OMG! We had the best photoshoot ever recently with our friends at the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank. When they needed a promo pic for their new t-shirt and the designer who created it, we jumped at the chance! (See what we did there?)
Creating a bad-ass portrait for a bad-ass personality.
The old adage is, a photo is worth a thousand words. This is why many of the industry’s top photography professionals are so adept with story telling through the pictures they take.
When you’re taking a picture of a personality, it’s a good idea to give the viewer some insight into that person’s life – you can do this by including a visual story in your photo. This can be done using a lot of simple production tricks like location, lighting, wardrobe, props, etc… Here I used a lot of negative space, dramatic lighting and some smoke to help tell a story and create a mood.
I ENJOY environmental portraiture…
… a face in a place. It gives me a chance to get out of the office and it gives the client an opportunity to tie their persona to the work they do.
Because of that, I almost never shoot on a flat backdrop unless there is a very specific reason for doing so. In this case, the factors were time, budget and style. And, I should mention the style sort of arose out of the time and budget.
So now what? You’re stuck in a situation that could lead to some fairly brand photos. The problem is how are we going to keep things looking elegant and modern while shooting on a flat, white background?
Well, I love shadows. Shadows instantly add depth. I was going to give the entire portrait a slightly under-exposed look, so I started by globally lowering my exposure by minus 1 ev to help bring the shadows to life. To do this, I expose properly, then dial down the exposure one stop. Then I tweak the back drop lights so I am getting pure white on the seamless, taking care so that no flare or wash is creeping in around the edges of our subject. This is backwards from most photographers who will expose for the background first (because it can be tricky) and then expose for their subject once they are on set. In my situation, however, I exposed subject and then background and went from there.
Lighting this turned out to be one of the most fun photographic exercises I have done in a long while. I had lights dedicated to the subject and some for the background, but I also had some lights that were both flagged for the background and diffused for the subject at the same time. By the end of this endeavor, I had 4 lights total lighting the scene.
The star of the show was the Einstein 640 studio light which continues to really impress me with all of its little tricks. I bought a small cyber commander which allows me to meter, adjust and shoot – all without ever touching the light. I know this isn’t new technology, but the Einsteins do it much better than even the much more expensive profoto and broncolor lights. Impressive indeed.
Here you can see an iPhone production shot of the set up we’re using. The camera is our older 5D Mark II, with the very cheap 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, which actually works great as a portrait lens. The large octobox houses our Einstein 640, the rest of the lights are AlienBees. We’re also using one canon 600ex-rt speedlite in a gridded strip box as a hair light. That light is triggered through a second wireless remote that runs out of the cameras sync cord connector. Yeah, it’s a bit of a Frankenstein, but it’s important to know that you can mix nearly any type of light on set to achieve the conditions you need.
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.
I was graciously asked again this year to help with Akron Canton Regional Foodbank’s annual report. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
There are few jobs that, once they are done and over, leave you with a sense of true purpose — a sense that a difference has been made. It’s not me who is making the difference, I am just a guy with some lights and a camera. Rather, it’s the people in front of, and behind the lens who leave a real and lasting impact on the fight against hunger.
High ranking corporate executives, reverends, chefs, and volunteers are just some of the people you’ll find on the front-lines , laboring to keep food on dinner tables. The people who benefit from their efforts are neighbors, friends, and family.
In an era where thousands of commercials are constantly asking for, “just pennies a day”, you can become desensitized to the problem. It can be hard to realize that the issue of hunger isn’t a problem that only exists in countries half a world away. It’s a dilemma you can find within walking distance of your front door. It’s the job of the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, and all such organizes around the US, to create new and innovative ways to combat the many problems associated with hunger.
For this years Annual Report, the design moved away from the environmental portraits of last year, and into a much brighter studio portrait style. The very first page of the Annual Report features the word, “HOPE”, and the photos needed to convey this optimistic message.
After you’ve had a chance to look at some of the pictures below, please visit the Foodbank’s website and support them any way you can. You’re helping more than you can imagine by either making a donation in money, or time as a volunteer.
We just recently picked up the new Analog Film pack from Rocket Rooster…
…and I was really anxious to try it out. I’ve been using the VSCO film packs (mostly #4) for a long time now and I was very interested in seeing how Rocket’s film pack would stand up.
The first thing you’ll notice is that there is a huge difference in price between the RR and VSCO packs. At the time of writing this review VSCO has 7 packs available for purchase, each one costing $120. By contrast RR has only one pack costing $35. If that seems like a bargain, then consider that you can by RR’s pack even cheaper for $26, as long as you send out a tweet about it before check out.
I love VSCO, and I use their presets often, mainly as a starting point, to give my photos the looks I want, but I’ve always thought they were woefully over priced. There is no way a pack of presets are worth $120. RR’s solution at $35 is much more in line with my sensibilities. At such a low price, that leaves a very important question hanging in the air – can Rocket Rooster deliver the goods?
I spent a few hours in lightroom yesterday, clicking between presets from both companies. I tried to find a few common film emulations between the two, but found that it was actually hard to do. First off, VSCO’s library is so huge that you’ll often find that each film type has many different variations. And with names like, “C – Polaroid 690 Warm ++”, it can be kind of hard to tell exactly what condition of film you are actually emulating.
I did finally find two presets that were named exactly the same between the two packs. What we’ve settled for is Color Fuji Film Provia 400x. Let’s look at them side by side.
Fuji 400x - Rocket Rooster
Fuji 400x - VSCO
The good news is, you can tell they are trying to emulate the same brand of film, but which one looks better? Rockets? VSCO? I certainly have a feeling which way I am leaning. Argh, can’t it be true? Can my love affair with VSCO be over? Maybe so, because I certainly like the treatment on Rocket’s version over VCSO’s.
RR’s shadows are smoother, the low end shadow detail is preserved better, the color and contrast looks better, the skin’s coloration is more even throughout the photo. RR’s version pretty much wins in every category here.
There is a caveat, however — we’re talking film emulation here. Small variations in color, contrast, shadows and highlights can all be tweaked after the fact to achieve the exact effect you’re looking for. Like I said before, presets are starting points, not finish lines.
Having said that, I felt like all of RR’s film presets gave me a better starting point for editing across the board. VSCO’s system is way too bloated, both in price and content. More doesn’t mean better, it just means more. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting rid of my VSCO collection any time soon, but I’ll be using Rocket Rooster’s presets first.
You can buy Rocket Rooster’s Analog Film Pack here.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising and Portrait Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.
We took PCB's Einstein out into the field and put it through it's paces.
Our Einstein mounted on a C-Stand, spilling light into a 7′ umbrella.
Einstein’s backfacing LCD Screen with more information than you can throw a stick at.
Let’s face it – flash photography is daunting. It’s so daunting that some people try it once, only to never return. Even if you have a good handle on the principles of flash photography there are still a myriad of issues that can crop up and turn a simple photo into a complicated affair.
Dials, lighting ratios, radio & wireless triggering, power range, compatibility with lighting modifiers are some of the issues that confront a photographer every time he takes his lights into the field.
So, how does the Einstein deal with all of these problems? Let’s start by saying that there is no magic button on the back of the Einstein that will tap into your imagination and render the exact lighting that you desire. But it does have a few great options that allow you to interact with the light so you can easily achieve the light you’re looking for.
I’m going to throw a dart at the board here and just start with a random topic: White balance.
I am not a huge curmudgeon when it comes to a flash’s color balance. I tweak the color in nearly every photo I take in post to suit my taste and therefor it’s never been a big issue for me if one frame has a slightly different temperature than the next. There are some people, however, who very much rely on their lighting system to produce the same quality and temperature of light consistently between each frame. You know the types, they color balance before each shoot, read every element of their set with a light meter and talk with precise and measured words, often in a German accent. That’s all fine, and if that’s you, good news, the Einstein totally caters to your needs.
On the back of the Einstein lives a small LCD screen, and this screen holds a deluge of information. So much more than the usual per-stop digital-number readout. This screen, which is actually a visual portal to all of the things that make the Einstein so great, allows you access some amazing sub-features. One such feature is the ability to switch between action and color mode. Action mode allows the light to have a dramatic power drop after it’s main light burst. This power drop allows you to capture action at speeds of 1/13,500! There’s a good chance that even your camera can’t capture action at those speeds.
I tried action mode out this week in the studio and it absolutely amazed me. This feature will freeze the action in a perfect stand-still. No motion bleed what-so-ever, only clear, clean, crisp edges no matter what action is happening in front of your lens.
But, if you’re more concerned with color temperature, then switch over to Color mode and all your color balance woes disappear. Normally, as your average studio light repeatedly flashes it’ll slowly change color temperature over the course of a session. Same with changing it’s power. Dial in more or less power and you’re also changing the color range every so slightly. The Einstein has some really smart internal logic that combats this problem with astonishing results. From their website, “In Constant Color mode, the emitted color temperature is held constant at 5600ºK (+/- 50ºK at any power setting or input voltage).” That’s pretty impressive.
Some of the less glamorous but essential features every photographer relies on are also represented in the Einstein. Things like a modeling light and radio channel selection. While we’re on the subject of radio/wireless functionality, PCB offers a very cool wireless system known as the CyberSync system. The Cyber Commander is the main piece of hardware that attaches to your camera and allows you to control your lights remotely. The back of the Cyber Commander showcases an LCD screen that looks very reminiscent to the one on the back of the Einstein.
One thing missing from the Einstein unit that other flash units, like Elinchrom’s, have built in, is a wireless receiver. Instead, you’ll have to purchase a separate, “transceiver”, for the fairly reasonable price of $29.95. When you consider the cost of the more expensive studio light systems, this small extra price barely factors into the equation.
Now, let’s talk about some of the more the practical applications of this light and how it’s going to make life easier in the long run. I will attempt to describe these features in the context of some real world applications. To help me out in this endeavor I spent some time with the light in the studio and on location so I could relay some first hand accounts.
The ability to dial in your strobe is the most essential feature of all flash systems. Some systems use half, third, or quarter stop increments. Some systems use analog sliders or dials to choose between full or lowest power.
The Einstein allows you to dial in your power at 1/10 of a stop increments. This is really handy when you need to fine tune every aspect of your shot. And, with Einstein’s 9 f/stop power range, there’s plenty of room to either over power the sun, or add a touch of fill to a candle lit seen. At it’s lowest power range I was able to use my camera at f/2.8 and get a creamy quality of light while retaining a dreamy level of focus. Add in some more layers of diffusion and you’ll be able to pull your camera into the f/1.4 range.
The first shoot I used this light on was a gritty, high-contrast sports portrait. The light need to be punchy, with a lot of zap. I set the Einstein to exactly -6.0f power. How did I arrive at that number? Well, I played around a little. I don’t use light meters. Personally, I think light meteres are a piece of dinosaur-age equipment left over from the dinosaur age of photography. Your camera, it’s LCD screen and your eyes are the Light Meters of today. So, when I am lighting with the Einstein, I am using it’s fine incremental selector to dial in the light I want.
Doing this is as simple as pushing either the up or down buttons until you’re happy with the result. I also had the Einstein set to action mode to freeze-frame his hair as he swung his head around before each push of the shutter.
Getting Out of the Studio
The photo we just used as an example was a studio photo which we then composited into a matching background. Now we want to explore what happens when you take the Einstein into the world. For that, we headed straight into the wilderness – which just happens to be a small forest near the studio. Hey, it’s what we got, so it’ll just have to work.
We took one Einstein, one 2×3 Softbox and one mobile power source with us. In our case, the power is coming from a PCB Vagabond Mini. I’ve had this Vagabond for years and have used it with my older AlienBees on many occasions and it has always gotten the job done. Not surprisingly, the Vagabond powers the Einstein without issue.
Here in our wooded location, it’s already pretty dark, so we need to set the camera to take in some ambient light. The 9/f stop range of the Einstein lets me take the power way down, almost to the very bottom, to give me just enough light to make our subject appear out of the darkness. With the help of a grid on our softbox, you can see that the Einstein was able to paint just enough light on his face and hands to give him an almost ghostly, coming out of the shadows appearance. I am highlighting this because many studio flash systems, including some very expensive solutions, aren’t viable at low power — meaning sometimes their lowest setting isn’t low enough. Sure you can set your aperture to adjust for this, but what if you want to maintain a dark scene while retaining total control over depth of field? The Einstein’s power range lets that happen.
I haven’t come out and just said it outright, but hopefully you’ve been catching the hints — the Einstein 640 is just as good, if not better, than most of it’s more expensive counterparts. ProFoto and Elinchrom systems will always have their place in the studio, but so does the Einstein. It has the performance of the big name strobes and features that can only be found on the Einstein. I’m so confident and in love with this system that I am already preparing to have an all Einstein studio.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.
Three point lighting can mean any lighting set up that uses, (you guessed it!), three lights. Somewhere in your camera or speedlite manual there is a hastily drawn diagram illustrating a simple 3 point lighting arrangement.
Word of caution though, those diagrams are terrible and will probably leave you in a lurch when photo-time arrives and you go to take your first picture only to realize that your lighting set-up isn’t gonna cut it.
The lighting scheme I am going to share with you today is an alternate set-up; and when done right it opens the doors to some pretty interesting possibilities. First, let’s discus what you’ll need:
- Three lights
- 2 strip light soft boxes
- 1 umbrella/medium soft box/octobox
The biggest difference between this set up and the ones you’ll more commonly find online is that two of our lights will be effectively behind and to the sides of our subject, rather than two lights in front.
Diagram of our 3 Point Lighting Technique.
I forgot to get a good production photo during the shoot. Which by the way, is a no no. You should always get a good production photo during the photo session so, if you have to come back and revisit the set for pick-ups, you’ll have a good visual reference to which you can match the lighting accurately. Luckily, I’m familiar with this set up, so not having a production photo isn’t too bad in this case.
This diagram to the left illustrates the basics of the set up. Two strip lights behind the subject, and one light in front of the subject. The lights in the back are positioned so that they are pointed at the subject’s shoulders. The vertical height of the lights depends on the height of your subject.
With strip lights, it’s important to know that even though they may be very tall, the ‘hot-spot’ of light is still centered in the middle of the box. That means I usually end up adjusting my strip lights so that the middle of the box is lined up with the top of my subject’s shoulders. If that isn’t giving you enough vertical coverage, then tip your strip lights so the top of the box is leaning towards your subject. Why does this work? A light source appears brighter the closer you are to it. Tipping the top of the strip light towards your subject will project more light onto their head, while the brighter middle area of the light will be a bit more dim because it’s slightly further away. Using the inverse-kinematic laws of light to your advantage, how cool is that!?
The light in front of our subject was a 22″ beauty dish. This doesn’t have to be a beauty dish, however. It can be an umbrella, a soft box, even a huge octobox. For our purposes, however, we were going for a slightly zappier, edgier light so a beauty dish was the perfect choice.
We placed the beauty dish on a C-Stand with a boom arm and leavered it over our subject. The light should be just high enough to be out of the frame of our picture. You don’t want it too high, or else you’ll fill your subjects eyes and cheeks with shadows. Keeping it just above the camera’s line of sight will render some nice shadows while still dishing some light into the eyes.
For this photo, we really want the edges of our subject to be defined. For this reason, I suggest you adjust the power output of your strip lights before you start fiddling with your main light. I know this is a little backwards from conventional lighting logic, but these strip lights are tasked with making our subject pop out of the background so this is where most of our lighting power will be coming from.
You can tell that you’ve done it right when you do a test shot and your subject is completely outlined in light, but the center of the subject’s face is in near-total darkness.
Next step is to dial in your main light. In our case, it’s the 22″ beauty dish from Paul C. Buff. Also, making it’s debut in my studio, is the PCB Einstein. I’ll get to the specifics of this light a little later on this post, but for now let me just say this: WOW, this light is awesome.
Okay, back to the Beauty dish. Once you have your strip lights producing the right amount of edge lighting on your subject, you are ready to introduce your main light. Start low, as in, power that light all of the way down. We’re trying to add just enough light to bring out the eyes and the features of the face. More precisely, you’re aiming for something like 1 stop under what would be considered optimal exposure. If your studio light doesn’t go low enough in power, just walk the light away from your subject until it looks right.
In my case, the light was about 2 feet away from the subject, with Einstein running at 1 stop above it’s minimum power. For my beauty dish, I am using a sock diffuser to help spread a little light into the shadows – but even with a diffuser on a beauty dish, your light will remain relatively sharp.
Compare the image to the left with the one earlier. You can see that the main light adds a subtle, but dramatic difference.
Using this lighting set-up gives you a very striking final frame. The edge lighting lifts the subject off the background and the main light adds a ton of mood to the portrait – but don’t stop there!
This lighting set-up can be used outside of the studio. It will work with nearly any suitably moody envorinment. It is, perhaps, a little too dramatic for corporate portraiture, but it works great on athletes, or theatrical personalities.
This technique also works particularly well if you are doing a composite image. So, how do we go about doing that? Well, let’s explore further!
I started this project knowing that it would ultimately end as a composite in Photoshop. I shot our subject on a gray seamless because the background doesn’t really matter. The gray just gives me a nice blank color to lift our subject off of in Photoshop later. So that leaves us with the question, “What is our background going to be?”
Well, it’s a sports themed shoot, so I went out scouting for sports themed locations. The locations don’t have to be specifically tied to sports either. Basketball, for instance, has a long history of being played in run-down inner-city courts. So go find a shabby court, or even an old alley way. You just need to tie the background to personality of the photo.
I decided to be a little more specific with my photo and I drove around town looking for a suitable series of locations that would match my pictures. I finally found a high school football field that would work perfectly for what I had in mind.
I walked around the field until I decided on a composition and then I began to shoot bracketed shots. The reason for the bracketed shots was because I knew I would be merging these into an HDR image. Why HDR? Well, the light on our subject is dramatic, so the background should be dramatic too!
The picture to the left represents the HDR we’ll be using in our final photo. I created this by merging 3 photos in Photomatix and then Tone Mapping the result in lightroom. You can use whatever process you are most comfortable with in terms of your own HDR images.
Once we’ve gotten our background prepped, and we’ve cut our subject free from his gray background it’s time to marry to the images into one composite.
How you put your photos together, and the visual treatments you apply are completely up to you. There’s no real step-by-step, and it all comes down to personal style. Since my vision was to have a gritty sports portrait, I spent a lot of time making sure the final image conveyed the attitude I wanted. I also spent a lot of time doing things we normally do with our portraits; retouching, dodging & burning, liquefying, etc…
Below is the final export.
Final Thoughts and little more about the Einstein Light.
I’ll be writing up a full review on the Einstein within the next day or so, but I just wanted to quickly add how impressed I am by it’s features and performance. It played a large part in allowing me to achieve the image I wanted.
In regards to the lighting scheme I’ve laid forth in this post, I just wanted to say it’s not something I came up with on my own. I’ve seen a lot of great work from great photographers, all of which have influenced the way I approached this particular project. I suggest you go out and get inspired too!