photography tip: available light portraits – finding that sweet spot of light

A regular theme on Tangents, is using interesting found light sources while shooting portraits on location. For example: using sunlight reflected off a traffic sign.

With this straight-forward portrait of Irene, a photographer friend in New York, I want to show a neat little trick here – helping your subject understand exactly where you want them to stand.

Here we had random reflections of glass structures in Manhattan, giving random spots of lights.  I wanted to use one of these spots of lights here as naturally found light for Irene, and another splash of light to give a high-light behind her, as I framed her against it.

Instead of giving your subject incremental instructions – “a little to the left, a little to the left, no, come back” – the simple trick to have your subject turn around so they can see this highlight, and have them move a little until they can see their own shadow in the splash of light …

Learn more inside…

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photography workshops

February 21, 2015

photography workshops for 2015

The group 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 three 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.

If you would like an individual workshop, or a personal tutoring session, those are available as well throughout the year, depending on both of our schedules. The studio is only 17 miles from Manhattan. Just a short hop from New York and quite accessible by bus. Oh, and there’s parking at the studio. Free parking.

If you are limited in how far you can travel, there are Skype sessions and also video tutorials to help you get a much better understanding of photography and lighting techniques.

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in-camera special effects with gobo projection

I still have this old-school preference for effects done in-camera and effects achieved with interesting lighting, over effects achieved nearly entirely through digital manipulation. Absolutely no disrespect to digital artists who create astonishing work. However, my jaw drops when I look at the sheer scale of the work of a photographer like Gregory Crewdson. Naturally then, my hero is Gregory Heisler, who has a true genius for creating diverse work through amazing lighting. So that would be my inclination – how much can I achieve in-camera to create an image that grabs attention. Of course, having a striking looking model helps a lot.

Still exploring the possibilities of projection effects with the Light Blaster (vendor), a speedlight based projector, I met up with Viktoria in my studio. The Light Blaster has several effects kits, but I still prefer the stronger and starker outlines of the gobo kit over the various gel kits. With previous experiments in the studio, I used the Light Blaster to project patterns on the background, or into smoke. Working with an idea I saw from my friend Josh Lynn, I projected the pattern onto the wall in the studio, and had Viktoria in the mix there somewhere.

Learn more inside…

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tutorial: focusing modes for your camera

I want to expand the exposure metering tutorials with other basic tutorials on camera settings and photography techniques. It’s been in the works a while now, and here is the tutorial on the focusing modes of your camera. Similar to many of the other tutorial articles on Tangents, I wanted to distill the essential elements, and make it as uncomplicated a topic as I could.

The more I delved into the various AF options and how they work, it became more difficult to generalize it in an accessible but still truthful way. I’d love to hear your feedback.

About the photo above, it was a playful idea based on Milla Jovovich’s character, Leeloo, in Fifth Element. In the one scene she beckons the evil aliens closer with a jiggle of her fingertips. It’s an image that stayed with me – a pivotal scene in this very enjoyable Sci-Fi movie. This is the moment everything tips over into an avalanche of crazy action.

So I posed Anelisa like this during a recent photography workshop, with the express idea of using it in an article on the auto-focus modes. The key idea here is that we don’t allow the camera to decide what we focus on. We have to be deliberate about where the camera should focus.

So check out the tutorial on the focusing modes of your camera.
I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.

Now, the techie details of the photo at the top:

Learn more inside…

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WPPI 2015 – Master Class & Photo Walk

I will be at WPPI again this year, presenting a Master Class, as well as a Photo Walk. Details below. Click on the banners to get to WPPI’s site.

Even if you’re not attending these two events, do say hello when you see me around. (I tend to wear my computer glasses which limits my distance sight – so if it looks like I don’t recognize you, I probably didn’t. Come over and say hi!

WPPI 2015 – Master Class 28 – overcoming tough lighting scenarios

When shooting a wedding, we don’t always have the luxury of ideal settings and conditions; we have to make it work! This presentation offers practical steps to develop and achieve consistency with your wedding candids and portraits when facing difficult scenarios. We’ll discuss real-world practical building blocks you can use to help when challenged by tough lighting scenarios. By looking at the thought-process, we’ll look at posing and specifically the lighting, from available to additional lighting. We will look at all the factors that have to come together for a successful and consistent technique to deliver your best as a wedding photographer.

Speaker: Neil Van Niekerk
Type: Master Class
Track: Lighting
Location: Room 203

WPPI 2015 – Photo Walk 45 – on-location lighting & tips on posing a couple

On Wednesday morning I will take a group of photographers out to photograph a couple. There will be two professional models there as the couple. I’ll have a Profoto B1 there with a softbox and some triggers. We will discuss on-location lighting for portraits, as well as tips to pose a couple. But mostly we will have fun shooting!

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wedding photography: posing and lighting – aiming for a consistent style

The two images were taken about half an hour apart, with entire different lighting setups – yet there is a consistent look.

The photo on the left was shot using video light with an Incandescent white balance. A video light is a small light source, so the lighting is usually quite contrasty – so you need to take care with the posing to have your main subject posing into the light. With a bridal couple, I will nearly always favor the bride for the more flattering light. Hence, I will invariably pose the bride in relation to the light – and then add the groom.

The image on the right was shot with a Profoto B1 portable flash (vendor), and the Profoto RFi 1’×3 soft box (vendor). (Check the comments in this article – high-speed flash with the Profoto B1 – to see why the narrow 1×3 soft box is a favorite for on-location portraits. The image on the right was shot through one of those elliptical shaped openings you in the divider screen you see on the left.

When posing a couple, I start with one person first, and then add the second person. This makes it easier to assemble the pose. In the examples here, the pose is quite similar, but changed up because my position (and angle) changed.

Now, back to the theme of this article – how it is entirely possible to aim for a consistent style, even though using a variety of lighting – this is a topic we’ve explored before. For example, in the article adapting the use of light & flash photography, I emphasized that I do mix up the lighting types, depending on what is needed; what is practical; and what is the best option. Similarly, in the article where I used the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding, I added examples of using available light; video light; and on-camera bounce flash. Again, I base what I use on whether it is necessary, or most practical or the best choice.

Even though I mix up the lighting I am using as the wedding day progresses, I want a coherent style to be apparent. It will count in your favor if your work shows diversity, but there’s a discipline so that it doesn’t look random or hodgepodge.

Let’s look at further examples from Nicole & Brad’s wedding:

Learn more inside…

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photography book: Direction & Quality of Light

When Direction and Quality of Light was released in March 2013, it felt like an even bigger achievement than my previous two books. Here I share many of the “aha!” moments which took me years to completely grasp – that at the heart of it, every aspect of photographic lighting is dependent on understanding the direction and quality of light.

I do believe this book can make a difference to your photography. I’m that confident about it.

All the more amazing to see that 2 years later, this book is still bouncing up and down at (or near) the top slot on Amazon for Best Sellers in Photography Lighting. When I took this screen capture today, it was in position #1, although this list does fluctuate daily. It really feels good to see that the book is still popular. And it feels good to see that it is up there with the best authors and photographers.

Learn more inside…

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fun with the Kodak PIXPRO SP360 action camera

The kind people at Kodak sent me a Kodak SP360 action camera to try and see what I could create with it. Essentially this is a compact 1080p HD video camera which you can attach to things to take wide-angle action video clips. Perfect if you want to take breath-taking videos while scuba diving or free-falling from planes or being involved in all kinds of daring action. It would also be perfect as a dash-cam if you want to capture the next time a meteor comes soaring through Earth’s atmosphere.

I don’t scuba dive. (I live in New Jersey anyway.) I am really not up to sky-diving. And I can’t drive around New York and New Jersey for the rest of my life, on the off-chance I’ll be there when a meteor spectacularly comes down.

Instead, I thought it might be a fun thing to attach this video camera to a trombone slider while someone is playing … and get some funky footage as the video-cam slides closer and further away. You may remember Jonathan Arons from the NYC headshots photo session and the photos of him performing in a night-club. Well, that’s him in the video.

Jonathan very kindly indulged me in this and we shot several sequences of him playing his trombone out on the streets of New York, with the Kodak SP360 clamped to the trombone slider.

There was no other rationale behind this video clip than having some goofy, surreal fun.

Learn more inside…

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lingerie photo session – light, lighting & textures  (model: Melanie S.)

This photograph of Melanie, one of my favorite models, is one of a sequence where we played with different lights and lighting styles in the studio. I wanted lighting that was both soft and dramatic. Both feminine and bold. The lighting is the same idea – using a big gridded strip-box / soft-box – as I used in a previous photo session with another model, Anita DeBauch.

The final image above, is the result of my first tentative exploring of using texture layers in Photoshop. I wanted to retain her shadow and other detail in the wall, while enhancing the appeal of the image with a texture layer in PS. I felt that the unadorned photo needed an additional element to elevate it.

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an informal portrait with the 85mm lens – Sarah S.

Like pretty much every photo geek that I know of, I carry a camera with me wherever I go, for my personal photography. Now when the photography isn’t for an actual planned shoot or professional shoot, but just for fun walk-about – then the choice of gear somehow becomes more involved. What lens should I take – wide, normal or tele. Fixed or zoom. The bulk and weight become considerations – you don’t want to schlep around too much gear.

Creativity and motivation quickly dissipate when your back and feet start to hurt from a camera bag that is too heavy. Nowadays the Fuji X100s (vendor) is my walk-about take-everywhere camera. The 35mm equivalent lens is a good choice for more scenic views. For example, during my visit in 2014 to South Africa, it is the only camera that I took. Here are some of the results from it: hot-air balloon ride

I tend to oscillate in deciding between 2 lenses for my own photography when I am just out exploring.
– 35mm for more scenic views in mind,
– 85mm when I have tighter perspective and portraits in mind.

I have a specific love for the 85mm lens. I believe this is the best lens to change your portrait photography. That short telephoto gives you some compression to your perspective, and the wider aperture allows you to throw pretty much any background out of focus.

When a photographer friend, Sarah Smith, visited New York, I met up with her and we roamed the streets of Manhattan a bit, exploring. With me I had the D700 that I owned at the time, and the 85mm f/1.4 lens on it.

On 42nd Street, there is a McD’s with this brightly lit ceiling to its entrance. Very New York glitz, especially for a fast food place. I knew that shooting up towards it with a tight composition, would make a beautiful background for an impromptu portrait. I asked Sarah to stop, and then asked her to turn her gaze slightly outwards to the light coming from the street side of the Manhattan sidewalk. I carefully framed the image in my camera’s viewfinder, using shallow depth of field. An interesting background, beautiful light and a very photogenic subject with the right lens. Sometimes it’s this easy, and this quick.

Learn more inside…

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