lighting

Mike’s Hot Honey – Lighting Tutorial

Product Lighting How-To Made Easy!

I usually try to make these behind-the-scenes/tutorial posts as short and to the point as possible. The hope is you are able to get all of the information you might be looking for without all the fluff. So, let’s give it a go!

I was recently introduced to Mike’s Hot Honey and instantly fell in love with it. If you like spicy things then I strongly recommend this product for pretty much anything you could put honey on, and maybe even a few things you normally wouldn’t. 

In order to show my appreciation for their honey, which helped me through a rough cold season (hot honey and tea, yum!), I decided to give thanks by taking a fiery product photo!

Step 1 – Styling

I used some old crates as the backdrop. I also had some old glass doors I previously aged and distressed to use in the background. For the table top, I used some old palette wood that I then burned with a blow torch to give the visual suggestion that the honey was so hot that it was burning the table top. 

Step 2 – Staging

Get the products in place – There are tons of great tutorials out there that show how to become a successful food photographer – this will not be one of those. All we did was place the hero product front-and-center and then offset a plate with some toast, butter, and drizzled honey to the side of it. I “toasted” the bread using the earlier mentioned blow torch and then used a metal rod, also heated with the blow torch, to burn some lines in the bread, mimicking that old school toaster look.

Step 3 – Lighting

This is the part I love the most. We used 4 separate lights for this image. One Paul C. Buff Einstein, two Alienbees, and one old school Vivitar 285. Yes, an actual 285! We ended up using this old flash because it’s easy to hand hold and it has a very reliable optical slave attachment that makes it so I don’t have to deal with an additional radio remote. For the other three lights we are using Paul C. Buff’s flash commander system.

The lights were set up as follows:

  • Strip box to camera right, gelled orange – this is our main light as it contributes most of the light to the scene
  • Strip box to camera left, un-gelled and acting as kicker light to give the honey bottle some separation from the background. 
  • Octobox on an C-Stand, hanging above the table, pointing straight down. This is our fill light as it just helps even out some shadows
  • Hand-held Vivitar 285 speed light used for highlighting small details. 

Here is a diagram for those of us who are visual oriented learners.

Step 4

Start taking pictures! This is the stage where you are adjusting your lights so they work in concert with each other. For our picture the ratio of power from Main Light, to Kicker to Fill was something like 1 : 0.5 : 0.25

Basically that means from most power to the least, each light was about half the power of the last. Your ratio will be different! Experiment! But this is a good starting point if you are trying to recreate a similar look. Also worth remembering; the distance of your light source to the subject also determines the apparent power of the light, so be sure to play with power levels and distance!

Step 5

Keep taking pictures! This is a composite job, folks. Our final image is actually something like 18 separate images stacked on top of each other. Remember that hand held Vivitar flash I mentioned? Well, I would move it from one picture to the next, trying to find small details to highlight. When you are working in a studio environment and have a limited amount of flashes to use then this method is a life saver. By taking multiple photos you can create the look of a massive studio with 10s of flashes. You can do this whole product shoot with just one light if you wanted to!

Step 6

Bring the files into Photoshop and start compositing! The gist here is to stack all of your exposures as layers in a single file and then use masks to save the best parts of each photo. Then go in and add the small details, like fire and embers, that really bring something like this to life. Here is the final composite!

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial product, portrait, and fine art photographer in the Cleveland, Akron, Canton, and Northeast Ohio area. 

Photoshoot: Robert

Senior Portraits Photoshoot with Robert at Tam O' Shanter Golf Course and Park in Canton, Ohio.

How To: Christmas Pet Portrait Recipe

Christmas Pet (And People) Portrait Recipe

As with our Halloween Portrait How-To, we’ve constructed an easy to follow recipe for some awesome Christmas Pet Portraits that will sleigh the competition. 

Here’s what you need:

  • A Pet (dog, cat, fish, or whatever else you can bribe with food to sit still)
  • 3 Light Sources- We’re using studio strobes, but continuous lights or Speedlites will work too
  • Light Stands
  • Solid Color Backdrop or Wall
  • Something festive
  • Colored Gel or Light
  • Camera

The trickiest part of this concoction is the 3 light set up. Here is a BTS photo:

 

Quite simply, what’s happening here is that we have one light with a gridded soft-box and red gel pointing at our background. Even though the backdrop is gray, the fact that we are using a red gel on the light means it will be appear to be red when we take our photo.

The second light to the back-right is another gridded soft-box, in this case a strip-box, pointed at the back edge of our subject. This is used to help separate your subject from the background and to supply a little extra contrast. 

Our main light, the big one in upper left hand corner, is an octobox that is placed above our subject, looking down at roughly a 45 degree angle. 

There is one other thing in play here that may not be obvious right off the bat, but do you see that white fluffy material I am using as snow on the table there? It sort of acts like a reflector and bounces a lot of the light from our main light back up into our subject – that means we don’t have to use a fill board, or a forth light, to fill in shadows. If you’re not using a light colored material for your subject to sit on like we are you may have to use a bounce card or reflector to achieve the same results.

Let’s get our model, Sophia, in here and take a picture!

Wow, that was easy! Now, obviously we glossed over some things like lighting power and ratios, but the truth is it all depends on your set up. For example, with our medium gray backdrop and deep red gelled light, we had to turn our background light up to full power! However, if we were going with a lighter pink gel, or even a background that was already the right color, the power settings would have been much less.

Same goes for our model. Sophia here has black fur, so again we have to pump a little extra light to draw out details, but a lighter shade of fur would take less oomph to illuminate.

If you’re looking for a baking metaphor here it is, the basic ingredients are the same, but the baking time and temperatures may vary (it’s the best metaphor I could come up with, sorry!)

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Cleveland, Akron, Canton and North East Area of Ohio.

Behind the Scenes: Three Light Portrait at the Massillon Woman’s Club

Three Flash Portrait Lighting at the Massillon Woman's Club

I am a huge fan of single light portraits, and I don’t always think, “more is better.” Sometimes, however, you can help craft a particular mood by adding a few extra lights into your scene to help convey story and emotion. In this simple behind the scenes look, I am going to share with you a diagram and final photo. 

The idea comes first, of course, and in this case we wanted to capture a grand mood set by some reference materials the subject and I had agreed upon. After that we had to scout for a location, and after nearly a month of looking around we stumbled into an amazing mansion that was practically in our own back yard! This place, known as the Massillon Woman’s Club, located in Massillon, Ohio, turned out to be an amazing backdrop and the perfect setting for our portraits. 

The 3 point lighting set-up I used for this photo is something I devised in my head while scouting the location a few days prior to shooting. I wanted a dramatic balance between detail and shadows, keeping much of the area around the subject subdued so she would pop out of the darker areas. To do this I used one main light (Paul C. Buff Einstein) outfitted with a grided softbox, a second, fill light (Paul C. Buff Alienbees) with a blue gelled reflector, and a background light (another Paul C. Buff Alienbees) fitted with a reflector and orange gel. 

The main light is pointed at our subject, from camera-left, at a fairly standard 45/45 degree position (45 degrees pointed down, and 45 degrees to the side of the subject). The fill is pointed at our subject from camera-right at a nearly 90 degree angle, at head height. Lastly, the background light is camera-right, pointed towards the background structure of the room. Once everything is set up, all we need to do is press that shutter button and viola!

Our final image is one that is filled with mood, evocative, and highlights our beautiful subject.

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial, Portrait, Advertising and Wedding Photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland, and North East Ohio Areas. 

Charity: Second Chance Pets Easter Portraits

We were asked by a wonderful charity organization, Second Chance For Animals, to come and take pictures for their Easter event. We had an amazing time with both pets and parents; nothing makes us smile more than seeing pets being loved by their forever families!

 

Product Photography with Speed Lights – 2 Part Video Series by Benjamin Lehman

Product Photography is not just for the realm of large flash - Speed Lights can do the job just as well, here's how!

Product Photography with Speed Lights Part 1

Product Photography with Speed Lights Part 2 (Compositing)

Quick Review: Neewer 36″x24″ Umbrella Softbox (Westcott Knockoff)

Quick Review: Neewer 36"x26" Umbrella Softbox (Westcott Knockoff)

TTL Versus Manual – Is One Better Than the Other? Watch the Real-Time Demonstration

TTL versus Manual Show Down - Which One Is The Right Choice?

Whenever I am out shooting in manual mode, I am inevitably asked why I’m not using a TTL solution. Of course, the opposite is sure to occur if I happen to be shooting using my using TTL Canon speedlights. The argument of TTL versus manual has been around since the very first days that TTL was introduced to the market. Canon and Nikon have done a very good job of selling their TTL solutions to photography customers – for good reasons. TTL offers, in a lot of situations, a fast way to get a good exposure in a photograph with very little pre-planning needed with your lighting solution.

However, is one better than the other? Manual is still the default for many products, with Manufacturers like Paul C buff snubbing TTL altogether. Does that mean that TTL itself is a flawed system? Or is it more of a case of a technology whose superiority comes with a cost that many manufacturers are hesitant to pass on to their customers?

I own both TTL and strictly manual systems. And I can tell you with all honesty that I use both regularly. For TTL my use is pretty much restricted to only one speed light at a time hyphen I feel that introducing a lot of speedlights to a TTL system does not always give me the results I am looking for. My use of TTL is also limited 2 photographs where I’m trying to move as fast as possible; trying to get as many setups and styles done in as short of time as possible. In cases like that I find TTL to be amazing. I just hook up a commander to my camera, set my other flash to slave and start taking pictures. Worst case scenario usually means I must dial in minus one or plus one exposure compensation to the flash to get the exposure I am looking for – no big whoop.

But the fact that you often will need to dial in some sort of exposure compensation highlights TTL’s biggest misgiving: TTL is basically just manual flash. Think about it, manual flash means that you must manually set your exposure. With TTL you are often doing the exact same functions: dialing your exposure for the flash either up or down until you get the amount of light you’re looking for. I’m telling you, manual and TTL is really one and the same. The only thing TTL offers is a starting point that it thinks is a correct exposure. You then make your adjustments based on that internal calculation. If the light conditions of your set changes, so does that internal base-line calculation and thus you have may have to change your settings once again. Manual, on the other hand, does not give you calculated starting point. Instead, you take a test shot, and then adjust accordingly.

After having explored flash photography for nearly a decade at this point and working with both systems I have come to this conclusion: Manual gets me to the desired exposure faster than TTL. Heck, sometimes TTL can’t even get me to the desired exposure at all.

It’s hard to explain why TTL can be so hard to work with so I spent an hour and shot some video of myself putting both systems to work under the same conditions. The final verdict is that I was able to get the exposure I was looking for in less clicks with Manual than I could using TTL.

Here are the test conditions we used:

  • Shot inside of my studio so all light was controlled
  • Canon Speelites for TTL
  • Paul C Buff Strobes for Manual
  • 3 Lights for each setup in the exact same position using the exact same modifiers
  • 2 lights with gels. One with a single gel, the second with 2 gels.
  • Static subject (foam head)
  • Counted the number of photos it took to get the desired exposure.

In the end I think it took 11 photos to get the TTL photo where we wanted it and only 4 to get the manual picture to the correct exposure.

Shot in TTL. Struggled to get the center, dark blue gel'd, light to put out as little light as possible. Key light (right) and kicker (left) also struggled to find a good ratio between them.
Manual mode. Here I took a picture and then dialed in the needed changes and viola - photo made to order in as few steps as possible.

Why do I think manual is faster?

Being fast with manual solutions comes down to two things, I believe. First is Familiarity — once you understand how your lights work in manual mode and get a feel for how much a stop of power is on your subject you can start to intuitively control your manual lights to get desired effects.

The second is total control. Manual lights are not affected by small or large changes within your scene. This means you can move background lights around have your subject turn from the left to the right, add or remove colored gels, etc in still have your lights out put the exact amount of power you dialed into them. TTL can and will look at all of these changes and produce a new lighting solution which may affect your exposure, requiring more adjustments.

Bottom Line: TTL is great in certain situations, but Manual works in all.

Watch the TTL versus Manual Video

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area.

Christmas Pet Portrait Photography How-to in Real-Time!

Setting up, how to deal with technical issues, comparing ttl and manual, and most importantly, photographing cute dogs!

I thought it might be fun to live stream an attempt at Christmas styled pet portraits. I say, “attempt”, because I didn’t really have a plan going into this. I bought a light curtain and that’s about it. In this video you’ll watch, in real-time, as I place lights, discuss the differences between ttl and manual, problem solve, and of course, take photos of doggies with a Christmas flair! The video runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes, so that should give you an idea of how quickly you can get this up and running in your own home studio! (Hint: the studio doesn’t have to be big!)

A Stranger Thing Portrait – Eleven

I am a child of the 80's...

… which means I am direct product of that decade. I was never a big fan of 80’s Hair-Metal but I’ve always loved the imagery of that era. As we started to move away from analog and into digital’s earliest incarnations we all took a big step back in quality. People think of VHS as an analog medium, but unlike the homemade movies shot on film in the 60’s and 70’s – which were a true analog and very chemical-based affair – VHS was rendered to tape using electricity and other various pieces of digital wizardry. It’s part of this loss in quality that help define the 80’s within its time in history and also teaches us the concept of, ‘low-quality doesn’t always mean bad-quality’.

Also, the 80’s were a time of great exploration into the visual mediums. For me, there’s never been a time in my life where the movies were more over the top, more gory, more cheesy, more whatever.  Sure, we all praise and award movies who work their messages in more subtle manners, but I think a lot of people can also appreciate how wonderful ‘blatant-and-unrepentant’ can be as well!

Enter Stranger Things; a new visual and story-telling trip down a cracked 80’s memory lane. It’s amazing to watching Stranger Things and see my childhood, bikes, clothes, and adventures right there on screen for me to relive. Okay, so my real life adventures at that age weren’t quite as surreal, but they were certainly just as grand within my imagination.

It’s truly an amazing show and it has captured a lot of people’s interest. One such couple, some family friends of mine, have two daughters who they watch the show with. When their oldest daughter shaved and donated her hair to Saint Baldricks, they realized she was a complete doppelganger for one of the TV show’s main protagonists – Eleven. So much so that she was being stopped in the street and people would take pictures of her and follow her around, convinced she was Millie Bobby Brown. 

So, we decided to capitalize on this and do a fun Stranger Things photo shoot! They were in charge of the wardrobe, and I would find the right location. For that location I chose the Molly Stark Sanatorium; an old tuberculosis hospital about 30 minutes out of town. This place is defunct, abandoned, and just oozes a whole new level of creepy, so, as you can imagine, it turned out to be the perfect location. 

Above: Molly Stark Sanatorium

We showed up around 8pm in the evening. It’s mid-Spring at this point of the year so the sun sets around 8:30 pm. The forecast originally said it would be sunny, but rain had moved in earlier throughout the day and now it was overcast – which wasn’t a problem since we were taking a potentially moody photo. The only impact the cloud cover had on the location was that I instantly lost about 2 stops of light as the sun was setting behind a large blanket of clouds. 

Because I would have to expose a little longer to compensate for the darkness (I don’t like to bump up the ISO unless absolutely necessary) I set the camera up on my tripod after scouted the location for the right angle. Using the tripod means I can have a slower shutter speed and still retain a sharp photo. Next I hustled to put up one 32 inch octa on a large light stand. The light was about 12 feet up and about 12 feet away and 45 degrees off center from the subject because I wanted to give the lighting more of a moonlight glow by the time it reaches our model. I then took a second light and positioned that opposite of the main light. It was much lower, with a 7 inch reflector on a bare bulb. I pointed the light so it would light her dark side with a little fill as well as light the bottom of the tree branches to help them retain a little detail from the shadows.  Once we had the lights in place it was just a matter of getting the pose right and taking some pictures. To the right is one of the pictures we chose, straight out of the camera. 

If you remember what I said at the start of this article, the 80’s are all about the lo-fi elements. This picture is ok as-is, but it doesn’t match either the spirit of the show, or the aesthetic of the decade it’s supposed to take place in – so there’s some work to do!

First thing I did was mess around with the RGB curves in Adobe Lightroom to flatten the dynamic range. I also de-saturated the image and boosted the blues in the shadows. Next, I took the photo into After Effects (yes, the video compositing program) and added in the fog and the light streaks for the lantern.

After Effects is, at it’s heart, an amazing piece of compositing software that does a lot of stuff, dare I say, better than Photoshop. If it’s not a part of your workflow, you should investigate it’s potential! Once I am done there I exported the file into Adobe Photoshop where I made a few final adjustments to color as well as any last tweaks. 

Overall most of the color tweaks are done with curves adjustments and I use them throughout the process within all of the various programs I mentioned here. One thing that’s hard to explain is knowing where you should move from one program to the next. For this image, I worked in Lightroom until I had the base color correction in place. I then moved to After Effects to add in the fog and light flares because I know those processes are fairly easy for that program to produce. Photoshop is usually the last step because it’s great for the small details and final color correction. 

Here’s the final image

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Area.