models

lighting and design in photography: (de)-constructing an image

For me, Design in photography relates to the way an image is constructed at the time of shooting. Composition and content. Lighting. Every element which forms part of a successful and eye-catching photograph. Some of the elements in the photograph are pre-visualized, some of it a kind of serendipity that is then expanded on at the time. Some of it might only be understood afterwards in looking at the photograph. My latest book, Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography, looks at exactly that thought-process throughout the 60 chapters in the book.

Several of the articles on Tangents look at that thought-process during a photo-shoot, working towards a successful image. For example:
– progression of an idea in a photo session (cosplayer: Ger Tysk)
– photo-shoot with a model: the progression of an idea  (model: Nicole)

With that idea in mind – the design of a photograph – let’s step through the image at the top.

This photograph of our model Olive, isn’t a composite. It is pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera), aside from removing a car and a few people in the background. Oh, and bumping up the Contrast and nudging the Saturation. And retouching skin. I guess it isn’t really that SOOC at this point. But it isn’t a composite. It was shot like this. The cobble-stones looked like that – aglow.

That lack of shadow adds a sense of mystery. It all looks a bit surreal. The reason why Olive looks like she is floating in the air, is that she was jumping. We did several takes to try and get her at her most relaxed in mid-air. With her feet off the ground, there is no immediate tell-tale shadow behind her. The bright sun on the cobble stones also eliminate her shadow completely. There is also no shadow in front of her, since it is outside of the frame.  So she really looks like she is incongruously suspended in the air.

Now, the lack of shadow wasn’t planned before-hand, but it was most definitely noticed when we started shooting a few test frames. So we continued with the idea.

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review: high-ISO performance – Nikon 750 vs Nikon D4S / D4 / D810 / D610

With the initial quick test of the Nikon D750 high-ISO noise performance, I was quite impressed. But it really is only in comparison to other cameras that we can see how good it is. With that, I took 5 of the current full-frame Nikon DSLRs to compare them against each other to see their high-ISO noise.

The Nikon D4s (vendor) is currently the high-ISO king, so it was specifically interesting to see how the 24 megapixel Nikon D750 (vendor) would compare. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to wait until the end of this review, then here’s the good news: to my eye, the D750 is comparable to the D4S in terms of high-ISO noise. Maybe even a squeak better! But you don’t have to take my word for it, there are RAW files you can dowload and check for yourself.

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review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens

The moment you hold the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens (vendor) in your hand, you know it is a serious lens. It is hefty. It feels like quality. It just feels like they took craftsman-like care in designing and manufacturing this lens!

Sigma has somehow turned their image around from being just a third-party lens-manufacturer, to a company that needs to be taken seriously for quality optics. It started with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens, which proved to be a spectacular lens! (Here is my review: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HMS art lens.)

There’s been an incredible buzz around this lens – the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens. The initial reviews are unanimously impressed with this lens’ optical performance. Right up there with the very best. When the 50mm lens was first announced the rumored price was around $1,500 but with its official release, it came in at a relatively moderate $949.00 … but for that price, we’d expect a truly quality optic.

The good news – it really is all that! I would heartily recommend this lens.

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comparing power: studio lights vs. speedlites / speed lights

Speedlights pack a huge amount of light for the size. Very portable, and loaded with sophisticated features, owning a speedlight is a must. A simple choice.

Studio lights and the larger portable flashes such as the Profoto B1 500 W/s battery powered flash (vendor), offer a lot more power than speedlights. Exactly how much more powerful isn’t all that easy to find out. There’s very little available as direct comparison. Even the specs aren’t directly comparable. Speedlights’ power is given as a Guide Number (GN), and studio lights’ power is usually given in Watt-seconds. Not an obvious translation between the two of them.

The Profoto B1 500 W/s battery powered flash (vendor) is quite powerful, offering 500 W/s as a maximum. It also features TTL capability, and can be wirelessly controlled. All this gives the B1 a flexibility approaching that of speedlights. The question then inevitably comes up just how much stronger the Profoto B1 is than a speedlight. In other words, how many speedlights would you have to gang up to match 500W/s of studio light output?

This is then what we’re going to look at here – how do studio lights compare to speedlights / speedlites in terms of output.

I had a model, Melanie in the studio, to do a series of test photos. I used a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor) vs a Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s studio light (vendor). The studio-bound D1 is similar to the portable B1, aside from not running off a battery. It also has a typical power rating of this kind of studio light. Also keep in mind that the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor) has the same output as the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (vendor)

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progression of an idea in a photo session – cosplayer, Ger Tysk

For me, there’s always some anxiety before a photo session – especially when you have the opportunity to photograph someone quite unusual and photogenic like Ger Tysk, a cosplayer. (She also creates cosplay outfits for others, and has published a book on Cosplay.) Her latest outfit is Black Widow (from Marvel.) Now, the stressful part before a photo session like this, is that there is the pressure of having a great opportunity, and then having to create a photo series that is worthy of the moment. Even if you don’t quite reach the peak of the Epic scale, you still want to have photos that look inspired and interesting. You know, something worthy of the effort and time and opportunity.

I can pretty much guarantee you now that when you see an interesting or striking photograph that someone created (as opposed to a pure  photojournalistic moment), it’s usually not success on a first try. Very often there is a series of images and attempts before an idea comes together.

I was armed with some serious gear – Nikon D810 (vendor) and Profoto B1 portable studio light (vendor). So really, if there is any limitation here, it would be myself. Everything was in place – a supremely photogenic subject, an interesting location a friend showed me, as well as some serious gear. Now it is up to me, as the photographer to pull something out of this mix that looks stunning. And that is where the pressure comes in. Time to look around, explore ideas and figure something out.

I’m quite proud of the final photograph from this part of the location, but it didn’t just immediately come together. There was a thought-process and various attempts and dead-ends before it looked like yes! this is it!

So I want to step you through parts of this photo session to show how fell into place.

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full-frame vs crop-sensor comparison :  depth-of-field & perspective

When the differences between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras are discussed, there is an inevitable question about whether the crop sensor multiplies the focal length. Whether a 50mm lens on a crop-sensor acts like a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor) or 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor).

The answers given on the photography forums are confusing – yes, the focal length effectively increases. No, it doesn’t. Two polar opposite answers. The discussion (which tend to devolve into arguments) are convincingly made for both sides. The reason is because the topic is a complex one … and therefore the answer is (kinda) complex too.

One argument goes along the lines that the crop sensor is just that, a crop. An enlargement. That nothing changes – you just get less of the scene. And that there is no “equivalent focal length” when you go to a crop sensor camera. But what really happens is more complex than that.

With this article, I want to help analyze what happens when you change lenses between a full-frame camera and a crop-sensor camera. And we’ll analyze whether there is actually an equivalency between certain focal lengths, when using a crop-sensor camera. In other words, whether your 50mm lens becomes “equivalent to” a 75mm or 80mm lens when used on a crop-sensor camera.

Since this article ended up being a long meandering discussion, I thought it best that we start with the final summary. Just to save the impatient people some work.

Summary:

Yes, a 50mm lens does indeed behave like an equivalent focal length of a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor), or an 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor) … however, the depth-of-field increases by about a stop.

Yes, a 100mm lens on a crop-sensor camera will give you the same perspective as a 150mm / 160mm lens (on a full-frame camera), if you don’t change position … however, the DoF increases. (i.e., less shallow DoF)

But let’s discuss this with some images:

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Nikon D750 – high-ISO noise performance

The two things everyone is most curious about with the new Nikon D750 (vendor), is the auto-focus performance and the high-ISO noise performance. Here’s a quick preview of what the D750 does at higher ISO settings. Specifically, 3200 ISO and 6400 ISO.

To put the Nikon D750 (vendor) through its paces for the (upcoming) review of this camera, I met up with NYC model, Glass Olive for a photo session. In a restaurant we visited, I used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG (for Nikon) (vendor) at f/1.4 and then tried sequences of images at 3200 ISO and 6400 ISO. Here are two more images, and a 100% crop of each so you can see what the noise pattern looks like.

A few things to keep in mind when looking at the two images:

  • the RAW converters haven’t been updated yet for this brand-new camera, so we are looking at the embedded JPG (at full resolution) that I extracted from the RAW file. So this is the straight-out-of-camera JPG with a slight detour. These could very well be improved upon when adjusting the RAW file.
  • I kept the JPG settings to the defaults, but these were shot in Vivid picture mode. So it looks quite punchy directly out of camera.
    In Vivid picture mode, the Sharpening is set to the middle value: 4.00
    The Clarity was set to +1.00
    (The WB was set to Auto 1)
  • looking at 100% crops give you an idea of the high-ISO noise, which helps with comparison. But, it is not how the image will print. We are looking at a 24 megapixel image. It’s huge. By the time you print it to smaller sizes, the noise is much less pronounced.

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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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finding interesting available light & white balance options

It’s always a feel-good moment to discover interesting available light while out on a photo shoot. Something unusual to add a new flavor to a different sequence of images.

While photographing a model with Tilo Gockel and Mike Silberreis (both from Germany on a visit to NYC), we started off with off-camera flash to help with the strong sunlight. (You might remember Tilo from a recent guest article on product photography on a budget.)

Then, while positioning Olena, I saw part of her dress had a patch of bright light on it. Turning around to see where this came from – I expected sun flare from nearby building window – I saw that it was actually the sun reflecting off a traffic sign right next to us. The light that was reflecting off this traffic sign was pretty hard, but had an interesting specularity, yet appeared flattering. So we shot an entire long sequence here, ditching the off-camera flash.

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photographic composition – a few guidelines (but no rules!)

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams

For me, if a photograph is intended for an audience, and not just my own records and memories – then its success hinges around impact. Does the photograph make you stop for a few seconds at least to take it in? Then you’re at least in part successful already with the portrait. With portraits so many elements kick in to make a photograph resonate with us: The moment. The expression. Gesture. Movement. Pose and position. Lighting.

In terms of composition, I strongly feel that one should react in an instinctive way. Look at the subject and scene and respond without the mechanical decision-making that all the rules of composition brings into play – the Rule of Thirds, diagonals, mathematical formulae, the Golden Mean, and so on.

Instead, take your time to look at what is actually presented in the viewfinder. Scan the whole frame; look at the sides and corners.

Is everything that you see, everything that you want? Is this the best way that the subject can be represented? Do you need to re-frame or move to another position?

The composition of this photograph of Anelisa can be analyzed in terms of the usual guidelines:
– negative space above her,
– the diagonal line implied by her arms,
– balanced by the S-curve to her pose,
– the vertical line by her body being (approximately) on a line of a third of the frame.

There is also the strong visual dynamic with her face more or less central to the frame, the curve of this industrial chimney structure pulls your eye towards the center.

All these things do appear in analyzing the image after-the-fact. But during the time of taking a sequence of images here, the decison wasn’t step-by-step like that. It was much more that instinctive recognition that, “hey, this looks good!

And, for me, that should be what determines the composition – does it look good, and does it add to the photograph’s impact.

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