models

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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studio photography: low-key lighting – vintage portrait – Randy

Randy has a look reminiscent of Ava Gardner, so I asked her to be a subject for my book on Portrait photography. I wanted to create a portrait of Randy in the Hollywood Glamor style of lighting, similar to the vintage styled boudoir photo session (with Olena). And it looked great! But while I had someone so photogenic and with such dramatic styling, I wanted to take further photos of Randy, and she happily indulged me.

For one of the setups, I wanted to explore again using the Profoto beauty dish (B&H) as a single light source. As mentioned in a previous article - thoughts on using a beauty dish - a beauty dish is best used with a grid to contain the light spill. This does mean a beauty dish has to be used in a specific way – close up to your subject, and with specific posing. Without additional light from other light sources to give fill-light, a beauty dish can be fairly challenging as a single light source.

I wanted a low-key look, so I used a dark grey backdrop, and worked well ahead of it so that the light from the main light (beauty dish) had very little effect. (The Inverse Square Law helps here with the non-linear light fall-off to the background.) But to not have Randy’s dark hair melt away into a black background, it needed a hair-light of some kind. I set up a gridded Profoto RFi 1×3 softbox (B&H) behind her light from the back (and above).

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on-location flash photography – adding backlighting / rim-light

Once you’re comfortable using a single off-camera light-source, such as a softbox (or un-diffused flash), there’s an easy next step to add a little bit of zing to the image. Rim-lighting!

I most often work with just a single softbox when photographing portraits on location. Having the sun behind your subject, creates a natural rim-lighting. This helps separate your subject from the background. It’s not just the shallow depth-of-field that helps create that near-3D effect where your subjects just pops out from the background – rim-lighting from behind also helps bring more attention to your subjects.

The best part – it is really simple to set up and use.

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photo session: urban ballerina – Viktoria

Late afternoon in New York, with the sun-light glinting off the glass buildings – dramatic light for a ballerina in an urban setting. However, the sunlight that was reflecting off the buildings wasn’t consistent, and did not necessarily fall in a place where we could use it. So I created my own with an off-camera speedlight just out of the frame – but positioned so that it intentionally flared, and also gave beautiful rim-light on Viktoria.

The pull-back shot shows how the speedlight was set up, and my own position, low down on the ground, to get that perspective.

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lighting a vintage styled boudoir photo session, using LED fresnel lights

Working with the ever-delightful Olena in my studio, we went for a mix of outfits and looks. We started off the photo session with straight-forward headshots, but then when Olena showed me this outfit, it just begged for something with a more vintage feel in lighting. So, drawing on the classic Hollywood glamor lighting for inspiration, I used the Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights to create that dramatic light on her, and on the background.

I’ve used the same lights before for Hollywood Glamor style portraits, and loved the effect. The lights, being a smaller light source than a softbox, need more careful placement, and more careful posing. So using lights like these, need to be more controlled. The end result though retains that air of mystery and that certain allure than boudoir photography needs to exude.

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improving a photograph by finessing it in post-processing  (models: Yulia & Anelisa)

While I’m a strong supporter of the idea to get it right in camera (as far as possible), there are times when massaging a photograph in Photoshop, can greatly improve it. And ultimately, it really is the final image that counts.

As a kind of companion piece to the photo of Anelisa jumping, here is a photo taken in the same area with the same kind of strong daylight. In using off-camera lighting here, the look of the photograph is inherently different. When I posted this image on Facebook as a teaser, someone guessed that it took “very expensive reflectors and an army of assistants”. Perhaps that was meant as a tongue-in-cheek comment, since my lighting is quite straight-forward. Or perhaps it does look like an image that could pop out of a Fashion magazine. I’m biased of course .

In deciphering how the photograph came about, let’s look at the straight-out-of-the-camera image …

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a favorite image – before & after (and the how to)

There’s something about this photograph that I really like … aside from Anelisa being one of my favorite models. It is slightly surreal with Anelisa’s apparent levitation. The dress and hat is reminiscent of a 1950′s Fashion, and Anelisa’s mid-air pose is also reminiscent of Philippe Halsman’s iconic jumping images. All that, combined with the sun flaring across her face and the washed-out background, all adds to this wonderfully nostalgic mood.

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review: Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Softbox

Don’t you just hate it when something you use becomes obsolete? Well, you’d think that lighting equipment have a long lifespan. A softbox is a softbox. Well, if you can’t replace a damaged part of it because the manufacturer discontinued that part, then you’re stuck.

My preferred softbox is (or has been), the Lastolite 24×24 Ezybox softbox. I have three, since I use them for my photography workshops. But with use, the outside baffle tore loose from the velcro with two of the soft boxes. No big deal; entropy will have its way. But now you can’t replace these baffles. They were available on B&H, and I ordered two, but was eventually notified that Lastolite discontinued making the baffles. Great. Well, not really that great. I now have two nifty softboxes that were rendered less than useful. So I had to look at other options.

The Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Softbox (B&H) caught my attention, even among the huge variety of light modifiers available for off-camera speedlights. I bought one of these softboxes to try out at the most recent on-location photography lighting workshop in New York. And I like it a lot!

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off-camera flash with a small softbox

Most of the images shot as part of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG lens review, were with available light only. But for one sequence, I used off-camera flash. I didn’t intend carrying a lot of equipment, so I stripped it down to the minimum. That meant forgoing my usual softbox, the Lastolite Ezybox (24″x24″) (B&H). Instead, I opted for the much smaller  Lastolite 8.6″ Ezybox (B&H). And instead of a light-stand, Nicole’s friend, Andrew helped out on the day by holding the softbox and slave speedlight.

In getting to the final image, the thought-process was similar to that described in this article: off-camera flash for that extra bit of drama – (model: Olena)

So let’s run through the sequence of images …

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review: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM wide-angle lens

I have to admit upfront that I am a lens snob. Not so much for a lens being esoteric or collectible, but rather that I have a particularly strong preference for the name brand lenses. When I shot with Pentax way way back, I only used Pentax lenses. Similarly, I only have Canon lenses for my Canon bodies, and Nikon lenses for my Nikon cameras.

Part of it is that the styling of the lens and camera is more consistent. Yes, I do like my cameras to have a certain aesthetic appeal. I know, I know … how pretty a lens looks has no real correlation to how spectacularly it performs. But actually, there is a correlation of sorts. The spendier equipment (which performs well), tend to be designed to look good. But I digress.

The main reason though why I keep within a certain brand, is that the top names tend to have the top lenses. A recent test I did between the Sigma, Tamron and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms, showed once again that the Nikon optic had the edge: photography: how good do your lenses need to be? Therefore, most often, it is a simpler choice to just get the lens which has the brand name, and forego a lot of testing. Of course, there is always the possibility of an expensive disappointment. But generally, staying with the big camera brands is a decision that can be made with confidence.

My interest was piqued though by the news that Sigma is releasing new lines of lenses, and tightening up their quality control. From Sigma’s website: “all newly produced interchangeable lenses from Sigma will be designed for and organized into one of three product categories: Contemporary, Art and Sports. Each line has a clearly defined concept to guide shooters in the selection of the right lens for their photographic interests”.

One of the first lenses to be released, is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG wide-angle prime lens, and I was able to get a copy for review purposes.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM for Canon mount (B&H)
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM for Nikon mount (B&H)

The lens has a noticeably different look than Sigma lenses in the past, and actually looks quite sleek and modern, but this all wouldn’t mean much, if the lens didn’t perform spectacularly, and was at a more affordable price point than the Canon and Nikon equivalents:

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