Saturday, 19 September 2009

Victorian Photography

I had an interesting brief for a shoot a little while back. As part of a makeup course, a student was required to do a theme based around victorian times. The initial thought was sepia toned, semi-blurry images which looked really authentic, but I felt that wasn't going to show the makeup off particularly well, and as you may have guessed, I'm a bit of a colour junkie, so it wasn't happening.

So I suggested an alternative look with a 16:9 format of image to look like film or television drama, and an overall feel to the image to go with that. Well, the idea got the go ahead, and after a little discussion we came up with a good location for the shoot in the grounds of a victorian house.

I decided as a bit of a change to do something more in the way a victorian photographer would have worked. Luckily I didn't have a half tonne victorian camera so I had to be a bit limited in my victorian approach, but I wanted to try my best to be otherwise consistent. The main option available to victorian photographers was controlled available light. In fact, very little has changed in the way that reflectors are used nowadays. I gained a lot of insight from the image of a studio contained in this page (external link).

So having decided I was going to work only with reflectors, we then found a spot at a small gateway on the grounds of the house.

I placed two reflectors out on the grass in front of the gate reflecting the sunlight (which was coming from above/behind the gate) back towards the gate.

This first image is from behind the gate with roughly the view the model would have, albeit from in front of the gate.

This second image shows the reflectors more clearly.

This was the resulting shot. You can see the reflectors have balanced the light reasonably on the model's face and zoomed in it's possible to see she has nice catchlights too.

The downside of the shot is that she has very harsh sunlight on her very light hair and white dress. My first option was to move her a little further back towards the gate, so she was more in the shade of the trees. This worked to an extent, but there were still spots of light filtering through the trees and giving her very bright hotspots.

I decided the only option was to block the direct sunlight, so I moved the reflector which was further away and only lit her with the closest reflector. This meant a slightly more directional light source with more contrast across her face, but still with plenty of ambient fill from the rest of the sky. With the second reflector, I removed its cover meaning it became a translucent disc. I stuck it fully up on the stand to about 12 feet and got the makeup artist to support it at an angle so it could block the sunlight and stay out of the shot. Having people about saves a lot of hassle with boom arms and large amounts of ballast!

You can see in the following image that the light is now much more balanced, with soft light on her hair through the translucent disc above and behind her, and reflected light from the reflector out in front.

It was a bit of an interesting experiment to work purely with reflectors for a day, because I'm usually putting together large lighting setups. There are some limitations of the approach though.

The first is sunlight. Depending on where you live, it's not exactly something you can rely on. Reflectors act like a great light source on a bright sunny day, but are extremely subtle on a dull day. If you need great light no matter what the weather, reflectors aren't the solution.

The second is squinting models. You turn two of these reflectors (even just a white one) towards a model on a very hot sunny day and you get a reaction similar to a vampire trying to escape the burning light. Flash happens so quickly that models don't suffer too much for the art, so there's no squinting or running eyes.

One advantage on the other hand is that you never run out of power to compete with sunlight. The brighter the day gets, the brighter your reflectors become as a light source.

Another advantage (and conceivably disadvantage) is weight. You get a nice big light source without having a back breaking amount of kit. The downside is that being big and lightweight, they have a fantastic ability to go wind-powered wanders, so if there's much wind at all you'll need ballast or humans to hold them in place. That said, if you have a calm day and get a sudden gust, you're not having to worry about hundreds of pounds worth of lighting equipment falling over and being damaged.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Colouring the world

OK, I can tell you're all getting bored waiting for my reappearance! Woah, it's been a mad month and a half. So much happening!

Anyhow, I've spoken about using gels on your subject in order to control the colour balance of ambient light before (Summer's day shoot, on a dull late evening). The most common version of this sort of adjustment you'll see is a warm gel used on the subject and when you shoot tungsten balanced, you make the world very blue. It's an interesting look and understandably popular.

The post I did before was doing the opposite - using blue gels on the subject to make the background look warmer when it was already rather dark and blue looking.

The image up at the top is slightly different but exactly the same principle. Anyone who's played with the tint (green <-> purple) colour balance settings in an image editor or raw editor will know that you can get a funky green or purple look to your images if you drag the slider one way or the other.

But in lighting terms, if you fire a green gelled (plusgreen or fluorescent) flash at a subject, then white balance for the gelled flash, you'll find that daylight balanced light sources will go a purple colour. And vice a purple gelled flash at the subject, white balance for it and you'll get a green ambient wherever daylight balanced light sources are present.

The image up at the top there was lit with three flashes. It's a while back so I can't remember settings or precise gels used, but there was a flash gun off to high camera left about a foot in front of the model with a shoot thru brolly. It had either a half or full minusgreen gel on it and the camera was white balanced for this gel. The second flash was at low camera right without any modifiers, and had either a quarter or half minusgreen gel (either a quarter or half less purple than the main light), so resulted in a more green tinge to the left of the model's face. Lastly there was a similarly gelled flash in behind the model which gave her a highlight round her hair and also showed up the falling rain. This of course made the rain stand out as whiter than the very green ambient lit background.

And I can confirm that no models or photographers were injured by damp flashguns in the process of making these images!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Winter Scene

I had an interesting theme for a shoot recently, which involved creating a winter scene for the shoot. I used a combination of fallen branches I collected from near my house, fake snow from a snow machine and fog from a fog machine to create the look.

I used two 550EX (equivalent to the Canon 580EX II) flashguns with CTB (cooling) gels from behind the setup in order to light the fog a cool blue. I had one on each side of the setup.

I then used three lights to light the model. I used two Bowens monolights with softboxes on either side (Esprit Gemini 750+/750+ Kit). The power of these lights means that I was able to back them well away, and give a good even spread of light across the image, with some nice light down the sides of the model. The softboxes meant that even though the lights were a few metres back, they still weren't giving overly harsh shadows. Softboxes also tend to make the light a touch more directional, so I was able to turn the softboxes towards the camera a touch, in order to reduce the white light hitting the fog, which would reduce the blue effect significantly.

Lastly I had a 550EX (equivalent to the Canon 580EX II) firing into an umbrellabox on a boom arm. This means I get a nice overhead (or just to the right) light filling the dark spot that would otherwise be left down the middle of the model when lit by the two softboxes. You can see what I mean in this image where the flash hadn't quite recharged, and only the monolights fired.

Here's a few views of the overall setup, so you can visualise what was happening.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Product Photo: Battery Striplights

I've had some serious lackings going on in the blogging front the last month and a bit! But hey, I'm back. Haven't had much in the way of product photography going on for a while, so I figured I'd put up this entry.

Well, you've seen the final shot above, so let's look at the thinking which got me there. Firstly, I wanted to show a few things about these products in one shot. The first is that they're battery (or mains) powered, so I wanted them lit with no wires going to them. The second thing I wanted to show is the different ways they can be positioned (either flat or propped up with a fold out stand). They're actually surprisingly stable despite how they look. The battery has been positioned at the bottom so they have a better centre of gravity than you'd expect. That said, if you bump them, they'll probably knock over, and more than likely damage themselves, so I'd say they're probably better laid flat!

So first things first, I had to show them lit. So I fired them both up with both tubes lit (you can light one or the other independently or both). I then set an aperture with a reasonable exposure (f/8), a reasonable shutter speed of 1/200s and settled on ISO 400 for a good combination of noise and sensitivity. This gave me the following shot.

However, the light coming from the tubes themselves isn't really doing very much for the product, so I added in a silver reflector lit by a flash for a nice soft fill evenly across the products.

To give the image a little extra pop I thought I'd put some light on the background. My first thought was a plain flash snooted, with the generally vague idea that it might look a bit like the lights were lighting the background themselves.

I then tried a different angle, with a wide angle lens to try and give a bit more impact to the shot. It also showed in more detail the method by which the stand works, which was quite good.

However, there was no getting away from it...the image was looking pretty dull, and I'm not known for dull images - I love really saturated vivid images. So I headed to the box the lights came in, and looked at colours. The logo of the company was blue, but was very small. The box was predominately black (goes with my background), with a large red stripe down the side and a big yellow star behind the product. So back to the setup, and two snooted and gelled flashes later, I had the final image.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Three looks - Two backgrounds - One setup

Sometimes you've got plenty of setup time, but not so much time for shooting. Perhaps, for example, the model is only available for a certain time, and a significant period of that time is taken up by complicated makeup/hair work, or you have a lot of clothing changes to get through, but want a variety of looks for each.

In this particular case, makeup/hair (wig) was pretty long for this shoot, and there were a couple of clothing styles to get through in limited time. So to make sure I could get a variety of looks, I used two half width background rolls slid onto the one full width background support. This meant that I had, in this case, a black and white roll side by side.

So, just by quickly moving lights about, I was able to go from one background to another with little time taken up. And yes, my black roll got some pretty rough treatment getting pulled out...don't ask! Of course, it didn't matter too much. You can see that the black roll is actually used for a blue background.

So by alternating between the white background, black background for a blue gelled look, and shooting across the rolls out into the blackness of the rest of the building, I was able to quickly get three distinct looks.

The only thing I'd say about this method is it puts a fair strain on the background support. Normally a full width roll has its own stiffness, so doesn't want to bend the background support. As you can see though, the two rolls tend to want to put a lot of pressure on the centre of the support bar, because they're split in the middle. Didn't do any long term harm though!