I had the unique pleasure of photographing the wedding of Jordon and Talon Baker this last December at the gorgeous Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio. What a beautiful couple and gorgeous location!
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 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.
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:
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.
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!
I love photographing interesting and fun people – it’s part of why I got into this line of work in the first place. Steve is just such a guy. He’s an accomplished chef and food carver. Yes, food carver. He takes everyday food items and turns them into work of art.
As I started to set up for the shoot, Steve began to carve and assemble a gorgeous food sculpture. It was hard to keep focused on my tasks while he was working at his craft. It was way too tempting to just watch him as he worked.
You can see a diagram below of the setup used to create these shots.
Modifiers let photographers take their light and mess around, get creative. Small modifiers can give you a sharp, zappy light with strong contrast. Large modifiers can even out shadows, spilling light across a surface. Huge modifiers do the same, only they take that principle to the extreme! At 7 feet, this Westcott umbrella is about as big as you can get while still being manageable in the field.
Because it’s an umbrella, albeit a very large one, it folds up quickly and easily into a relatively small volume. That means you can throw it into the back of your small car, or take it with you into the field without having to deal with something more cumbersome like a metal framed light panel. Like most studio umbrellas, nearly all studio light or speedlite brackets will accommodate it nicely.
One thing that really surprised me with the Westcott is how well it works with a single speedlite. You’d expect something 7 feet across to eat up the light from a tiny flash unit, but that’s not the case. A single 430ex II speedlite is more than capable of working with this gigantic modifier with great results. I’d suggest using at least two speedlites to help preserve battery life, but in a pinch 1 speedlite will work flawlessly.
I used this light this past weekend while photographing my step-daughter’s wedding. I only had 5 minutes to get the shot and that included light step up, composition, and posing. Because I only had one light I used a technique where you take several photos of the scene, moving the light around between each shutter release. Once you’re done you stitch the photos together, creating a photo that looks as though it was light with 4 or more giant modifiers.
Below is the final photo, beautifully lit thanks to the Westcott 7′ White Umbrella
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™.
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.
Modern DSLRs are amazing devices. Not long after the 5D Mark II introduced the ability to shoot high quality video, the film world took notice and started to use it as an essential piece of equipment in movie making. Not only are DSLRs small, and therefore easy to work with, they are also relatively cheap, and you get the picture quality afforded to you from using your DSLR lenses.
Long before I started taking pictures as a professional photographer, I was (and still am) a graphic designer. One of the many hats I get to wear when I am working for my design clients is that of a creative director. At times this means I am on set, working with a film crew, to make sure the design vision translates seamlessly to video.
I’ve gotten a lot of valuable experience behind the motion picture lens from my time on these types of projects. This has in turn given me a great perspective on how to use my DLSR’s video mode. And now, with everything digitally integrated between a myriad of programs, there’s not much you can’t do with the video you take with your DSLR.
Over the holidays we worked on a little project that called for some video, lighting, visual effects and compositing. I love these types of jobs because they are a great way to extend your artistic vision into several mediums. Below are a couple of stills showing the before and after of the raw footage and final, composited video.
Here is a small, 3 second clip.