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Three Point Lighting Tutorial featuring Paul C Buff’s Einstein Studio Light

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.

Our-Three-Light-Portrait-Setup

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.

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Strip Lights

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.

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Main Light

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!

The Background

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.

IMG_2221-Edit_2-Edit_3-Edit_tonemapped-Edit

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!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Mixing Lighting Sources and using 2nd (Rear) Curtain Sync Flash

A lot of effort goes into lighting your shots. Controlling the pattern of light is always important, but corralling color temperature and light source also fall high on that list of priorities. Mixing continuous light and strobe is easy enough, but not always desired. A flashes ability to choke out ambient light is one of the strengths of strobe photography – especially when the objective is to freeze motion.  There are creative techniques, however, that meld both strobe and continuous light to achieve a mix of motion and stillness.

This application of showing motion can be used for all types of photos. Most often you’ll see this technique in sports photography – it’s always nice to show an athlete in motion, applying their craft. But there are many, non-sports related, uses for mixing flash and continuous light sources. You can use it to imply movement, giving your photo an almost ghostly quality. As the subject moves through your frame, they’ll leave an ethereal trail behind them, this trail is caused by the continuous lighting. At the end of their move they should be frozen in place by the strobe, giving them sharp definition.

The technique uses at least 2 lights (one continuous and one strobe as we’ve mentioned) but you can employ as many lights of each type as needed. Apart from the lighting, there’s some working you need to do behind the camera as well. The first change is fairly obvious – Your shutter speed has to be long enough to allow for capturing motion. Speeds of 1/250 or more are usually required to stop motion, so naturally turning the dial the other way will increase your chances of capturing the movement of your subject. You’ll need to play around with your shutter speed to see what works best for your scenario, but generally speaking a speed of 1/30 is a great place to start, and then dial up or down as needed.

The second piece of work you need to do happens behind the camera. You must switch your camera’s flash sync from 1st, to 2nd curtain (also known as rear curtain). What this does is fire your flash at the end of the exposure, where-as normal flash operation will trigger the flash at the start of an exposure. The reason for this change is aesthetic. 1st curtain flash will make your subject sharp at the start of your exposure, and any motion that happens after the flash will then be captured by the rest of the exposure. The end result is a sharp subject with motion blur moving forwards from the subject. Now, if you’re a fan of cartoons (which I am!) then you’ll know that motion blur should always move away from the subject, leaving a trail of where they have been. 2nd curtain flash does exactly this. With 2nd curtain enabled, the first part of your exposure captures the motion and then, right before the shutter closes, the flash fires, capturing the subject sharply in their end position, leaving a trail of where they’ve been behind them.

Both Canon and Nikon support 2nd curtain flash. To enable this you have to attach a canon (or Nikon if that’s your system) brand flash to your camera. From there you can either set 2nd curtain from your camera menu, or the flash menu – check your manuals because each model of flash and camera does it slightly differently.

There! Now you have 2nd curtain enabled on your on-camera flash! Oh, but wait, there’s a problem. Shooting flash from the camera is OK in a pinch, but for flattering light we know we have to get the flash off the camera. Okay, there we go, now that flash is on a stand and in a better position. But wait, now how to we get 2nd curtain to work? As soon as you take your flash off the camera it stops accepting 2nd curtain as a flash option. How do we work around this?

Well, there are several methods. If you’re using only two lights, one continuous, one strobe, then you can use a sync cable to stretch from your camera to the flash. This will restore communication between your camera and the flash and allow the flash to operate in 2nd curtain. Now, if you’re using several TTL enabled flashes wirelessly you might expect that you could set 2nd curtain operation on your master flash and then use that to communicate to your slave flashes. Sadly, this is not a reality. Canon has stated that 2nd curtain via master/slave communication is not possible, and therefore you can not use this method with an array of wireless speedlites. Bummer!

So, what if you need more than one light, or maybe you need a power output beefier than what your speedlite can produce. Well, I found a work around! Most studio strobes have an optical sensor that will fire the flash the moment it senses a flash from another strobe. So, what I’ve done is take my canon speedlite, using it as an on-camera flash I’ve set it to fire as 2nd curtain and then I bottom out it’s power to 1/128th power. At this power it’s not contributing light to my scene at all. Instead, all it’s doing is triggering my studio strobe at the end of the exposure.

There are other, more expensive options at your disposal too. Pocketwizards, and other transmitters, have their own options for allowing 2nd curtain functionality wirelessly. But, for the most part, the optical slave option works in most situations without any drawbacks.

Below is an example of 2nd curtain flash. For this example I am using a sync cable from camera to flash since I am only using two lights and I’m standing only feet from the subject. My direction to the subject was for her to turn her head as I pressed the shutter button with the anticipation that she’ll finish turning her head by the time the shutters closes and the flash fires. It will require a few takes to get the motion and timing right, but once you reach a working rhythm the photos will start coming in Fast and Furious™.

Head Turn 2nd/Rear Curtain

2nd/Rear Curtain will give your photos dreamy, ghostly motion.

 

Another example of motion blur using the same technique. Here I asked the subject to look at the continuous light source for a 1 second before turning 180º and changing his pose. The flash fires at the end of the exposure to capture him in detail as he begins to play the sax while leaving a motion trail from his original position.

Motion blur achieved through mixed lighting.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait, and Wedding Photographer in the NorthEast, Canton, Ohio area.

US FMX Championship Series

Shooting action shots, at night, with available light used to send photographers to the highest ledges – talking them down could be a tricky proposition. We all know that low-light and action photography don’t really go hand-in-hand.

Modern digital cameras have opened up the field for low-light shooting, but a lot of photographers are reticent to push their ISOs above 800, let alone 1600. The noise you have to deal with once you reach ISOs of 1600+ can make you feel like the picture won’t be worth it in the end. Labeling a noisy picture as worthless, I think, is a misnomer. Noisy pictures (we’re talking ISO noise here) are as good as any other picture you could possibly take given the circumstances of available light and the speed of the action in front of you. There’s never a reason not to resort to turnin’ the dial up into the thousands if that’s the only way you’re going to get the picture you need to take. Along with camera sensor improvements, there are wonderful new software tools that can reduce noise and turn a grainy picture silky smooth – ready for print.

Not to mention a little ‘grunge’ in your photo is a bit en vogue at the moment. Think of how many photos you’ve probably taken at 50 or 100 ISO that you later processed with a little film grain to boost its mood? A little noise is a good thing, and when it’s your only option, embrace it.

Below are a few photos I took at a stunt bike show. It was so dark out that the riders had to move some lights around so they could see their own ramp. Regardless of the low-light conditions I was still able to snag some moody and sharp images by balancing my shutter and ISO, (aperture was wide open, obviously). What about the noise? Well, you should be able to tell in the photos below that it wasn’t much of an issue.

One trick to remember is that ISO noise lives in the mid-tones and shadows. If you overexpose by a stop or 2 you’ll actually reduce overall noise, even if it means you’re actually dialing up the ISO a few more notches to achieve over exposure.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the North East Ohio area.

Can Lightroom Compete with HDR?

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

Note: This is a subjective article about photography, adobe lightroom and hdr . Take whatever I say as you wish.

I use Lightroom all of the time, as I suspect many of you do as well. It’s a great tool which has gotten better and better with each iteration. Lightroom 5, with it improved Shadows and Highlight sliders can really make the difference in a photo where, for whatever reason, the exposure got out of control. A master craftsman like Joe McNally would probably just tell you to take a better picture to begin with, but when I am running and gunning it’s not always an option for me to spend 30 minutes to an entire day making sure every zone of a photograph is properly exposed.

One of the bonuses of Lightroom’s Shadow, Highlight and Clarity slider is that you can start to get into the realm of HDR photography with just a single photo. Traditional HDR requires at least two bracketed photos. I’d say 3 would be the average, but I know some people who claim to use as many 11, to achieve better overall zone exposure in their photographs. I guess if they need 11, that’s fine. HDR programs like Photomatix makes merging multiple files into an HDR file fairly easy and straightforward. Even Photoshop has a Merge to HDR function, although I find it’s results to be less than optimal.

Only a few years ago, Photomatix was practically the only game in town; there were and are still other options, but Photomatix seems to be the most widely used. So, when I would take a series of photos for HDR purposes that’s the program I used. Then one day, while playing around with my merged file in Photomatix, I decided, eh, maybe this photo wasn’t a good candidate for HDR after all. So I went back into Lightroom, grabbed my 0.0 exposed photo out of the batch and started to play with it there. What I found was that I was readily able to create an HDR-ish image that kept in line with what I was originally looking for. Then I thought, what if went back into my library and found other images that I had originally merged into HDR? Could I use a single photo out of a series to create a photo that closely matched the file that Photomatix had output? The answer was, yes… sort of.

First off, I was impressed that I could use Lightroom 5’s sliders to change the global tonality as much as I could. And while it never recovered the shadows or highlights as drastically as a true HDR process could, it came close enough and the results were actually more to my liking.

HDR’s main function is to compress the over all exposure in such a way that the tonal quality of the image is pretty much the same across the entire image. The result is a dramatic, if not sometimes flat, image that reveals all types of details from highlights and shadows. The problem with that is the story and the mood of a location are often rooted in those highlights and shadows. It’s great to bring more depth into your photos, but too much is, well, too much and we’ve all seen what too much looks like. Do a Google image search for HDR and you’ll be blitzed with clown vomit colors and images so normalized that they almost hurt to look at it. A great HDR artist, (see my friend Neil Kremer’s stream here on Flickr), puts a lot more work into his HDR images rather than pressing a button in Photomatix and posting the result. He spends a lot of time in Photoshop dodging, burning and blending to make sure his images are both real and surreal. And, honestly, if you’re going to do HDR you should be doing it Neil’s way.

But I think there’s a great middle ground hiding within Lightroom that let’s you bring out these extra details without losing drama — all with a single, well exposed image. The image above is an example of a 3 bracketed photo. merged and output from Photomatix, and then a single photo (the 0.0 exposed photo from the batch) processed in Lightroom. There are differences, no doubt, and some people may still prefer the look of the Photomatix image over its Lightroom cousin, but you can see that there’s a great possibility there in Lightroom to create some dynamically ranged photos that still retain character.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding and Advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Why I love my f/4 lenses

I‘m a big believer in depth of field, also known as DoF. It’s a great way to give your photos a professional, artistic atheistic. It also had a practical function that it helps set your subjects off of the background by making them the main focus, (pun totally intended), of the picture.

Larger apertures, such as 1.4 and 2.8 are masters of soft fuzzy background, and a lot of photographers will only shoot portraits with their apertures wide open, even in well lit environment. I don’t have a problem with this, as I use my 2.8 lenses all of the time, but I think photographers will often forgo an equally good, (or even better in many situations), option of shooting with a f/4 lens.

Why Shoot With an f/4 Lens

There’s more than one reason why f/4 is just as good or better than f/2.8 or 1.4. First is the simplest reason: f/4 is cheaper. You can buy a canon 70-200mm f/4 lens for $1,300 or less, whereas the f/2.8 version of that lens is over $1,000 more expensive. Right off the bat you can save yourself a grand and spend that money on other things, such as a speedlight or maybe even a f/1.4 50mm for those times you feel like you an extremely shallow DoF.

The second reason is the lenses are just as good as their more expensive counter parts. I’ve been using my 70-200mm for over 8 years and the images it produces are spectacular. A larger DoF doesn’t mean better image quality, it just means softer backgrounds and better use of available light.

But wait! The third reason negates that whole, “larger aperture means more light,” argument all together. If you have a modern digital camera, say one that’s been released within the last 3 years, then you are reaping the benefits of decades of research and development spend on camera sensors.

My 5D Mark III can shoot at 6400 ISO with out any noticeable noise. I’ve shot at higher ISOs as well, and just a little post processing in Lightroom will remove what little noticeable noise there might be. Even my 5D Mark II, now 7 years old, can still handle an ISO of 6400 without an issue when using my f/4.0 lens with the help of a little noise reduction in post.

The last reason f/4 is great is because it has nearly the same DoF blur as a f/2.8 lens. And, in my opinion, I like the way DoF is handled at f/4 better. At 2.8 you’ll often notice that your background is turned to soup with shapes lost completely and colors bleeding together, muddying up what’s behind your subject. With f/4.0 you can keep a little of that color and shape separation in the background while still being soft and pleasing.  Yeah, the difference is noticeable, but barely.

One more bonus with f/4 — sharpness. The smaller the aperture, the more over all focus you gain and when you’re taking pictures of people, animals or anything else that has a tendency to move. This extra focal depth could make the difference between landing the shot, and just missing it.

Illustrated below is just how similar f/4 and 2.8 really are.

aperture-example

So, don’t knock 4/f, embrace it!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio are.

 

The Importance of Scouting

Scouting is as important of a component of photography as hitting the shutter button itself. Scouting, for me, is a time to plan. It’s thinking about possible compositions, lighting set ups and just the overall mood of the photo I’m trying to capture. In planning, scouting helps you over come any number of unexpected problems that tend to crop up when you’re setting up your day’s shoot. Bad weather on the horizon? Look around and formulate a plan B. Mid-day Sun beating down your subject? Again, it’s the process of just looking around that will help you find a better location with a bit of shade to offer you some respite from harsh over head light.

I’ll even re-scout locations I’ve shot at before. It’s good to have a few go-to spots where you know you can get what you need out of your photo, but it’s also a good idea to keep things looking fresh especially if you’re shooting in a familiar locale. Tomorrow is just such a day for me. I’ll be shooting a portrait in two days time at a location I’ve used twice before. The good news is it’s a large area. I’ll re-scout the spot tomorrow to make sure that when I show up on set the day after I’ll have a good idea of where I want to shoot.

Don’t be idle! Keep moving and looking!

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Engagement, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Ohio area.

Free Custom Photoshop Skin Retouch Brush

A Custom Brush for all Your Photoshop Skin Retouching Needs

It's easy to load in a new brush!

It’s easy to load in a new brush!

Retouching is an important part of any portrait, whether it’s a wedding, engagement, or high school senior’s photo. Most people are used to the airbrush technique, and since in the early days of photo retouching an artist would use an actual airbrush to do this, it’s no wonder why people still use the default airbrush tool in Photoshop today to pretty much the same effect.

Photoshop is great in the respect that you can use your own custom brush in addition to it’s default airbrush preset. I made my own custom brush, using a more organic pattern, to achieve much better results. This brush is great on any type of face, or body part as it replicates the random nature of skin, such as pores and other surface textures. The trick when retouching is being careful not to smooth your subject’s skin out to the point where they look flat and plastic. Using a textured brush like this allows you keep the skin looking real while gently painting away imperfections. Also keep in mind that some imperfections, especially in men, are defining features and should be only diminished in strength rather than removed completely.

You can download the file HERE and then load the brush within Photoshop under the brush menu.

Here's an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

Here’s an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

Controlling Light – Using a Flash Outdoors

Flash ComparisonPeople love to shoot at sunrise and sunset, and why not? It’s a beautiful time of the day where the sun is doing all of the hard work for you. That low horizon light is flattering in almost all cases and will often remove the need for external flashes completely.

There are times, however, when you can’t escape the mid-day sun, and that harsh, overhead light, can be anything but flattering to your subjects. This was the case when I was recently asked to take a series of portraits for the Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank. The job was to take photos of the clients and volunteers of the food bank, and because the area food banks often hand food out in the late mornings I was constantly faced with shooting with the noon-day sun in the sky. In cases such as this, it’s strongly recommended that you use some sort of a fill light, and if you do it right your photo will be beautifully exposed with your background and subjects left looking amazing.

The way I approach this problem is fairly simple. The sun will almost always be at some sort of angle to you, even in the middle of summer at high noon. The trick is to find that small difference in angle and then put your subject’s backs to it. In this way, you are using the sun as sort of a huge, nuclear rim light. You’re also keeping the sun out of their eyes, which helps reduce squinting.

The next trick is exposure. Since your using an external light source to expose your subject correctly, you need to set your camera to expose for the background. Here I like to use the magic -1 to -2 ev trick. Darkening the background in this way will both saturate the colors of the background and make your subjects pop.

All that’s left now is positioning and dialing in your light’s power. This part is where you can get creative, but generally I like to use a fairly large light source (I use an umbrella/octobox similar to this on location with my AlienBee’s 800) with it positioned directly in front of, or just to the side of my subjects. Light power is set to generally equal neutral exposure on the subjects, although more or less power can be used to add drama.

Shooting Outdoor Events

Some people love the control they get in their studio, others love the freedom they have by shooting outdoors. Personally, I think they both have just about the same amount of pros and cons in each of their respective columns. That’s why I like to bring a little bit one into the other. When I am shooting in my studio, I’ll use windows or reflectors to hardness natural light, and when I am shooting outdoors I’ll bring a flash (or two, or seven) along to shape the light into a perfect fit for the scene. This was the case recently when we were asked to shoot an outdoor golfing event.

We started the job by scouting out the location twice. Once soon after we took on the task, and once more a few days before the event just to make sure our expectations and gear checklist were all in line.

We settled on hole #14 which has several advantages. One, it had some shade throughout most of the day. Since I knew I was bringing a large strobe, I knew I could light the players in the foreground as I wished while still using the ambient light to take care of the background. Our chosen hole also had a Pro Teebox that was raised some 4 feet above the amateur Teebox. That let me get my camera about 4 feet extra above the player’s heads which let me capture players and the rolling course behind them.

The light I chose was an Alienbees 800 with a Phototek 5′ Phototek Softlighter II. I then exposed for the background (which changed a lot throughout the day) and then set the light levels accordingly. Because of the huge size of the umbrella, I was able to have the light on the hill with me and still light up the entire area around the players in a very soft manner.