Use stormy days to your advantage – get out there and take photos!
You don't need a massive studio and an army of gear to shoot great product photos.
I’ve moved 3 times in the past 8 years and have created 5 in-home studios in that same amount of time. Every time I change up my studio I seem to find myself creating smaller, more compact and optimized spaces. The reason is simple – you don’t need a warehouse to take great product photos.
The first step to creating your space is taking inventory of your most used gear – this single step will let you know exactly what sort of space you need. For instance if you rely heavily on natural light then you’ll need windows and perhaps less space for things like studio flashes and light stands. The type of photographs you take will also help inform you decisions on what type of space you need. In my case, I do a lot of portraits and commercial work. I also use studio flash which are often mounted on large C-Stands so that definitely increases both my vertical and horizontal space requirements.
In the end, I utilized a room attached to my house that is 24 feet by 10 feet. This room also has high ceilings, which means I can position my lights above my subjects. After doing some searching online, it turns out that even a compact space like this is pretty large compared to some metropolitan studios out there. I found some studios that are only 8×8, which is impressive!
While my studio is still very much a work in progress (we’re still finishing the walls and ceiling) it was in good enough shape to get things started. When I was contracted to do some product photos we got some things set up in quick order and started taking pictures. Over here to the right you can see what the set up is for this shot. We’re using a basic, plastic, folding card table. These products are shot on white, but we also wanted a reflection, so I used a clean white card with sheet of glass on top of that to help catch reflections. We’re using a two light set up. The first light is above the product and pointed backwards towards the rear of the table. The reason for that is you can highlight the curves and contours of the product without producing the hot, specular highlights you would get if you had the light directly in front of the product. The second light is behind a collapsible diffuser. This adds a little highlight to the edge of the product, but mostly it’s just there to make sure the environment around the product is totally white. I am also using a black flag (the reverse side is shiny metallic in this photo) at the very front of the product to subject extra light from the front of the product to help make the reflections pop out a little more.
After tweaking the lighting and positioning a bit, we were very pleased with the resulting photos. It was nice to see that a little bit of planning could result in a studio space that was refined and streamlined and still produced the quality that we were looking for. You can see the results of our product photo shoot below.
Managing disk space when you are a photographer is a major headache - but here's an amazing way that doesn't cost anything but a little time.
Tony Northurp (video link above, please give him a subscribe on youtube!) shows us a pretty easy way to save yourself a ton of hard drive space. I personally deal with this problem about once a year. I have nearly 20TB of drive space attached to my main computer alone. Managing that much disk space (especially when I am running low) is a major pain. Buying new hard drives or, gulp, expensive raid arrays, will always be a temporary solution – drive space is finite and you’re taking pictures all of the time.
So when I ran across this video where Tony shows us the magic of Adobe’s lossy DNG format, I was intrigued. I tested it out myself and I can honestly tell you that I am now, at this very moment, in the process of converting all of my old photos into Lossy DNG (with the exception of some very important ‘hero’ shots taken for clients). Hundreds of thousands of photos are making the pilgrimage to Lossytown over here, and so far I’ve gotten back several terabytes of space. Let’s hope the trend continues!
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Massillon, Cleveland, Akron and northeast Ohio area.
I am a child of the 80's...
… which means I am direct product of that decade. I was never a big fan of 80’s Hair-Metal but I’ve always loved the imagery of that era. As we started to move away from analog and into digital’s earliest incarnations we all took a big step back in quality. People think of VHS as an analog medium, but unlike the homemade movies shot on film in the 60’s and 70’s – which were a true analog and very chemical-based affair – VHS was rendered to tape using electricity and other various pieces of digital wizardry. It’s part of this loss in quality that help define the 80’s within its time in history and also teaches us the concept of, ‘low-quality doesn’t always mean bad-quality’.
Also, the 80’s were a time of great exploration into the visual mediums. For me, there’s never been a time in my life where the movies were more over the top, more gory, more cheesy, more whatever. Sure, we all praise and award movies who work their messages in more subtle manners, but I think a lot of people can also appreciate how wonderful ‘blatant-and-unrepentant’ can be as well!
Enter Stranger Things; a new visual and story-telling trip down a cracked 80’s memory lane. It’s amazing to watching Stranger Things and see my childhood, bikes, clothes, and adventures right there on screen for me to relive. Okay, so my real life adventures at that age weren’t quite as surreal, but they were certainly just as grand within my imagination.
It’s truly an amazing show and it has captured a lot of people’s interest. One such couple, some family friends of mine, have two daughters who they watch the show with. When their oldest daughter shaved and donated her hair to Saint Baldricks, they realized she was a complete doppelganger for one of the TV show’s main protagonists – Eleven. So much so that she was being stopped in the street and people would take pictures of her and follow her around, convinced she was Millie Bobby Brown.
So, we decided to capitalize on this and do a fun Stranger Things photo shoot! They were in charge of the wardrobe, and I would find the right location. For that location I chose the Molly Stark Sanatorium; an old tuberculosis hospital about 30 minutes out of town. This place is defunct, abandoned, and just oozes a whole new level of creepy, so, as you can imagine, it turned out to be the perfect location.
Above: Molly Stark Sanatorium
We showed up around 8pm in the evening. It’s mid-Spring at this point of the year so the sun sets around 8:30 pm. The forecast originally said it would be sunny, but rain had moved in earlier throughout the day and now it was overcast – which wasn’t a problem since we were taking a potentially moody photo. The only impact the cloud cover had on the location was that I instantly lost about 2 stops of light as the sun was setting behind a large blanket of clouds.
Because I would have to expose a little longer to compensate for the darkness (I don’t like to bump up the ISO unless absolutely necessary) I set the camera up on my tripod after scouted the location for the right angle. Using the tripod means I can have a slower shutter speed and still retain a sharp photo. Next I hustled to put up one 32 inch octa on a large light stand. The light was about 12 feet up and about 12 feet away and 45 degrees off center from the subject because I wanted to give the lighting more of a moonlight glow by the time it reaches our model. I then took a second light and positioned that opposite of the main light. It was much lower, with a 7 inch reflector on a bare bulb. I pointed the light so it would light her dark side with a little fill as well as light the bottom of the tree branches to help them retain a little detail from the shadows. Once we had the lights in place it was just a matter of getting the pose right and taking some pictures. To the right is one of the pictures we chose, straight out of the camera.
If you remember what I said at the start of this article, the 80’s are all about the lo-fi elements. This picture is ok as-is, but it doesn’t match either the spirit of the show, or the aesthetic of the decade it’s supposed to take place in – so there’s some work to do!
First thing I did was mess around with the RGB curves in Adobe Lightroom to flatten the dynamic range. I also de-saturated the image and boosted the blues in the shadows. Next, I took the photo into After Effects (yes, the video compositing program) and added in the fog and the light streaks for the lantern.
After Effects is, at it’s heart, an amazing piece of compositing software that does a lot of stuff, dare I say, better than Photoshop. If it’s not a part of your workflow, you should investigate it’s potential! Once I am done there I exported the file into Adobe Photoshop where I made a few final adjustments to color as well as any last tweaks.
Overall most of the color tweaks are done with curves adjustments and I use them throughout the process within all of the various programs I mentioned here. One thing that’s hard to explain is knowing where you should move from one program to the next. For this image, I worked in Lightroom until I had the base color correction in place. I then moved to After Effects to add in the fog and light flares because I know those processes are fairly easy for that program to produce. Photoshop is usually the last step because it’s great for the small details and final color correction.
Here’s the final image
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Area.
Being taught through inspiration
A wonderful producer who I’ve worked with for years would often joke when we had to copy and paste items from one of our earlier projects into something we were currently working on, “If you’re gonna steal, steal from the greats!”
Now, before we get anything further into my reasoning here, I am just gonna say the following: Don’t steal, or infringe on someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own. That’s just theft, and it’s pretty low. As a graphic designer of over 20 years, I’ve had numerous designs and concepts stolen from me and it’s a terrible feeling to see someone else benefiting from your hard work. As artists, our biggest billable asset is our ideas, innovation and process. So respect other artists’ work as you would like your own work to be respected.
With that out of the way, I do also believe that you can learn a lot by seeing how other people approach their craft. That is, at its very core, the essence of teaching. Recent generations of photographers have been inspired by people like Annie Leibovitz, Joe McNally and Jeremy Cowart, among others. Those photographers were, and still are, inspired by other photographers and so on and so forth. Being inspired by other artists is a beautiful thing and, as an artist, there is no higher compliment than having a contemporary seeing your work and being inspired by it.
I keep a folder on my computer of things I find inspiring. It can be anything from a color study, to a well designed website, brochure, a photo, a poem; it can be anything that catches my eye and stirs some emotion inside of me. In the case of photography, it could be an image that someone else has taken that intrigues me – the way they took it, the lighting, the pose, the setting. Whatever it is, it’s something that has inspired me.
I’ll also use these images as a challenge and a chance to learn. I’ll do my best to figure out what sort of visual trickery and craftsmanship went into the making of their photo and then I’ll set out to see if I can faithfully recreate what it is I think they’re doing. Such was the case for Post Malone’s Twitter profile picture seen here to the right. This photo was shot by Nabil and you can follow him on twitter here: https://twitter.com/nabildo.
I think it’s just a pretty awesome portrait. I like the simple, monotonistic color scheme, the pose, the shadows. Basically, the whole mood of this photo is pretty damn cool. Because of that, I decided I would do my best to try and recreate it armed with only my own working knowledge of cameras and studio lighting.
The first, and most obvious, aspect of this photo is the orange tone throughout. That’s a no-brainer that we’ll need to add some colored gels to the lights in order to achieve the same effect, however we need to figure out what sort of lighting we want to use first. Looking at this portrait a little more I suspected that the photographer was using a beauty dish, positioned directly above and pointing straight down at the subject. This would give the same deep shadows in the eyes we see here in the photo. There doesn’t seem to be any bounce light, so we’ll just move forward on the assumption that one one light was used to light Post Malone.
We will need a second light, however, to light the backdrop. I have a neutral gray seamless in my studio and I suspect that’s the same setup Nabil used in his photo. So, I’ll just take my second light, attached a 7 inch reflector dish so the light doesn’t spill off of the background and hit the subject, and then lastly we’ll put a gel on that to give our gray background an orange tone.
The gels I decided to use were one full cut of CTO on my main light and one theatrical orange gel on the background light. The theatrical orange gel is considerably more orange than the CTO gel. The reason for this choice is because skin tones are already warm-ish, so I don’t need to over drive the orange on our main light – just enough extra orange to kick the skin tones into the realm of our backdrop. The backdrop, which is gray under normal lighting conditions, does need a little more color oomph, so that’s where we use the theatrical orange gel to full effect. See the diagram to the right to see our final set up.
The next step is lighting ratios. I think I got kinda lucky on this one. My camera and lights were still set to whatever they were set for at my last photoshoot was and, as it turned out, they were dialed in pretty well for our first test shot here. In the end, I just had to tweak the main light at tad to get it into the correct range. My camera was set to f/8, 1/125 shutter, 100 iso. The main light was putting out light at f/11 and the background light was f/5.6. So basically, the key light was +1 stop over camera and the background was -1 stop under. Easy-peasey!
And here’s our final image:
Baby/Infant Photos with Benjamin Lehman Photography
This is only the second time in my professional career that I’ve taken newborn photos. I believe there are lot of other photographers out there who are much more passionate about this form of portraiture than I am so, so I usually refer one of those photographers to people who come to me asking. This one, however, was special as it was my 2nd cousin’s first born child. So, obviously, I am going to say yes, and boy oh boy, it was actually a lot of fun!
You can take portraits with impact in minutes.
I am going to keep this blog post short and sweet, but the gist of it is as follows: You don’t need to spend hours, or even days, planning for a portrait that will have visual impact.
My last portrait gig happened like this – friend called and said, “Hey, there’s a cool building being demo’d across the street. Bring your camera, I think you could get some cool pictures.”
So that’s what I did. I grabbed my camera, two speed lights, a small 24″ softbox and drove over. Once I got there my friend, Trevor, and I walked over to the build which had been partially demolished over the last week. Just looking around you could see that Trevor was right, this was a great place for portraits. So I found a few angles I liked, got Trevor into position and started taking some pictures. And… that was it. Total time, not including driving time, was like 15 minutes.
What makes this so easy is the small size of my kit, my Canon speed-lights and their ability to transmit TTL data.
In picture 1, I am on the street, about 5 feet below Trevor, so when he kneels down I am able to be below him, which gives him a sense of presence in the frame, but I am also about to compose my photo so that I can still see the remains of the demolished building in the background. I exposed -2 ev to reign in the background and then push +1 ev of light through the TTL system to make Trevor pop out.
In picture 2 I’ve cheated and covered my speed-light with a full cut of CTO. I then
lied to my camera manually balanced the camera to 3200k to convince it that it’s actually shooting a tungsten colored scene. In essence, I’ve told the camera the photo I am taking has too much orange in it, when in reality only my speed-light is emitting orange light. Thanks to this trickery, the camera sees my subject lit by the speed-light as correctly color balanced. However, the sky and the background, which is not emitting any extra orange light, is rendered in shades of blue. Cool, right!?
Benjamin Lehman is a professional commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Area.
The Last 30 Days In Gear
I don’t get asked a ton of questions about photography, but when I do they are most commonly things like which lens is the best, how much should I bid on a photography job, and which gear do you use the most? The first two questions are pretty subjective; my favorite lens and how much I charge for a particular job can very greatly from job to job based on the needs of that particular assignment. The last question of which gear do I use the most, however, I think is a really good indicator on which gear do I find most valuable across all of my jobs. As it turns out there is a handful of gear that I take with me on nearly every job that I do. I may not always end up using every piece of this equipment on every job, but I think of them as indispensable to the point where I am at a disadvantage if I don’t take them.
I guess the first thing I should start off with are the cameras and lenses themselves since, you can’t really do a photography job without both of these elements.
My two main cameras which go to every photography job are my 5D Mark II and my 5D Mark III. If you were doing professional photography you always, and I mean always, want two cameras with you at all times. If you’re in the field with one camera and it breaks for whatever reason you are, as they say, “shit out of luck.” The client isn’t going to take very kindly when you offer, “oops”, as an answer. So be prepared and take two cameras. If one of my 5Ds should fail, I have a Rebel and even an old 20D ready to jump in to add an extra layer of assurance.
The second most important component is of course the lenses themselves. For this I travel with these three following lenses: 50 mm, 24-70 mm, 70-200 mm. The 24-70 and 70-200 are both 2.8, which means I have some flexibility in low-light situations where maybe my flash isn’t readily available. The 50 mm lens is 1.4 f-stop, which means it both has creamy bokeh and even more leverage in low light situations. I’m sure a lot of photographers would disagree with me, but if you have these three lenses in your camera bag I would argue you have 80 to 90% of your professional lens needs covered.
So now that we have the cameras in the lenses out of the way we can talk about all the little bits and pieces that really help your photographs stand out from the rest of the field. These are of course things like strobe lights, speed lights, studio lights, light stands, light modifiers, and all of the other in between pieces of gear.I consider myself a fairly light shooter by comparison to some other heavyweight professional photographers. By this I mean I rely on a fairly small package of gear to get my photos. Let’s begin with lights.
I use four speed lights, the 600 EX-RT from canon, two 430 EX IIs from Canon, and one 285 Vivitar with an optical slave eye attachment. Along with these speed lights I have 1 Einstein and Two Alienbees flash heads from Paul C. Buff (Let’s just call them PCB from here on out). To control these lights I have 5 Aputure Radio transmitters and one CyberSync Commander and CyberSync Slave for the PCB Lights. Everything else is triggered optically if needed.
My collection of modifiers is something I am fairly fond of, but even with my vast array of light shapers, I really only a handful all of the time. The big 5 light shapers include a 7 foot shoot through umbrella with a detachable ‘softbox’ cover from PCB, a 36 inch Octabox from PCB, a 24 inch speed-lite softbox from Neewer (super cheap, super handy!), and a 22 beauty dish from PCB and 2 Reflector dishes, also from PCB. I have a ton more light modifiers, but these comprise a large portion of what I use on set regularly.
Finally, in my “other” category for gear used on set, I use 2 Avenger C-Stand Completes, 4 twelve foot straight stands, a Manfrotto tripod with ball mount head, one black flag, 1 tri-grip reflector, 2 three by five foot collapsible diffusion panels , a wide assortment of colored light gels, and a bunch of various fastening devices like clamps and gaffer’s tape.
Let’s break that down into list form real quick
- 5D Mark II
- 5D Mark III
- Canon f/1.4 50mm
- Canon f/2.8 24-70mm
- Sigma f/2.8 70-200mm
- Manfrotto tripod & Ball-mount Head
- Canon 600EX-RT
- 2x Canon 430 EX II
- Vivtar 285
- Paul C. Buff Einstein
- Alienbees B800
- Alienbees B400
- 5x Aputure Wireless Triggers
- Paul C. Buff CyberSync Commander
- Paul C. Buff CyberSync Slave
- 7 Foot Shoot-through Umbrella with removable Reflective/Softbox Backing
- 36 Inch Octabox
- 24 Inch Speed-lite Softbox
- 22 Inch Beauty Dish
- 2 Reflector Dishes
- 2x Avenger C-Stand Complete
- 4x 12 Foot Straight Stands
- C-Stand mountable Black Flag
- Tri-grip Reflector
- 2x 3×5 Foot collapsible Reflector/Diffuser
- Assorted Colored Lighting Gels
- Assorted Clamps
- Gaffer’s Tape
Tada! Hey, trust me, that’s not an unmanageable amount of stuff. The cameras, lenses, radio triggers and speed-lites all fit into one carry-on-sized camera bag, and the larger flash heads and tripod all fit into a 4×1 foot rolling light bag. The stands and light modifiers do add a cumbersome element to moving around when on on location, but with one assistant it’s more than manageable.
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and NorthEastern Ohio Area.
Photography used to be inhabited by some stodgy old fuddy duds...
You know the kind, the photographer with a stogie hangin’ from their mouths, toiling over whatever it is they are toiling over. Old curmudgeons, believing themselves to be keepers of some crazy old mystical art form. I know you’ve seen a few of these types – I know of at least a few within my own town who still fit this stereotype.
The thing is, I don’t get why photographers, even of an older ilk, aren’t more flexible when it comes to new developments in technology. I am not even talking about the 20-something, “Film is wayyyyyy better than digital”, crowd – I’ll save my thoughts on that subject for later – but rather I am talking about the folks who truly believe that advancements in tech pose a great threat to the tried-and-true ways of their method.
For me, tech has always been something to revered. Sure, it’s dangerous to get into a game of keeping-up-with-the-Jones, and it’s also easy to fall into common pitfalls such as, “Oh, if I buy this brand new, more expensive, camera my photos will instantly look better!” But if you are careful, and pace yourself, you can find some truly amazing pieces of hardware and software that can really elevate your photo-game.
One such piece of software is AuroraHDR 2018 by Skylum software. Not in the mood to read a long review? My one sentence synopsis for this software would be as follows; An HDR capable version of Lightroom without any of the catalog features.
Actually, I could probably just end this review there – that’s just how accurate I feel that statement is. Of course there are some finer nuances between to two programs, but just boot up Aurora and you can see that it borrows heavily from Lightroom’s Develop module.
Here you can see just how similar the two programs are. Well, it makes sense when you think about it. Lightroom didn’t invent the whole slider/adjust based interface, it just made it ubiquitous. Aurora is simply capitalizing on a design and layout we’re familiar with, and I am ok with that. So then, is Aurora a Lightroom clone under the hood as well? Definitely not. First off, it’s not replacing Lightroom for organizing your photos. AuroraHDR does none of that. In fact, the work flow for just opening and saving an image when using Aurora as a stand alone program is a little archaic. Luckily, Aurora integrates with Lightroom. So, instead, what you’ll be doing is opening the file in Lightroom, as always, and then exporting the file (or files – this is an HDR program after all) into Aurora. Once you are done merging and making adjustments you then can press the “apply” button, which actually saves this new file back into the Lightroom catalog – similar to how it works when you export a photo to edit in Photoshop and save it.
HDR FOR ALL
So, then, again… the question is, why buy? Well, it’s cheap – like 99 bucks. And for that barely sub-100 price tag you actually get some amazing tools within Aurora. First off, I should mention that I am not a big HDR shooter, (which seems weird for this review, but it’s cool, trust me), so I don’t spend a lot of time with bracketed images. But the few occasions where I have taken the time to take HDR photos I have found it hard to get reliable results from the programs I’ve used previously. Photoshop and Lightroom’s built in HDR plug-ins are, well, laughable. And the other big programs, like Photomatix, feel like they were designed by the same engineers that programmed them. Aurora feels so much like Lightroom’s develop module, however, that it’s intuitive to get in there and make some easy, but very in-depth, changes with barely a nudge of the slider. And subtlety is important here – as a friend once pointed out, there’s a fine line in HDR between amazing and clown-vomit. Aurora’s sliders work wonders even when you’re only pushing it at 5 ticks out of 100. If you’re feeling brave and start pushing those sliders further you’ll be happy to know the potential is still there to make some cataract inducing contrast explosions.
Before I get too long winded, my point here is this:
- Step 1: Load in your brackets
- Step 2: Use an interface full of tools and names you’re already familiar with
- Step 3: Profit – Case in Point, see below image:
WORKING WITH SINGLE IMAGES
What if you’re like me and you’re focus isn’t HDR photography? Well, as it turns out, Aurora has some great uses there as well. The most obvious reason may not actually be the most obvious. HDR programs are built to pull details out of shadows and highlights. AuroraHDR isn’t a miracle worker, it can’t pull clouds out of a sky that’s been over exposed beyond redemption, but it can tease out details from shadows and highlights in a more reliable manner than Lightroom can. For whatever reason, Aurora’s shadow and highlight compression algorithms seem to work really well for me. Maybe it’s the way I shoot, or whatever, but I get great results from it.
There has even been a few cases where I’ve gone back and re-developed older photos previously output with Lightroom. It’s hard for me to explain it, but I like to think of my photos in terms of stories and moods, and it’s almost like Lightroom and Aurora each have their own moods which they perform more optimally. Maybe it’s because of it’s nature as an HDR editing tool, but I find that Aurora is very good at helping me get the mood I am looking for in photos that were shot at sunset, or indoors in darker-than-normal conditions.
When I edit my photos, I am very much an entire tool kinda guy. I use sliders (all of the sliders), curves, buttons, masks, gradients – everything, and Aurora let’s me explore my inner slider-pusher while yielding great results. It also renders these results fast, although there are times where you feel like the image looks awfully pixelated, only to find out that you aren’t just seeing things, and that the render has, in fact, decided to blockify your view. This is easy to fix, as scrolling in and out will refresh the image, but it’s still a weird occurrence which reminds you that you are using a 2nd tier piece of software.
With that being said, I can promise you that I will be upgrading Aurora for the foreseeable future as I can’t imagine not having it in my arsenal of tools. Actually, I’ve rather fallen in love with this program and can’t wait to see what sort of new innovations may be in store for us!