lighting

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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headshot photography in the studio

Mike is an actor / musician friend of mine, who also works with the Modern Gypsies at times. We recently updated his headshots with a session in and around the studio. As a working actor in New York, he has appeared on stage, as well as some spots on television. Amusingly enough, while shooting outside the studio against the warehouse building’s facade facing the main street, a young boy, walking past us with his mom, turned around and asked Mike, “Are you famous?” Of course we couldn’t disappoint the kid.

Being a character actor, and shooting with that in mind, we took many photos where the expressions were quite goofy and strange. But I’ll leave that up to Mike to show to the world. Someday perhaps. Here’s a small selection of headshots of him, where we show some of the character and expression. That’s actor Mike. For raconteur Mike, you’d just have to meet him in person.

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going for that classic look in a photo – lighting & posing  (model: Elizabeth)

When I saw the beautiful architecture of the Court House in Denver, CO, I knew that I wanted to use this as a backdrop for part of the mini photography workshop in Denver. In terms of composition, the imposing pillars and leading lines of the steps would simultaneously make a simple and classic background. Our model, Elizabeth, fortunately had this simple, yet elegant black dress as part of her wardrobe. For me, this photo comes together with the way the model (with her own style and styling), and the chosen location, complements each other.

That’s all a long way to say that I really like this image.

So while “having some kind of idea what you want to do” at the start of a photo session, is always a help, the success of any resulting photographs are most often a result of all the other choices coming together as well – posing, composition and lighting.

The composition is fairly straight-forward. But do notice that I shot slightly upwards towards her, to accentuate her legs. Shooting down would’ve created a strange fore-shortening effect. The focal length on the zoom lens was 38mm – wide-ish. If you’re photographing people with a wide lens, it is best to shoot from belly-button height with the camera – exactly where an old twin-lens reflex camera would’ve been held. This way you’re not shooting down, nor shooting up. So spatial distortion is minimized.

Then there’s also that touch of serendipity – yes, that word again – which brings some unexpected magic. In this image, her shadow was what helped pull the image together. Suddenly it isn’t just soft lighting – now it looks like a bit of sunshine sneaking through a thin layer of clouds. And the image pops!

The specific look to this B&W image was done via a recipe I created in Radlab.

To get that dramatic light on her, we used undiffused off camera flash. In other words – hard direct off-camera speedlight. Since this is a small light source, you have to be very specific in posing your subject. Posing “into the light” usually works best. You have to be careful though not to get weird shadows, but to have the light from the bare flash still be flattering.

The way the shadow fell behind her, was an accidental little bonus. I’ll take it when it comes.

More about the lighting and the camera settings ….

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creating Hollywood Glamor lighting with video lights

The old Hollywood masters such as George Hurrell, CS Bull and Laszlo Willinger had a dramatic way of lighting their portraits, with specific use of light and shade.

For my review of the Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights, I had Ulorin Vex as model. Her style and clothing are quite unique, and dramatic enough that these lights enhanced her look. I loved what we came up with.

In using these Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights (vendor) to specifically emulate Hollywood Glamor lighting, I called in another model, Elle Olins. Elle has that smoldering look to her that turned out to be perfect for this style of lighting.

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studio photography – creating sun-flare images

One of the sequences I photographed of Anelisa for the video clip of a photo session in the studio, was to create this kind of sun-drenched flared image. I wanted it to look bright and airy and summery.

There was a studio flash behind her to (partially) create the flare. I had to keep adjusting my movement just so that the flash-head wouldn’t be entirely hidden, or entirely revealed.

There was a total of four flashes used, and the pull-back shot shows their positioning.

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studio lighting: smaller light source = harder light = more dramatic light

When I first started exploring bounce flash, and then off-camera flash and then progressing towards studio photography, my tendency was also instinctively towards softer light. A large light source gives you softer light, and it is more forgiving in terms of how you position your subject and yourself in relation to the light. A large light source is easy to work with. Soft light is flattering. It is a forgiving light source. But it soon became obvious that I was missing out on that dramatic element that attracted me to other images, and what I saw in movies. While soft light is flattering, it tends not to give dramatic results. (Of course, this depends on how you position your light.)

Working with video light in photography, I quickly got to love the light fall-off and the way that you only light a specific part of your subject, instead of just flooding your subject with light.

Working with just a speedlight in bright sunlight, we mostly have to get used to working with a harder / smaller light source … and make it look good! As an example, here is the photo of Molly K, taken during an individual workshop in New York, where we worked with direct off-camera flash.

In the studio as well, selectively lighting part of your subject, or just using a smaller harder light source as a single light, gives you more opportunity for different looks than just using one large light source. In photographing Anelisa recently for the promotional video clip for my studio, I used smaller light sources for several of the setups. This image above then, is from one of those setups. Here I used the Profoto 50 degree Magnum Reflector (vendor) to concentrate the light, but still give a wide enough beam.

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video clip: photo session in the studio w/ Anelisa

To promote my studio as a rental photography studio here in New Jersey, I created this video clip. It’s not quite a behind-the-scenes clip since my intention was to show some of the diversity that is possible in the studio. Using different lighting, and different backgrounds and setups, the final photographs look quite different.

gallery of images of photo session with Anelisa, and other models subsequently.

photography studio rental NJ

The specific sequences will appear as distinct articles here on Tangents, as to how the specific looks were created, incl lighting setups and camera settings and the usual stuff. We’ll come back to this!

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What if you need more light from your bounce flash?

Because I so often use on-camera bounce flash, one of the questions I’m regularly asked is, what if there is nothing to bounce your flash off? There is also the variant – what if there isn’t enough light from the bounced flash?

In both cases, the answer is the same – you improvise!
Not only that, but you need to be prepared to improvise.

The photograph above is from a recent Bat Mitzvah, showing the big group shot of the kids. If you’ve photographed Bar / Bat Mitzvahs before, you know this is coming up, and you have to be prepared for it.

You’re prepared for it by:
– having a ladder handy to stand on
– a wide enough lens and enough space to move back into
– enough light!

You can not just be passive and go … oh, oops! You need to be prepared and have done some homework before any event you photograph. (It seems such an obvious thing to even need stating like that!)

This particular venue has a really awkwardly shaped ceiling, and it has a bronze color in places. So it makes bounce flash photography a bit of a challenge, but I was able to get pretty good results by pushing the ISO higher. Using a camera like the Nikon D4 is an obvious boost here!

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