models

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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creating foreground bokeh effects in-camera

The closer you move to a foreground object, the more it’s shape and color and opacity will affect the image … in unpredictable ways. It’s a well-established technique then to create unusual color splashes and shapes in the image by creating flare highlights. It is often called “foreground bokeh effect”.

Ulorin Vex is an unusually photogenic model that I have photographed on a few occasions. When Ulorin visited the East Coast again recently, I jumped at the opportunity to meet up with her again and play in the studio. Her striking looks and colorful latex dresses would work perfectly with this technique – the random kaleidoscope patterns and colors wouldn’t be incongruous.

With a standard lighting setup in the studio, using a beauty dish, I also added an extra light to throw light directly towards the camera. I then held up various colored objects right in front of the lens – a colorful translucent plastic flower with colorful petals and leaves worked best. Shooting through an opening between the petals and leaves of the decorative plastic flower, all kinds of interesting random patterns appeared. It was unpredictable, and that is what made the effect interesting in part – you wouldn’t quite know what you’re going to get.

If this effect appeals to you, it would make sense to collect all kinds of objects to try out – glass elements and prisms work well too. Anything that will create a pleasant visual surprise.

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step-by-step guide to using a flash meter with manual flash & ambient light

A question posted on the Tangents forum was on the topic of exactly how to use a light meter to get to correct settings for manual flash. This article covers that first tentative step in what exactly you should do with this brand-new light-meter in your hand. It will help you cope with that initial “what now?” moment.

How exactly would you have used the flash meter (with the strobe in manual mode) to arrive at the correct settings to illuminate the model properly without changing your in-camera settings? Values entered into the flash meter?

It is much easier than you think, so let’s take it step-by-step:

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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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portraits with continuous lighting – Westcott Spiderlites   (w/ model: Lauraine)

This striking portrait of Lauraine is a combination of that sparkling mischievousness … and on the techie side, the selective focus of a wider aperture lens, and the flexibility of continuous lighting. The f/1.4 deliciousness of an 85mm – the best lens to change your portrait photography – really brings her eyes to attention.

During this part of the photo session in the studio, I decided to use continuous lighting. Lauraine is new to modeling for the camera and working in the studio, and the lack of flashes popping, helped in keeping the atmosphere gentle. The shorter telephoto length of an 85mm lens, meant I could work close and give instruction on posing. Slight adjustments to her hand or the tilt of her head could be more easily relayed.

Lighting was with two Westcott Spiderlites:

I used the softbox in the background as a hair light and to spill a little bit of light on the background.

The background is this 4 panel room divider screen (purchased via Amazon). Spilling a bit of light on it, and angling it properly, it allowed a hint of color and texture in the background, making the final setting for the portrait series a little more nuanced.

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85mm – the first lens that could change your portrait photography

If that hat seems familiar, yes,  Elle was the model in the series of photographs for the Nikon Df review article. For some of the sequences of photos that we shot, I used the 85mm lens, wide open. This had the effect of just melting the background. You can pretty much shoot anywhere, and make the background look good and non-intrusive.

While a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens can be even more effective in controlling the background, the shorter focal length, an 85mm lens can make this somewhat easier in some respects. Specifically, it’s a smaller lens and less intrusive when you photograph portraits. It’s less “threatening” to the person you’re photographing, and easier to carry around.

Just how well can you blur the background when shooting wide open with an 85mm prime lens? Compare the photo above with the pull-back shot, taken with an iPhone from the same spot …

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photography composition – getting down lower for a better perspective

It’s a bit of a cliche perhaps, seeing a photographer on the ground, laying on his side, or sprawled on the ground. What might look like a strange form of attention-seeking, is actually a very solid way of improving your composition with full-length portraits. The lazy temptation is to just stand there, camera to the eye, and take the photograph. What happens then (usually), is that the photographer is shooting down on the subject. The best advice generally, is to step back for full-length compositions. When you shoot down on someone, especially with a wider angle lens, is that the perspective distortion cause the feet to appear much smaller, and your subject’s head to be disproportionally larger.

With a longer focal length, such as used in this outdoors portrait of Elle, perspective distortion is less of a concern. The lens was zoomed to around 135mm, and that means her head and feet are equidistant to the camera. No distortion. (By the way, this was taken during a photography workshop at my studio.)

However, if you, as the photographer, take the photo just standing at full height, then you are still shooting down, and you’re getting far too much of the ground in the image. The path here behind Elle isn’t awful, and doesn’t distract. But it’s the colors behind her which helps make this image pop, complementing the colors of her clothing.

So let’s look at a series of three images, shot while I was standing up, kneeling down, and finally, laying flat on the ground. Notice how the background changes as my perspective changes.

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flagging your back-lighting flash with the black foamie thing

My favorite on-camera light modifier, the black foamie thing, is of course, nothing more than a very affordable (and flexible) way to flag your flash. This helps control how the light from your on-camera flash spills. (It’s not a flash diffuser!) I also keep one on hand when I use off-camera flash, to flag any direct flash – whether to control it from flaring the lens, or from spilling onto my subject.

When I did the photo session for the review of the Canon 600EX-RT, I had to flag the one speedlight so it didn’t spill on our model. So it has other handy uses other than just for on-camera bounce flash.

During a recent photography workshop at my studio, we photographed Aleona in a freight elevator for that gritty urban look. We added a speedlight behind her to have the rim-light create some separation between her black outfit and the dark silver wall in the back. However, it spilled to the sides, and we had to control the light better …

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