Category Archives: Studio Lights

You Don’t Need A Large Studio For Fun Portrait Pics

Becky-New Dress-Camera I’ve been recuperating from some outpatient surgery and haven’t gotten out for a couple of weeks.  I’ve enjoyed my “stay-cation” of napping, watching TV and reading, but my thoughts always turn to photography in some form or another. I recently received an order of three really cute vintage-inspired dresses and some extra studio light bulbs to replace the ones that burned out on me.  So, I decided to put two and two together and get some self-portraits of me in my new dresses while having fun playing with the studio lighting. Becky In A Blue Dress I don’t have any large rooms to use for dedicated studio work;  I’ve got clutter, luggage, etc. in every room.  But, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t get some great photos within a very small space. Becky-Camera-New Dress As you can see from the photos, I used continuous lighting with a couple of white umbrellas, one on each side of me for equal lighting.  I also used a wireless shutter release which ensured the focus on me was always nice and sharp.  I used both my Canon 5D Mk III and Canon 1DX; my 85mm f1.2 lens was attached to the 1DX while I alternated between the 24-105mm and the 40mm lenses on the 5D Mk III.  My favorite images ultimately came from using the 85mm f1.2 lens on the 1DX.  That combination is killer for portraits and great lighting, I feel. Becky In Blue Moral of the story:  you can get some great portrait images without alot of space or a special background.  And, playing around with the cameras helped me eliminate my bout of the “stir crazies”.

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Setting Up For The Shot

Setting Up The Scene

I had a good photo session with Rabbit’s Custom Guitars.

I never know what I am going to encounter scene-wise when I go to a home photo session, so I take along such things as continuous lighting (plus stand and umbrella) as well as my flash. I am small in stature so I can’t really carry too much; it’s generally a minimum. For this photo shoot, I used both my Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 1DX. I used the 24-105mm lens on the 5D Mk II and the 85mm f1.2 on the 1DX (I’m out two lenses because of some accidents while in Hawaii). I got duplicate images using flash, no flash, just the light/umbrella, as well as just the ambient lighting to see which images worked best. Space was a huge consideration too. Moral of this story is that you work with whatever you’ve got.

 

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The Trickiness of Christmas Lights and Portraiture

I like buying local when I can, and I like buying hand-made. So when my friend Sabyn of Simplysabyn crocheted an adorable little Santa holiday hat for a baby, I asked her if she made them for big people, too. Yes, she did. So I ordered one. After receiving it, I thought it would make for a great Facebook profile pic to get a portrait of me modeling the hat in front of my Christmas tree (yes, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and I have the tree up, lights, ornaments and all).

My goal was to try and get a relatively well-lit shot of me but with all the color and brightness of the lit tree in a darkened room behind me.

Easier said than done.

My first experiment was a shot of me and the tree using only the ambient light given off by the tree. My Canon 5D Mk III was set up with my Canon 85mm f1.2L lens on a tripod. The ISO was set at 1600 with an f-stop of 5 and a shutter speed of 1/10 second. I used my $20 Pixel-brand wireless remote shutter release to get clear images of myself. Oh, and I used myself as the model because I not only like the way I look but I was also the only one around at the time. I wanted to do this experiment right then and there, and I don’t mind doing this over and over until I get it the way I want. I figure other models would get a little bored after awhile. Plus, I wanted to send the final result to my friend Sabyn so she could use them on her FB site if she wanted.

Christmas Becky - Ambient Light

After many takes, here is the resulting image using only the ambient light. The entire image was cast in a golden-red hue which was further emphasized by my red hat and red fleece top. Interesting, but not quite what I was aiming for.

So I brought out a single light stand and screwed in a 500 watt bulb in front of which I put a 24” white umbrella for diffusion since 500 watts at close range is pretty intense – particularly since I was still trying to get the color and glow of the tree lights behind me. The camera was set at ISO 320 with a f-stop of 4.5 and a shutter speed of 1/30.

Christmas Becky

As you can see, the light was great on me, but it totally eliminated the ambience of the tree lights and ornaments.

I’d been working on this for over an hour, was hot and sweaty and more or less done for the day. It wasn’t until the next day that I considered using my flash off-camera. The only problem with that was my focus issue. I couldn’t have my Canon dedicated flash remote trigger on the camera *and* a wireless shutter release (I probably could if I had a different setup). In the end, I relied on manual focus. That was tricky because the only light in the room was provided by the Christmas tree. So I had to set up one of my camera backpacks in the chair in front of the tree, then shine a flashlight on the backpack to help me get the focus correct. Eye roll. But it worked.

This little photo session took forever, because I just couldn’t get the whole lighting thing right. I set the flash to one side of the camera, then I set the flash to practically in front of me, then I set the flash directly behind the camera and raised the stand about a foot above the camera. Finally, just as I was about to give up, I decided to try something. Leaving the flash on the stand behind and above the camera, I deliberately set the camera shutter speed slower than the flash, so that the flash would trigger but the camera shutter would be open for just a bit longer after the flash went off. ISO was 160, the f-stop was 7.1, the shutter speed was ½ second, and the flash intensity was set to between 1/128 and 1/64 (with it being closer to the 1/64 mark).

Christmas Becky-Flash

Ultimately, I had to brighten my face up post-process, but by golly, I got what I was working for: a nicely-lit view of my face and the colorful, glowing ambience of the tree behind me.

Christmas Camera Becky-Flash

Christmas Camera Becky Ornament

Photography is all about practice, experiment, and climbing that learning curve.

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A Wedding In Galveston – The Groom and His Men

Groomsmen Sitting & Standing

The Groom and His Men.   The groom, Josh,  is second from the left, sitting down beside his Best Man.

Let’s face it: the groomsmen tend to get short shrift when it comes to wedding photography.  The bride gets soooo many more photos; I admit to having captured far more images of the bride than of the groom.  That being said, I did my utmost to get great shots of the guys.

After my hair and makeup photo op session with the bride, her mother, her daughter and the bridesmaids, I grabbed my lighting equipment and hot-footed it down to one of the lower levels of the resort where the guys were getting ready in a small, private club / gameroom.

The entire scene was infused with old-fashioned gentlemen’s club masculinity: the subdued golden lighting, the pool tables, the poker tables, the (unstocked) bar, the leather couches.  All that was missing was the blue cloud of cigar smoke hanging in the air.

All of the images here were taken with the ISO set to between 640 and 2000, even when I used flash.  Two of the scenes I photographed were taken with only the ambient light and no flash.  In hindsight, I was near a number of electrical outlets, so I should have used my 500-watt continuous light with the umbrella instead of the flash, as I would have been able to see the light at all times instead of just after I’d taken the shot.

For the scene at the top of this post, I used my Gary Fong diffuser dome over the flash which was on my 5D Mk III.  I set the ISO to 1250 with a shutter of 1/40 and an aperture of f4.

Groomsmen At The Pool Table

Groomsmen At The Pool Table

For the pool table scenes, I set up the umbrella and flash so the light went through the umbrella onto the guys.  The off-camera flash setup was approximately 45 degrees to my right and at one end of the pool table so that the light was softer and covered the entirety of the groom and groomsmen.  I used the 5D Mk III, set the ISO to 640, the shutter speed to 1/50 and the aperture to f4.

Groomsmen At The Poker Table

For this poker table scene, I turned the umbrella so that the open end faced the men.  The flash bounced off of the umbrella rather than shot through. This produced a stronger light on the guys.  I used the 5D Mk III and set the ISO at 640 with a shutter of 1/50 and an aperture of f4.

Raking In The Winnings

This scene was shot with just the ambient light.  I used the 50mm prime on my Canon 1-DX,  set the ISO to 1000  and the shutter at 1/40 with an aperture of f4.

Groomsmen Toast

For this toast scene, I again used only  ambient light, setting the ISO on the 5D Mk III to 2000 with a shutter of 1/25 and an aperture of f4.

Groomsmen Toast

I used the Gary Fong dome diffuser over my flash for this image, setting the ISO at 1250, shutter at 1/40 and aperture at f4.

The only issue I really needed to watch was getting reflections of all of the guys in the polished coffee table as they toasted the groom. Maybe I didn’t get all of their faces in the reflections, but I at least got their arms with the drinks.  Oh, btw, that liquid was *not* whiskey.  The guys mixed coke and a little water to make it look like whiskey.

Despite the best efforts of my flash, I still worked with Photoshop CS6 to lighten some of the faces.  The photo I most had to work with was the first photo in this post.  The other photos were better in terms of the amount of light and shadow I wanted. Because of the low-light interior, it was necessary to use my Imagenomic Noiseware reduction software to get rid of that graininess inherent with low-light / high ISO imagery.

The bride and groom had created an extremely handy schedule, so I knew exactly where I had to be and when. And, by golly, that schedule worked like a charm for everything! So, after the groomsmen photographs, I checked the time then lugged myself, my cameras, and my lighting equipment up to Maegan and Josh’s 16th floor penthouse suite.

Groomsmen At The Pool Table

Next post: Getting Ready

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A Belly Dancer, A Violinist, Some Lights And A Couple of Cameras

Zaras Veils

Meet Zara

Tsura On The Floor Smiling

Meet Tsura

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I think I’ve written in an earlier blog post that I used to consider myself primarily a landscape photographer , i.e. I never photographed people that much.  Then, I moved to Texas and became involved with the King’s Feast at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  One thing led to another and I was capturing images of festival actors, dancers, families, weddings, and other people-populated events.

Because of an increase in portrait sessions and weddings (yay me), I finally decided to invest in some relatively inexpensive studio lights and umbrellas that would be portable enough for me to use on-location (as long as there are nearby outlets or as long as I can afford to rent a portable battery source).  My own home is not set up with any sort of studio and I live a good hour’s drive away from the Houston metro area.  Because of this, it’s much easier for me to go to the client rather than have the client come to me.

Note:  this is a long post because of all the info I want to share, along with the resulting photos.  I could have broken this up into shorter blogs, but I am hoping your attention spans will not be so short that you don’t soak up a little bit of what I have learned that I want to pass on to you for your own endeavors.  I’ve personally read through extremely lengthy blog posts written by others, so I figure I’m not an anomaly.

Recently, I spent a couple of hours working with a belly dancer and a violinist, both members of the Gypsy Dance Theatre as well as artists in their own right, performing at other (mainly evening) venues such as coffee houses and cozy atmospheric restaurants and cafes.  Both Zara (the belly dancer) and Tsura (the violinist) needed some portfolio shots.

The time spent with them was rich not only in wonderful photo ops but also wonderful challenges and learning lessons.

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In my own mind, when I think of studio photography, I am thinking of a space with plenty of room to move around the model(s) and a backdrop anywhere from 7 feet to 20 feet behind the model(s).  In reality, the studio setup for this session was a small living room full of furniture and one soft little dog that kept wondering what was happening to his world (and who, on occasion, wanted to be a part of the scenery).

Lucky and Zara

I arrived on location an hour early in order to move the furniture around, set up the lights, and run a few practice shots to see where best to place the umbrellas.   I’ve been reading one of Scott Kelby’s books “The Digital Photography Book 4”  and he notes that for great lighting, one needs a large soft box (or umbrella, in my case) quite close to the model (the closer the light source, the softer the light on the model).   According to Kelby, keeping things simple is also a key factor so only one light is really all that is needed as opposed to a plethora of lights; the more the lights, the more the complications.   To get really soft light over a lot of the model, a soft box (or umbrella) of greater than 50” is recommended.

I used two Interfit EZ Lite 500 watt tungsten lights that I purchased as a kit. One of those lights was behind a Westcott 7’ parabolic white umbrella  which I used in lieu of that 50+ inch soft box close to the model (an umbrella was cheaper and I still claimed ignorance regarding studio lighting at the time I purchased the umbrella). The other light was attached to a smaller white umbrella for rim lighting.   The room was small so there was maybe 1 – 3 feet of space between the models and the beige living room wall (I liked that better than using a white background).

Studio Setup1_U9A0136

Studio Setup

I utilized both my Canon 1-DX and Canon 5D Mk III cameras. Ultimately, I liked the 1-DX better because it was much faster – particularly for the veil dancing images.   I used the Canon 24-70mm f2.8L II lens for the wider compositions. For the headshots and closer comps, I initially started out using the Canon 85mm f1.2 lens.   I LOVE this lens.   It’s my absolute favorite and my ultimate go-to for portrait work.   However, because I had very little “wiggle room” in terms of where I stood while using this lens – which in turn restricted what I could fit into the composition – I ultimately changed over to the Canon 50mm f1.2 lens for a bit of a wider view.   I started out on tripod but quickly abandoned that in favor of handholding the camera (which is another reason I preferred the much faster 1-DX over the 5D Mk III).

I know many photographers use aperture priority for this kind of work, but I like to do things the hard way and stick to total Manual Mode, setting both the aperture and shutter speed to my own liking rather than the camera’s liking.  It makes me think about things and situations more.  Plus, I am a control freak and like having that feeling of total control over the settings.   It’s sort of like owning a car with a stick shift (which I do) rather than one that’s fully automatic.

Shutter speeds, ISO, and apertures varied.  I used an aperture anywhere from f2.8 to f5.  ISO was between 200 and 400, and shutter speed was between 80 and 160, depending on whether I was photographing a still model or a twirling, veil-waving model.

I used Adobe Lightroom 4 and Adobe Photoshop CS6 for my photo editing.  I also applied Imagenomic’s Portraiture plug in to all of my photos.  I own and have used a couple of different portraiture applications, but this one, by far, is my favorite.  And, of course, I had to clone out other things like pimples and stray hairs across the face and also hot spots (overly bright areas) on the face.  Plus, I brightened the whites of the eyes and sometimes the teeth in a number of shots.  These are portfolio images where the models wanted to look their absolute best.

Smiling Zara

Twirling Zara

I once read on a Facebook comment that “Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the full extent of the situation”.   I was relatively confident throughout the photo session (but only after I became comfortable with the continuous lights and umbrellas in action).   I can also tell you (with confidence) that portrait post-processing takes much longer to accomplish than editing a landscape photo.

All that being said, I am very pleased with the results, some selections of which I share here with you.

Zara Full Length

Aqua Zara Full Length

Scott Kelby’s book mentions that the look (and length) of the model can vary quite a bit depending on the height from which the photographer is aiming the camera.  The top full-length image of Zara was taken with me standing atop a small step-ladder aiming the  camera down toward her.  The bottom image of Zara was taken with me sitting on the step-ladder aiming the camera slightly up toward her.

Hissy In His Box

Looking At Each Other

Zara and Hissy

Zara kept talking about how she wanted lots of pictures taken with Hissy.  I thought Hissy was the nickname she’d given to the other model coming to this photo shoot.  Turns out Hissy is Zara’s pet snake which she uses in a number of her dance routines.

Pinup Perfect_Special Effects

Cool Tsura - Original

Tsura_Perfect Effects

Zara Full Length_Perfect Effects

In addition to the regular editing tools I utilized  in Adobe Lightroom 4 and Adobe Photoshop CS6, I also applied this wonderful plug in by OnOne Software called Perfect Effects 4.  This plug in allowed me to choose from a bunch of different presets (one on top of the other, if I wished) to which I could make my own tweaks.  Depending upon my preset choices, I was able to add a little kick, edginess, softness or glamour to selected images.  For those of you who are not familiar with a preset, it’s a file composed of a number of settings  which – much like a spreadsheet macro – may be applied to any photo you happen to be editing.

Zaras Veils

Zaras Veils Velveteen Effect

Zara - Darker Background

Zara_Veils_Dark Background

Ah, the background.  As you noticed from the photos of the studio setup near the top of this post, the workspace was limited.  The model stood anywhere from 1- to 3-feet away from the beige wall background.  So, in the editing stage, I took some liberties to change up the background a little.  I either used a preset from my Perfect Effects 4 plug in, or, I created a separate layer and then used the Magic Wand tool or the Magnetic Lasso tool in Photoshop to select only the background (and in some cases, the floor as well).  I then used the Gaussian Blur filter at an extremely high pixel count (977.2 pixels, to be exact) to totally blur out the background and floor.  This effect also created (to my pleasant surprise) a certain amount of color bleed from the costume and the veils.  I then created a mask for that particular layer in order to “paint in” only the blurred background and floor, leaving the model alone.  This process turned out to be pretty cool and I was able to show Zara how she looked against a dark background (she’d been worried that a dark backdrop would totally hide her dark hair and dark costumes).  I told her that with good rim lighting, that wouldn’t have been too much of an issue.

Tsuras Profile

Speaking of rim lighting, I read in Kelby’s book that you can get a neat rim light profile silhouette by doing the following:  have your model stand very close and to the side of your rim light.  So, as Tsura was walking past the umbrella, I had her stop, face the light, then take a few sideways steps so that she wasn’t smack dab in the middle of the umbrella, blinding herself in the process.

Pinup Girl_Special Effects

Tsura Headshot

At one point, I turned off the rim light and simply used the large 7’ parabolic umbrella turned so that the open end of the ‘brella was facing the models and the light source was bouncing off of the umbrella, rather than shooting through it.  This created a harder light which was wonderful for those side-lit images that allowed the shadows to outline parts of the face and body.  It also created some neat side shadows as well on the wall.

I used to pooh-pooh studio photography thinking I would never be doing that sort of thing.  Never say never.  I now admit that I enjoy playing with the scenes afforded me by continuous lighting.  I also enjoy the creativity I can apply to such challenges as limited studio space, backdrops, and the overall final image.  Oh, I’m still a landscape photographer, and am still in the learning stages of studio shoots, but I LOVE stretching my photographic “muscles” to broaden my photographic experience in order to produce an image that elicits some type of reaction from the viewer.

Tsura and Zara

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