Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't Forget to Make a Picture!

How many of you have heard the expression, "can't see the forest for the trees"?  Show of hands?  Anyone?

Well, I can tell you I've experienced that more times than not, especially when it comes to photography.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in the technical aspects of taking a photo (at least it is for me, maybe its just a guy thing).  Should I use the umbrella or the softbox?  This side or that side?  Rembrandt lighting, butterfly lighting or over and under?  There are so many possibilities when taking a photo, any photo, that your mind can miss one crucial element.   

Don't forget to make a picture!

Let me explain.  Recently I conned a friend in to sitting for me for a few portraits.  I knew exactly in my mind how I wanted to compose the shot, how I wanted to light the shot and how I wanted him to look.  I set about getting my lights set up, discussing with my friend the pose I was looking for and took a few test shots to start the session.  While I was taking them, his wife and my girlfriend were cracking a few jokes off to the side.  I was kind of annoyed by this because I was looking for a dark, brooding expression from my friend and he started cracking a little smile.  I didn't say anything at the time that this was bothering me because honestly, this shoot was all in good fun.  However, I was afraid I didn't get the look I was going for.

After I got the photos downloaded to the computer and started sorting them, I was pretty satisfied with the results, but there was one portrait where my friend was just slightly smiling and at first I didn't like it, but on further inspection I realized that his half smile is what really made this image stand out from the rest.  When you look at this image, you can't help but wonder what is on his mind and what was he thinking.  So what I thought was going to be my least favorite in the set, turned out to be my very favorite shot ...and everyone else's as well.

So my point from all this is, try to keep in focus what you are wanting to accomplish with your photograph and photography in general.  Are you wanting to convey a mood?  Are you wanting to tell something about the scene or person you are photographing?  Are you wanting to sell your image for stock?  All these questions are examples of things to think about the next time you go to press the shutter.

With portraits, I've found, its always best to try to capture some element of the person that gives the viewer something to think about or a way to connect with that person.  So the next time you are about to start a session, don't get so wrapped up in the technical aspects that you forget to see the forest for all its beauty.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Balancing Strobe with Fluorescent Lighting

For many photographers, one of the most dreaded types of lighting scenarios to run into is, mixed light, such as a blend of fluorescent and daylight, tungsten and daylight, or heaven forbid, a blend of all three.

Balancing strobe with various types of indoor lighting can be a challenge for sure. The reason is, different types of light emit different color casts. Tungsten (or incandescent) light is actually a warmish, orange hue (which honestly blends better with strobe light better than you might think) and fluorescent light puts off a sickly green hue. Most light from strobes is balanced closer to the sun, and a more true white.

If you plan on overpowering the ambient light, then you won't have any problems, but when you want to balance the ambient with strobe light, then you have to think carefully about how you do it.

First off, to determine what color the lighting is in any given room, set your white balance to sunlight and take an ambient only reading of the room. If it appears orange, then its mostly incandescent, if it appears green, then its mostly fluorescent. There are many other variations but in this post, I'm going to focus on gelling for florescents only.

I wanted to take a portrait of my co-worker in his office for a project I'm working on. His office is lit with standard fluorescent lighting with dingy, dirty screens so the ambient light in his office is, you guessed it, sickly green. So the first thing I did was to take an ambient only reading of the room. I set my white balance to sunlight, put my camera in aperture priority mode and took a quick test shot. I didn't even bother trying to compose a shot or focus, because this was a test for color only. I also told my co-worker just to continue working because these were only test shots.

Right off the bat, I can tell several things about this image.  First off, the fluorescent lighting is indeed more of a greenish hue, which I will have to correct, but also, to use the ambient in the room, I won't be able to get a good, sharp photo without a tripod or the use of flash because the shutter will be so slow that I will pick up motion blur from the subject.

So the first thing I do, is put a flash on a stand camera left, raise it about 6 feet and point the head straight up at the ceiling to bounce the light.  I want it to appear as its natural light in the room.  Then I put a 30cc window green gel on the strobe (the one that came with my Nikon SB-800), shifted the white balance to fluorescent and sped up my shutter speed about one and a half stops.  The reason I did that was, if I left my aperture and shutterspeed where I took my ambient only reading, then by adding strobe, I would have blown out a few areas in the scene.  Then I took another test shot.

In this shot you can see right away that the color looks better (not perfect) but is better and is now all the same color which will be easily adjustable in post.  If I had not gelled the flash then there would have been two color casts in the photo, green and white.  No matter how good you are in post work, this is nearly impossible to correct so getting everything the same color is important.  Another thing you will notice, by using flash, the image appears much sharper and crisp.  If I had chosen to use a tripod and no flash, the image still would not look this sharp.  The flash essentially freezes action and brings more detail to the image.

Something I noticed about this shot that I didn't like is, even though the flash is doing a good job lighting the front of the subject well, it simply doesn't have the power to light the whole room effectively and you will notice how the light fall off makes the room in the back appear darker.  This is also because I dialed my shutterspeed up from around 1/10 of a second (the ambient only exposure) to 1/30 of a second.  So to get a little more light in the background, I placed another green gelled flash on a filing cabinet in the back of the room, camera right, and bounced this one off the ceiling as well.  I dialed this flash down in power about one stop below my key light.

Now you can see in this image the overall lighting is much better and gives the feeling of a normally lit office area.  The flash doesn't call attention to itself, however the color though is still a bit greenish-blue for my tastes, but since this isn't going straight to an editor out of the camera, I can take this image and warm it up a bit in post.  If I had to use this image straight out of the camera, then it would be no big deal to simply adjust my white balance in camera to add a little more warm tones.

This is the final image for this shoot.  I warmed it just a bit in Photoshop and that was it.  I had the lighting and exposure where I wanted it, so I didn't need to do any curves, levels or contrast adjustments.  I will admit to just quickly adding a warming filter in post which was not the optimal way to do this as it warmed up areas throughout the entire photo.  If I wasn't so lazy, I would have just applied the warming filter to specific areas with a mask.

So as you can see, this was a quick and moderately easy way to include strobe in an ambient situation without creating ugly color casts.

For more information on balancing strobes with ambient, check out these article by David Hobby on the Strobist blog:

Hope this helps you the next time you have some ugly, green light to wrangle!


Monday, January 18, 2010

52 Faces in 2010

Vince No. 21

I haven't blogged since last year! Good grief.

I've always said that goals are important, big and small. They give you something to work towards, and to look forward to. My mind seems to work best when its always looking ahead so I always try to have something (however small) lined up on my horizon.

One of my goals this year is to become a more intuitive lighting photographer. What I mean by that is, I'm going to be working very hard at letting my subject determine my lighting technique, not what I'm comfortable doing the most. Once you learn a few techniques that work for you, its easy to go out and do the same shots over and over again because you're comfortable with the technique and know its going to work every time least that's been the case with me.

So, in an effort to improve my own skills, I have vowed to not use the umbrella'd strobe camera left with the kicker camera right rear, for every single shot. Instead, I plan on packing my usual weapons of choice, and should I decide to use them, or only one of them, or not at all, then so be it. I'm after a good, resonating portrait ...regardless of the 'style' of light.

In an endeavor to help me with this goal, I joined a group on Flickr called 52 Faces of 2010 in which you take one portrait, every week, for 52 weeks in a row. So far I have taken two portraits, a self-y and one of my girlfriend's oldest son. You can follow my project HERE, and with any luck (and an ounce of motivation) I may come up with a few interesting words on what drove me to shoot the portrait the way I did.

Artistic note: the above portrait was shot purposefully from a wide angle, and up close to distort the perspective and view. This guy does not have one huge, behemoth right hand.


P.S, if anyone is needing a new, classy headshot for their portfolio, blog or Facebook profile, hit me up ...I may be scrounging models that aren't job related.