studio photography

portrait photography – allowing influences to inspire your own style

I keep a folder of Inspiration images to which I often add interesting photos shot by other photographers. This serves as an ideas folder. There are hundreds upon hundreds of images. I add to this Inspiration folder, and I also discard images over time as my own style and what I want to work towards, form better shape. I might browse through this and see what sticks in my mind. Sometimes it is the amalgamation of ideas that lead to something new. Even when I try to emulate the style and lighting of an image, there are always distinct differences that lead to new images with a different look for me.

Similarly, the photo above was loosely based on ideas I saw elsewhere … yet, by the time we were done, the  photos from this session didn’t look like the inspiration images. Different model; different lighting; different post-processing; different interpretation and a different photographer.

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in-camera special effects with gobo projection

I still have this old-school preference for effects done in-camera and effects achieved with interesting lighting, over effects achieved nearly entirely through digital manipulation. Absolutely no disrespect to digital artists who create astonishing work. However, my jaw drops when I look at the sheer scale of the work of a photographer like Gregory Crewdson. Naturally then, my hero is Gregory Heisler, who has a true genius for creating diverse work through amazing lighting. So that would be my inclination – how much can I achieve in-camera to create an image that grabs attention. Of course, having a striking looking model helps a lot.

Still exploring the possibilities of projection effects with the Light Blaster (vendor), a speedlight based projector, I met up with Viktoria in my studio. The Light Blaster has several effects kits, but I still prefer the stronger and starker outlines of the gobo kit over the various gel kits. With previous experiments in the studio, I used the Light Blaster to project patterns on the background, or into smoke. Working with an idea I saw from my friend Josh Lynn, I projected the pattern onto the wall in the studio, and had Viktoria in the mix there somewhere.

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lingerie photo session – light, lighting & textures  (model: Melanie S.)

This photograph of Melanie, one of my favorite models, is one of a sequence where we played with different lights and lighting styles in the studio. I wanted lighting that was both soft and dramatic. Both feminine and bold. The lighting is the same idea – using a big gridded strip-box / soft-box – as I used in a previous photo session with another model, Anita DeBauch.

The final image above, is the result of my first tentative exploring of using texture layers in Photoshop. I wanted to retain her shadow and other detail in the wall, while enhancing the appeal of the image with a texture layer in PS. I felt that the unadorned photo needed an additional element to elevate it.

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business headshots in the studio, with a contemporary / modern look

When Matt Sweetwood, the owner of the largest Camera Store in New Jersey, discussed doing new new business headshots for him, we agreed that a more contemporary look suited him. There’s a large dynamic personality at work here … and using an 85mm f/1.4 lens wide open would place attention on his eyes and his expression. Nothing else is really in focus aside from his eyes, and this really makes for a compelling portrait that grabs your attention.

We shot various sequences, with the background brighter and darker. In the end we settled on a sequence of images with the lighting shown in the top photograph – it has an airy brightness to it, and looks modern. With the colors muted like that, it draws attention to his expression even more. No bright colors to distract.

We also had fun with various expressions just to mix it up a bit.

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portrait & headshot photography: studio lighting tools – Westcott Eyelighter

With portrait lighting for head shots, there are so many configurations – all the way from dramatic lighting, to very even light – but always keeping in mind that the lighting needs to look flattering. It is all in how we balance the various lights, and how we add fill-light.

Westcott has released a curved reflector, the Eye-lighter (vendor), and it is quite versatile:

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Light Blaster: image projection effects for creative backgrounds in the studio

Working with an idea in mind – a moody B&W portrait with a stylized cityscape as background. Using the Light-Blaster again in the studio, this final image was a progression of that idea. I knew I wanted to use the cityscape background of one of the metal gobos that came with the Light-Blaster kit.

Because I wanted the final photo to be black and white, I set my camera to Monochrome so that I’d have a good idea during the shoot what the final image would look like. Since I shoot in RAW, the image would pull up in color the moment I start my post-processing. Then I reverted it to B&W again, and edited it for contrast and for the vignette you see in the final image at the top.

The first step of the shoot was to set up the Light Blaster, then get the exposure, and then figure out the lighting on our model, Priscilla.

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studio photography – my favorite light modifier: Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox

It was exciting when I equipped my studio last year with a variety of lighting gear – so much to choose from. A little kid in the toy store! I want everything. The decision obviously has to be made between various lighting items that are only slight changes from other, with little real world difference. And then there ia also lighting gear that is quite esoteric.

I chose various gridded stripboxes and reflectors, in addition to the soft boxes and beauty dish that I had. Then I had my eye on an octabank – specifically the large Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox (vendor). When I first unfurled that thing in my studio, my reaction was, “holy crap, this is huge!”. My studio is 1000 sq ft, which is large, but you know, that’s also not that large. I was wondering if I should just return this to the camera store, and whether my 3×4 soft box would suffice.

Then I started using the 5′ Octa soft box, and something clicked for me – one more thing fell into place for me in my understanding of light. My reaction turned from that perplexed, “holy crap!”, into a “holy smackeroni!” when I realized that the 5′ Octa is probably the single most versatile piece of lighting gear in my studio!

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image projection effects in the studio with the Light Blaster

Shooting in a studio can feel like a challenge at times – you’re in a big box of a room, and somehow you have to work past that restriction with light and ideas, create something. I’ve been curious about using projection effects in the studio, but always seem to come up short against equipment that is either too expensive, or too limited .. until Udi Tirosh of DIY Photography, turned me onto the idea of the Light Blaster.

The Light Blaster attaches to your speedlight on one end, and a lens on the other end. In the middle, you insert a slide with colors that you can project onto a background, or onto your subject. Alternately, you can use a metal gobo to create shadow patterns on the background. Quite simple really, but the effects are great.

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NJ headshots photography

headshot photo-session: what makes for a good headshot?

A few out-takes mixed with a few keepers from this headshot photo session, and it helps illustrate some of the process of getting to a good headshot.

The lighting is key. Posing is important. But there’s another aspect that makes a great headshot – your subject’s personality needs to come shining through. So, yes, it is in the lighting. It is in the posing. It’s in the expression … but a very important key is the personality of the photographer – how to make your subject feel relaxed. How to make the photography not feel like an intrusion.

For most people, being photographed is a fairly vulnerable thing – we don’t want to appear foolish or unpresentable to the wider world. Although you could make a valid argument against that idea, with the bad snapshots that people post of themselves on social media. So there is that. Still, I’d say it is quite a vulnerable thing to do – to be photographed. And it is up to you as the photographer to make someone feel relaxed in front of the camera.

The key here – your personality. It starts with a warm handshake and a friendly smile. That handshake is important. Not limp, but firm. Go so far as to ask friends to honestly give you their opinion – a brutally truthful opinion about your handshake. Your body language needs to be confident.

By now your skills in basic lighting should be such that you don’t stress about that, but can concentrate on getting the best out of your subject. It’s up to you.

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post-processing workflow: how to deal with color banding / posterization

If you’ve ever noticed banding or  posterization in your photos, where you’d expect solid colors, then there’s a relatively easy fix for it. This posterization effect appears as bands of colors, where the transitions between similar tones aren’t smooth, but have jagged edges instead.

It is caused by the 8-bit JPG not having enough data to give you a smooth gradient when large blocks of color slowly change. You’ll often see it in the blue sky in landscapes, or as in this case, with large areas of color in the background. Actually, the image above doesn’t show this – I fixed it. Here’s how.

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