Shooting in The Mid-Day Sun—Be Prepared

By Mark

It's a scholarsheep student, of course!

It's a scholarsheep student, of course!

A quick blog covering something we don’t often spend a lot of time talking about; useful equipment that every photographer should have in their bag.  This last week we went to Oklahoma to attend my stepson’s college graduation.  Very smart young man, double major, summa cum laude, etc-Sarah and his dad have every reason to be very proud, but I digress. I knew that the window of opportunity for taking the cap and gown photographs would require us to be out in the middle of the day.  The noonday sun is notoriously challenging for good portraits.  It puts harsh light on people’s faces and angry shadows for their eyes and under the nose—it is just not flattering light.  Plus of course, you get the chance to have everyone squinting into the camera.  What we want is nice soft wrap around light, which we can control.  Shadows are important for providing depth and contrast; but not for making your subjects look as if they were on a chain gang.  As we walked around the University of Oklahoma campus, we saw numerous family groups holding out camera’s and pointing them at arm’s length in the general direction of their graduates.  It was very scary.

Faced with all this I was prepared. Folded neatly into a small circle inside my camera bag was the Lastolite  One Stop 30” TriGrip Diffuser.   http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/375570-REG/Lastolite_LL_LR3651_TriGrip_Diffuser_One_Stop.html

From B&H

From B&H

The diffuser is designed with a convenient handle, so that you can if needed hold it with one hand and shoot with the other.  It clips to most light stands as well.  It also folds up into a small circular package.

The most convenient method is to have a helpful assistant, who can both look at the subject and the light and help get the right coverage.  As you can see without the diffuser, the light is pretty harsh.   

Those shades were required.

Those shades were required.

You really want to get the TriGrip as close to your subjects as you can manage.   As you can see, despite the really bright sun directly in their eyes, the lighting on their faces is nice.   You can tell where the limit of the diffuser falls as you can see the sun on the bare arm. 

Kaitlyn, John, and Holly

Kaitlyn, John, and Holly

You just need to frame the image to hide the arm holding on to the screen either in camera or leave yourself room to crop it out afterwards.  

In some shots you will want to consider adding back in a little “pop” of light to open up the shadows and add sparkle to their eyes.  You certainly can use another off camera reflector for this or actually use the dreaded on camera flash.   I powered down the flash to -2/3 to -1 1/3 stops.  You don’t want it to look like a flash was even there, but without it, the difference is noticeable. 

All in all it was a great weekend and everyone had a good time.  Now I just have to find the chance to process all the rest of the photos.  

Models at Photoshop World

By Roger (13 May 2014)

One of my favorite booths at Photoshop World is operated by the FJ Westcott Lighting folks. I stop by there, every day of the conference. Their fiendish scheme to draw me in and sell me their products has worked – I own several of their lighting tools. Their gear is top-notch. You can find additional information about their products on this link.

Westcott brings in a couple models; lights them; and provides an expert to demonstrate the products and provide shooting advice. The background setting, props, costumes, and themes are different every day. This keeps you coming back, if only to see their latest set-up.

Each Photoshop World has its own theme, and, this year, it was pirates. Naturally, there was a model dressed appropriately.

I've seen this pirate costume somewhere before

I've seen this pirate costume somewhere before

You can see the background stand on the left. They do a pretty good job with background, but there are always so many photographers gathered around that putting yourself in the ideal position is not always possible. I would love to stay and shoot the models all day, but isn't what I paid for. I'll get rid of the stand in the final image when I get the chance.

Here is another model photo I'll have to work on if I want to make it a bit more realistic.

The point is lighting, not realism.

The point is lighting, not realism.

The set-up is to demonstrate Westcott lighting, not to create portfolio pieces. Even if you get an absolute stunner, you wouldn't put one of these photos in your portfolio because hundreds of other photographers have the same shot. Not to mention, the set-up isn't your design, and the lighting is done by the Westcott crew. You can't really claim it as your own. But they make great photos for you to practice with. So, this evening, I threw the canoe rider into a quick composite on the river. (It needs more work, but I didn't prepare the photos until tonight. Excuses, excuses....)

Sometimes, the sets can get pretty extensive. They brought in a pick-up truck for one of the days. The models work for about four hours with cameras clicking every way they turn.  ("Play Freebird!")

Besides the inherent fun of shooting people instead of things, I really enjoy some of the more eclectic sets and costume designs. The makeup artists come up with some pretty wild stuff.  Most of the people I photograph are in a “normal” background and wearing casual clothing. They don't wear tutus, tiaras and red contact lenses.

The black swan

The black swan

Apparently, this model had the right hair for a tiara because, the next day, they decked her out as a socialite from the 40s, with a cigarette holder and another tiara.

The crowds are really thick at times, and the models can't move much, or they will move out of the lighting set-up. I'm sure it makes for a long day.

I was surprised by how few of the photographers were talking to the model. This is a basic skill you shouldn't need to be told about. Models are taking their cue from you when you're behind the camera. You talk to them to get them to adjust to the lighting; change expression and stance; and, really, just to be polite.

Imagine standing on the other side of the camera, and your photographer doesn't communicate. How will you know what the photographer is trying to make? Now, imagine being in front of 50 photographers in the middle of a convention center floor! Not me.

If you ever find yourself in this kind of pack, always talk to your model. First, the model will look at you – much better than trying to catch them as they desperately scan the pack for a friendly face. You'll get more natural expressions, and you'll both enjoy the session much more.

Improvised Light Modifiers

By Mark

I was shooting some portraits today at the office for a proposal and had found a nice corner with good soft light.  I set up my Wescott softbox with my SB900 flash as my main light.  I had a second flash set up on the floor to provide an even background light.  This was especially critical as the EXIT sign was throwing a nice red line against the wall.  Since I was using my pocket wizard remotes to control the set up, it was pretty easy to adjust the flash ratio between the two.  From my preliminary test shots, I had set the background light power way down at -2 stops.  The main flash was set at +1/3 and the first sets of pictures were fine.  As the afternoon progressed, it got cloudier and darker and I started getting bad shadows on the far side of my subjects. 

Elesia, my saintly and patient receptionist

Elesia, my saintly and patient receptionist

Even though I had my light stands and full lens bag with me, I had neglected to bring a reflector.  That would have solved my problem instantly.  I was forced to actually think…gasp, on how I could solve my challenge.   We have been printing large fold outs and so I grabbed 2 11 x 17 pieces of bright white paper and taped them together and then to the blinds.  Voila! 

CASCADE-52.jpg

The paper gave a great bounce of light from the main flash and the far side of my victim; I mean subjects face caught the light again.  Because of the darkening skies, I also had bumped the main light up to +2/3.  I tried a little more and it was too much. A tiny bit of retouching and a nice finished product. 

CASCADE-52-Edit.jpg

There are often useful things just hanging around which can both block light when it is falling where it should not.  I always have small clamps, a little bigger and stronger than chip clips to hold up a folder to shape the light.  A 3x5 card and a rubber band around the head of your flash actually can establish a nice catch light for your model.   It is always better to have the right equipment handy, but that is not excuse for not getting the shot when you have imagination.  

Home Lighting: More Details

By Roger (9 Jan 2014)

Happy New Year! We hope this year moves you forward with your photography. We (mostly Mark) have a schedule of topics for the new year, but your questions can supercede that schedule. This week's blog is an example of that. I got a couple of questions asking for futher details about my last blog in which I suggested a quick and, relatively, inexpensive way to light a room in your house for easier snapshots.

As I said last time, I use this method because it provides enough light for me to shoot in any direction, without moving gear and leave my flashes in the camera bag. I use daylight-balanced photo bulbs, so I don't have to fix the balance in software and for a consistent light. You won't get that consistency from three different lamps, containing three bulbs of different strength, from three different manufacturers.

Without any corrections made, you can see the orange color cast from this table lamp.

Without any corrections made, you can see the orange color cast from this table lamp.

Since this was Christmas morning, let me show you the den configuration when the tree is up and surrounded by presents. The overhead fan has three bulbs, giving the room good overall light.

drawing.jpg

I replaced the bulbs in the overhead light and table lamp with the photo bulbs. Here is the brand I have from my local camera store. There are many other brands, but make sure you keep your bulbs from the same manufacturer for consistency. I get extra credit for this photo because I, finally, used the light tent I borrowed from Mark six months ago. (Maybe, some day, he'll get the chance to try it out.)

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These provided a good amount of overall brightness in the den. I decided to add some more light from my travel softboxes, placed at the back of the den and out of the way of four little grandkids who were always running around the den at full speed.

Again, there are many options for softboxes, with many different price points. I usually shoot with natural light and flashes, supplemented by the Westcott Ice Light (link), so I chose to buy an inexpensive travel kit, the RPS Studio 7040 (link). When I went to get the link, I noticed their price has gone up, but the total cost for this set up and the other bulbs is still less than $250. When you research studio lights, you will quickly see this is an inexpensive kit. I like that they pack to a small size for travel, and I can have them in action in minutes.

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My softbox kit packed and ready to travel.

My softbox kit packed and ready to travel.

With all the light in the room, I was able to take our snapshots throughout the morning. I could move around the room, hand-holding the camera, at a shutter speed (usually about 1/125, with ISO at 640) that kept my snapshots sharp. You can use this for birthday parties, family gatherings, etc., without the need for distracting flash.

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Notice the table lamp in the background is brighter and color corrected with the photo bulb.  This is the same lamp pictured above.

Notice the table lamp in the background is brighter and color corrected with the photo bulb.  This is the same lamp pictured above.

All four grandkids after some of the debris was cleared away.

All four grandkids after some of the debris was cleared away.

You can do this with any room, but there are always compromises. The best solution for you may be different. This lighting is rather bland, so I wouldn't use it for formal portraits when you want complete control of the light and shadows on your subject. Still, this is a fairly easy way to get your photographs for small events where you just want to capture the family moments. Have some fun with it.

"Bo with a bow."  One of the four dogs who came with the family to visit for Christmas.

"Bo with a bow."  One of the four dogs who came with the family to visit for Christmas.