Happy Monday everybody. I’m sharing one of my favorite portrait lighting set-ups – one that creates lots of drama and shadows yet it’s super easy to set-up.
Above: We’re using just one light — an Elinchrom ELC 500 strobe (but this technique will also work, or course, with a Canon, Nikon, Phottix, etc. flash as well), with an Elinchrom Rotalux “Deep Octa” softbox here (but you can do this technique with whichever softbox you have). It’s not so much the type of softbox — it’s how you position it. The key to this technique is putting your softbox way up high — a bit in front of your subject, and aiming down at your subject at a really steep angle, almost like it’s a shower head.
Why does the background look black? You can see there’s a 5′ wide roll of gray seamless paper behind her — so why does the background look black? It’s because there’s no light hitting that background at all. The light is literally aiming down at the floor, and since she’s not too close to the background, no light makes it back there at all, and the background turns solid black.
Above: When you have this light way over to one side like this, you’ll have to remember to tell your subject to “play towards that light.” If they turn the other way, you’ll get a really well-lit shot of their ear. You can see the position of the light pretty well in this example, and how I’ve had our subject turn toward her body toward the light.
Camera Settings As far as camera settings go: I’m in Manual mode (as always when shooting flash), with my Shutter Speed at my standard 1/125 of a second, my ISO at 100 (I always try and use my lowest native ISO when shooting flash to get the cleanest shots possible), and my f/stop was f/6.3. I’m using my go-to lens for portraits, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, and I stand back and zoom in tight to take full advantage of the lens compression (I feel it’s much more flattering for portraits).
Above: Here’s another view of the set-up, just so you can clearly see the placement.
Well, there ya have it. I hope you give this one a try. :)
Got 30-seconds? If you want to really dig in further on this type of lighting, (including adding a 2nd light, and some really helpful accessories) I did an entire course on this type of dramatic lighting – but using a regular rectangular softbox (I’m putting the official trailer below – it’s just 30-seconds – hope you’ll give it a quick look).
Hi gang. I’m happy to report that last weekend I found a new source for V-flats here in the US, and the price is right and you can find them in 65 locations (mostly in the Central and Northeast, South, and everywhere out West), and when I show behind-the-scenes shots using them, I always get asked about where to get them.
In the past, it was “Find a local sign store” but a lot of folks were kind of reticent about going into a sign store and asking for ‘Gator Board,” so I’m glad I found this new source. First, let’s look at what a V-flat even is.
Above:Here they are on either side of our model. It’s two large 4-foot x 8’foot panels that you put up against each other (like two swinging doors in a saloon) and then you simply run a 3″ piece of white Gaffer’s tape (you can find white Gaff at B&H) from the top to bottom of the seam, and you’ve got a V-flat. The main reason we like a “V-shape” is that it can hold itself up when positioned in the shape of a “V” or “L” (where they are pretty much “L’s”).
Above: Here’s what they look like from behind (from a different shoot on a different day). But you can see how the “V” set-up keeps them standing in place. You can also see the seam (on her right) where you tape right down the seam with Gaffer’s tape.
Above:Here’s what the final images look like, fully lit with help from those V-flats.
Now, onto our source:
Above: I was taking my wife Kalebra and our daughter (we call her “Yittle”) for a day of artistic shopping fun to “Blick” — an awesome nationwide art supply store, and in the back of the store, I found this nice collection of foamboard, in solid white or black. This is a shot of the Blick in Tampa, Florida.
Above: Look at this! It’s the exact 4-foot x 8-foot sheets we’ve been dreaming of!!!
Above:The price for the 4-foot x 8-foot board isn’t bad — just $34.99 (and you’d need two of them), so $69.98 and you’ve got yourself a V-flat (although I showed using two — one on each side, in the examples above, I generally just use one unless I’m shooting full-length fashion, in which in some cases I build that “tunnel” with a V-flat on either side.
The official name of the store is “Dick Blick” (stop snickering) and to see if there’s one near you, head over to their official website (there are 65 stores in the US, so there might be one near you, unless you live in Texas, Oklahoma, a Dakota, or Alaska, or a few other midwestern states that are V-flat deprived).
Hi everybody and happy Friday. I was taping a segment to a new class I’m doing — a follow-up to my “Just One Flash” called (wait for it…wait for it…) “Just one more flash.”
Anyway, when the taping was over, I wanted to try something a little different portrait wise (well for me anyway), so I did a very simple portrait where the goal was to try and give it a window light look, and I thought I’d share the final image, some behind-the-scenes shots, and talk a little about camera settings and post processing. I’ll do that all in the captions below.
Above:Here’s the final image.
Above: Here’s an over the shoulder view of my shooting rig. I’m using a Canon 5D Mark III with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (my go-to lens for portraits). My camera is tethered into Lightroom CC on my laptop using a 15′ TetherPro USB cable from Tethertools. It’s supported on a Really Right Stuff tripod with a TethertoolsRock Solid Tripod Crossbar; an Aero Table, and the strap that keeps my laptop from sliding around is an “Aero Secure Strap” and you can’t see it in this photo, but my tripod is on a rolling rig that is designed to let you easily roll the whole thing called a Rock Solid Tripod Roller.
Above:Here’s a clean view of the lighting set-up. I used just one Elinchrom ELC 500, and put it close enough to the cloth backdrop that some of the light would spill onto the backdrop. I didn’t want a bunch of light because I wanted kind of a dramatic portrait, but I needed a little spill. You can see from the shot above that my subject is seated way at the back of the softbox (a technique called feathering where your subject is far away from the hotspot in the center of the light).
Above:The softbox I used was an Elinchrom 53″ midi-octa, which is kind of my go-to big octa for portraits (and it’s not too expensive considering how awesome it is. B&H Photo has ’em for $324).
SETTINGS: I had the power of the Strobe pretty low because it was so close to my subject (less than 18-inches and at times less a foot). My camera was in Manual mode, with my shutter speed at that nice happy 1/125 of a second; my f/stop was f/9; and my ISO at 100 (the cleanest native ISO for my camera). Just one single light, and some simple very repeatable settings for a set-up like this.
Above: I started in Photoshop doing some standard portrait retouching stuff (removing blemishes, some skin work, a little work on the whites of her eyes and her iris – pretty minor stuff overall).
I’m embarrassed to tell you how easy the rest was — I opened MacPhun’s Luminar plug-in; I went to their Presets (I have my own set-up presets you can get from MacPhun), but I actually wound up going with one of their built-in Portrait Presets called Smooth Portrait. I like the glow and the color grading it gave, but once I applied the preset, I backed off the amount to 48% strength. I also pulled back the highlights a bit and increased the amount of edge vignetting. That’s it. Easy peasy. I clicked OK, and that’s what you see at the top of the page as the final image.
Hope you found some of that helpful. :)
Have a great weekend everybody! I’ll be working on my new book all weekend — almost done (a brand new one!).
P.S.Next Friday I’m in Minneapolis with my Lightroom On Tour full-day seminar. Hope you can come join me if you’re up that way. :)
Happy Monday everybody! I’m out doing my Lightroom seminar tour this year (I’ll be in Chicago and the Detroit area with my seminar next Monday and Tuesday respectively), and I get lots of questions about the tethering rig I use, so I thought I’d share a few Behind-the-Scenes shots from a studio shoot I did a few weeks ago (shots for an upcoming book), where I can break down the set-up (and the lighting while we’re there, right?).
Here’s the basic set-up:
The Cable: The long orange cable is the essential thing you need to connect your DSLR to your computer (and into Lightroom). It’s from a company called Tethertools, and their entire company is dedicated to making stuff for tethering (so, with the exception of the tripod and ballhead and lights, all of which I mention shortly, all the tethering gear itself is from Tethertools (btw: great company, great people behind it, great products, and awesome customer service – I totally dig them!). Anyway, the cables come in different lengths and different connectors to fit your particular make and model of camera (USB 2.0, USB 3, Firewire, Micro-B, Mini-B, etc.). The bright orange color is to help you see the cable in a dark studio environment so you don’t trip on it. Prices vary based on length and ends chosen, but figure around $32 to $55.
The Bar: It’s all sitting on a tripod (in this case, it’s a heavy duty Really Right Stuff tripod I believe), and the crossbar attached to it is the ‘Rock Solid Tripod Cross Bar’ from Tethertools (it holds a laptop table on the right, and my Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead on the left, which gives me a place to put my camera between frames, while I’m tweaking the lights, or looking at the images in Lightroom). It’s $129.95 at B&H Photo.
The Laptop stand (and safety strap): It’s called the Tethertools ‘Aero Table’. NOTE: If you get this Aero Table, I would strongly (in the strongest most strongly of strong terms) suggest that you get the optional SecureStrap that keeps your Laptop from sliding off the table, which is most likely to happen when you and a friend/assistant pick up the rig to move it). It has saved me countless times. Get the strap. It’s a must. It’s optional, but shouldn’t be. It’s strap time. Strap it on. The Aero Table is $195 for a 15″ MacBookPro, and the SecureStrap is around $18 (btw: all the prices shown are what they’re selling for today at B&H Photo).
External Hard Drive Holder: The little box under the right the side (seen more clearly in the shot above, taken from another shoot that same day), which is currently holding the “brick” for my Apple charging cable, usually is holding an external hard drive (that’s what it’s really designed for). That little external drive holder is called the ‘Aero XDC‘ and they make ones that hold one drive or two drives. Super handy because if you don’t have one, then your hard drive is just kinda sitting there leaning against your computer, waiting to fall off during the shoot (said from experience). Around $54.
Rolling Base For Your Tripod The accessory to this system that I just started using in the past few months, and one in which I have deeply fallen in love with is their Rock Solid Tripod Roller, (seen above) which lets you easily roll the entire rig around, rather than having two people pick it up and carefully move it around the studio, which I often have to do a dozen or so times during a shoot. This way, your tripod sits right in special mounts on the roller, and it just glides around. Much safer, faster, and you don’t need a 2nd person to wheel it around (nor do you have to worry about your laptop falling off when it’s just gliding across the floor, much like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. But I digress). It’s around $79. Can’t recommend it enough.
Not Seen, But Felt… You can’t see it in this photo, but it’s super awesome is their optional Aero Cup Holder accessory, which slides under the Aero Table and you slide-it-out when you need it. It can hold a water bottle, coffee cup, but it’s also awesome for holding your phone during the shoot, or extra batteries, or whatever you need handy during the shoot. It’s $29.95. Totally worth it.
My Entire Kit The folks at Tethertools are putting together an entire kit of all the stuff I use, and doing a bundle deal for all of it. I don’t have all the specifics, but one day, it will be available, somewhere, somehow. How’s that for specific info? ;-) BTW: When it does come out, I don’t get a commission or kickback (sadly), it’s just for the convenience of folks who come to my seminar and want the same rig. I’ll share the details here on the blog when it’s available.
Now, let’s look at the lighting Since we brought all this up, we have to take a quick look at the lighting, right? It’s simple Clamshell lighting with both lights directly in front of our subject. The top light is an Elinchrom 17″ beauty dish (no diffuser — you can get away without using a diffuser if your subject has really clear skin), and the bottom light is a 24″ square Elinchrom Rotalux softbox. Both strobes are Elinchrom ELC 500-watt strobes, and I’m triggering them with a Skyport Transmitter sitting in my camera’s hot shoe.
Hope you found that helpful. :)
Pop Quiz: what happens one week from today? I’m in Chicago with my brand new Lightroom OnTour full-day seminar. Guess what happens the next day? That’s right — I’m in the Detroit area (Livonia, Michigan to be exact) with the same seminar. Two days. Two seminars. What could go wrong? ;-) – Hope you can come out and spend the day with me (you can still grab a ticket right here).
Hope today is the start of a great week for you, and we’ll catch ya here tomorrow for a slick little Photoshop tip I’ve got fer ya! :)
Hi gang, and happy Friday. Today I thought we’d do a simple lighting tutorial — one where we’re working on balancing the existing light in our location with the light from our flash so the image doesn’t look so much like it’s lit with a flash (even though of course we know that it is). We’re going to do this by adjusting our shutter speed to control the existing room light (the ambient light) behind our bride to get that perfect mix between it and the flash.
Above:First, here’s the final image
We’re not breaking any new ground here positioning wise — it’s a classic “Bride standing in the aisle” shot. The area behind her is dimly lit but we want to see it in our image (seeing the church she was married in is very important the bride), so we’re going to work to control the lighting in the background so we get a nice blend.
Above: Get the flash in position, then turn it off for Step One
This behind-the-scenes shot shows the simple, one-light set-up I’m using for this shoot. I’m using an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, with one flash head running off a small portable battery pack and a small square 27 softbox. Of course, you can do this exact same thing with a hot shoe flash and a 24” Lastolite pop-up EZ-Box soft box (after all, they both create the same thing — a bright flash of light).
The flash is mounted on a lightweight regular ol’ light stand. So, why not a monopod mount like I often use? It’s because when you want a break between shots, you don’t have go looking for a place to lean it against or a table to sit it on — you just put it down on the floor, so it’s totally a convenience thing.
When I’m shooting on-location flash, I have a three-step formula for getting the look I’m after:
(1) Turn off the flash, switch your camera to Manual mode and set your Shutter Speed to 1/125 of a second. This is my standard shutter speed starting point when I’m shooting location flash. It’s kind of a nice, safe starting point that just works. Now move your f/stop until the meter inside your viewfinder shows your exposure is correct (it’s not under or over-exposed; it’s the proper exposure). On Nikons, this meter appears on the right side inside of your viewfinder; for Canon cameras, it’s along the bottom of the viewfinder. If you can’t get to an f/stop that makes a proper exposure (it can get pretty dark in a church), you may have to raise your ISO a bit, maybe from 100 to 200 (or 200 to 400).
Above:Now under-expose by around two stops
(2) Now, I darken the exposure by around two stops (so now I’m intentionally under-exposing. If my camera said that at f/2.8 my exposure was correct, I’d raise it to at least f/5.6 or higher to darken it by at least a full stop) and take another test shot. I’m trying to make the bride so dark she’s nearly a silhouette. I’m doing this because I want the bride lit with only the light from my flash — not the ambient light in the church. I want the ambient light to only light the area behind her.
I do see one problem with the shot above, and it’s that the background (the church) is a little too dark. This is where the Shutter Speed control comes in because it controls the room lights. Think of it as a dimmer switch for the church lights. If you need to turn up the lights a bit, all you have to do is lower the shutter speed a bit so lowering the shutter speed to 1/60 of a second would add more light behind her (as seen in the following image, where I did that).
Above:Now turn on the flash with a very low power setting
Once your subject looks like a silhouette, turn on the flash with a very lower power setting (like 1/4 power) and take a test shot (seen above). The light from the flash itself looks “OK” but the whole scene just looks a bit too bright and that keeps the light from mixing well so it doesn’t look really beautiful quite yet. However, you can really see the difference lowering the shutter speed from 1/125 down to 1/60 did — the church behind her is much brighter. In fact, I think it’s now too bright, so that was too big a drop in shutter speed, so I’m going to have to split the difference — trying 1/80 of a second. That will dim the background lights from where they are now. This doesn’t change the power or brightness of the flash — this just affects the background room lighting (remember the dimmer analogy).
Above:Another Behind the Scenes shot: I’m raising the Shutter Speed to 1/80 of a second and taking another test shot
So here I’m turning the camera to get a vertical shot and trying that slightly higher shutter speed of 1/80th of a second. I haven’t changed the power of the light yet at all — it’s still at 1/4 power.
Above: Here’s the shot and you can see we’re starting to get there. The 1/80th of a second seems like the sweet spot, so now if I make any changes, I’ll probably slightly raise or lower the power of the strobe itself to make sure the light isn’t too bright — a very common mistake and the thing that makes your shot look too “flashy.” If we want it to blend and look natural, it can’t look “flashy.” It has to make you wonder, “Is that lit with a flash?”
Above:Using Photoshop’s Camera Raw to enhance your lighting (you can do this in Lightroom just the same)
To make the lighting look even better and more dramatic, I edit it with Photoshop’s Camera Raw (or Lightroom’s Develop Module — they are the exact same thing), where I go to the Effects panel, and under Post Crop Vignetting I drag the Amount slider to the left (as shown here), which darkens the edges all the way around your image. This helps to create a more directional look to your lighting — it looks like the light is centered on your subject and it falls off to dark around here. It’s a simple thing, but it has pretty big impact.
Above:Adding a reflector
After looking at the previous image up close, I felt that the area around her eyes looked a little dark, so I had my First Assistant Brad Moore bring in a reflector to bounce some of the light from the flash back into her eyes. We took a test shot using the silver side of the reflector and it was just too bright and too harsh, so we flipped over the reflector to the white side and that did the trick.
There’s still a problem… Which someone pointed out when I posted the image on Twitter. They noted the bright area of light in the stained glass window to the left of the bride and pointed out that if this was someone else’s image and I were critiquing on our weekly show “The Grid” (where once-a-month we do blind critiques of submitted images), that I would point out that it was distracting. He was right — that’s exactly what I would have said, and so I used Photoshop’s “Patch” tool to remove it.
Above:To use the Patch tool to fix that bright spot in the stained glass behind her — take the tool and draw a loose selection around what you want to remove [as seen here].
Above:Then click inside that selected area and drag to an area with similar tones somewhere else in the image (as seen here where I dragged the selected area to a lower area of the stained glass.
Above:Now release the mouse, and it snaps back into place and the problem is gone! It really works amazingly well in most cases.
Above: I finished the image off with nothing but the standard portrait retouching stuff (removing blemishes, smoothing skin, etc.).
To finish up: I hope this article helped you “see the light” (totally intended pun) on two things:
(1) The shutter speed controls the amount of light in the room (if you wanted it completely dark black behind her, raise the Shutter speed to 1/200 of a second with strobes, and 1/250 of a second with hot shoe flash). And…
(2) your job is to balance the flash and the room light, while keeping the lighting looking soft and subtle by doing test shots and then looking at the shot and seeing if it looks too bright and thus too “flashy.” Less is more in situations like this, so if you were going to ‘under-light’ or ‘over-light,’ it’ll look more natural underlit (but the goal, of course, is simply to balance it correctly).
If you dig flash stuff like this, and you want to get more into lighting, here’s a class to watch this weekend — it’s called “Just One Flash”. It’s one of our most popular (and I love the instructor. So devastatingly handsome he is). Here’s the official trailer:
Going to Photo Plus Expo in a couple of weeks? Come Shoot Portraits with Me! Hi gang — it’s Monday. Here’s what’s up: If you’re going to Photo Plus Expo in New York, I want to tell you about a hands-on “Portraits on location” workshop I’m doing with the folks from Lexar Memory.
It’s limited to a small group of people, and we’re going to head out into the streets of Manhattan with two professional models. I’ll explain the technique, then you’ll split into two groups and try out the same techniques yourself with the models. We’ll be using both natural light and flash, and we’ll pack a lot into those two-hours — you’ll learn a bunch, and you’ll be shooting’ plenty the whole time.
These workshops [Photo Plus Expo calls them “Photo Walks” but they’re really hands-on workshops], are very limited to the number of participants, so if you want to join me (and Brad), then sign up right now before it’s sold out.
Another side of Street Photography on “Photography Live and Uncut” I recently was a guest on the UK-based Web show “Photography Live and Uncut” with host Paul Griffiths (great host, and really nice guy), and we got “into it” on the topic of Street Photography. It’s a discussion you don’t hear very often, and if you’ve got a few minutes, just let this run in the background — it’s more entertaining than a Presidential Debate (but then, what isn’t?). ;-)
Honored to be included in “Get Inspired” Magazine It’s a magazine of creative inspiration and in their current issue (issue #31) they included one of my portraits, and I’m very excited and honored to be included among such great photographers in this issue. Here’s the link to download the magazine.
Photographers in Charlotte and Sacramento — I’m headed your way! I’m in Charlotte next Monday, the 17th, and then I’m in Sacramento the next week, on the 24th, with my full day seminar. Hope you can come out and spend the day with me. 🙂