Being taught through inspiration

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:

Portraits with Shawn Cartel

Newborn Photos with Benjamin Lehman Photography

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!

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Quick and Fast Portraits

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

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. 

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