photo shoot

camera & flash settings: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

Analyzing other photographer’s work to figure out how they got the result, and figure out how to re-create it if you want, is a solid exercise. I do it often. It’s part of expanding your understanding of photography and lighting, and a way of expanding your technique and your repertoire.

The challenge to figure out the camera settings and additional lighting for a sequence of photos from an engagement photo session - reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight - had some interesting guess-work, and some good sleuthing.

Let’s have a look at the images posted in the challenge, and then slowly step through the thought-process. Some of these are near-instinctive decisions, but some are done with a quick frown and an “ok, let’s do it this way then”:

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reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

When I posted this sequence of photos on Facebook of Jessica and Tony’s engagement photo session in New York, there were a flurry of questions. Which lens? 50mm? 85mm? What type of lighting? What were my camera settings?

Well, this stuff has been covered before with numerous articles on photography technique, and lighting with photo sessions. So by now, anyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, and have done some reading, will be able to figure this out.

So here’s your challenge – look at the photos, look at the location, and reverse engineer the camera settings and lighting. Figure out the possible camera settings, lens choice, focal length, and details about the lighting. I’ve added 1200 px images if you click through, to make the thought-process easier.

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video clip: behind-the-scenes during photo session w/ Ulorin Vex

I’ve posted some of the images from the recent photo session in my studio, with Ulorin Vex – and here is the behind-the-scenes video clip. The instructional stuff will be in the related articles – this is more of a glimpse of the rhythm of the shoot in the studio.

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available light portraits – composition and light

Over time I noticed that my style in photographing portraits have gravitated to a specific look where everything is quite simplified – the lighting, the background and the framing of the shot. Whether I use the available light, or video light, or off-camera flash, or even on-camera bounce flash, there’s a certain uncomplicated look. I’d like to think of it as elegant unfussy simplicity.

Analyzing this, it is easy to see there’s a specific method here. It’s a method which helps especially when under pressure. Here, even allowing extra time for the crazy peak-time traffic here in New Jersey, I was still running late for the photo session with Christy. When I arrived, falling back into a familiar rhythm of shooting portraits, allowed me to get images that work, very quickly.

The essential idea is that the light has to be good, and the background has to be complimentary. Then it is a matter of posing our subject, and composing the frame. Invariably then, the starting point is finding that intersect between good light and a good background. And if  you don’t have great available light, then you need to create it with additional lighting.

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Brian Friedman is an event and publicity photographer based in NYC. When I first became acquainted with Brian and his work, my reaction was, “damn! I wish I could shoot this type of work.” Looking at his website, you’ll see the kind of gigs that Brian shoots – interesting and diverse. Quite exciting.

Good news then for those attending WPPI 2014, Brian Friedman is presenting a class called, Shooting Stars: A Guide to Landing Your Dream Client In Any Area Of Photography. Yup, exactly that. I won’t be at WPPI this year, but this is one class I would definitely have signed up for.

So there’s good news for those of us who won’t be attending WPPI this year – Brian was gracious enough to describe the behind-the-scenes activity of a recent photo session: “Kitten Bowl 2014”

anatomy of a “simple” photo session for a client

a guest post by Brian Friedman,
New York portrait and event photographer

The assignment. Take a portrait of the gorgeous Beth Ostrosky, as well as some “action shots” of kittens. Kittens just “being kittens” and playing. Football that is. Say What!?

And so it is bestowed upon me by my client to do so – and not in a photo studio. I had to create my own studio in a common room of a sound stage. Okay then. It’s time to get to work. Here’s what I did for “Kitten Bowl 2014” gallery shoot which will be broadcast during the Super Bowl half-time show on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

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on-location portraits – speedway racer, Courtney Lefcourt

When Courtney’s mom first contacted me, she told me that Courtney is a race-car driver and that the camera loves her. Intrigued, I met up with her family at the Bethel Motor Speedway for on-location portraits of Courtney. To find out more about Courtney, check out her Facebook page, Courtney Taylor Racing.

So the challenge here was two-part. The sun was very bright since it was 3:30pm in the afternoon. The other challenge is that while speedway racing might be an exhilarating sport to watch, the speedway race-track isn’t exactly a visual feast. The race-track is a barren oval strip of tarmac at an angle. I had to accentuate her more, and the race-track less – but still keep it relevant as an environmental portrait.

Courtney’s fire-retardant suit was fortunately a vivid blue and black. This neatly matched the blue sky and black top. This especially helped with the wider images.

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photography: the progression of an idea – Regal Portrait with a Ferret

While on a trip to Denver, I had some time free to meet up with my friend, Lynn Clark, one of the best boudoir photographers in Denver. I had asked her to be a subject for my next book, 60 Portraits, and she indulged me. I want each portrait to reveal something of the person I am photographing, and also have some interesting snippets of info for anyone who dips in the book, and of course, for anyone who follows the Tangents blog.

So while Lynn is an accomplished boudoir photographer, I didn’t want to go with the obvious idea of doing a boudoir photo session of her. I met up with Lynn, and our mutual friend, Petra Herrmann in Lynn’s studio. (You may remember Petra as a recent guest on Tangents - increase your sales in boudoir photo sessions.) Lynn’s boudoir studio is home-based, with two large rooms that had been converted in shooting space. I spent some time looking around, and figuring out angles and lighting and backgrounds. The usual things we need to juggle when we consider the setting for portraits.

I liked the one direction where I knew I’d be able to compress the perspective with a 70-200mm lens, and shoot from the adjoining room. Then I could use the red drapes in the background, and throw the chandelier and the rest of the room out of focus. So far, so good. This would be good for a basic portrait. Solid, but not engaging yet. Lynn and Petra and I bounced some ideas around.

Lynn and her husband runs a Ferret B&B in Denver, CO. They take care of ferrets when their owners are on vacation. Lynn and her family also keeps 6 ferrets. So there are ferrets … and they are adorable. In chatting with Lynn and Petra, they mentioned that Queen Elizabeth had been fond of ferrets, and there was a portrait of her with a ferret. And then the idea clicked!

Throwing the chandelier out of focus and keeping it in frame, we’d have a glowing halo of light above Lynn. The red drapes worked too. Then … the costume. We didn’t have anything nearly as ostentatious so we went for a tiara and some bling jewelry.

And then we added Elliott, the energetically curious ferret you see in the photo.

The final portrait of Lynn is whimsical. There’s an absurdity about it. Hopefully the portrait is also quite cute and amusing. I do think it shows that playful aspect of Lynn, though she insists she’s actually a serious person. This impromptu homage to the portrait of Royalty with a pet ferret, was certainly fun to shoot.

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photographing a vintage motorbike on location, with Profoto lighting gear

I’m getting to meet so many people while photographing interesting subjects for my next book, 60 Portraits, that I was bound to meet some truly interesting characters. John collects vintage … oh, everything. His entire house filled with collectibles – it is like stepping out of a time-machine into a different era. I joked with him that the only two things in his house from the 21st century is his fridge and his dog!

Most impressive in a way, is John’s workshop where he maintains his two vintage era motorbikes and a Model A Ford. The tools in his workshop are all authentic to the era … and they work. The way John describes it, it actually makes sense in the way he maintains  everything with hand-tools and lathes and such.

His one motorbike is from WW1 era, and the other is this 1928 German-built Triumph. The sidecar was made by Hindenburg Metalworks. Yup, the zeppelin guys. John’s friend, Barbara, frequently accompanies him to shows and rallies, and came along for this photo shoot. After all, there is a side-car!

I photographed a few sequences of John and Barbara with this motorbike, using different setups. I liked this dramatic series the most, with the light from behind casting a shadow in front of them. I wanted the light to etch the frame of the motorbike and side-car, without revealing too much detail – I wanted this to be a portrait of John and Barbara. However, I took a number of other images, where the motorbike is better lit. Just to have the variety. Such a unique opportunity doesn’t come along that often, so I had to make sure I got variety in the images.

Now, the techie details about the photograph:
camera settings were 1/250 @ f/14 @ 200 ISO

As always, the pull-back shot to show the lighting setup …

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on-location corporate headshots – aiming for efficiency and speed

That’s me, all set up for on-location corporate headshots last week. Five speed light & Softbox set ups, to be placed in a different area each, to efficiently give 5 different looks. My client wanted head-shots of a list of people, with varying backgrounds around their offices. And also with different sets of clothes. We decided that 5 different looks would work best, and give them variety.

I considered the options I had. Two of them amounted to too much disruption:
- dragging one light around, and setting it up every time for each person, or
- setting up in one spot, and then having everyone file past. And then setting up again, and having everyone file past me.

The best and most elegant option immediately seemed to be to  set up lighting in 5 different spots, with pre-determined exposure settings and flash settings … and then walking each person to each spot. This sounds like a mission, until you realize that 3 of the spots were within 20 yards of each other in the main lobby area.

Instead of moving a light-stand around, I would walk up to the already set up light-stand & speedlight, and switch on the radio trigger for that spot. All setting up and testing done before-hand. Fast and efficient. Then, at 30 minute intervals, the next person would join us.

Here is a close-up shot of one of those setups:

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gelling your flash for the warm light at sunset

Since the light from a speedlight is relatively quite cold, (ie, blue-ish), it can create an unpleasant color cast when you use flash with existing warm ambient light. A typical problem situation would be the Incandescent environment that we often find ourselves in at night. But there are other times when the WB from our speedlights (typically around 5400K) is just too cold (blue) compared to the light we have at sunset. (The Daylight WB preset relates to color of daylight during the middle of the day.) Then we need to do something with our flash to help match those warm hues at sunset. Gelling is the answer.

With this photo session of Lauren and Chris, we were at this breath-taking vantage point overlooking Manhattan. The sun was starting to set and taking on those very warm tones that look so gorgeous. Blue-tinted flash would’ve spoiled this. Since they were in a shaded spot, I had to use additional lighting here. I had to try and make it appear as if they were bathed in the same warm light.

I normally keep 1/2 CTS gel taped to my lens hood, so that I have ready access to gels. The 1/2 CTS is measured for 3700K which would’ve been too warm in this instance. So instead of covering the entire face of the flash-head with the gel, I only partially covered it, by turning the gel sideways. In other words, taping it down vertically instead of horizontally over the flash head … and this was just enough to have the same warm light on the couple, as there was on the city. A much better balance.

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