Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hard Punk Rock Light. Black Patent Shoes.

These shoes actually smell of gasoline. The art director drawing (hey Tiffany!) had the shoes on a pile of ice so we went to the local grocery store and got a several bags of ice (2 chunks 1 solid block). Here is where my old ice axes came out useful....
I set all the ice in a big transparent plastic box with a lot of empty tupperware for fill. I put the shoes on top and off we went. The background was shot separately with a red #42 Rosco filter. I used the ring flash (a Coco modifier) in several positions to highlight different spots (the heels, the reflection on the lower edge of the shoe at the front) and put them together in post. Shot at f16, ISO 100. 1/200th with a Canon t1i. A nod to the Clash and David Clugston, who shoots with a somewhat similar style. Thanks for the inspiration!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anthropologie Time.

I love the style of the Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters catalogs.
It's graceful, simple and well, dreamy. It mixes vintage settings and tones with modern living situations. It's a look that many retail stores like and customers can relate to.
I also affectionately call it "shooting like a girl" with some envy for photographers who have mastered it (darn you Chloe Scheffe!) . The photos above are the result of me having a stab at it. The first set was shot in an old apartment in Chicago (hey Angela!). I used only window light, a large white sheet as a reflector to camera left, about 5 feet from the model and a camera almost literally grabbed from a friend who happened to be there. The second set up was almost equally minimalistic: the model (hey Tiffany!) got hair and make up done in my studio and we walked out to a small city garden in Seattle. I used a simple ring flash modifier attached to my hotshoe flash (see this post) and exposed the flash at about half a stop below ambient. Then I used Lightroom to add the "Holga/Vintage/Polaroid/Artsy" look to it.

Both sets featured several Anthropology clothes and accessories (and my dad's thirty year old scarf). What's not to like? This images would form the core of a relatively low budget ad campaign perfect for a fashion store or an up and coming apparel designer. I like.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Commercial Photography and Video with a Canon DSLR asked me to create a commercial for their first ad campaign. It was a very interesting project that involved shooting simple images of objects to be posted on their site (see last post), print them, shoot a video and add a voiceover and soundtrack (make sure your sound is on!). A lot of people got involved and we had a decent budget to do a good job.

The fun part came from using a DSLR camera to shoot both images and video. I used an old Sony to get the "casual" Polaroid look to the images and the used the new Canon Rebel (500D or T1i in the US) to shoot a short video at 30fps. We used natural light and cut the video using Final Cut Express. A couple of trick I learned: remember to lock the exposure and use a fixed white balance (not AWB!) to keep the movie as homogeneous as possible.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

That Polaroid Look

So the client asked for a set of images to use in a video. The images had to have the distinctive "Polaroid look" to evoke a mood that is casual but elegant, artsy but spontaneous, practical but environmentally conscious. "Umm, well OK" I said. How does this translate in photographic terms? Polaroid images are famous for being blurry, having blown highlights, strong vignetting and a somewhat shallow depth of field. Yellowish high tones, blueish shadows and low color saturation are also part of that look.

Rather than grabbing a Polaroid camera and some old film
I decided to shoot with an (old) digital camera. I will have more control on the results the images won't need to be scanned and I will be able to make higher resolution prints. Using a point and shoot instead of my trusted DSLR will make the images look a little more casual. Like, a dude who got a lucky shot. But how do I change the color scheme and tones to get the desired "Polaroid" look. Enters Lightroom and its famous presets. The LR community has developed a number of them that are freely available and easy to install. So I got a few, tweaked them to my liking (usually reducing contrast, adding more vignetting and changing the color balance. And here are some of the results. Not bad.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I say Tomato, you say Product Photography.

I am a big fan of the Strobist blog. It's one of my favorite sources of info on equipment, techniques and up and coming commercial photographers. OK enough gushing. The neat thing is the assignments. They are usually commercially themed, clearly explained, you submit your image to Flickr and there you go. You end up staring at a few hundred awesome images from photographers all over the world, including a lot of pros. You might even win a prize.

This time the theme was "Food". So I submitted an image of a pile of tomatoes. The set up was easy: main backlight (softboxed ABs) and 2 focused accent lights, one on the knife blade (bounced on a small card) and the other on the spices in the background. Water drops and a temperature shift give it a warm slightly vintage "shiny" look. I took a few shots with my 24-70 Canon (f4, 50mm, ISO100) AND with my brand new Lensbaby 2.0. I liked the LensBaby, but I 'd suggest to shoot product tethered with it as the soft spot is small even at f8-10. The bokeh is fun and quite suggestive of motion. (it's the image on the left and I know tomatoes do not move). I am looking into getting the Lensbaby 3, which has a focus lock. One could step up getting a Canon Tilt Shift, I have also seen good reviews about

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Have a Leibovitz Day: Lighting with a Softlighter II

I have become a big fan of the Softlighter II. It's an umbrella with a diffuser sheet at the front that takes both strobes and shoe mount flashes. It can even be used as a shoot through umbrella. I have the SL-5000. (it's the medium sized) It takes a few minutes to assemble and gives about 11 sq feet of light surface. With a Canon 580ex II and the silver reflector inside I get a guide number of about 40 ( f4 at 10 feet at 100 ISO).

I mostly use it outdoor, mounted on a boom or a light stand, both as a fill or as a main light. It seems quite durable, and a bargain for the price (less than $100). I am not the only one to like it, as apparently Annie Leibovitz is a fan. (or at least she uses something VERY similar here and here). The smaller softlighter is perfect for indoor shots. I like the different looks I can achieve with it.

Lower image: This punchy shot was taken on a sunny afternoon on a silver painted roof. Sun is coming from top left and the Softlighter is one foot to the left of the model (Hey Hiroko!), on a boom being held by an assistant (hey Dave). Shot at ISO 100 1/125th, 32mm f11. The Canon flash was firing at 3/4 power.

Top Image: This set up, which drew inspiration from some of Annie Liebovitz work, was taken at sunset, the Softlighter is at camera left held high above the two models at about 10 feet. (Robin, ModelMayhem #380658 and Gene). ISO 100, 1/160th 24mm f4.0. The image palette and contrast have been modified a bit with PS. Flash at half power.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cleaning Up.

The web is choke full of suggestions on how to clean up photo equipment (easier than fix the problems mentioned in the previous post alas), so last week end I finally got myself a small bottle of Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol 70% ... And voila' I cleaned my camera body, my Pocket Wizards, my computer screen and pretty much anything I had within reach works! Not bad for $1.89 (which will last me forever). I was assisting on a shoot yesterday and noticed that they were using some fancy cleaning clothes that used the same main ingredient.
Make sure to use a soft cloth and try on a small, forgotten corner of your equipment first, you know... just in case.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thinking about Modeling? Read This First.

This a link to a new documentary on the fashion industry.

And this is the corresponding article on the Guardian.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Revenge of the Cheap Ring Flash Adapter.

I have been using a ring flash for the past few months. It makes for really dynamical images with saturated colors. I even use it to shoot flowers. The image on the left was taken with Profoto equipment: Ring Flash, two gridded strobe heads (one on each side), one behind the subject (Hey Luna!) and one large softbox close to camera left. However, a ring Flash, four strobes and a large softbox is quite an expensive set of equipment to own and will set you back a few grands.

So what if I only have $80 and buy one of the cheap Ring Flash Adapters that one can find on the web? They are pretty cool, you mount them on top of your Speedlite (I have the Canon 580X II), you hotshoe it on camera and you can even shoot TTL with it if you like. I have found mine on ebay (It's called "COCO"), but you can find one very similar here. Or you can buy the well known "Ray Flash" for about $200. The right image was shot with it and an optically slaved Alien Bee softbox at camera left.

The obvious, large difference is the power output. At the lowest power output of the power pack the Profoto Ring Flash still shoots at f20!; the Coco+Speedlite has a guide number of about 35 (i.e: at ISO100 you can shoot at f3.5 at 10 feet with the Speedlite at full power). The adapter only uses 1.5 stops of light compared to the naked Speedlite, not bad! So if you need depth of field
or need to shoot outdoors AND have the cash definitely go for the Profoto, but be prepared to temporarily blind your subject if you are not careful and go after that notorious "Ring Flash" look. (Note: the Ray Flash has an official GN of 45 with the same Speedlite, so it is a bit more efficient than the COCO).

The adapter allows for a slightly different look: I shot the image on the right at ISO 100, f2.8, wide angle and at 1/16 power for the Speedlite. I was at about 2 feet from the subject (Hey Lucianne!). This combination allows for two effects: a sharp light falloff and shallow dept of field. I think I dig it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's cooler than being cool? Ice cold.

I had to shoot clear glass and I wanted to make a dynamic image with a lot of punch. I am quite pleased with the outcome. So here is how I did it. First of all his is actually a composite of four different shots using the same glass, but each glass was shot in the same way. The background is a large light box lit with two Profoto heads.

The glass is lit with a top strip light softbox. The table top is is white, with a glass sheet on top. However, the glass comes off from the back edge of the table and that's were the highball glass sits. Makes sense? You get the cool reflection at the front, but the bottom of the glass is partially illuminated by the back light and the table edge, being transparent is barely visible and easily disguised with Photoshop.

The ice cubes ..they are plastic fakes, but look super cool and it'd be much harder to do the shot with real ice, as it would melt quickly and ... float. The drink in the glass is just water with some corn syrup, to give it the surface tension of say, vodka (this is an important detail, do not overlook this). The colored stuff is just diluted food dye. However, getting the cool patterns as the dye drops in the glass was not easy. I used a small syringe to drop the dye from a few inches above the glass. First I diluted the dye into water and that did not work. The dye would just form a layer at the top without actually mixing. Not cool. The trick was to dilute the dye not in water but in mostly pure corn syrup, which is much denser and heavier. Once dropped into the highball glass it'd sink creating a wake of cool ripples. Expose with the background almost a pure white (but not overblown) and the glasses a couple of stops darker. Minor Photoshop post processing, mostly retouching and increased the contrast in the shadows a tad.

Shot at ISO 100 f22, 1/125th, power pack with equal power for the background and the strip light, so about 800wsec total. The Profoto heads were great and having a fast recycle time crucial to get several images every time I dropped the dye. If you are doing this at home and have less power just open up a couple of stops and you should be fine.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flowers. Add water.

Aren't flowers pretty? So the assignment was to shoot flowers "with hard light". As the key
I used a small Alien Bee strobe( +grid) to camera right just above camera and a cheapo Sunpack
to camera left, behind and below the flowers. A foam core board provides fill and the black background cover some of the light from the Sunpack. The Alien Bee gives the texture in the red flower and lights the drops at camera right. The Sunpak lights the yellow flower from behind.
There is also a little gobo just below the flowers at camera left. The water was just a simple plant sprayer that I was rather furiously pumping while taking shots. Getting the time right was the difficult bit. I am quite ahppy with the result; the cross lighting sculpts the stems and the general backlighting lights up the water drops against the dark background. Optional: I added a small negative temperature shift in Lightroom to make the water look bluer.

Now the important bit: How do I get the water drops sharp? Shutter speed is largely irrelevant as the max sync speed is 1/160th and the flash duration is shorter anyway..but how much shorter? I needed the flash "pulse" to be as short as possible. As a first attempt using the strobes at ~ 1/2 power and setting the camera at iso 100 and f16 produced streaks with each water drop. Not good.

The solution is to lower the power of each strobe, as that makes the light pulse shorter in duration. Less light = larger aperture...however, I wanted the depth of field to stay decent as we want the drops to appear sharp. A good compromise was to shoot at ISO400 and f11, lowering the AB power to 1/16th- and the Sunpak at 1/8th.

The final camera settings: ISO400, shutter speed 1/160th, f11, 52mm.

Overall shooting time: 45 mins. I like flowers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bright Shiny Things

The assignment calls for "soft tungsten lights", so I had been looking for an object that would have actually been easier to photograph using tungsten lights rather than strobes.

This is usually the case when the object is itself a light source that the strobes would overpower even when dialed down. So here it is: a Mac ThinAir in a Crumpler bag.

The light scheme starts super simple: a softbox over the bag (higher on camera side, almost touching the bag at the back) ), with the modeling light on. That gives the nice diffuse light on the cover of the ThinAir and the soft shadows. I then added a white LED light inside the bag to add a little more punch to the white light that comes from the keyboard. The computer is on so that the Apple logo is illuminated. The red bag adds a nice touch of color, but with the tungsten lights balance the computer looks yellowish and the bag has no punch....

The solution is to actually color balance on a grey card. That makes the alluminum a perfect gray and shifts the LED light to the blue: the red bag becomes more saturated and the keyboard now gives a cool "high tech" glow. The logos in the back are sligthly blurred, but that is a feature to
highlight the front corner and make the picture more 3D. There is ample space for text if it is needed. Shot at 100ISO, 50mm,5' exposure. Only minor blemishes retouches in postproduction.