lighting and design in photography: (de)-constructing an image

For me, Design in photography relates to the way an image is constructed at the time of shooting. Composition and content. Lighting. Every element which forms part of a successful and eye-catching photograph. Some of the elements in the photograph are pre-visualized, some of it a kind of serendipity that is then expanded on at the time. Some of it might only be understood afterwards in looking at the photograph. My latest book, Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography, looks at exactly that thought-process throughout the 60 chapters in the book.

Several of the articles on Tangents look at that thought-process during a photo-shoot, working towards a successful image. For example:
– progression of an idea in a photo session (cosplayer: Ger Tysk)
– photo-shoot with a model: the progression of an idea  (model: Nicole)

With that idea in mind – the design of a photograph – let’s step through the image at the top.

This photograph of our model Olive, isn’t a composite. It is pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera), aside from removing a car and a few people in the background. Oh, and bumping up the Contrast and nudging the Saturation. And retouching skin. I guess it isn’t really that SOOC at this point. But it isn’t a composite. It was shot like this. The cobble-stones looked like that – aglow.

That lack of shadow adds a sense of mystery. It all looks a bit surreal. The reason why Olive looks like she is floating in the air, is that she was jumping. We did several takes to try and get her at her most relaxed in mid-air. With her feet off the ground, there is no immediate tell-tale shadow behind her. The bright sun on the cobble stones also eliminate her shadow completely. There is also no shadow in front of her, since it is outside of the frame.  So she really looks like she is incongruously suspended in the air.

Now, the lack of shadow wasn’t planned before-hand, but it was most definitely noticed when we started shooting a few test frames. So we continued with the idea.

Learn more inside…

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review: Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4  vs  Canon and Nikon

Even when taking photography only slightly seriously, you’ll have come up against the legendary name, Zeiss. Renowned for innovations in optical designs that helped shape the history of photography, the Zeiss brand name is also synonymous with precision engineered lenses and impeccable attention to build quality. With all that behind them, Zeiss has released a new range called Otus. The first lens is a Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 (vendor) which Zeiss describes with phrases such as “the absolute measure of perfection” and “unrivaled performance”. Knowing Zeiss, this won’t be hyperbole, but a straight-forward assessment.

With their 55m lens described as the best standard lens available, I was really curious about the new 85mm Otus lens released. Really, the description on Zeiss’ website of the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 (vendor), will send a tingle down the spine of any gear-head / aficionado. For example: “The optical correction of the Otus 1.4/85 completely eliminates almost all possible forms of aberration.”

Now, those of you who regularly follow the Tangents blog, will know that I have a fondness for the 85mm optics – the best lens to change your portrait photography. So when I had the opportunity to try out a loaner copy of “the best short tele lens in the world”, I was very curious to see how this lens would perform.

 

– Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 (for Canon)  (vendor)
– Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 (for Nikon)  (vendor)

Taking this lens out of the box is an event in itself. It’s built like a tank. A luxury tank. It is heavy and feels and looks like a top-quality lens. There’s no doubting when you hold this in your hand.

To make it more interesting, I decided to compare it with two of its closest competitors, the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (vendor), and the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G (vendor). I used the Zeiss Otus on a Canon 6D (vendor), along with the Canon 85mm lens. The Nikon lens was on the Nikon D750 (vendor). With the cameras having similar resolution, it would be a fairly equal comparison.

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Boudoir Photography tutorial: five top-selling images & quick posing tips

Posing women in boudoir portraits is both an art form and a learned skill. Women are by nature sensitive about perceived body flaws. Expert posing aimed at highlighting her favorite features (and downplaying others) can make or break her experience and love of her photos—and ultimately your sale.

Petra Herrmann, an exceptional boudoir photographer, based in Kansas City, has the guest spot here with a few of her top-selling poses with some quick posing tips you can try out during your next boudoir session.

Petra has appeared on Tangents before:
– details and sequences – increase your sales in boudoir photo sessions
– illustrating the article, Yes, that was shot at the 50mm focal length, but isn’t a close-up head-shot

With this article though, I have a bit of an agenda. Let me explain: A few weeks ago Petra discovered a lump in her left breast – and at this point it looks like it will be a hard strenuous journey involving chemo and surgery. Petra has a business & studio space that she will have to maintain through all this, and also take care of her kids. It’s going to be rough financially in the next year.

With this in mind, a few of her close friends have started a FundRaiser and support for her to help in taking care of some of the basics. The details are in this link, as well as … well, just read it anyway. She’s one of a kind.

So here’s my agenda – if you enjoy this article and found something to help you in your own photography, and if you have found any of the material on Tangents useful now and in the past, please consider a donation here as a way of thanks. Go Fund Me: Petra Herrmann. The initial target amount has been reached, but this is going to be a long, difficult journey. Even a small donation would help – they add up and will help!

And onwards to Petra’s Top Five Sellers in boudoir photography – the images that really appeal to clients …

Learn more inside…

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My latest book is now available!
Lighting & Design for Portrait Photography

A follow-up of sorts to Direction & Quality of Light, this new book is now available on Amazon and bookstores. It’s a slightly eclectic mix, showing and discussing the thought-process with portraits. The examples use available light, bounce flash, off-camera flash as well as studio lighting.

The idea is that in every one of the 60 sections, there is something to be learnt and applied, regardless of your level as a photographer or where you shoot.

Some of the material has appeared on Tangents before, but has been shaped to form a cohesive narrative arc throughout the book. About 50% is new material.

Order directly from Amazon USA or Amazon UK.

Alternately, if you want, order an autographed copy.

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high-ISO bounce flash photography

The last wedding of the year just behind me, I want to use one of my favorite images to touch again on the recent topic of high-ISO bounce flash with on-camera speedlight. I want to show that the results aren’t a fluke – but that with a consistent approach to bounce flash photography, you can get consistent results. However, since we shoot under various scenario changes, we have to adapt a bit.

The venue was this hotel reception room with massively high ceilings … but with the walls closer by. Easy enough to bounce on-camera flash off. The one challenge here were the huge mirrors along the walls. This caused unpredictable reflections. It also flattened the light too much when shooting towards the shorter width of the room. So I ended up shooting as much as I could towards the longer end of the reception room.

Yes, the photo above was lit with a single on-camera bounce flash, shooting at a high ISO.

Learn more inside…

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review: high-ISO performance – Nikon 750 vs Nikon D4S / D4 / D810 / D610

With the initial quick test of the Nikon D750 high-ISO noise performance, I was quite impressed. But it really is only in comparison to other cameras that we can see how good it is. With that, I took 5 of the current full-frame Nikon DSLRs to compare them against each other to see their high-ISO noise.

The Nikon D4s (vendor) is currently the high-ISO king, so it was specifically interesting to see how the 24 megapixel Nikon D750 (vendor) would compare. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to wait until the end of this review, then here’s the good news: to my eye, the D750 is comparable to the D4S in terms of high-ISO noise. Maybe even a squeak better! But you don’t have to take my word for it, there are RAW files you can dowload and check for yourself.

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review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens

The moment you hold the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens (vendor) in your hand, you know it is a serious lens. It is hefty. It feels like quality. It just feels like they took craftsman-like care in designing and manufacturing this lens!

Sigma has somehow turned their image around from being just a third-party lens-manufacturer, to a company that needs to be taken seriously for quality optics. It started with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens, which proved to be a spectacular lens! (Here is my review: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HMS art lens.)

There’s been an incredible buzz around this lens – the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens. The initial reviews are unanimously impressed with this lens’ optical performance. Right up there with the very best. When the 50mm lens was first announced the rumored price was around $1,500 but with its official release, it came in at a relatively moderate $949.00 … but for that price, we’d expect a truly quality optic.

The good news – it really is all that! I would heartily recommend this lens.

Learn more inside…

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high-ISO bounce flash photography

One of the misconceptions about bounce flash photography that many photographers cling to, is that you absolutely need a white wall or ceiling near you. While it does help, this shouldn’t stop you from trying to be a little adventurous with on-camera bounce flash to see if it gets you the results you want. There have been several articles on the topic of bouncing off various other surfaces, or, not any particular surface nearby:

Let’s step through another recent example: Gaby and Michael’s wedding reception was at a winery, with the reception venue a huge area with stone and cement walls. It was a beautiful venue, but dark. The top-heavy lighting didn’t help either.

Sometimes … actually, very often … you just need to add additional lighting to the mix to get the results you and your clients want. Simple as that. Then it is up to you to figure out a way that best serves that need – good lighting while retaining the look and feel of the place.

I’m hesitant to use multiple flashes in the corners of a venue – the cross-lighting can look wonderful when it works, but very often leads to weird cross shadows. I prefer predictable results. So for me, multiple light sources wouldn’t be a first choice.

I tried the Profoto B1 as a bounce flash into the area, but it wouldn’t give predicable results, or … it would mean that my assistant would have to scurry around and help match the direction that I am shooting in. This can get a little hectic.

I then did a few test shots with on-camera bounce flash to see if it was feasible. And at full manual power, and selectively bouncing, I could get pretty good light at high ISO settings and wider apertures!

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photography questions & answers (FAQ) – exposure metering

Looking at some of the questions about photography that appear via Google searches, I wanted to more directly answer some of the questions. This article is a selection of questions that I decided to amalgamate into one longer article. The questions mostly center around exposure metering and selection of camera settings.

A related page looks specifically at questions about flash photography.

Learn more inside…

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photo gear & logistics: corporate headshots

With any professional shoot, forethought and planning is a necessity. For personal photography there’s always place for serendipity. But relying on luck with a professional shoot isn’t going to go all that far. The same goes for photographing on-location headshots – planning is essential.

With the on-location corporate headshots described in a previous article, I aimed for efficiency and speed. I set up various speedlights and soft boxes around the office place for environmental headshots. This way I could step each person through the various spots and get similar photos of everyone. But there was a certain flexibility in the final look that was okay with those portraits. Still, the setups were done beforehand. I also worked on my own, so I put some thought into how to do the logistics single-handedly.

I was approached by a large law firm in New York to do their headshots – more than 200 people that I had to take headshots of partners and personnel. The company needed corporate headshots that had a specific look to them, with a specific value to the grey background – all in a way to create a consistency with the photos, online and in printed material. With more than 200 people that need to be photographed over the course of two months on various days, there had to be a way to ensure repeatability. The look wasn’t environmental, but more conservative and traditional.

I decided to go with studio lighting gear, instead of speedlights. More power, larger light modifiers, and faster recycling times. The Profoto lights are also known for a more consistent color balance. Ideal to speed up my workflow afterwards when editing the photos. With the environmental headshots, the speedlights were sufficient because I was shooting at wider apertures and higher ISO settings to bring in the ambient light. With these more traditional headshots, the ambient light wasn’t a consideration at all and I wanted more juice than a speedlight.

This did mean carting most of my studio gear on location. I did a test setup when I first met the PR team to discuss this. This gave me an idea of the logistics. Just the logistics of getting all that gear out of the car and into the building, and setting up fast, meant I had to reconsider a few things. Then of course, at the end of each day, all this had to be done in reverse. And repeated over a number of days. Keep in mind that this is Manhattan where finding parking in front of a building to load and unload can be a real hassle. There’s just no time to unload a lot of bags.

With the test run, I had a large hand cart that I strapped bag and cases onto. But this was a bit too clumsy. It took a bit too much time to unpack the car on the sidewalk and load the hand cart. Then, navigating elevators were also not as smooth as I wanted it all to be.

More than struggling, I hate the appearance of struggling. There’s a real appeal in not looking clumsy in front of a client. Clearly it is just so much better to appear professional, well-organized and efficient.

This then is a description of just how I did that on the subsequent days where we did the headshots – rolling in looking slick and proficient and setting up fast!

When I posted an iPhone shot of the setup to Facebook, there were a lot of questions and interest in the setup, so I thought it might make for an longer discussion here. Oh, the crazy person at the top is my assistant on this shoot, Presley Ann. Before any of the company’s people sit down for their headshots, I need to be completely ready, and she sat in for the test shots.

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