Tag Archives: Light

Reflections of Light

No, not what you think. I’m talking about using a reflector to bounce some light into or onto your subject. I had a chance to shoot a fun family portrait session a few days ago and I walked into it not really knowing what to expect. I ended up at a public facility on the base without any trees or shade to speak of at 10AM on a bright day. I did find some shade by a gazebo and so I set up shop there. I was on soft grass and a bit of slope with a three year old running around so I was not comfortable in setting up a softbox with my SB800s so I went another way. I tossed a diffuser on the SB800, put it on the camera (yes, I hear the howls already about the evils of on camera flash) and set the camera to manual. The flash was set to TTL but that varied from -1 stop to +1.5 stops.

I was shooting pretty much head on to the subjects so you would think “washed out, hard shadows etc” and normally you would be correct but this time I pulled out a 36 inch silver reflector. I put it on a stand and locked it down and used it to cross light my subjects and fill in alot of those nasty shadows from the on camera flash. I did not have to worry about it being knocked over or anyone getting hurt. I did not have to go hunt for power (none around) and I didnt worry about the softbox falling over in the breeze and soft soil.

I could have used the white one I had but I wanted a bit more “edge” to the light so I went with silver. It has a brightness to it that works well with the SB800 flash.

Family using light infrared preset

Family using light infrared preset

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

You can really see here on the arm and around the boots, there is not the hard shadow you would expect from the strobe being on camera and just a piece of plastic to diffuse the light. Her hair on camera right also has some really nice light bringing up the highlights while there is a touch of the sun on her hair on camera left.

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

Here is a quick diagram of the shooting situation. I had some shade, bright sun and a silver reflector. The SB800 provided most of the light and the reflector provided the fill light.

 

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

So get a reflector or a few of them. And it does not have to be a California Sunbounce.. I used a cheapo that came with a strobe kit I bought off ebay a few years back. You can also use those windshield reflectors or anything else that reflects light. White fabric will provide a softer light than the silver while gold will provide a warm light.

 

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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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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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Using your small flash in broad daylight

A flashcube fitted to a Kodak Instamatic camera.
Image via Wikipedia

Shooting flash in the broad daylight always seems to bother people for some reason. I think that people are afraid that it’s complicated or some black art that is impossible to master. Listen, flash is just a self contained light that is run by batteries. Nothing magically about it or really hard to understand. The light from a flash works exactly the same way sunlight works or any other light. It has color, it will drop off in intensity over distance (square inverse law) and you can shape it. Probably the biggest reason people are suspect of flash in the daytime is that most camera can not do it well so you get blown out images or the traditional “hot spot” in the face or it’s still dark even though the flash fired.

To really use flash in the daytime, get manual. Forget that you spent a large sum of money on a camera that can virtually think for it’s self, put the dial on M for manual and learn how to set things up the way YOU want it. When I learned to shoot film, there was a rule pounded in to our collective heads. It’s been somewhat forgotten now by the users of digital but it is called the “Sunny Rule of 16”. For a bright sunny day, set the camera to ISO (ASA) 100, shutter to 1/125 (1/100) and F16 on the lens. That will get you 95% there for a properly lit exposure in bright sunlight. Once you have that, you can adjust each parameter and work out the others pretty easily.

What we need to know is that when shooting flash on a sunny day (or any other time) is that your shutter speed controls the ambient light and that the aperture controls the flash exposure. Why? Because the flash duration can be something like 1/42,000 (1/128 power) of a second which is way faster than your camera’s shutter at it’s best. Even at full power, the typical small flash is about 1/2000 of a second flash duration. And when you are shoot at 1/250-1/320 sync speeds, the flash is still way faster than your shutter speed.  Since aperture controls how MUCH  light comes in, you can adjust the intensity of the flash by either opening or closing the blades. Wide open is more light in and stopped down means alot less light is coming in.

The shutter on the other hand controls how LONG the light will hit the sensor or film. Short shutter speed means less exposure and longer shutter means more exposure. So if the flash is 1/32,000 of second long, when your shutter is at 1/200 second, you will get how ever much flash light there will be in that 1/32,000 of a second. What you CAN adjust with the shutter is the AMBIENT light. Or in this case, how bright the daylight will be. Slow shutter means lots of exposure and a short shutter means less ambient light. In the two images below, I shot both with exactly the same shutter and ISO but I added a Neutral Density Filter X2 which works just like pushing the aperture to F22 ( 1 stop) which my 50mm can not do.

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16 with Neutral Density X2

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16 with Neutral Density X2

This shows how the aperture adjusts the ambient light while the shutter and ISO stayed the same. What does that mean for us with a flash? Well, all things being equal, you can dial in your exposure with the flash by tweaking on the F stop. Of course, you need to have some range to do this, about F5.6 to start would be nice and thats tough in broad daylight. But not impossible. Lets do some math 🙂

If I start at ISO 100 and 1/125 shutter with F16 and I want to go lower on my F stop, how can I do that? I can drop ISO which I can not right now and I can UP the shutter speed controls my ambient light. So I raise my shutter 1/250, thats one F stop and I can cheat a bit and go to 1/320 shutter, thats two full F stops. So now I’m at ISO 100, 1/320 shutter and F8. With a neutral desity filter X2, I can go down one more F stop to F 5.6 which is right where I want to be. My exposure has not changed from the first set at ISO 100, 1/125 and F16. So now I have less depth of field, I have about 3 stops to work the ambient light to darken skies etc.

So this means that I have the ability to dial down the sky and use my flash to light up my subject even though it’s high noon or if I want a bit more drama at sunset. OK.. ok.. so enough about this ambient light stuff, how do we use a flash?  Pretty easy when you think about it. When you have the ISO at 100, the shutter at 1/125 and F16 for your aperture, the typical small flash like the SB800 needs to be eight feet away and full power to give the proper exposure.

No Flash ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

No Flash ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

SB800 Full Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

You can see that we can easily light up the subject with an SB800 from about 8 feet away. But what if we wanted to use less than full power? Or get depth of field? Easily done by juggling the parameters. Lets bring the flash in to about 4 feet and cut the power to 1/2. Nothing else has changed. ISO, Shutter  and F stop are still the same. I did zoom in a bit tighter so you can see the lighting closely.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

Now what if I wanted to darken the background a bit more. Remember, ambient light is controlled by my shutter so I will raise my shutter one stop to 1/320 which is about the max I can go with my wireless triggers before I start cutting off the image with the shutter shadow.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 NDx2

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16

You can see the exposure of the subject is the same but the background went a bit darker. So now what happens if I use one of those plastic diffusers? The kind that comes with the SB800 and snaps onto the front? Well, it means I can move my flash way in close and get softer light since the size of the light source relative to the subject has gotten alot bigger than when it was 8 feet away. I’m still at 1/2 power, broad daylight with the same shutter and ISO settings. Just closer and with the diffuser.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 With diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 With diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 Without diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 Without diffuser

You can easily see that the diffuser eats a fair amount of light. But the tradeoff is that you can get much better quality of light when you are so close like this that it’s a pretty good trade off.

I hope you can see from the images that understanding daylight use of the flash is not that hard once you keep some basic rules in your head. It’s not very magically but it is very useful. These images are just simple demonstrations of the ideas but I will be putting up some real portrait work later using these same ideas. So get out there with your flash and light something up.

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Photoshopworld 2010

So I survived Vegas with it’s 30 dollar lunches, 25 dollar shots of Scotch and my cheap room at Mandalay bay. I guess it all balances in the end since I did not give a nickel to the slots. The keynote was awesome, the Tweet up was alot of fun, the Expo was crazy good fun and I did sneak out early because of the holiday and trying to fly home on Friday.

I split my time with several class this time. I noticed that in 2007 which was the last time I was there at PSW, I saw 95% software based classes. This time, the tracks were split between real photography classes and software like Painter, Photoshop and such. I ended wishing I could attend them all but settled on a mix of classes

My preconference class was “The Art of the Digital Canvas” with Faye Sirkis and I had high hopes for the class since I really wanted to see how to make CS5 work with the new bristle brushes. But, the class fell short of my expectations between a lack of real meat in the class and technical issues with CS5. The good news is that was the only class that fell short in my opinion. The two classes I took with Joe McNally were awesome to be in and Joe has a very good sense of presentation with humor and solid information.  I took a Fashion Portrait class with David Cuerdon who I found relatively recently on Kelby’s training site and have decided that I really, really like his style and teaching methods.. The fashion class was a wealth of info on how to shoot and more importantly, retouch the shots effectively.

Zack Arias did a couple of classes but the one I went to was “Stuff you need to know to be a photographer” and as always, Zack did a bang up job of getting down to the nuts and bolts of being successful as a photographer and to figure out what is really important to you and and your craft. A hint, passion only gets you so far as a photographer.

I did the concert and event photographer on something of a lark and it was very interesting to hear how it works behind the scenes as it were. Also the choice of gear, how to get the pass and what to expect as a photographer at a concert. Alan Hess did a very good job at showing the class the real world of Concert photography and proving that yes, you can have fun while working for a living 🙂

Here are some random shots from the trip. I split my shooting between my Canon G11 and my D300. Both worked well but the Canon struggled with the low light in the classes. The D300 would work but only but shooting at 2.8 with ISO 3200 or 6400. I was really wishing for a FX camera and ISO 25,000 🙂 The NAPP Keynote was completely shot using the G11 and it did very well considering I had the zoom maxed out and the lighting was so bad. The class shots of Joe McNally were taken with the D300 at ISO 6400.

Zack Arias

Zack Arias

Mac Classic and Photoshop V1

Mac Classic and Photoshop V1

Metal prints were the hot item

Metal prints were the hot item

Scott giving away his Flying V to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

Scott giving away his Flying V to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

JohnnyL Adobe GM Digital Media

JohnnyL Adobe GM Digital Media

Photoshop Keynote

Photoshop Keynote

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Home Base

Home Base

Mandalay Bay Lobby Entrance

Mandalay Bay Lobby Entrance

Photoshop TV LIVE

Photoshop TV LIVE

Joe McNally

Joe McNally

Small Flash Class by Joe McNally

Small Flash Class by Joe McNally

Joe McNally in action

Joe McNally in action

My view while blogging at Mandalay Bay

My view while blogging at Mandalay Bay

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Westcott Model Shoot

The vendor, Westcott, sell various lighting and light modifiers to photographers and studios. They are a constant vendor at Photoshopworld and other Photography related shows. One of the most popular features of their booth has been the model shoot where a rep will demo product using a live model and then allow photographers to try their hand at a fast shoot using the same setup and equipment.

I think they just raised the bar in a big way by having four “sets” set up where they had live models and at times a still life available to shoot using the Westcott equipment. There were simple rules, you could not touch the model or the lights but you could direct the model on how you think a pose might work. This time you can submit your final images to be a possible catalog cover.

Popular? You bet!!!  They had photographers coming out of the woodwork with everything from the high end Canon/Nikons to the cell phone with any number of camera in between. it was amazing to shoot and even more so just to watch. It was pretty clever in a way since you can only really make the photograph yours by model position and post work. Since the lights were fixed, you had to move the model to change the mood and you had to use some solid techniques in post to “fix” things like lights being in the image, fashion model fixing, getting rid of backdrop seams and so on.

Here are some of my shots along with a description of what I had to do in post to get to the finished or close to the finished image. Most of what I did to these images is not much different than what I do in my wedding shoots or portrait sessions here in my studio in Orange. When I shoot, many times I know when I take the shot, that I will need to do something in post like removing something or enhancing the bride and so on. Sometimes I make a mental note that a certain picture will need something specific because I know it’s a cool shot but needs editing to make it cool.

Here is my Catwoman shot in the raw. No retouching, no post of any kind except to convert it from camera RAW to JPEG to post here on my blog.

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

You can see from the above shot that there is quite a bit of work needed in post to make a usable image. There is a light in the upper left, the bike is on carpet, the background is too short and does not touch the carpet just to name a few things. Here is the final version or very close to my final version of Catwoman

Catwoman in Gotham Final

Catwoman in Gotham Final

I edited out all the extra stuff like the lights and reflector panel. I used content aware fill and free transform to stretch and edit the background. I used the Lightroom Graduated Filter with a blue tint to darken and add mood to the background. I added a concrete texture to the carpet to make it look more like asphalt. I did a fair amount of selective burning in like the front rim of the bike which was too bright. I tweaked the intensity to get the deep reds and dark blacks. I added a dark vignette around the image to help blend in the transition between backdrop and carpet. I think it turned out pretty well 🙂

In the next shot, we have a retro looking “Pin Up Queen” but we need some work here too. There is a red fabric that is competing for attention, we have tattoos on the model and we have some unsightly bulges on the bustline and arm.

Pin Up Queen RAW

Pin Up Queen RAW

And here is my final image after using several tools and some hand work.

Pin Up Queen Final

Pin Up Queen Final

I used liquidify to smooth out the bustline and arm. I used Portraiture to smoothout the skin and give a glamor look to the over all image. I removed the red sash hanging down in the background and I removed the tats showing on each arm.

Here are some of the rest of my shots from the Westcott model shoot. Westcott even had a couple of still lifes for those who do not like shooting people. As you can see, many times you need good post processing to really bring out the best of a picture whether it be a still life, a fashion shoot or even a wedding. I’ve seen good images with bad post processing and they just do not work well. I’ve seen marginal images but with excellent post processing and they work pretty well.  Taking the shot is just one step to having a killer image as the final result. Ansel Adams was a master of this and understood clearly that the raw image was only the first step to showing the world your vision.

Thank to Westcott for putting all of this together and letting the photographers have alot of fun over the past three days shooting gorgeous models on fun sets.

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk FINAL

Steam Punk FINAL

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair FINAL

Natural Pair FINAL

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