

Where do SSD drives really shine? on the random access times for data. The typical read time is 0.1 ms vs. the 10-15 ms for a normal hard drive which has to move the heads to where the data should be and then wait for the platter to spin around and put the data under the heads. Random access for small files is the key place of performance for the NORMAL user of SSDs. All the bandwidth and throughput of large files is fine but on your computer, it’s mostly small files in random places on the hard drive. If the drive can not perform in this area, you will be hating life and the new SSD that you just spent a ton of money on.

Even the best SSD drives have a limited life time so using them for swap files space is normally a bad idea since the data constantly changes and is rewritten. But for the typical system drive or scratch drive, the SSD can work very well for two or three years of normal use. Any SSD drive will slow down some from the initial speed but they will still be faster than a normal hard drive spinning a disk platter.

If you are a geek and want alot of geeky details on SSD drives, performace and how they really work, check out ANANDTECH and the article I’m linking to. It’s a really good piece of detailed information on SSD drives.

Is this short blog entry a definitive article on SSD drives? not a chance but it should show you that an SSD drive is probably the number one way to improve performance on your editing workstation all the way around. Now days processors are so fast that even a two year old mid line processor is pretty good and ram is so cheap that most systems are now spec’ed with a decent starting point of RAM. So the only real bottleneck to your workflow is the disk I/O speeds. The SSD addresses that in several places and can really boost your output.

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Unexpected photoshoots

Just the other day I was talking about taking advantage of shooting in unplanned circumstances. And so it came to pass, I got a call from a friend telling me about a way to get inside one of the old airship hangers in Tustin here Orange County. The base is still owned by the Navy and had been used as a Marine helicopter base and a blimp base among other things. I have taken pictures over the years of the hangers from the outside but I have never been able to get on the inside. So I get a call saying that there will be a tour on saturday and it’s now friday.

Saturday AM, I’m in a crowd of around 150 people, Boy Scouts, reporters and fellow shutter bugs heading down a dirt road to the old runway leading to the North hanger. We even had one of the few remaining airship pilots who used to fly along the coast of CA in WWII. Claude Makin had a wealth of stories and was happily sharing them and answering questions from the public during the tour.

I had my 5 year old in tow and was trying to work out how to shoot a structure that is 180 feet high, 300 feet wide and 1000 feet long. The SB800 is a bit underpowered for this type of “indoor” shooting 🙂

I had brought two lens, my trusty 17-55mm F2.8 and my 11-24 F4. I found myself wishing for a something like a 10mm fisheye but I made do. It was much lighter on the inside than I thought it would be even with the hanger doors closed due to three rows of windows on each side of the roof running the full 1000 feet. They do have lights on the inside but this time they were off. My typical exposures were ISO 200 at F2.8-F4 and shutters running from 1/25 to 1/160.

These selections of my images give a very good idea of what it’s like on the inside on the hanger. Most of these images were processed using the free Kodachrome actions from Michael W Grey. The actions work very well with many types of images, not all but many.

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How to be a better photographer? Just Shoot more!

In the last few years, I have been investing quite a bit of effort into upping my game as far as photography as the craft. And with watching my friends and colleages going to dozens of shooting events and all the seminars, one thing has really started to stand out. You can train as much as you want, you can study as much as you want and you can spend a boatload of money on workshops but NOTHING works as well in helping you be a better photographer than getting out and shooting FOR REAL. Thats right, for real…  dealing with weather, clients, stray people, schedules, crying children, bad traffic, balky equipment while in front of a paying client and trying not to sweat in front of them.

Book learning (or DVD, streaming boards etc) all help but you will learn the most just by getting out and shooting. And not just shooting your favorite stuff, you need to be put into an uncomfortable zone with demands put on you to produce. When you stretch out your skills and wing it, you learn alot more than by sitting in your favorite chair or goofing with some friends in a studio somewhere without any pressures on you. And the funny thing is when you are done, what you used to think was hard and uncomfortable is really not any more.

Case in point, I used to hate taking portraits. I mean, I would photograph buildings, cars, landscapes with a vengeance but not people. I didnt want to interact with people, I didnt know how to capture the emotion in people. When I decided to go pro, I knew I would have to learn to shoot people so I grudgingly started to learn how to shoot weddings.  At least I didn’t think I needed to interact too much, I mean, it’s not like a up close and personal portrait session is it? My first mistake was to spend all my time “learning” about shooting weddings. I read books, I watched videos, I watched streaming classes, I was on the boards. I did everything BUT shoot weddings. Then I got drop kicked into actually shooting a wedding as a favor. Now I had to perform so I gathered up everything I had and shot the wedding. It was different than all the “learning” I had done up to that point. Between the chaos, the pressure and the demands of the various groups, it was quite the learning experience. And now after photographing more weddings, I do not view weddings with nearly the angst I had before. In fact, I really enjoy shooting weddings now, there is so much going on, so many opportunities to make art while making families very happy by capturing one of their most important days.

Colorado Bride

Family and single portraits were another “interactive” path that I initially rebelled against. But again, after being put into the position of shooting Christmas portraits for 30 families and shooting Operation Love Reunited deployment mini-sessions of military families where you really want to do your best, I find that portraits are probably what I enjoy photographing the most. It is very satisfying to shoot a deployment portrait for a family with a service member and be told that they never knew they had such a beautiful little family. This comment came from the young wife of a Marine being deployed in a few days and they had never had any kind of formal portraits taken of the family.  It’s the kind of thing that makes it all worth while when you see the wife go “OMG, I cant believe thats MY family”

Daddy's Little Girl

Daddy's Little Girl

This image is a classic “real” world shoot. High noon on the beach with a small child and lots of distractions. Big difference than shooting in a closed studio with a model being paid to tolerate the wannabe photographer. I had to find a good place to shoot, arrange the shot, work out the settings for some pretty adverse conditions, work with mom and child to get the needed smile and move on to the next one.

I’m still learning every time I go out to photograph someone or something. But I learn more when working against a deadline and a high level of  expectations  from my paying clients. If you want to improve your craft, you never stop learning from any circumstances. And the more you shoot, the better you will become at adjusting to those circumstances and be able to step back and catch the lesson being offered.

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Why Film? and Why Medium Format?

Comparison of digital camera image sensor sizes
Image via Wikipedia

With the advent of digital camera came the keening of film’s death song. I mean, who in their right mind would every want to use film again? I have a plastic card that is the size of my thumbnail and it hold hundreds of pictures and costs 20 bucks. A roll of film before processing is 4 bucks and then 15 more just to get it developed and maybe some prints. And you still need to scan it to DO anything with it? So why film? Whats the draw to film?

Because film offers a depth and clarity that most digital cameras can only dream off. Film is analog so the number of tone changes are infinite. Digital is not analog, duh.. and goes up and down in a given number of steps. In an image that offer subtle tones such as a portrait, this can become very important. This is even more important in Black and White art since a digital image starts as color and then is converted to Black and White. In film, you can shoot with Black and White film and get that gorgeous tonality that you can not get with digital. Oh sure, you can get close, sometimes very close but it’s not same. If you put a good B/W digital conversion next to a real B/W print, you can see the difference.

Often, I can get a sharper cropped image from my Mamiya 645 that cost me 500 USD for the entire kit plus three lenses than I can get from a Nikon D700 full frame DSLR that costs 3,000 USD just for the body and then add another 1 to 2 thousand for the good glass. And even after all that money spent, I still have an image that is only 35×24 mm in size. My Mamiya is a medium format camera or 120/220 which means my negative is 60×45 mm in size. This is almost double the size so if you want to print BIG and you want SHARPNESS, the medium format is the way to go. This is why in some industries such as fashion, 120/220 medium format film is still used or if you are wealthy, you can use a digital back for your medium format camera assuming you can pay up the 35,000 or so for the full size sensor. I can buy a lot of film for 35,000 USD

Digital has it’s place to be sure, I’m not about to give up having 300 plus images on a single flash card or the ability to “chimp” and see in real time what my images look like. But I’ve relearned to embrace the time and effort needed to shoot film because in some cases, it’s still better than digital.

So here is a full size scan of a 120 frame. It’s 5500 pixels from a 2400 dpi scan using my Epson 4990. It’s not a super image, I was hand holding and did a snap focus to catch the monorail but it serves the purpose of showing off how much data you can get from a 120 film frame.

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels

Here is a 200% crop of the above image. The crop is about 800 pixels in size and you can see how much detail is still there in spite of the insane crop. The 800 pixels would be a usable image for web use or even a small print if needed. Try to crop your D700 image 200% and see what you get. On my D300 crop sensor, 200% crop turns it to mush.

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels 200 percent crop

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels 200 percent crop

And here is a test shot using 100mm lens and 120 film. The film is B/W natively and it shows in the huge tonality range in the image. Smooth tones without having to fight with actions or conversions. I can amp up the tones very easily just like I used to do in the dark room using polycontrast filters and/or different types of paper. Given that I’m working with a real B/W image, the total processing time is less and I get better results.

ilford 400HP5 B/W 120 Film

ilford 400HP5 B/W 120 Film

This is NOT a religious thing with me nor am I’m a luddite who you will have pry my film from my cold dead hands. I’m someone who firmly believes in using the right tool for the task at hand. I also believe that sometimes in the rush for new technology, the benefits of the old tech is overlooked in the rush. I also firmly believe that while “good enough” is fine most times, to make the best art I can requires the use of the best tool I have access to. So while I can get “good enough” with a digital color conversion, I can do better with film and a bit more of an expense. And the few bucks more is “in the noise” when compared to the payoff.

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It’s all about the eyes

Eyes, the windows to the soul, dark pools to lose one’s self, the one thing that can seriously make or break your portraits. Radstone Creative Workshops is working with RedGum studios in Anaheim to bring good training at a very cheap price in a world class studio. This saturday, November 13, 2010, we had a four hour session that was all about the eyes and how to really shoot a portrait to show off the eyes. We also got BBQ burgers and ice cream out of the deal so for 20 bucks, it was a killer deal. If you want in, drop a line to either RedGum Studios by way of Darin at redgumstudios dot com or Richard Radstone

Richard makes good use of continuous lighting because the emotion that the eyes convey can be fleeting and even unexpected. So waiting or a strobe to recharge could break the shoot but with hot lights, Kinoflows or other continuous lights, you can have a good chance at catching that small tilt of the head and the flicker of the eyes that makes it a killer shot.

And as the noted shot below shows, you dont need alot of expensive equipment to get the shot. In this shot, the model was still getting make up on and sitting in the make up chair with a hot light lighting her. Not a “studio” hot light but a beat up what looked to be a beauty dish with a hot light instead of a strobe. That was it. Nothing more.

The rest of the images were taken over the course of four hours and more show what the workshop is about. Most of the lighting was a single main light, either a hot light or Kinoflow.  Nothing very fancy just light, some diffuser material, C47s (C47 Media Attachment Clip or clothespin ) and a assortment of gaffer tape 🙂 Really goes to show that you dont need a whole light money in hardware to light someone well. I will say that there was a small fortune in grip equipment holding up the few lights, flags and scrims.

The shoot also shows that having a makeup artist on hand or a couple of them can really amp up the shoot. You can change the “look” with a few clothing changes and some really good makeup. We had six different looks in four hours and it was amazing to watch. It was also important to learn that some makeup does not work well at all with HDLSR video due to how the light reflects and the same applies to this type of shooting that relies heavily on specular skin highlights. The wrong kind of makeup will go “waxy” or “muddy” in the images so a good make up artist is worth her or his weight in gold on the set.

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