Archive for the ‘Lighting & Studio’ Category
Monday, March 28th, 2011
It was 16 degrees on Saturday morning, so the logical thing to do (before my afternoon shoot with Beautiful Trigger) was clearly a photo shoot in an abandoned building whose heating system was long, long out of commission. The day eventually warmed up to a balmy 20+ degrees, but inside a two-story building that gets little sun, the temperatures were probably in the teens all day. Chels was a trooper: we did three different looks, although the day’s shoot was as much a scouting trip as anything else; we bounced around a ton of ideas for a possible future shoot when the weather was a bit more tolerable.
The headline shot was one of the last photos I took; the building featured some of these wall frames, this one covered in thick plastic sheeting. I had Chels press herself up against the plastic and just generally look a bit creepy; I lit her with an SB-900 to her left through a shoot-thru umbrella (it’s a fair bit out of frame and shooting nearly parallel to the plastic so as to avoid glaring reflections), and then added an SB-600 on the floor behind her, with a 1/2 CTO gel. I call this one “She is Watching” - I might do another round of processing to crush the blacks a bit and make it darker.
The first look we did was this super-colorful outfit against one of the more awesome pieces of graffiti in the building. I lit this shot with a single light, a zoomed SB-900 with a CTO gel, otherwise unmodified to give that hard shadow on the wall (this is what the scene looked like with all natural light). We worked with this look for about 15 minutes, which was all that Chels could handle given the total inappropriateness of that outfit for temperatures in the teens. After she spent twenty minutes in a car with the heat on high, we were good to go for the next look.
The next look was one that really took advantage of the frigid temperatures, as the background was a desk covered in ice and icicles. This was a three-light setup: the key light was an SB-900 camera left through a shoot-thru umbrella; the rimlight was an SB-600 behind the desk and outside the frame to the right, shooting into the frame through a 1/2 CTO gel; and the background light was an SB-800 behind Chels with, obviously, a blue gel. We worked quickly again, and I did some wide shots and some more closeup shots like the one below; the only challenge was that at my settings, the SB-800 was on full power and its batteries weren’t doing so well in the cold. So I got a lot of shots where the blue background light is much weaker than I would have liked, despite my shooting somewhat slower than normal to try to allow the SB-800 to recharge between shots.
And then we went to the final look, in which Chels kept her warm coat on. Some of these shots are really my favorites from the shoot; I really like both the headline shot and the shot just above, yet they have completely different feels. The headline shot feels very creepy to me, while the above shot feels almost warm and cozy, despite the stark wood, wire and duct tape setting.
In any case, there were at least 5-6 other ideas we had for good shots in that location that we just didn’t get to do because it was too cold. I’ll look forward to working with Chels and with that building again sometime.
Sunday, March 27th, 2011
Back in November, I did a live shoot with Minneapolis rockers Beautiful Trigger, the products of which are now prominently featured on their website. Yesterday, I spent another few hours with them doing some promo shots. We started off in a big empty lobby to do some classic brick-wall shots, although I did my best to make the brick wall look at least a tiny bit interesting. We then moved to nearby Club Jäger, who with basically no notice beforehand, graciously allowed us free reign of the entire bar for more than two hours. (Admittedly, given that it was mid-afternoon on Saturday, they had very little business other than the band, who kept the drinks and food flowing through most of the shoot.)
In the lobby, I attempted to give a tiny bit of visual interest to the brick wall by shooting a gelled Speedlight onto it through a stack of chairs. This give a hint of color and pattern to the wall and was a nice complement to a warm rimlight - another Speedlight set up with a 1/2 CTO gel on the opposite side of the band as the background light. The key light was my White Lightning X1600 with a 30-degree grid, up high and slightly camera left.
After these “boring” standard shots, our first shooting spot in Club Jäger was a simple booth, made a bit more interesting through the use of Carly’s prop, the dirty martini. (Which was actually just water with some olives in it, don’t tell anyone.) That’s the headline shot above. We then crammed into the tiny men’s bathroom, where I broke out the 14mm action and took some truly ridiculous shots. The idea was to get chaotic, with heads and limbs everywhere, and I think we succeeded. Lighting such a tiny space well was a real challenge. I ended up firing my SB-900 into a shoot-through umbrella pointed straight up at the ceiling, which was a nice reflective silver. I added an SB-600 clamped to the wall on the left, pointed down at the band, and put an SB-600 inside the stall on the right with a blue gel just to add a touch of color to the background. While I’m not convinced this was the best possible solution, for something I came up with in 5 minutes or so I think it ended up working pretty well.
The final set of shots was done at the bar; the bar staff unhesitatingly let me set up two Speedlights with big umbrellas behind the bar, which was very, very nice of them. For these I set up the umbrellas as bounce umbrellas instead of shoot-throughs, which I almost never think to do; but in this case, needing to light a fairly wide area, the choice was sound. Both Speedlights had full CTO gels on them in an attempt to turn the window light a bit blue. The band’s promo girls joined us for this shot:
A few more of these are over at Flickr.
Monday, March 14th, 2011
On Saturday I shot a Lords of Acid show and had the chance to do a portrait with them before their set. The only problem was, the club (Ground Zero in Minneapolis) has no backstage, no green room, nothing. I ran into a similar problem when I did a portrait of Epica in the parking lot of Jaxx, which also has no backstage. But that was in Virginia, and even though it was January, it wasn’t 5 degrees outside like it was here on Saturday. There was no chance of an outdoor portrait this time!
So, with the help of the Lords’ awesome tour manager, Dink, we cooked up a scheme to do a super-quick shoot in the entryway of the club as the band was coming inside to start their set. That involved getting some help from security to make sure no one was coming in or out of the club during the shoot - which meant I would have 5 minutes at the most. As the last opening band, Angelspit (who, incidentally, were absolutely awesome to shoot), got into the latter part of their set, I escaped to the entryway to concoct the three-light setup that resulted in the headline shot above.
That setup consisted of an SB-600 main light at immediate camera left, with a full CTO and a shoot-through umbrella, an SB-800 fill light at camera right with a half CTO, and an SB-600 background light far camera left (i.e., down the hall) unmodified, with the diffusion panel on. The main light was a 1/2 power; the other two were at 1/16 power.
The band’s setlist involved a one-song instrumental intro before their vocalist and frontwoman, DJ Mea, took the stage, so I got in a few extra shots with her while the rest of the band played the first song, with the exact same lighting setup, although the background light doesn’t come into play here, obviously:
And then I shot most of the show. My favorite subject was the bassist, Murv3, who was all over the place and jumped around like a pogo stick. Here are a few of my favorites, plus a couple from the aforementioned openers Angelspit.
Full set at Flickr, including shots of the two other openers, Thought Thieves and the very bizarre-looking Radical G.
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
I’ll interrupt the best-of-2010 posts for one quick “new work” post - I’m almost done processing all those photos from Iceland I never got around to, so the retrospective will resume shortly.
On Monday I did a quick promotional shoot with Lindy Gabriel, leader of local hard-rock band Gabriel and the Apocalypse, in which I busted out my brand-new (used) Nikon 85mm f/1.4D for the first time in a controlled studio environment. The above was probably my favorite shot from the session, a very simple headshot that the super shallow depth of field really makes pop; Lindy’s eyes and lips are in focus, and that’s about it. In terms of lighting, it doesn’t get much simpler. I used a single White Lightning X1600 monolight for this one; it’s set up with a large softbox at camera left, and it’s cranked all the way down to 1/128 power to enable me to shoot wide open at f/1.4.
Thursday, December 30th, 2010
I never got around to posting about my last portrait shoot of the summer (and, as it would turn out, the year), since shortly after it happened I moved, got married, went to Iceland for two weeks, and then moved again. So here’s the belated report. I worked with April Christina, a fantastic model in Maryland, at a great location she found at Savage Mill, MD - an old textile mill that’s been converted into an upscale shopping mall. Next to the shopping mall, though, there is a stream with some old mill ruins that haven’t been taken down or turned into a tourist attraction or anything. They’re just sitting there - a perfect spot for photography.
For our first look we used the interior of the ruins and mostly natural light. The headline shot is all soft, diffuse natural light - it was a nice, cloudy day that was perfect for this sort of thing. The shot immediately above is taken within the ruins, so I needed a single speedlight at camera left to get the exposure right (ambient underexposed by a little less than a stop or so, if I’m remembering correctly). My light was completely unmodified and set to a moderate zoom. A similar shot that shows a bit more of the environment can be seen here.
We did a few looks in the ruins, but it wasn’t too long before a police officer noticed my flashes going off, came to investigate, and kicked us out. He was perfectly nice about it but noted that we were trespassing on private mall property. We would be allowed, he said, to shoot anywhere else on the mall, but the ruins were off limits. So we moved to this weird little courtyard outside the mall, April changed, and we used the semi-industrial windows as a new background. We did a bunch of variations of the above shot, lit simply with a single speedlight at camera left and a shoot-through umbrella.
Nearby were some neat rock formations, which we put to use as in the above shot. By this time it was pretty much totally dark outside; for the main light in this photo I had a speedlight at camera right zoomed to 85mm. A bit of an accent light comes from a speedlight at camera left gelled with a CTO, snooted, and aimed at April’s face.
Finally, for one last set of shots, April changed again, ruined her makeup, and went for a bit of a burned-out look. Some strange metallic structures supporting a deck made an appropriate background for this look. Again, this was a super simple lighting setup, just a single speedlight camera left with a shoot-through umbrella.
For the most part, at this shoot I let April do the hard work, and she really came through. My lighting schemes were simple and straightforward; I didn’t do anything fancy or particularly artsy. While I wish I’d come up with something a bit more creative, we still got some shots I’m happy with. I’d love another chance to shoot within those ruins; unfortunately, I’ve moved out of the area and apparently the ruins are supposed to be off-limits anyway. But if I do get another chance, I’d take it - there are some great elements to work with in there.
Sunday, June 20th, 2010
I’ve wanted to shoot in Baltimore’s Carroll Park for some time now. This park is in southern Baltimore and features an abandoned train, a burned-out bathhouse, a colonial mansion, and lots of gnarled trees. There’s literally too much awesome stuff there to use in a single shoot. Maryland Deathfest provided me not only with some great music and great music photos, it also provided me with a model willing to shoot in Carroll Park.
We went through a few looks, from the soft, natural-light styling shown in the headline photo to the two shots below, where Cara put her death-metal wardrobe to use and I put a couple of those gnarly trees to use. These were shot with a single SB-800 on or near full power, with no modifiers. I was at ISO LO 1.0 and a high shutter speed to underexpose the ambient as much as possible - in particular, I wanted some nice contrast in the clouds (we lucked out with a cloudy day; a sunny day would have made these photos way less interesting). The first shot is taken at 14mm, and even that wasn’t wide enough to capture the whole scene. I went a little tighter for the second shot, which is taken at 24mm.
And one last shot. This photo was something of a happy accident. I don’t actually think it’s that great of a photo, but in my post-processing I managed to make it pop like no other portrait I’ve ever done. At the root of it is an aggressive, high-contrast black & white conversion. Making Cara’s skin almost white isn’t something I’d do with most people, but it works for her, and her black hair and shirt are perfect contrasts. After the black & white conversion was some funky selective sharpening and local contrast adjustments that make the hair and eyes in particular seem to jump out of the frame. I only wish the original photo was a bit better!
There are a few more of these in this set over at Flickr.
Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
I first heard Holly Miranda opening for Tegan and Sara back in February. I enjoyed her opening set as much as, or more than, the headliners, and bought her album when it came out a few days later. I liked it enough to go back for more when Holly and her band returned to DC, this time in the much more intimate confines of the Black Cat backstage.
I did a quick portrait shoot with Holly before the show; luckily, I had the chance to take a lot of time scouting a good location and setting up a lighting treatment while the band was soundchecking. I came up with a three-light setup using a bunch of folding tables sitting in a freight elevator as my background. In this first shot, I’m nuking the ambient light with an SB-800 through a 1/4″ grid spot at camera right aimed at Holly’s face; this is more or less the main light. For fill I used an SB-600 with a shoot-through umbrella and a 1/2 CTB gel at high camera left; finally, lighting the background is an SB-600 through a blue gel (primary blue, not CTB), flagged to prevent flare into the camera lens.
Holly said, “I like creepy,” and so I also did this:
Here, I exposed to bring the ambient way up, though I still intentionally underexposed by over 2 stops and then brought it up further in post to give it a particularly gritty feel. The only strobe that’s really in play is the SB-800, which provides a bit of clean light on her face and upper body. There’s a bit of light from the background SB-600 as well to keep everything from becoming a total orange wash.
And, bonus! Holly tweeted a photo of me taking this shot. The lesson to learn from this (other than, to take interesting photos, get on the floor!): notice the roll of black gaffer’s tape on the stool next to me. This is maybe the key piece of gear at every shoot, aside from the camera and the lights. Never leave home without it!
I also shot the show, of course, and while the Black Cat’s lighting doesn’t compare to the Warner Theatre’s (I got some seriously gorgeous photos from that show), I still got some decent stuff and the performance was fantastic. I wrote a few words about it over at the City Paper.
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for a photo shoot than the line of three abandoned train cars that Jamie took me to near Fredericksburg, VA. We got started around 6pm, with a couple hours of glorious setting sunlight, and I shot a number of looks that emphasized location over model - which is often (but not always) my style when shooting portraits like these. The above shot is by far my favorite, with the golden sun warming up the red traincar and a touch of cloud to give the sky some interest. Jamie is lit by a single unmodified SB-800 just outside the left edge of the frame, at something like 1/8th power.
Although one generally associates abandoned industrial equipment with rust and decay, there was no shortage of bold color to take advantage of at this particular location. This one is a simple portrait lit by a White Lightning X1600 through a large softbox at high camera left. Don’t remember the power setting. The idea here was simple: use the colors of the background to make an otherwise run of the mill headshot a bit more interesting.
Then, after the sun set, we went for one last look, with Jamie putting on her trademark angel wings. I was trying to get a shot where my main light would cast the shadow of her with the wings against the traincar. But, I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish this without blowing out the details on Jamie herself. So I went for a different strategy, and this resulted in probably the shot I’m proudest of out of the session, even if it isn’t my favorite. The above photo is lit by two light sources: the White Lightning X1600 at low camera right, and an umbrella’d SB-800 with a 1/4 CTO at camera left.
The catch is, I didn’t actually trigger the X1600 strobe - instead, I used the modeling light at full power as a continuous hot light, dragging the shutter for 5 full seconds to get the exposure on the train. Jamie herself is lit by the SB-800, which was set high enough (again, don’t remember the power, sorry) to overpower that modeling light and freeze any movement in her and her angel wings, giving a nice sharpness to that part of the photo while the train blurs out and almost looks like it’s moving behind her.
All told, I do wish I’d come away from the session with more good photos - it should have been a cakewalk given the amazing location and talented model. But this is why I keep practicing!
Friday, March 26th, 2010
It was 75 degrees and sunny, with just a little breeze, on Wednesday - perfect conditions for an outdoor portrait shoot. I spent a few hours shooting with Crystal in central Virginia, starting out in mid-afternoon, when we found some great open-shade spots and I shot purely with available light; and going on into early evening, when we went to a nearby park and I did some balanced flash/ambient work. Four outfits, four hours, and seven or eight locations later, we came away with a varied set of shots that I think we’re both very happy with.
The headline shot above was done with a 35/1.8 DX lens on my full-frame camera. I’m really loving this lens mismatched onto my D700. The slight vignetting gives a nice feel in certain situations, and the quality of the bokeh is remarkable for such a cheap, plastic-fantastic lens. Here’s another one with that lens, also available light only; in this one I actually exaggerated the vignetting a bit in post:
For these available-light shots I was really looking for color. When we started, I wanted to find a great background color that would contrast with both Crystal’s blond hair and her pink shirt, and it occurred to me that green grass might work great. (This shot shows the color contrast better.) Later, we were near an Amtrak station with colorful walls and doors, and even though I wasn’t sure the background color in the shot above was going to work with her hair color and skin tone, we shot it anyway - and I’m glad we did. The colors complement each other and the photo still pops, rather than it all looking washed-out and monochrome.
Moving into the late afternoon and evening, the sun went behind some clouds and we got some great, soft natural light as we shifted location to a nearby park. We found a dome-shaped jungle gym and I set up my White Lightning monolight with a large softbox, and got some great stuff. First a simple portrait:
Quality of light from the softbox is great. Balancing the exposure was a bit tricky: I needed to use a low power so that I could shoot wide-open and blur the background, but I also needed enough power to underexpose the ambient at least by a little bit. I ended up at about 1/32nd power, shooting at f/2.8 and 1/500 sec, a full stop above the max sync speed. There’s a darker band in the lower part of the frame that I’m pretty sure was caused by shooting above the sync speed. From that dark band (which I admittedly lightened up a bit in post) you can see that the strobe wasn’t adding that much to the exposure, but definitely enough to make the colors pop and put those all-important catchlights in the eyes. I certainly could have shot this with just ambient light, but it wouldn’t have been as good a shot.
Then, we got a little more adventurous and ended up with one of my favorite shots of the day:
Again, a mix of ambient and flash, with the flash serving mostly to add a bit of pop to the photo, especially in terms of detail in Crystal’s hair. The X1600 was at camera right, with the softbox positioned such that the light was feathered off Crystal’s lower body a bit - because her face was further from the light than her legs, I had to do this to make sure the light falling on her from the flash was relatively even. This was the second-to-last shot I took at this location; I looked at it in the LCD and knew that I’d gotten what I wanted.
On to the final location: the lake! This was a beautiful lake with the sun setting in a perfect spot for us to take advantage of it. It wasn’t a spectacular sunset by any means, but the orange tones reflecting off the water still gave us some great stuff to work with:
What really makes this shot, of course, aside from Crystal herself, are the ripples. The water was so amazingly calm that any time Crystal moved it caused perfect concentric circles to radiate out from her. That’s what made me shoot this with such a wide angle: Crystal is obviously the main subject, but the ripples themselves are a secondary one, with the sunset a distant third.
This shot was lit with my SB-800 through a quarter cut of CTO and a shoot-through umbrella. I had the light mounted on a stand but it was too far away from Crystal to get enough light onto her (I’d left the X1600 and Vagabond in the car because I thought it would have been too much of a pain to lug it down to the lake - I probably should have sucked it up). So what I ended up having to do is actually hold the lightstand with my left hand, such that the flash was positioned at high camera left and aimed down onto Crystal and the water in front of her, while shooting with my right hand. This was pretty tiring, but I wasn’t complaining because, after all, I wasn’t the one getting wet! Anyway, using this contortionism I managed to get satisfactory exposures at quarter power on my SB-800, though in retrospect I should have bumped that up by about a stop.
And one more; Crystal dunked herself almost all the way into the water and we shot a few more frames with her coming up out of it, splashing water around a bit, etc. None of these worked quite as well as I had hoped, mostly because I needed more flash power. We actually should have waited about half an hour before working with the sunset, as I needed there to be a bit less ambient light to pull off what I was going for using just a speedlight. Oh well - still definitely made some photos I’m happy with!
Thursday, March 25th, 2010
Last week I was sent by the Washington City Paper to cover the opening night of the brand-new U Street Music Hall. However, the owners of the club are not allowing any photography during their events, which made my task a bit more challenging. Instead of shooting the actual opening night, I showed up before doors to do a quick portrait of the owners, local DJs Will Eastman and Jesse Tittsworth. I had an idea of using a gridded light on them in the middle of the dance floor, with a logo or light show in the background.
When I got there it was clear that this was going to work nicely: there was indeed a lit logo I could use as a background; even better, there was a large stepladder sitting in the middle of the floor that I could use to get a nice high angle on the two DJs and the shadows that they would cast from my light. I didn’t actually grid it, just zoomed it a bit; and after a bit of deliberation I also added two SB-600s to the exposure. Even before it opened, U Street Music Hall was becoming known for an incredible sound system, and I highlighted this a bit by using my SB-600s to paint a little light on the two speakers at the base of the stage. In the above shot they’re not fully visible, but a horizontal version of the photo ran in the City Paper, and without that additional light the sides of the photos would have gone totally dark and boring.