Challenges in a

I shot portraits yesterday. Some were headshots. These are sometimes challenging because you want to get great expressions out of people who are not professional models. Saying “smile” doesn’t do it.

But then, even more fun, the environmental portraits. And these should be storytelling pictures. With good group composition.  Three colleagues:

In these, as you see I like drama, so I expose for the outside. 100 ISO, 1/100 sec, f/8. Why not the usual 1/250 sec? Because that would have meant f/5, and in this case I wanted f/8 for DOF.

The story is to do with the airport, of course. And individual shots are easier: see my friend and assistant Maged yesterday as I was setting up for the shot.

Nice wrap-around light from an off-camera umbrella.

Here, another one:

The biggest challenge? The flash has a big umbrella. This is visible in almost every picture as a window reflection. And it lights up the ceiling: ditto. And I needed an angle that shows the radar tower. So in the event, I moved left and right, up and down, back and forth, and I made the light and the subject do the same, until I finally had one angle that had sufficient light in the subject and that had no umbrella showing, and only acceptable ceiling reflection. It’s always possible: I learned that long ago. But I also learned that it’s always a challenge. So: persevere.

Why not do without an umbrella?

That’s why!


x100: Can you see a theme?

Regular readers will see that the last few days, I have been shooting with, and talking about, the Fujicolor x100 camera that I carry:

Fuji X100 (Photo: Michael Willems)

The theme has been: given the right light (e.g. flash!) and the right techniques, you can take professional pictures with it that are as good as those taken with an SLR. This is almost straight out of camera (a crop and a few dust spots removed):

Now while I am not recommending product shoots with the x100, this goes to show it can be as good as an SLR.

But now let’s take it a step farther. It can be better.

Yes, better. And here’s how:

I just took that picture at 200 ISO, f/8, 1/1000 sec. That makes for that nice, dark sky.

Wait. Did he just say 1/1000 sec, one thousandth of a second? That is impossible since the flash sync speed of 1/250 second limits the shutter speed you can set the camera to when using a flash. Right??

Wrong. The x100 has a leaf shutter. And it allows flash up to 1/1000 second. And as said, that is why that sky is so wonderfully dark. It is in fact noon and it looks bright to my eyes. But 1/1000 sec makes it dark. Two stops darker than my other cameras could have done!

But he could have done that with aperture, with a higher f-number. Or with an ND filter.

Nope. If I had, I would have run out of flash power. The flash needs to get through that filter, or through  that small aperture, and it is not bright enough at higher apertures, especially when a modifier is being used.

So the x100 may be small, but it can do things my $8,000 1Dx cannot do. Just saying!


Let there be

I shot a couple of bodybuilders recently: reason enough to share a few of the pictures and the settings.

I decided, for this shoot, to use pretty dramatic light, with a significant sidelight component. Why? Because sidelight shows texture, muscles, and similar detail. So I used a softbox on each side of the subject, aimed forward and positioned carefully to keep it off the background:

(100 ISO, 1/100 sec, f/13)

Post treatment is minimal: B/W setting; then in the BASIC panel, I moved the whites and highlights up a tad, and the shadows and blacks down a bit. The resulting images are dramatic and show muscle:

Do keep in mind the fact that the face should be appropriately lit. Like in the image above.

In the image below, a flash behind the subjects aiming towards me, and a flash with a grid on camera left, aimed at the subjects:

This shoot was all about light.


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Ad lucem

…or “to the light”.

But contrary to that Latin phrase, a little tip today for when you don’t want light. Like when you want to hide something.

Hide something? Example, please?

OK. Say you have a roll of paper in your studio. and you want to shoot a full length portrait. Normally you would pull the roll all the way forward so the subject stands on it. No transition can be seen at their feet because there is no transition.

But if the roll is too short? Then you will see a clear (and ugly) transition from “floor” to “roll”:

But this is solvable. It is in fact simple: keep the transition in the dark. Then you will not see it. Like this:

To keep it in the dark, you must do two things:

  1. Set the camera so that ambient light plays no role (i.e. without flash, the picture is all dark), Standard settings like 1/125 sec, 100 ISO, f/8 will take care of that. This means all light in the photo will be from your flashes.
  2. Ensure your flash light does not reach the transition. By definition, that will result in the area being dark. So you need to point away from the area and have enoughdistance from the background.

That is it. So if I use two softboxes as above, and feather them away from the background, I will not throw any light on the background. That means it will be dark. And since the floor is light when you are, it will be a gradual darkening.

Simple. Two softboxes and a too-short-really paper roll, and that’s the result. Things do not always need to be complicated.


Easy does it

“Convenience” is one of the things that drive me. I want my life to be easy. That is why I use speedlights when I can, for example. So when I shoot, I often use this:

That is an off-camera flash on a light stand with a bracket, a shoot-through (or shoot into) umbrella, and a Flashzebra cable that connects the Pocketwizard to the flash.

Look carefully and you can see all the individual components:

The charm is  that you can leave it all connected so it effectively becomes on integral unit. An easy-to-fold up unit: