Trixie

I shall now repeat a flash trick I have mentioned here before years ago. Time for a refresher.

You all know how important it is to avoid, at least when the flash is on your camera, direct flash light reaching your subject. Both in order to avoid “flat” light, and especially to avoid those nasty drop shadows, like this (don’t do this at home, kids):

But you have also heard me talk (and those who come to my upcoming flash courses will learn hands-on) that you should “look for the virtual umbrella”. For most lighting, this means 45 degrees above, and in front of, the subject.

So when you are close to that subject, you aim your flash behind you to get to that point. Good.

But what when you are far, as when using a telephoto lens? Then the “virtual umbrella” may be in front of you. And aiming your flash forward is a no-no, since the subject will be lit in part by direct light.

A-ha. Unless you block the direct part of that light!

Like this:

As you see, I use a Honl Photo bounce card/gobo to block the direct light. Simple, affordable, and very effective. I use either the white bounce side, or the black flag side, depending on the ceiling and position.

Simple, effective – done!

And one more thing. Direct flash is not bad per sé. Not at all. As long as it is not coming from where your lens is, it can be very effective, like in this “funny face” shot of a recent student (you know who you are):

Lit by a direct, unmodified flash. And the hairlight, the shampooy goodness? Yeah. The sun. Just saying.

(And yes, that too is something I will teach those of you who sign up for one of my upcoming flash courses.)

 

Portrait lesson

A quick portrait lesson today.

Here’s student and photographer Emma, in a coaching session on Friday:

For this photo I used a 16-35mm lens, set to 16mm. On my full-frame Canon 1Dx camera, that is a proper wide angle lens – like a 10mm lens on your 5D, 60D, Rebel, D90, or similar.

So first, let’s put paid to the adage that “you cannot make portraits with a wide angle lens”. Yes you can: environmental portraits, where you do not fill the frame with the subject. Distance between subject and photographer is the only important thing, not lens angle. A wide lens gives you that wonderful “wrap around” effect that we love in this type of portrait – the subject in, and as part of, her environment, rather than as a standalone object.

So that out of the way, what about camera settings?

I used the Willems 400-40-4 rule for indoors flash. Since our indoors environments are often roughly the same brightness, a manual setting of 400 ISO, 1/40th second, f/4 will give you a starting point that is ambient minus two stops.

Which is what I want if I want to see the background, but not too brightly: just like Rembrandt, I want to make my subject the “bright pixels”. Because as a reader here you also know Willems’s Dictum: “Bright Pixels Are Sharp Pixels”.  So that means a slightly darker background.

OK,  so that is the background  taken care of: -2 stops, give or take. How about Emma?

I used an off-camera 600EX speedlight, driven by an on-camera 600EX that was set to only command the other flash (using the new radio interface). I equipped the flash with a Honl  photo Traveller 8 softbox for that wonderful light – and that wonderful circular catchlight in Emma’s eyes:

Good, so we are set.

But what about the idea of making it a monochrome image, to stop the red distracting us? In Lightroom, simply select “B/W: in the Develop module:

You may or may not prefer that to the colour image. If you do, then consider dragging the red to the left a little in the B/W module. That means red light will be used less in the conversion, i.e. it will be less bright in the black and white image:

Now we have gotten rid of the red place mat almost entirely, allowing us to concentrate on Emma. That is often a good reason to go to black and white: you get very extensive creative options.

Mission accomplished, in a very simple-to-do shot that is miles beyond a snapshot.

Yes, simple – once you know how (this is what I do, and it is also what I teach).  Invest some time and effort in learning these techniques – you will love what your new photography allow you to do creatively.

 

Light.. action!

I shot a few shots of Kelly, the hair stylist for a shoot the other night.

Here she is:

Nice. So how did I light that?

Here’s how.

I used my 1D Mk4 camera in manual mode, equipped with a Pocketwizard to drive the following flashes:

  • A 400 Ws Bowens light with a Bowens softbox. Powered by a battery (the Travel Kit); driven by a Pocketwizard.
  • A 430EX flash with a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid and a Honl Photo gel (green in the pullback shot above; egg yolk yellow in the real shot) to light up the background. This was also fired by a Pocketwizard, connected via a Flashzebra cable.

The other flash was a spare and I did not use it. I set y exposure for a dark background, then metered the flashes with a light meter. I used the speedlight to light up the background to provide hair separation, since I could not get it in the back aiming forward to light the hair, which I would otherwise have done.

A fairly simple setup for a nice shot, no?

 

Cool colour

I shot some demo product shots with my student Merav today, and I thought I would share them here to underline the importance of colour.

Here’s one, a simple one. Lit by a softbox on the leeft, an umbrella on the right, and against a grey backdrop. That gives us this:

Bit boring? Yes it is. So I add a gridded, “egg-yolk yellow” gelled speedlight aiming at the background. (I use the excellent Honl Photo grids, gels, and other small flash modifiers):

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Much better. Then we added another light – a green-blue gelled speedlight shining in from the left:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Then we reversed the gel colours:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Then, tried another background colour, rose purple:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

And finally got to a background coloured Just Blue, which had been Merav’s idea all along:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Which one did you prefer? Can you see how different they all are?

To shoot this I used this setup:

Product Shot Setup (Photo: Michael Willems)

This works as follows:

  1. Put the bottle on a table, with white paper underneath
  2. Put up a grey backdrop, far from the bottle so it does not get any light
  3. Get the main lights right – use a light meter to set them to your desired values (I used f/9 and 1/125th second at 200 ISO). Main strobe is fired with Pocketwizard; secondary strobe by its cell.
  4. Add a background light: a small flash also fired by a Pocketwizard, through a Flashzebra cable. Set to 1.4 power. Equipped with a 1/4″ Honl grid and a gel.
  5. Add a side light: a small flash also fired by a Pocketwizard, through a Flashzebra cable. Set to 1/4 power. Equipped with a gel.

Simple. Once you know!

Why the rum? It was the only bottle I had in the house. Amazingly, for the first time I can remember, I had not a single bottle of beer or wine or anything else available in the house. Time to hit the liqor store!

 

 

A simple lighting setup?

What one person finds complicated, another finds simple.

And vice versa. A friend who visited the other night reminded me of this, when I talked about the simple four-flash light setup I was using for a headshot:

And as he said that, I realized that perhaps it’s not simple.

But if you want to take portraits, then it should be. In other words, without knowing how to do a “traditional” portrait setup, it is hard to do creative portraits. No, that does not mean you need to make all portraits traditional – you can do great stuff with one off-camera speedlight and a grid.

But you need to know how a traditional portrait is made. Which is with:

  1. A backdrop (paper roll, here).
  2. A main, or “key” light, in this case a Bowens strobe with a softbox.
  3. A fill light (Bowens strobe with umbrella, in this case).
  4. A hair light (speedlight with Honl Photo grid and egg yolk yellow gel).
  5. A background light (speedlight with Honl Photo blue-green gel).
  6. A way to drive them: Here, I used one strobe and two speedlights fired by pocketwizards; one strobe by the light-sensitive cell.
  7. Metering: I used light meter to arrive at f/9.0 at 100 ISO and 1/200th second.
  8. Ratios: I set the fill two stops darker than the key. And the hair and background light by trial and error (I got them right first time – done it before).

A note about those gels: colour makes a difference. I love the blue-green gel on the background, to contrast with the red hair – contrast is good. That’s why the butcher uses green plastic between the red meat – to make it look redder. (Oh wait – butcher? We buy meat at the supermarket now, in neat little packages. Dumb me.)

Anyhow – parsing makes things simpler. If you are faced with a complex situation, parse it, i.e. take it apart, one thing at a time. Analyse each layer until you understand it, then go on to the next layer. And before you know it, you will be saying “that’s simple”.

That’s what you learn when I teach you: how to make complex situations simple by understanding the elements, then building on those. Deductive learning, if you will.

And what does the setup above produce? Portraits like this:

Headshot (Photo: Michael Willems)

(Canon 7D at f/9.0, 1/200th sec, 100 ISO)

A plug, if I may: if you, too, need an updated headshot, and live in the Greater Toronto Area, do call me. For Facebook, your resume, LinkedIn, or your web site: a good headshot helps, and Headshots Specials are on during the month of September!