Ulorin Vex

low-key lighting in the studio – with Ulorin Vex

The mood and simplicity of low-key lighting make it especially effective. So when Ulorin Vex appeared out of the dressing room with this black dress, I knew it would work very well with a low-key set-up in the studio.

We had set up the darker background for previous outfits, but for this black dress, the simplified lighting – just a Profoto beauty dish (B&H) – worked especially well. There were two lights behind her to show off the curves against the dark background.  The gridded softboxes are exactly the same as shown in a previous article: high-key studio lighting / portraits.

Here is the pull-back shot to show how the lights were positioned …

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review: Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella

Continuing the photo session with Ulorin Vex in the studio, I decided to swap out the big Profoto 4×3 softbox, for an even larger (but very affordable) light modifier – the Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (White / Black) (B&H).

Two things that immediately struck me about the Westcot Parabolic Umbrella … it’s sheer size when folder open. It is 7 feet if measured across the span of the umbrella’s arc. And when it is folded up, it is surprisingly compact and light-weight. It collapses to a 43.6″ size, and fits snugly into a 3″ diameter carry bag.

The idea behind a parabolic reflector, is that the rays of light coming from it, are parallel. This makes the umbrella very efficient in directing the light to your subject. There are other parabolic reflectors which are actually focusable, but they are very spendy. Thousands of dollars spendy. This makes the parabolic umbrellas like the Westcott really good value for money at only $100, if you’re looking for a large light modifier in the studio. (I’m not sure how practical it would be on location.) The Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (B&H) appears to be quite sturdy. The ribs are made of fiberglass. It elegantly folds open and closes as easily.

I chose the white/black umbrella over the silver Parabolic Umbrella (B&H), because I wanted a light that would be less specular and contrasty than the silver umbrella was designed to be. Since the white material scatters light more than the silver umbrella, the White umbrella doesn’t really offer any advantage over a non-parabolic reflector. Still, it is a huge light modifier at an affordable price, and light to carry.

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high-key studio portraits (part 2) – with Ulorin Vex

Continuing the photo session with Ulorin Vex, doing high-key studio portraits in the studio, she changed into a different costume. I wanted a more interesting edge definition than just the light spilling back from the background, so I added two gridded softboxes to each side …

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high-key studio portraits – with Ulorin Vex

One of the models that replied to my casting call for a model at my workshops in San Francisco in 2011, happened to be Ulorin Vex. I immediately recognized her, since I’ve seen photos of her in various portfolios. I was both surprised and very happy, since I regarded her as a bit of a superstar. I scheduled a photo session with her for the day after the two workshops in SF, and the images from those sessions appeared a few times on Tangents, and I’d consider them among the best work I had ever done. It helps to have an inspiring model!

Ulorin Vex was such a pleasure to photograph, and so professional, that when she let know me she was briefly visiting the New York area, I jumped at the chance of photographing her again. As I mentioned in my first impressions of the Nikon D800, I now have ready access to a large studio. I have acquired various lighting gear over time, but recently purchased the Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s Monolight Studio Kit (B&H).

So I was all set for the photo session – a wonderful model; superb gear; and a large studio where we could shoot. I shot about 8 different setups, which I intend posting here over the next few days. (So be prepared for a few more blog posts from this session.)

For the first set-up, I decided to keep it very simple with a white backdrop, and high-key lighting …

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first impressions of the Nikon D800

I’ve been using the Nikon D4 (B&H) for a few months now, and love it. For me, the Nikon D4 offers more than enough resolution for wedding photography.

Of course, wedding photography is a niche. There are other genres and types of photography where large files are a benefit. Landscape photographers and commercial photographers have a need for large digital files for maximum detail. And with that Nikon must have seen a gap, and made the surprising jump from the 12 megapixel D700, to the incredibly high (for now at least) 36 megapixels of the Nikon D800 (B&H).

Today I had the chance again to photograph Ulorin Vex in the studio, and I decided to use the Nikon D800. Looking at the first series of images, my response immediately was: “Holy macaroni! The files are incredible!”

The amount of detail will astonish anyone (like me) who hasn’t had the opportunity to use a medium format digital camera. Now that image quality is accessible to nearly every photographer who has a bit of a budget for cameras.

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example: direct off-camera flash vs softbox (model: Ulorin Vex)

Ulorin Vex posing for us during part of the on-location session of the flash photography workshops which I presented in San Francisco earlier this year. Ulorin Vex is of course absolutely stunning, as always. While I often direct models how they should pose, this one is all her doing . Not even I can improve on that.

The image here at the top was shot with an off-camera softbox – my usual preferred Lastolite Ezybox softbox. The direction of the light here should immediately reveal the approximate position where the light was positioned. Just as comparison, we removed the two baffles of the Lastolite, to see how direct off-camera flash would compare. We kept the softbox hull in place, so it did help contain the spread of light a bit. As you’d expect, the results look more dramatic.

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directional light with off-camera bounce flash (model – Ulorin Vex)

During the same afternoon that I had the opportunity to photograph Ulorin Vex, I took several other sequences of images of her in other costume. Here we worked in the foyer area of the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco. (If only all other hotels had such a diversity of immediately photogenic areas!)  With this image, I wanted a near-symmetrical image, with just Ulorin Vex’s posture slightly breaking the symmetry up. Just enough to make a stunning subject even more eye-catching.

A little more about the train-of-thought to getting to this image …

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mimicking window light with off-camera bounce flash  (model: Ulorin Vex)

Continuing the photo session with Ulorin, we worked inside the hotel room for the next part. The photo above is a candid shot of Ulorin fixing her hair between changes in clothing. Ulorin’s next outfit shown in this article, was more revealing than the previous outfits during the photo session. (Just a heads-up for the Tangents readers who are surfing from their workplace.)

Photographing inside the room, I initially tried to work with just the window-light, but hit a small snag. The indirect light through the window kept changing on me as clouds moved in and out. Instead of changing my settings continually to match the light, I decided to revert to using flash to mimic the window light. This would give me consistent light.

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off-camera flash – change the light by changing your own position

Ulorin Vex was one of the two models that we used in the recent workshops in San Francisco. Having seen Ulorin Vex’s personal site and portfolio on Model Mayhem, I jumped at the chance of working with her again with a photo session the day after the workshops. Working with a model as professional and striking-looking as Ulorin, was an experience.

The photographs shown in this article was from a sequence we did in the passage outside my hotel room. The lighting was surprisingly simple, but I had to improvise with the limited space we had.

Interestingly enough, the two photos shown above had exactly the same lighting. And this brings us to a key concept with light. This idea is true whether you use available light or off-camera flash … or even when you control the direction of your bounce flash.

With those two photos, Ulorin remained in the same spot. But she did change her pose towards the camera as I moved. Why the light is so dramatically different, is that *I* changed my position … and that in turn, changed the direction of light entirely.

It seems obvious stated like that, but I think this idea is something that really is brought home again when two images can look so different. And all that changed was the photographer’s position.

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manual off-camera fill-flash, controlling the contrast   (model – Ulorin Vex)

In using a softbox outdoors on location, we easily get beautiful soft light. When we work indoors however, where the flash dominates, then the results can look very contrasty. The reason for this is that outdoors, the available light acts like a fill light.  This is especially true when we consider our available light in our overall result and balance our flash with the available light. With the softbox being the only light source, the light, while still soft, can be too contrasty for our liking. Still, that single softbox is a lot better than hard direct off-camera flash … but it can be improved with some fill light.

The photo above of  Ulorin, our model at the recent workshop in San Francisco, was lit with the 24×24 Lastolite Ezybox softbox. But we did lift the shadows with some more off-camera fill flash, bounced into the room.

Here’s the short explanation and a longer, thorough explanation of how we went about it …

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