studio photography

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 (Amazon). 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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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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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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