lighting

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 (retail), 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 J. (More about this specific boudoir photo session on the blog post.)

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 (B&H). 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 (Amazon). 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 (Amazon) 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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working with harder light sources in the studio – flash & continuous light  (model: Ulorin Vex)

With the recent photo session with Ulorin Vex in the studio, I played with variations of using harder light and using shadow as part of the image’s composition. The first setup was similar to a previous photo session in the studio with Anelisa:  smaller light = dramatic light. Ulorin Vex easily fell into poses well suited to this idea of using the shadow as part of the image’s design.

For this final image, I used a textured overlay to enhance the sun-drenched look. I also wanted to hide the texture of the wall a bit by cloaking it with the Photoshop texture. I used a warm colored texture, to echo the color of her hair, and which then also was a complement to the blue dress. The color also took away some of the starkness of the image.

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photographic style – inspiration, adjusting & adapting  (model: Ulorin Vex)

Photography has a never-ending learning curve. I think this is even more true as the technology expands and accelerates. Sometimes I feel that we’re running at full speed just to remain at a stand-still. That’s just the technology that we have to acquire what we need to know about to do our work and art the best. But even with the techniques and methods we have as photographers – we should always be investigating and analyzing the work of others, learn, and then rework and adapt it in our own style. Even if we acquire new skills in minute ways – it all adds up to where we are always on an upward curve, learning and becoming better.

When I first dived into photography, I spent countless hours reading books and photography magazines. I eventually discovered heaven – the Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography, in Johannesburg. Shelves and shelves of books on photography! That was then – now we have complete overload with the work of other photographers and artists just a click away.  With that, I am constantly looking at the work of others, soaking in what others are doing.

A photographer that has really stood in the past year or so, is Craig Lamere. His style is clean and striking looking. There’s a dramatic simplicity to it, with beautiful lighting and impeccable post-processing. Check out his work.

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boudoir photography and the 50mm lens

With shooting space often times so tight for boudoir photo sessions, there is the temptation to use a 50mm lens for tighter headshots on a full-frame D-SLR. Instead of stepping back a bit and using an 85mm lens or longer, a bit of visual laziness comes into play, and we rely on the 50mm lens too much. It really is too short a focal length for a tight portrait. I think many photographers are even too in love with their 50mm lenses, and use it without thought of how this would distort someone’s face when used too close to their subjects.

I totally understand the need for compromise. Quite often the angle we need to shoot from, dictates a shorter-than-ideal focal length – whether because of the shape of the room, or the direction of the light. This still doesn’t make the 50mm a good lens to shoot tight portraits with. A longer focal length would still give you more flattering results.

The example photographs in this article are by Petra Herrmann, Kansas City boudoir photographer. Petra also maintains the Business of Boudoir, website which has a lot of useful info for boudoir photographers.

She used a 50mm lens for these images, but kept to half-length as the closest distance to photograph her subject. The 50mm really is more of an environmental portrait type lens, rather than a tight portrait lens.

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portraits in the studio with an 85mm f/1.4 lens

Shooting portraits with fast lenses for that distinctive shallow depth-of-field look, works in the studio too. In fact, it works exceptionally well. But it is perhaps an unexpected way of working in the studio – the usual way is to work with apertures in the range of f/8 or f/11 for great depth-of-field and superb image sharpness.

That super-fast aperture portrait lens really focuses the attention exactly where you want it …

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wedding photography – big bounce flash

In photographing groups with weddings, I have a preference to keep the light soft and even. This makes posing a large group easier, since you don’t have to worry about odd shadows. A big light source, just off to my side, is the simplest way of lighting this. Previous articles described how to do this with speedlights and an umbrella. (Check links at the bottom of the article.) Often enough though, you’ll find yourself in a scenario where one or two speedlights just don’t have enough juice, and then you need to bring out something bigger and more powerful – portable studio lighting.

There are numerous options out there for portable studio lighting – Elinchrom, AlienBees and others. I use Profoto. I always bring my Profoto 600R in the trunk of my car, just in case it is necessary. And frequently enough it is necessary, for example:
shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun
lighting large groups with a large light

With Grace and Joseph’s wedding, I had to pull out the Profoto Acute B2 600 W/s powerpack (vendor) again. Lack of time due to the snowstorm delays had me simply use it as a big bounce flash. But it took a few steps getting to that point …

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use light & lighting to add dramatic impact to your portraits

Simplifying your composition is generally a really good way to add impact to your photos – remove visual clutter, and draw the viewer’s eye to what’s essential. But there’s a converse challenge to this – when you have a location that isn’t necessarily that interesting , how do you add more impact? Light and Lighting is an obvious way to do this.

Create impact and drama in how you add light to the scene, and light your subjects. A recent article discussed this in relation to off-camera flash: using off-camera flash for that extra bit of drama.

For the romantic wedding portraits of Grace and Joseph, we were landlocked to a few rooms inside the venue because of the snow storm outside. Then it becomes a challenge to come up with ideas and use nooks and crannies, and make it all count! For the image at the top, we were in the room where they serve pre-dinner cocktail snacks and drinks. Nothing much there. But I came up with the idea of having Joseph sit on this table against this wall, and then adding Grace.

Posing tip: In terms of posing a couple, it is nearly always easier to start with one person, and then adding the other. Use the first person to anchor the pose. And I usually physically show them where to sit or stand or lean when I pose someone.

The pose works, now we just had to add dramatic light. Bounce flash would’ve flattened out everyone. Well lit, but too evenly lit. Off-camera flash with a gridded soft box would’ve worked like a charm as well – but as I most often do with the romantic portraits of a couple, I went with video light. This time around, I had more toys to play with, thanks to Ryan, the other photographer shooting alongside me, who had brought his video lights along as well.

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