dramatic lighting effects for portrait photography  (model: Jessica Joy)

For this dramatic Hollywoord Glamor inspired portrait sequence of Jessica, I used two Litepanels Sola 4 LED fresnel lights (affiliate). But there’s more that happening here with the lighting than just the main light and the rim light. There is the splash of color in the background, augmenting the blue rim-light coming from behind.

Jessica’s reaction to the first test shot was amusing – a surprised,”where did that come from?”, when she saw the image on the back of my camera. The blue tones and the pattern in the background were an unexpected dramatic effect. It didn’t look like that until I fired the shutter.

While Jessica was finishing up her with her make-up and hair, I had set up the lights. The two  Litepanels Sola 4 LED fresnel lights (affiliate), and a Light Blaster (affiliate) with a star pattern gobo on the background. When I positioned her in the middle of the studio floor, the two fresnel lights were shining … and that’s all that it looked like at the time. But then the magic happened.

The lighting for these photographs need to be considered as two layers – the continuous light (via the LED fresnel light), and the the flash via the Light Blaster on the background. And that’s how we’ll break it down:

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flash photography workshop – Charlotte, NC – July 25, 2015 (Sat)

The workshop is on! Only 3 spots left. 

A group of photographers in Charlotte asked if I would like to present a flash photography workshop there. After some to-and-fro, we’ve arranged for a really nice venue, and settled on a date – July 25th (Sat). Everything is in place for this to happen – the first workshop away from NJ / NY since the workshop in Amsterdam two years ago.

A few details:
The workshop will be limited to 12 people.
There will be two models.
The fee for the workshop is $600 per person.
The workshop will start at 9am, and end at 8pm.

Here is a description of the workshop syllabus. The workshop is aimed at having everyone come away from the workshop, confident in the use of flash photography. We’ll make sure those aha! moments happen.

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best / portable softbox for on-location headshot photography

I vary the lighting kit that I use for on-location portraits and headshot photography. It could involve multiple lights, or a single-light setup on location. My choice of lighting is most often decided by how complex it need to be, and the logistics of getting to the location and setting up.

More than struggling with something, I detest the appearance of struggling with something. Let me explain – when working with clients, it all needs to appear smooth and efficient. Everything in place, and professional. No struggling with gear. Set it up efficiently; shoot; and then break it all down even faster at the end. I don’t want to appear like I am battling with anything. (This is also why I shy away from anything that looks home-made or makeshift.

With this extended gig described here – photo gear & logistics: corporate headshots – I used a large setup with multiple studio heads. This involved a lot of logistics with the lighting gear, carting it around in New York, and being able to set it all up quickly. With another headshots gig for a company, I needed multiple spots set up simultaneously on the company’s site – on-location headshots and promotional portraits. Different needs, and different solutions.

When shooting inside, we can rely less on the available light to act as a natural fill light. But outside, on location, the ambient light and flash are often neatly balanced, and then a much simpler single-lightsetup can be sufficient.

Back to the idea of setting up fast, and not struggling – a softbox with speedring and rods can be a mild battle, with the need to push down on the rods and flex them.

The Westcott Rapid Box 36 XL (affiliate), alleviates that. This 36″ double-baffled octa-box opens and closes like an umbrella. There is a zippered opening on the side where you can stick your hand in to settle the mechanism inside, and then also wiggle it lose afterwards to collapse it. The Rapid Box 36 XL fits into a carry-bag.

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themes & context in boudoir photography – on the streets of NYC

The model in this striking image is my friend, Jessica, a boudoir photographer. Her pose is intentionally this strong and assertive. The concept here (and other images that will be shown in follow-up articles), is part of an on-going project she had planned for a long while now. She had asked me to collaborate with her in taking the photos.

The main idea behind the project (and these are my words and interpretation of what we had discussed) – women are objectified in society, but there is a disconnect in how people respond (or don’t) to provocative posters and images of scantily clad women – yet, when an actual woman appears in the same context – scantily clad in public, but out of context, people react differently.

During this shoot out on the streets of NYC, where Jessica appeared in different outfits, people responded in an interesting way. This is New York. People have seen everything. Little fazes them. People easily go about their routine. Some are more bold, and stopped to look, and even comment. Of course, the Observer Effect kicked in in a big way – by observing an experiment, you affect its outcome. So the presence of my camera, and the lighting, as well as a friend doing a behind-the-scenes video, obviously affected people’s response … compared to that if Jessica had been there on her own, just wearing lingerie.

A quick note about the main image – the guys in the background were 100% a deliberate choice in this composition. As was the timing that they both look at their phones. With that in mind, this photo is one we both picked when selecting an initial image to show. Her narrative will come later in a post on her site.

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photographers: why use a high-resolution camera?

The Nikon D810 (affiliate) is a camera that surprised me for how much I liked using it. The high resolution of this camera was a drawback for me initially. But it had very responsive AF. Also, super-crisp images because of the improved sensor and due to the lack of the anti-aliasing filter. Ergonomics. (I have big hands.) But I didn’t anticipate that I would love the D810 as much as I do. For a long while though I kicked against the idea of using a camera with a very high resolution. But then the Nikon D810 convinced me. There’s a story here. A story of progression, including my own.

A short history of digital cameras:

The pivotal time when digital photography with really good cameras became accessible, was when the 6 megapixel cameras ruled, e.g.: Canon 10D and Nikon D100 and the Fuji S2. These were the crop-sensor cameras. It was just a matter of time then before full-frame DSLRs became available.

There was a certain progression after the first full-frame DSLR, the Contax N Digital was released in 2002. While the Contax was a 6 megapixel camera, the next full-frame DSLRs was the 11-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds (also 2002). This appeared to be the landmark camera that helped sway the medium-format film shooters to dump their Hasselblad bodies in favor of digital cameras. (The Kodak DCS Pro 14n, released in 2003 never quite took off due to various production problems.) In 2004, the 16-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II was released, and a year later (2005) the much more affordable Canon EOS 5D, brought higher-resolution (and a clean 1600 ISO) to the general photographer. The Canon 5D had 12.8 megapixels, and turned out to be another landmark camera in the quick ascent of digital photography. And in 2007, Nikon finally released the 12 megapixel full-frame Nikon D3. With only 12 megapixels and a sweet sensor, the D3 had the best high-ISO noise at the time.

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posing people: tips for improving your portrait photos

posing people: tips for improving your portrait photos

Throughout the numerous articles on the Tangents blog, I’m often asked about how I go about posing people. I’ve described some of it in the article, adjusting a pose with incremental changes. Instead of a traditional way of posing, it’s mostly a “feel” thing, looking at my subject and seeing if there are elements that could be better balanced. This studio portrait of a model, Adrienne, doesn’t follow rigid guidelines of formal portraiture. Her shoulder is a little scrunched up, and her head is tilted to the side. Yet, to my eyes, this works. There’s a “looseness” to it. Yet, I did adjust a few things before firing the shutter.

That is a constant for me – I wouldn’t just fire off frames without being at least partially satisfied how my subject appears in the frame. It’s that delicate balance between maintaining spontaneity (and capturing some of the real personality of your subject), and controlling what you see in your frame. Just firing off frames will rarely give you many successful images.

For all that though, the moment and expression trumps technical perfection. It’s not an excuse to not put in the effort to excel — it’s permission to be okay with a photograph that is awesome despite what might technically be seen as flaws.

In posing someone, there are a few things I immediately look out for:

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NYC cityscapes – infra-red black & white photography

After a long hard winter and a slow warming up to summer (and a busy schedule), I finally squeezed some time to wander around New York City again with an infra-red B&W camera. I tried it out once during winter, but it just didn’t work – without the sun and without heat, the images were dull and flat. Nothing there. Infra-red B&W needs bright light and contrast.

Infra-red B&W photography seems dominated by landscapes where the trees and grass turn white, and the skies darker. But what I like about using this camera in an urban setting, is that you are often surprised by the unexpected. Some areas which are brightly painted, turn out a dull grey – there’s just not enough contrast in the infra-red range. Other times, you have hot spots that flare, and odd pools of light that shape – especially with light reflected off the tall glass buildings in New York.

The image above is a roof-top view from the West side, looking South-West towards the Hudson River and New Jersey. I moved until I could partially hide the sun behind the building for just enough flare. The extreme wide-angle view with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS (affiliate) at 16mm, expanded this scene to include the dramatic sky.

Here’s a selection of the other images that also worked particularly well:

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recap: Boudoir photography workshop – Albany, NY (2015)

Teaming up with Genine Gullickson, one of the best boudoir photographers I know, we co-presented an all-day workshop in Feminine Portraiture and Boudoir Photography. The workshop was held in Genine’s studio in Schenectady, NY on May 31st.

We had two lovely modes, and two stylists who took care of make-up and hair styling. We had a fun group of 7 photographers who attended this workshop. Genine’s place – Clique Studio – is a loft-styled studio offering a variety of backgrounds and settings. (This immediately made the images more interesting than would’ve been possible in a studio with just paper backdrops.) I brought along a range of lighting gear – continuous lighting and flash; soft lighting and dramatic lighting.

Everyone had the opportunity to shoot with the variety of lighting, and most importantly, had the opportunity to work with the models and pose them.

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how to overpower bright sunlight with on-camera flash

The photograph on the left shows one of the toughest lighting conditions you get to deal with. Your subjects are half in the sun / half in the shade … and there is no way you could interrupt and change things in your favor. There is no way to have the flower-girls move. No way to bring in additional, off-camera lighting. You can’t scrim the sunlight either with large reflectors.

There are these times when your options are limited, but you still have to get the best out of this challenging situation. There is one viable option here, crouched down in the center aisle – use on-camera flash to bring up the shadow detail.

There have a few articles here on how to overpower the sunlight with off-camera flash …

… and they all follow a specific train of thought to get ourselves out of trouble. Even in this article – engagement photo sessions: posing, lighting & context – there is an algorithm in place.

Same with this scenario where we use on-camera flash. In fact, it is even a little easier:

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Photography Workshops (NYC / NJ) for 2015

The flash photography workshops are full-day events – and are a mixture of seminar presentation and practical shooting. The workshops will be held at my studio space in NJ. There is free parking, and it is easily reached from the main highways in the area. There is also regular bus transport from NYC. (We can fetch you from the bus terminal.)

The fee for the full-day workshop is $600 and the workshop is from 9am to 8pm. Lunch and refreshments are included!

The workshops are now limited to 6 people – and working within my own studio with more equipment readily at hand, gave the workshop a relaxed tempo. The material is always streamlined a little bit more, from workshop to workshop.

More info about the photography workshops.

The workshops for 2015 will take place on:

  • May 17, 2015  (Sunday)
  • July 19, 2015  (Sunday)
  • Sept 20, 2015  (Sunday)

Book a spot at one of the workshops.
Each class will be limited to 6 people.
(Here are recaps of previous photography workshops.)


Photo Walks in NYC

The Photo Walks are new additions to the photography workshops. With the Photo Walk, we will photograph a model around a colorful, interesting part of New York City. We will roam around looking for photogenic urban backdrops to photograph the model against.

The group will be limited to just 4 photographers, so it won’t be crowded. We will also work at a relaxed tempo, so that I can attend to everyone and help everyone get amazing images. There will be an assistant to carry and hold the light for us. We just get to shoot and have fun!

I will provide the Profoto B1 flash, and will have enough Nikon and Canon wireless TTL triggers for the Profoto so that everyone can shoot individually.

  • New York,  August 1, 2015  (Sat),  3-5pm  –  2 spots left
  • New York,  October 3, 2015  (Sat),  3-5pm  –  only 1 spot left
  • New York,  October 24, 2015  (Sat),  3-5pm  –  only 1 spot left

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