Friday, November 28, 2014

Rembrandt Lighting

Perhaps no other artist on the face of the planet has inspired and influenced the work of countless photographers so much as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn or who we commonly refer to as just Rembrandt.  There's a reason this guy is referred to as a master (I declined to use the word old) and he even has a lighting technique named after him!

The good thing is for us photographers is that its a pretty simple technique to get down in that you only need one light to pull it off.  You may need a few other things but those can be acquired cheaply.  Rembrandt's light emulates soft, afternoon or morning light, with usually warm tones, coming from a window to the side of the model.  There are tons of interpretations but in a nutshell, that's pretty much it.

Recently, English portrait and fashion photographer Rankin did a series of portraits in the style of Rembrandt.  There are two, really good behind the scenes videos of the shoots at the bottom of this post.  I was inspired by these to try to do a Rembrandt style 'selfie'.

For the portrait at the top of the post, I used an Alien Bees B800 in a medium size, gridded softbox to light the portrait.  I wanted to use a square-ish shaped softbox to better emulate window light and had to use the grid because I was shooting in my home 'studio' which is fairly small and has white ceilings and light gray walls.  If I didn't use the grid there was simply too much fill light all over the place which lessened the look of Rembrandt lighting.

Another thing to note is that I found that I got the best look by having the softbox raised as high as a standard window might be, maybe a little higher and placed about three feet out in front of me.  By placing the light out in front of me instead of directly to the side, the light wrapped the shadow side of my face better giving that little, upside down triangle of light (which is a signature look of Rembrandt's) on my camera right cheek.

The other adjustment I had to make was that since my walls are light gray and the room is fairly small, I had to place a black sheet to camera right of me.  This made the light fall off more appropriate and reduced the fill light considerably.  I simply held this up with a stand and a boom arm reflector holder.  You can see my full set up in the iPhone pic below... (note that in the pic below, my softbox looks very close to the back, but in all actuality is probably 4-5 feet away from the background)

Something else that really added to the look of a Rembrandt portrait is the background.  I have a distressed/mottled gray muslin that really does have that look of an old master's painting.  I picked mine up at a local camera store called Murphy's camera but I'm sure you can find these elsewhere as well.  I didn't use a separate light for the background since the softbox I used for my main light spilled a little light on the background.  You could very easily light the background separately though if you wanted to.

One last thing that really added to this look was my white balance setting.  Now this is something you can easily do in Photoshop or most post processing tools but I really like to have as close to a finished image in my camera as possible, so I chose to set the white balance in camera.  All I did was set my white balance to 'flash'.  This warmed the whole scene up considerably, so much so that I actually reduced it in post a bit.  This definitely was the finishing move to get this look though.

As far as post work goes, I just reduced the warm tones that were a result of my white balance settings, I burned a few areas of the image down, and reduced the depth of field with an opacity layer and a gaussian blur.  Only took a few minutes for these edits and if I was a little better at editing, I would have tried to make the portrait look more like a painting.  Ah well, gives me something else to work on. ;)

Again, this is a pretty easy technique to get down and such a cool, iconic look.  I wish I had some period clothes to wear for this. ;)

Below is the link to the videos of photographer Rankin doing his Rembrandt sessions...

Rankin shoots Rembrandt Video 1 of 2
Rankin shoots Rembrandt Video 2 of 2

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lighting Shiny Objects

Masonic Ring

Every once in a while its good to step out of your comfort zone and try something new, which is exactly what I did with the photo of this ring.  It proved to be a little more tricky than I would have previously imagined.

I don't often shoot macro photography simply because I don't really have an eye for it and my vision isn't that good in regards to really small objects.  Another reason is that I don't own a good macro lens so to do this shot, I had to borrow one from a friend.  I tried shooting this with several of my "regular" lenses but they just couldn't bring out the detail or I couldn't get close enough, leaving a huge field of space around the ring.  I ended up shooting this with the Nikon 105mm Micro lens which rendered incredible detail and is very sharp, which leads me to my next issue...

When shooting products like a shiny ring on glass with a macro lens, be prepared to do some significant editing to remove all of the blemishes, dust particles, smudges etc.  I cleaned the pane of glass the ring was sitting on at least three times, polished the ring several times and still had to spend 20 minutes or so in Photoshop to clean up the image.  The lens I used not only produced a very sharp image but it was also very highly detailed... meaning it shows up everything!  So, when doing these types of shots, much like shooting wine glasses or beer bottles, make sure your surface and your subject is as absolutely as clean as possible.

Another tip I discovered when shooting detailed, macro images like this is, you have to use manual focus.  I tried letting the camera focus this for me but it consistently missed the area I wanted to be the sharpest.  This could have simply been user error on my part but I found by manually focusing, I was able to get the sharpest part of the image where I wanted it.

On to the lighting.  Once I had my camera locked down on a tripod with the image framed and focused how I wanted it, I was ready to bring in the lights.  When shooting something like this, you are essentially photographing reflections.  The polished, stainless steel surface literally reflects everything that is around it back to the camera so a little diligence is needed to get the best image.  So instead of placing a light source to the side like I would normally do with other items, I placed a Nikon SB-910 in a Westcott Apollo strip box and boomed it directly overhead of the ring and slightly in front of the ring.  This gave me a nice highlight across the top and a good light source that I could reflect back in to the ring.  To get those white highlights (reflections) on the sides of the ring, I simply used pieces of regular white copy paper.  I folded the pieces in half so I could stand them up, then simply moved them around, while taking test photos, until I placed the highlights where I wanted them.  After getting these positioned where I needed them, another problem presented itself.

The Masonic emblem on the ring is an etching which is basically a light gray tone.  If I lit that part of the ring or reflected light back in to that area it washed it out where it was almost not noticeable.  So to bring out the detail in the emblem, I used an 8.5" by 11" piece of black foam core held directly above the lens which created the dark area around the emblem and made it stand out.  Problem solved.

So I took a few more test shots (all in all, it took about 15 shots before I ended up with a final image I was happy with) and started to notice another issue.  In every image in the dark area around the emblem I noticed a pink-ish highlight.  I had the overhead lights in the room turned off so I couldn't figure out where this highlight was coming from then it donned on me... that pink-ish highlight was the big, dumb photographer standing behind the camera!!  Now I could have easily taken this out in post but as always, I'm not happy until I can get as perfect of an image in camera as I can so I had to figure out how to conceal myself from reflecting in the ring.  This could have been done in a myriad of ways but my solution was to use another black card, this one was 2 feet by 3 feet, positioned in front of my tripod.  That was just enough to hide to me from reflecting in the ring.

I had the ring resting on a pane of glass because I wanted a nice reflection of it.  Sometimes a reflection can give an image a little sense of place as opposed to just floating in the composition.  Another reason I chose to light this on a pane of glass is that it enables me to light the ring and the background separately.  I had a gray background hanging on the wall behind the ring and simply placed an unmodified Nikon SB-800 on the ground, directly below the ring and pointed to the background.  I also zoomed the head of that flash because I wanted a spot of light behind the ring as opposed to even coverage.  In the image below you can see how much light this was contributing to the final image at the top of the post and how it doesn't effect the light on the ring itself (I had that light turned off).

One other tidbit of information for Nikon CLS users is that since I was using the pop-up flash to trigger the other two off camera flashes, the pop-up flash does emit a little pulse of light to trigger the others.  Normally, this pulse of light doesn't show up in images but when shooting something highly reflective, it most definitely will, so to conceal that light, I simply used the hand held piece of black foam core I was using to add the dark area around the Masonic emblem to also shield the pulse of light from the pop-up flash.  Since I was shooting indoors, I still had no problems getting that light to trigger the others, even with my main flash being buried inside of the strip box.

To the right is an iPhone image of my entire setup except for the smaller piece of black foam core I was hand holding above the lens.  Its a pretty simple layout really, but it took a little thought to get to that point.

I'd like to note this most definitely is not the only way to achieve the shot at the top of the post, its simply how I chose to do it with the gear I have.  I hope this helps if you have some shiny objects that you'd like to photograph and light, but if you have any questions, just sound off in the comments!

As always, you can click on any image for a larger view!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Ballerina Project

Spanning the Bridge

Doing personal projects as a photographer has many benefits.  One, it keeps you interested in shooting when some of the other jobs you do, might not be exactly, your own cup of tea.  Sure its better to be photographing almost anything if that's your passion but you don't always get to shoot the things you really want to be shooting, so personal projects can alleviate that and keep the passion flowing.

Another reason is, to get your work out to a different audience than you might otherwise do with commissioned work.  A few of my personal projects have led to some good exposure that opened up other opportunities for me.

Perhaps the best reason is... its fun!!!  Which brings me to round number two of a personal project I've been working on with the incredibly talented Amelia Gandara.  Amelia is a professionally trained ballet dancer and was also Miss University of Louisville 2013, in addition to being an incredibly intelligent woman too!  I've long had a fascination with ballet dancers and after seeing a few photos of Amelia years ago, I had the idea to photograph her doing classic ballet moves, but in an urban environment.  Since she was Miss UofL I thought what might be a great idea was to photograph her in front of iconic locations in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is the second round of this project, which is an ongoing effort to chronicle her skills and abilities throughout the great city of Louisville until we've knocked out every significant location we can think of... or get access to!

Choosing locations in Louisville is no easy task, simply because there are so many great venues to choose from.  The first location we shot at, was across the street from the 21C Hotel and Museum.  Not only is this one of the top ranked hotels in Louisville, but it also has an amazing art gallery of contemporary works and an award winning restaurant.  Driving by this location some time ago, you might not have noticed it, but with the addition of this gold statue of David out front, its pretty hard to miss and has become a pretty noticeable location in downtown...

Dancing with the Gilded Man

This photo was simply lit with an off camera flash to camera left in a shoot through, white umbrella.  The hard part to this shot was timing the traffic flowing down Main Street, and catching Amelia in the right part of the frame to make the shot work.  I couldn't have gotten this shot so easily (or any of the other photos in this project) without the assistance of fellow photographer, Don Lehman.

ReflectorOur next spot was the Kentucky Science Center.  Right out front of the entrance, they have this gigantic parabolic reflector and I knew I had to do something cool with this.  I quickly set up an off camera flash to camera left with no modifiers to test the light and shot a few frames.  The shots were ok, however not being one to give in easy on any location I thought it could use something else.  So I placed another off camera flash with a blue gel directly behind Amelia and just let it cascade blue light throughout the reflector.  The only hard part to this shot was hiding the light behind her and not having it flare the camera.  Of course when I say the 'the only hard part', I'm referring to what is hard for me.  If you think its easy to stand on your toes and strike such a beautiful pose as Amelia is, you obviously haven't tried it.  I did have to remove the feet of the light stand behind her in Photoshop.

With any of these photos, you can simply click on them for a larger view.

Louisville SluggerMoving on down the street we came to probably one of the most notable places in Louisville, the Louisville Slugger Museum.  This is where the world famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats are made and they have a museum full of baseball history and memorabilia that any fan is sure to love.  What is so noticeable about this location is the gigantic bat outside.  It is the world's largest bat at 120 feet tall and weighing in at 68,000 pounds!!

For this shot, the sun was coming down hard from camera right so I knew I would need some significant light to not let Amelia fall in to shaded darkness.  So, I placed a bare flash camera left at full power to just fill the shadow side of her.  Had I used a softbox or umbrella, I wouldn't have enough power to light her sufficiently.  In this case it worked.

Another thing to note is, that with every single location we worked in, Amelia and I were able to work with the environment to create a pose or move that accentuated or at the very least worked with the composition.  Each location had its own subtle differences so one pose that worked well in one location, might not do the same in another.  Those little differences can make or break an image.

In our efforts to find cool locations, we decided to look for higher ground.  I was wanting to do a shot of Amelia with skyline behind her (or at least part of it), so I knew we either had to get out of the city, which I was not willing to do at this point, or find a location with a wider field of view.  Cue a parking garage.  In any city, sometimes getting off the street can lead to more interesting pictures so a parking garage is always a good place to check out, just be cautious because not all parking garages will allow you take photos in them.  I *think* this was a public parking garage so we didn't have any issues... or possibly because we were there on the weekend, no one of particular authority noticed our presence. ;)

On the way up to the roof top of the garage, we noticed these cool arches above the walls and Amelia and I both thought this might be a cool background.  We parked the car, hopped out and without me even mentioning an idea, Amelia proceeded to climb up on the ledge and struck a pose.  This is highly worth mentioning, not only because its a testament to Amelia's desire to create some really cool shots, it also says something about her incredibly huge balls sense of bravery.  We were about 7 stories up in the air and that ledge was about two feet wide!!!  How's that for taking one for the cause?

I'm normally a "lighting guy" when it comes to photography but after seeing Amelia up there on that ledge and noticing her amazing form silhouetted by the sun light, I decided to not ruin what I was seeing by lighting her and instead, just shot what I saw with my eyes.  This shot was actually one of my favorites.  I wish the buildings would have worked better with this composition, but we had to work with what we had.  I don't think my assistant would have liked the idea of me asking him to move a few buildings so that we could get a better shot.

After we made it to the top of the garage, not knowing when to leave well enough alone, I had to get my trusty speedlights out for another lit portrait.  The light in this portrait was again, simply a bare speedlight to camera right and the only reasons I used it were to help freeze her motion and to simply fill in some shadows due to the ambient exposure I chose to use in camera.  Had I not used the flash, her body would have been in shadow like the area where her right foot is.

Amelia No. 14

This was essentially the shot I was after, as it showed some of the more notable buildings in downtown and also illustrated once again, Amelia's amazing athletic abilities.  To make this shot a little more awesome than it was, I simply got down on the ground to create more of an "illusion" that Amelia was soaring over the buildings.

This was an incredibly fun, second session of this project and I'm very excited our next shoot!

If you'd like to see more photos from this ongoing work, check out this album on my Flickr page!


Friday, February 14, 2014

What Makes a Photo Great?

How do you know if the photo you made is great, the one, a work of art, the magnum opus?  Well, often times that's the hard part.  We all make good photos from time to time (or at least I like to think so), but what really is the difference between a good photo and a great photo?

Personally, for me, a great photo is one that will mean something to someone, and stand the test of time.  Its a photo that someone will cherish not only now, but 5, 10 and 50 years from now.  Those are the hard ones to make.  Obviously, there is all different kinds of photography with different purposes, but the ones that really wow most folks, are those that hold up over time and stick in folks' minds for many years to come.  I know there are many photos in my mind, that others have taken, that still inspire and awe me.  My personal opinion is that anyone can learn how to use a camera, and anyone can learn how to be a master at lighting or composing, these are all things that with a little effort, can be learned in a short amount of time, but finding your voice and creating an image with impact is infinitely harder.

If this is something you struggle with or would like to think about more, then you must watch the video above.  Its kinda long, but in a nutshell, Scott Kelby and Joe McNally discuss what makes a photo great.  Its hard not to walk away with useful information when listening to either of these two, but this video really resonated with me and Joe brings up several points that I think are often over looked when photographers are out snapping pics (myself very much included).

Seriously, get a good cup of coffee and sneak away from all the hustle and bustle and watch this.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Got Gloves?

Its the time of year (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) for shoveling driveways and sidewalks, scraping ice off of car windows and generally freezing our butts off.  The older I get, the more Florida sounds like an awesome place to live. :)  That being said, we have to deal with the cold and for most of us, that means bundling up with multiple layers, wearing heavy coats and hats, and donning the ever fashionable snow boots, but what about those hands?

I for one, absolutely hate wearing gloves.  You can't do anything that requires delicate touch with gloves on, nor can you really feel anything.  But this year, due to the extreme cold we've experienced (some days the highs were below freezing), I've had to re-think my opinion of gloves.  My long, skinny fingers and hands have froze to beyond numbness on more than one occasion so I broke down and bought yet another pair of winter gloves... where do they all go?  I know I've had several pairs over the years, the glove fairy must be swiping them!  This time however, thanks to my friend Chris at Outdoor Photo Gear, I got an awesome pair of gloves that solve a lot of problems for me.

These gloves are the AquaTech Sensory Gloves, and they are called that because on the index finger and thumb of each glove, there is a hole that you can slide the tips of your fingers and thumbs through, giving you the ability to have touch and feel again with your finger tips!  When you're not using the holes, there is a sleeve inside that you put your finger and thumb in to keep them warm.  You can see how this works in the photo below.  As always, you can click on any pic for a larger view...

Not only do these gloves have holes for your fingers and thumbs, they also have a really good grip thanks to all those little nubs on the palm sides.  They're also light weight, bend easily and are incredibly warm!  Another cool little bit is that they're water proof as well.  They have velcro straps on the wrists to give them a secure fit and lanyards so that you can attach them to a coat and to each other.  (Honestly though, the lanyards get in my way so I think I will be cutting them off.)

I have to say, for photographers, these are an absolute blessing!  I don't shoot in the frigid cold often, but when I do, my hands immediately go numb and I have a hard time fiddling with the shutter button and dials, but not anymore!  These are perfect for photographers because you can actually feel the shutter button and your dials with ease, all while keeping your hands toasty warm.  You can see in the shot to the right how these really help.  They also help you to maintain a better grip for zooming and focusing with your lenses.

So maybe you're not a photographer, or at least one who shoots in the cold, but there is probably something else that these gloves can help you with.  Have you ever tried to use a smart phone with a pair of gloves on?  Its maddening to nearly impossible!  Its like trying to play a piano with mittens on.  Well, with these gloves you can easily operate a touch screen smart phone (or any other phone for that matter) by having your index finger exposed.  I was even able to play a little Angry Birds with these things on... not that I'm very good anyways, but you get the point!

Again, I just wanted to say that I absolutely hate wearing gloves, but I'm wearing these now every time it gets cold out and I'm in love with them.  Also, just for the record, nobody asked me to review these and I'm not getting paid to review them.  I simply needed a pair of gloves and on my friend's suggestion, these are what I bought.  I've had them for two weeks (which is why they don't look brand new) and they are without a doubt the best pair of winter gloves I have ever owned.  Hopefully, the glove fairy won't carry these off too. ;)

Oh, they're also very affordable for the quality of the product, and you can get these online (or in the store) at Outdoor Photo Gear!  If you're a photographer, you'll love them!  If you need to use your phone in the cold, you'll appreciate how easy it is to do with these.  I wish I had a pair of these years ago.