Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Safe Lighting

If you've read my blog over the years (that's the years I bother to write updates of course!), you'll know how much an advocate of creatively lighting images I am. But sometimes there are jobs which don't allow for this. Broadly speaking there are two types. Firstly, run and gun jobs where you have no setup, and this generally is a damage limitation routine involving on-camera flash, and any off-camera flash or reflectors you can get someone to hold for you. The second type are those where you have all the time in the world to set up, but when the flood gates open, you just have to keep your head above water till the job finishes. This is where safe lighting comes to the fore. You want a setup which is reliable, capable of keeping the pace with the job, and doesn't require you to change anything (or very much) during the shoot - in other words it's a safe setup that you could hand to your granny and she could take great shots. Well, almost!

So I thought for this post, I'd take you through a job I did recently and how I planned for it. The brief was that a makeup (fashion) show was taking place whereby student makeup artists were showing off their work. As part of the assessment, they required to have photos, and they wanted something more professional than quick digital camera snaps. The images were to clearly show hair and makeup, and have the models all wearing white in some form.

So my first questions were the timings of the show, and what time I would have available. The basis of it was the show came in two parts, and I'd have up to 55 makeup looks to photograph between the makeup being finished and the models having to go up on stage. The numbers weren't really stacking up, as even at less than a minute for each model, I'd still be most of an hour photographing that number. We managed to get it sorted out that I'd get more time by spreading out the models over more time, so that I didn't get so many all at once. As it happened, there were less than 55 looks for each of the two parts, so that made it easier.

So in planning my lighting setup, the first thought was to background. I opted for a medium grey, but used one honeycomb light to give it a nice pool of light in behind the model on longer shots, with a slight gradient showing in tight headshots. The grey meant that there was good contrast with the model, whatever hair colour they had, and also good contrast with the outfits. You don't want details being lost in a black background if the hair is being assessed!

Next off was the key light. I decided to go for a large softbox, but to give an even light, I opted to have it on-axis above the camera. I'd sometimes do this just on a normal light stand, and stand very slightly to the side of the light stand to photograph, but in this case I opted for a boom arm. The first advantage was not having to work round a light stand, but secondly that once balanced, the light can be moved up and down with just a light touch. This makes a huge difference to the speed of shooting when you're working with models ranging from 5'2-6'4 one after the other. You'd otherwise have to put the camera down, grip the strobe and undo the light stand, slide it up and then retighten it, before picking up the camera again, only to do it again when you realise you've moved it too much or too little.

On-axis lighting is generally very good for showing up detail, especially with a softbox, but in darker hair, it's important that you have some light to show up the detail, or else all you'll see is a falloff to black. I wanted a good soft even coverage, so a softbox (or octobox as it happened to be) was a reasonable choice. I aimed it across the line where the model would stand, so the model was effectively standing in the edge fall off from the softbox. However, flare was a potential issue, so I opted for the honeycomb style front mesh which prevented the light getting into the camera lens. It's great in this situation, although I'd never use it as a keylight, because the pattern of the mesh makes for some really ugly catch lights in the eyes.

Lastly, a reflector on the opposite side bounced some of the light back into the other side of the model's hair, giving an image with overall even lighting, but enough contrast to make it interesting, and certainly something nicer than just a digital camera shot.

To get the lighting right, I just did the old shoot and chimp routine. Firstly, I set the power on the background light, and fired off a test shot. A slight adjustment, and another test shot got that sorted.

I then did the old shoot the hand to get the light right routine, starting with the key light. I tend to leave my hands slightly darker, because I know you'll get models very pale with makeup sometimes who can end up overexposed. I then switched on the hair light softbox and did a quick test shot, adjusting so that you could hardly see the difference between the light on the front of my hand (key) and the light on the side of my hand (hair light). I then marked the floor with some gaffer tape as a note of the position where the light was right on any model. At the same time, I also taped down all the cabling. The last thing you want with dozens of folk wandering about is people tripping over cables!

I then felt that there was a little too much contrast across the background, so I opted for a wide beam spread honeycomb on the background light.

I can't show any of the photos from the shoot unfortunately, but hopefully it gives you an idea of the thought process behind creating safe lighting for this type of shoot.

One last thing - as much as I'm a fan of battery gear, this is definitely a job for mains powered strobes. You don't have to fear running short no matter how many images you take, you have the power to stop down well for very sharp images and you also have all the advantages of modelling lights, which let you visually see when the model has a nice catch light, and how the light is falling.

Here's a couple of setup shots which should make it easier to visualise everything mentioned above.


Mamunur Rasid said...
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greg said...
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Bella said...
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Headsots_LA said...

Love this present. Thanks. I appreciate you so much.

amber.miles said...
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dean.zito said...

LED Lights can be fantastic when it comes to photography as they can create a mood etc by dimming the light up, it create a mysterious feeling or a sexy romance feeling, or dim the light to its brightest for a fun and happy mood. LED'S are the closest thing to sunlight which is also great when it comes to photography as it gives off a natural look to the subject being photographed
They are also energy saving and environmentally friendly.

Paul said...

To get a perfect picture, you would need a combination of great photography lighting, good use of camera and also great retouching skills. Alot of our customers believe that they can get professional pictures from just one of these aspects and we always reassure them that you need a combination of a few things to get that refined look.