lighting

dramatic studio lighting: using the beauty dish as a single light source

I love the forgiving nature of large light modifiers – you don’t have such precision with a huge softbox as you do with a smaller, more contrasty light modifier.  But you also have less opportunity for dramatic light, as you do with smaller light sources. In line with the idea that a smaller light = harder light = dramatic light, I wanted to create a series of portraits that had a darker, moodier feel.

Brian Calabrese, a New York portrait photographer friend of mine, met up with me in my studio, and through various iterations of how to position him, and how to place the light, we got to some stunning portraits of him.

In trying to use the beauty dish as a dual light – lighting up Brian’s features, and as spill light on the background – it took careful positioning of the light, and posing of Brian. The beauty dish was  on a Manfrotto 025BS boom (vendor) that was on a light stand with casters. I kept the weight-end of the boom close to me so I could just reach out and adjust the light’s placement. (You can see this in the pull-back shot.)

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portrait photography – allowing influences to inspire your own style

I keep a folder of Inspiration images to which I often add interesting photos shot by other photographers. This serves as an ideas folder. There are hundreds upon hundreds of images. I add to this Inspiration folder, and I also discard images over time as my own style and what I want to work towards, form better shape. I might browse through this and see what sticks in my mind. Sometimes it is the amalgamation of ideas that lead to something new. Even when I try to emulate the style and lighting of an image, there are always distinct differences that lead to new images with a different look for me.

Similarly, the photo above was loosely based on ideas I saw elsewhere … yet, by the time we were done, the  photos from this session didn’t look like the inspiration images. Different model; different lighting; different post-processing; different interpretation and a different photographer.

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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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on-location headshots and promotional portraits – Jonathan Arons

One of the things I like the most about photography, aside from the cool toys, is that you get to meet interesting people. Characters. People with spark. The challenge is then to capture that and show it in the photographs. A headshots photo session needs to be more than just a mere glimpse of your subject’s personality.

Jonathan Arons, also known as “the trombone dancer”, is a multi-talented actor, singer, dancer and musician, based in New York. Jonathan needed some professonial headshots and some portraits for promotional use. We shot these on location in New York. As you can see, there is a dynamic persona here with a lot of energy! With portraits, the intent is always to show the personality and charm. Even some of the playful spiritedness. All of this added up to make the photo session real fun. That glitter suit though!

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boudoir photography: couples boudoir photo session – gesture and connection

With portraits of a couple, the way they connect with each other is often the main factor whether the image is compelling. It could be through gesture and touch. The gesture might even be subtle – if a couple snuggles in, they don’t have to look at each other – it’s entirely possible to give that sense of connectedness, even with a downward glance. As long a it looks like they are concentrating on each other or responding to each other, it works.

With the image at the top, Olena and Austin are directly looking at each other, hands intertwined and legs touching. Connection clearly there.

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portrait & headshot photography: studio lighting tools – Westcott Eyelighter

With portrait lighting for head shots, there are so many configurations – all the way from dramatic lighting, to very even light – but always keeping in mind that the lighting needs to look flattering. It is all in how we balance the various lights, and how we add fill-light.

Westcott has released a curved reflector, the Eye-lighter (vendor), and it is quite versatile:

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Light Blaster: image projection effects for creative backgrounds in the studio

Working with an idea in mind – a moody B&W portrait with a stylized cityscape as background. Using the Light-Blaster again in the studio, this final image was a progression of that idea. I knew I wanted to use the cityscape background of one of the metal gobos that came with the Light-Blaster kit.

Because I wanted the final photo to be black and white, I set my camera to Monochrome so that I’d have a good idea during the shoot what the final image would look like. Since I shoot in RAW, the image would pull up in color the moment I start my post-processing. Then I reverted it to B&W again, and edited it for contrast and for the vignette you see in the final image at the top.

The first step of the shoot was to set up the Light Blaster, then get the exposure, and then figure out the lighting on our model, Priscilla.

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wedding photography lighting – shooting in partial sunlight & shade

I strongly believe that when you have the ability to control a photo session, that you pick your battles. You don’t have to try and make everything work. Set up portrait shots in light that favors you. Of course, off-camera flash really helps you in being able to pick where you want that light that favors you.

Solid advice that I adhere to, is to not have a person or a group of people half in the sun, half in shade. It’s a recipe for disaster, or a tough battle to fight, lighting wise. But then, slightly amneding Sean Connery’s immortal words in The Untouchables, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight.” When you have enough light to match the sun, then it is possible to pull something out of that challenging situation!

I like using speedlights for additional light, but I also have my Profoto AcuteB2 600R Power Pack (vendor), in the trunk of my car … just in case I need something more than a knife. But really, if the Profoto B1 500 Air (vendor), was available for Nikon, it would be the Profoto B1 that I pull out. 500 Ws of easily portable light!

I really liked this building as a backdrop, but at this time of the day, half the facade was in sun, and half in shade. And this is where having a really powerful flash on location, is very very handy. I can dump sunlight levels of light (through a softbox!) to match the sunlit areas, and match the exposure levels.

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boudoir photography: dealing with mixed light – daylight & incandescent

Boudoir photo sessions can be nerve-wracking – not just for your subject or client who undoutably feels vulnerable, but also for you as the photographer. You have to juggle speed in shooting, with meticulous posing and (hopefully) impeccable lighting …. and still keep the flow of the shoot going, and also keep your subject’s confidence up. With this boudoir photo session in a NYC studio, I photographed my friend, Jessica Joy.

I wanted to use this window of  course, and incorporate the boxes. It all just begged to have my friend Jessica J sit on the window sill. The mixed lighting – daylight from outside, and incandescent from inside – seemed like it might be a challenge. One way would be to embrace the different color balance between daylight and incandescent light, or try to even it all out somehow.

I tried a stripbox with speedlights, but the light was too flat. Not bad, but all the nuanced available light was lost, and I wanted to retain the mood of the venue. I put away the flashes and softbox, and grabbed my Litepanels Croma LED video light (vendor). The Croma has adjustable WB, which was a big help here in finding a color balance that best suited the transition from window-light to Incandescent. I did allow the image to go much warmer for the interior and for Jessica, and not let the background go blue.

Here’s the setup, and let’s also look a bit at the pose …

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using a really big gridded strip-box / soft-box for portraits

There seems to be a natural progression with photographers exploring off-camera flash and studio photography. After the initial umbrella and softbox, the next purchase is usually a beauty dish, and then other esoterica such as ring-flash.

Personally, I’d suggest that one of the first light modifiers anyone should get, is a small or medium sized gridded strip-box. A strip-box is narrower than the usual soft boxes, and the grid really helps contain the light spread. So you now have the ability to get relatively soft light, but also control it much better than a regular softbox or especially an umbrella. Most of the photos shot for the review of the Profoto B1 portable flash, was shot with a Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (vendor). It was just the right combination of portable & awesome light.

When I added some lighting gear to my studio space to make it attractive as a rental studio space, I decided to get three of these gridded stripboxes …  1×3 and 1×4 and 1×6 seemed liked a good progression. But the  Profoto RFi 1’×6′ softbox (vendor) turned out to be huge. Very tall. Six feet tall. This is the kind of light that you use to light the contours of cars in much larger studios. It’s pretty big.

So the softbox lay dormant in my studio, until this recent photo session with Anita De Bauch, a model from the UK who visited the New York area. And in figuring out a specific way to light her, I had an epiphany. A relegation in how this massive stripbox can be used for portraits. There’s a way the light can be controlled that is quite unique to it, I believe.

(Now, before clicking on the ‘more’ link, be aware that the rest of this post has images with some nudity.)

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