Okay, so the music is a little loud and the web-cam isn’t the best (oh the irony) but here’s a good tutorial on how to control ambient light and flash in low-light conditions.
How do you create those really soft, flowery fireworks photos?
I am gonna keep this short and sweet! The trick to create these flower-esque firework photos is really simple
- Frame your shot
- A good starting point for camera settings are 100 iso, 5.6/f, 1 second shutter
- Turn your focus ring until completely out of focus.
- Press the shutter button once a firework goes off in your view finder
- Turn the focus ring from out-of-focus to in-focus over the course of the 1 second shutter.
- The End!
I’ve even created this little animated gif to illustrate the process
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:
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.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait, and Wedding Photographer in the NorthEast, Canton, Ohio area.
All my friends know that Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love the colors, the cooler weather and most importantly — Halloween! So, for this little info-tutorial-lesson I decided to merge both of these beloved concepts.
The defining element of Autumn is the range of colors the season brings. Lush green forests and lawns are replaced by seas of yellow, orange and red when trees begin to drop their leaves as they go dormant for the upcoming winter months.
As photographers with a lot of tools at our disposal, we sometimes spend too much time trying to change the scene so the camera matches what’s in our mind’s eye. When that fails we spend more time changing the scene even more; lighting, gobos, set dressing, camera angles and probably a lot more lighting on top of that. Creating a scene is at the core of what we’re trying to do as commercial photographers – we are trying to make a visual story here, after all. However, one fundamental rule that we often lose sight of early in the process is the practice of trying to get our environment to work with us. What often happens, unfortunately, is we end up nullifying it completely with a bunch of gadgets.
The Fall season is a perfect time for portraits and outdoor photography. The sun sets early, giving us great light and the colors are vibrant. Because of this, when you’re approaching a Fall portrait you are probably thinking of how you can maximum your environment to help create a gorgeous photo, constructed to take advantage of the natural landscape around you. You could probably go with just your camera at sunset and capture a stunning photo, and that would play right into the concept of not-overdoing it with too much equipment. But I think with some very smart choices in gear, mainly 1 flash, one color filter and one corrective flash gel, you can dial the autumnal ambiance up to 11.
First, let’s talk about the colored lens filter. Because Fall is filled with reds, oranges and yellows, I like to use magenta filters. Magenta filters at sunset in the middle of Autumn are a magical device. They shift everything in a deeper shade of red. A warm sunset will explode into an almost fantasy-painting skyline. Cooler, green fields of grass will take on a warmer tone, and the leaves that have either fallen or have started to turn on the trees will become even more vivid.
I recommend the Tiffen 77mm 30 Filter (Magenta). It’s nothing fancy, and at $60 it’s cheap enough to fit in your camera bag without breaking the bank. I’ve used it for a while now and it does the job it’s intended to flawlessly.
The next piece of gear is a color corrective gel that you’ll place over your flash. For this, we’re using a green corrective gel. Most gel sets you buy have a corrective gel for any lighting situation, and for our purposes the green gels normally used for florescent color correction should work well. If your gel kit has more than one shade of corrective green, you may have to test each one out to find which yields the best result.
The last piece of gear is a flash – any flash will do, speedlite or studio will work. Here we using an older canon 430ex II.
The set up for all of this is pretty simple: Place your filter on your camera, the gel on your light, position and frame your subject and start taking photos. The only trick here is that you’re trying to light the subject solely with your flash, and not so much with ambient light. The flash, with it’s corrective gel cancels out the magenta lens filter. The end result is your background will be bathed in a vivid magenta color while your subject should retain their natural skin tones.
Here to the right, as an example (and to fulfill my promise of merging a Halloween theme into this post) is Tim the Zombie. We’re using the set up described above, making sure the light from the flash covers the main focus of our Zombie model. The background, out of reach from the flash’s output, is saturated in a glorious shade of magenta – bringing the colors of the fall landscape to life. My settings for this photo: 1/60 shutter speed, 200 ISO @ f/7.1. These settings allowed me to underexpose the background by 1 stop, thus deepening the effect of the magenta filter even more. The flash has +.6 flash compensation dialed in to expose correctly for our zombie.
To give you a better idea of the interaction between ambient light, gelled flash and filtered lens, here is a series of photos illustrating the effect each element has on your photo.
Here is our Zombie without lights, gels or filters. This is pure natural lighting. Notice the colors of the background. You can tell it’s Fall and the richness of the leaves is evident.
When we put all of these elements together we achieve a much more striking photo – combining great color on both the foreground subject as well as increasing the drama in the background. One great side effect of this technique is that the subject of your photo really lifts away from the background, giving them a strong visual POP from the rest of the photo.
One question that may come up while reading this would be, “Can’t I just do this effect in post?” The obvious answer is yes. But considering that it took me less than 20 seconds to screw a magenta filter onto the lens and even less time to fit a gel onto a speedlite it’s pretty clear that approaching this photo in a more analog fashion will both save you time and give you an authentic result. And remember, this is coming from a guy who lives half of his life in post production.
And don’t forget that you can different results by combining different combinations of filters and gels. For example, a magenta gel with a green filter will push your photos into a realm of deep green – something to consider when shooting in a lush forest setting. A blue filter in tandem with an orange gel will turn your ocean portraits an even deeper shade of blue. So just get out there and play around!
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding & Advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.
A Custom Brush for all Your Photoshop Skin Retouching Needs
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.