Monday
Mar
2008
10

Welcome to “Lighting Gear Week”

by Scott Kelby  |  3 Comments

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This past weekend I was talking to my Peachpit Press Editor, Ted Waitt, and he was asking for my advice about getting some new camera gear. The next thing he wanted to get into was lighting and he wanted to know what his options were. After talking for a few minutes, Ted said, “Ya know, you really ought to do something like that for your blog, where you recommend different lighting set-ups for people with different budgets and needs.”

I thought it was a great idea, and well, here we are: Welcome to my first “Lighting Gear Week.” Each day this week, I’ll be sharing my recommendations for different set-ups and budgets, just as if a friend had asked me what they should get. Here we go:

Day 1: Wedding/Portrait Location Lighting Setup (on a Budget)

I would tell a friend to start by getting a hot shoe flash (one that has the ability to “bounce” flash, and the ability to work in wireless mode, which is important since many of today’s DSLRs, like most of the Canon and Nikons, support wireless off camera hot shoe flash).

I think these hot shoe flash units are ideal for wedding and/or event photographers, or photographers who do on-location portraits. The key benefits are:

  1. Low cost
  2. Small Size
  3. Portability
  4. Flexibility

To do this right, I would tell a friend they’re going to need these four things:

  1. The shoe mount flash unit itself
  2. A lightweight portable light stand
  3. An adapter so they can mount their flash on that lightstand
  4. Some kind of diffuser to soften and spread the light from their flash

Now, here’s the specifics:

(1) Flash Unit:

sb1.jpgNIKON: If you’re a Nikon shooter, you can’t beat the SB-800 Speedlight hot shoe flash. It’s $315 (from B&H Photo—here’s the link to it), and honestly it’s amazing what you can do with this one little flash, and if you have a Nikon camera that has a built-in pop-up flash, you can use it to make your SB-800 an off-camera wireless flash (which is your goal). Other great things about this flash: it comes with a plastic snap-on diffusion dome, which helps to soften and spread the light a bit; it also comes with a little flat table stand , and it comes with some color gels so you can color balance your light, or use them to add color.

580.jpgCANON: If you’re a Canon shooter, the Canon 580 EX II is an excellent flash, but there are two downsides over the Nikon flash: (1) it’s more expensive, at around $410 (from B&H Photo—here’s the link to it), and (2) you have to buy either a 2nd flash, or a transmitter to use the flash in wireless mode.

OTHER: If you don’t have a Nikon or Canon camera, sell that first, then we’ll talk about flashes. (kidding. Kind of). If you have another DSLR, take a look at the Metz flashes, like a 58 AF-1 flashes. They run in the $360 to $399 range.

(2) Lightstand

335283.jpgThese flash units don’t weight that much, so you don’t need a big heavy lightstand (in fact, lighter is better), and you don’t need it to go higher than 8′ feet tall. I use an “Impact” (that’s it brand name) stand from B&H Photo; it only weighs 2.4 lbs. and it runs around $35 (here’s the link to it over at B&H).

(3) Hot Shoe Adapter/Swivel for the Lightstand

298709.jpgThe idea here is that you’ll raise the stand, and then angle the flash so the light comes down at an angle at your subject. This means the adapter you get must let you do just that—angle the flash. But beyond that, the fourth thing you’re going to need to do is diffuse the light, and the most inexpensive way is to use an Umbrella to soften and spread your light (you’re going to position your flash so it shoots right though the umbrella). So, you’ll want an adapter that not only tilts your flash, but holds (and tilts) your umbrella for you at the same time. Impact makes one of those, too, called the “Impact Umbrella Bracket with Swivel Mount and Flash Shoe,” and it’s only around $14 (here’s the link to it).

(4) A Diffuser to Spread and Soften The Light

362385.jpgThe cheapest, lightest, and easiest way to diffuse your light is to shoot it through a white translucent umbrella, and as luck would have it, Impact makes one of those. It’s 33″ and it’s dirt cheap, at just $10. Here’s the link to it. (Scott, didn’t you say you weren’t a big fan of umbrellas? Yes, I did. It’s just this is really cheap and will get the job done—especially if you shoot through it—rather than shooting into it and having it reflect, which is the method I don’t particularly like). Tune in tomorrow to see what I prefer to umbrellas, but when it comes to price—-this is the cheapest ticket in town).

THE BOTTOMLINE COST

So, your whole kit; flash, stand, swivel umbrella/flash adapter, and the umbrella itself, would run about $375 for Nikon users, or $475 for Canon users (Note: if you’re a Canon user, to use your flash off the camera [which is what you want to be able to do during portrait shoots for formal bride shots], you’ll also need to buy either Canon’s wireless ST-E2 transmitter for $210, or a sync cord to connect your camera to your flash on the stand, so figure on another $70, for that. Don’t shoot the messenger).

A FRIEND WITH CASH
If my friend said he didn’t mind paying a little more for some better gear, I’d still have him/her get the same exact flash units (Nikon or Canon), so that doesn’t change, but you could buy higher quality accessories like a Westcott umbrella (and spring for the 43″ model at only $10 more), and a Bogen/Manfrotto 3361 light stand (around $69), and maybe a nicer umbrella swivel (like the Lumedyne, for around $40).

Well, that’s it for Day 1, and our super “Budget” location shoot kit. Tomorrow we’ll take it up a notch, and see what we’d do if my friend had a little more cash, and wanted more flexibility, and the next level of lighting control.

Monday
Mar
2008
10

Report From Laurie Excell’s Nature Safari (and Jeff Revell’s Photowalk in DC)

by Scott Kelby  |  0 Comments

I had a busy few days this weekend; starting on Friday where I got up a 5:00 am to meet up with Laurie Excell and Moose Peterson at Laurie’s “Nature Safari” at Ft. Desoto Park in St. Petersburg, Florida (about 45 minutes from my office).

Then on Saturday Matt Kloskowski and I flew up to Washington DC to be a part of Jeff Revell’s DC Photo Walk (hosted by PhotoWalkPro.com—-go there to see some of the images). I’ll have a post showing my shots from there tomorrow, but today here are some pics from Laurie’s workshop. (click on them for larger views).
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Adove: When Laurie shoots; she brings the really big glass. In fact, all the students in the class were sporting some pretty serious lenses, with the shortest being a 400mm. Here’s Laurie a few feet off shore shooting a white Ibis with her Nikon D3.

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Above: At one point while I was out there shooting, I paused a moment and took my eye away from the viewfinder, and noticed that Laurie was shooting me. So…I shot her back.

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Above: Legendary wildlife and landscape photographer Moose Peterson was there as part of Laurie’s team, and I caught this rare shot of Moose outside his native habitat. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). I had a great time catching up with Moose, who was also kind enough to let me borrow his 600mm lens (see the next shot).

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Above: The birds were really comfortable with us shooting, and we could get really close without them flying away. Of course, having a 600mm lens doesn’t hurt either. I took this shot of a white Ibis, using Moose’s 600mm lens. It was taken from 3.4 miles away (totally kidding).

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Above: I got this shot of a tricolored Heron with my 200mm f/2 lens with a 1.4 Tele-extender attached. I had the shortest lens out there, so the Heron wasn’t the least bit concerned about me. In fact, I’m pretty sure he snickered a few times while I was shooting him.

All in all, it was a great time, and just a beautiful Florida spring morning (with perfect weather), and I really had a great time seeing Moose and Laurie, and meeting some of the nice folks in the workshop. Laurie’s next Nature Safari is coming up May 5th – 9th, where she’ll be shooting Texas Birds. For more info visit Laurie’s site, and don’t forget to catch Laurie’s excellent blog, where you’ll find some particularly unflattering photos of me shooting that morning. I look like a bee stung me. Repeatedly.

Don’t forget; check back tomorrow to see shots from Jeff’s PhotoWalk Pro up in the Adams/Morgan area of Washington, DC.

Friday
Mar
2008
07

Friday News Nuggets

by Scott Kelby  |  0 Comments

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Here’s a very quick look at what’s goin’ on (because I’ve got an early morning shoot).

  • Flying with Fish has a must-read article this week on the recent rise in camera theft at airport security checkpoints. If you travel with camera gear, you’ve got to read this one (here’s the link). Also, Steven Frischling (of FlyingwithFish fame) is bringing his “No Jet Lag” quick photo travel workshop to Baltimore/Washington DC area on March 15th, and New York City on March 16th. There are just a few seats lefts in both cities, if you want to snag one, here’s where you can find out more, or sign up.
  • Don’t forget—tomorrow is Jeff Revell’s Free PhotoWalk DC. Every one’s invited to join up with Jeff and friends for two hours of shooting, followed by pubbing, grubbing, and chimping. Word has it that Inner Circle photographer Mike Meyer (who posts comments in this blog from time to time), will be there for the event. Should be fun (notice, I didn’t say anything like, “It should be perfect weather for shooting,” or anything along those lines. Remember; it’s not the shots you get– it’s the food and drinks afterward that really matter). Here’s the link for info on where to meet up (hint; dress warm, bring chapstick, and an Ark).
  • Layers Magazine (The how-to magazine for evertthing Adobe), is kicking off their own creative contest, called“The Back Page Design Contest,” and here’s how it works: On the last page of every issue, they’ll present you with an incomplete image. The image could be a single object or just a section of an illustration or photograph. Your assignment is to download the file, then use your imagination (and any Adobe application you want) to finish the image and incorporate it into a design of your choice. It could be the front cover of a magazine, a movie poster, a Flash banner, or even a short movie clip (emphasis on short-check official rules for file sizes and types)… it’s entirely up to you. Then all you have to do is submit your final work for a chance to win a $300 shopping spree! Here’s all the details.
  • We just released another new online class on KelbyTraining.com called “Flash 101: The Basics With Rafael “RC” Concepcion.” Also, last week we brought another class online from Photoshop Hall of Famer, John Paul Caponigro, called “Atmospheric FX,” and we just released another new online classes for video freaks (I mean, Motion Graphics Designers), from Photoshop World instructor Rich Harrington. This one is called “Photoshop for Video – How to Work with Photos.” You can get the class descriptions (and view some sample clips), by clicking here.
  • This past week we spent a lot of time talking about the “Dave Hill” effect, but have you heard of the, “James Quantz” look? He’s another guy everybody’s starting to talk about. Larry Becker came by my office and said, “You gotta see this guy’s stuff. The NAPP member forums are buzzing about this guy,” and when you see his stuff, you’ll see why. Very cool effect (and very good photography). Here’s the link, to his NAPP portfolio, where you can get a sneak preview of the “next big look.”

That’s it for today, folks. Have a seriously fun weekend, and live life like your dying, drive it like it’s stolen, and eat it like it doesn’t have calories (or carbs)!

Friday
Mar
2008
07

I Have Finally Found My Lab

by Scott Kelby  |  5 Comments

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Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I do a lot of my own in-house prints (I have an Epson Stylus Pro 3800, 2400, and a 7880), but I also send out some work to different labs (mostly wedding albums, photo books, etc.), and for those I’ve been using a number of different vendors, but I think I have finally found “My lab.”

I just got my first order back from Mpix.com, and I was just blown away with the results. I had done a mother/baby portrait shoot for my in-house book editor Kim Doty (who is, by the way, the best book editor on the entire planet), and although I had already made some prints for her, I wanted to do something really special with my favorite image of her and her baby boy (shown above), so I ordered a 16″x20″ canvas mounted print, and a similar sized gallery wrap (the difference is; the Canvas Print looks like a traditional canvas, with staples on the side and all, where a Gallery wrap continues your photo onto the side edges of the frame).

I just can’t tell you how stunning they came out! I took them around the office yesterday and everybody was just having a fit (they had already seen the image, when I did the in-house prints—it was the treatment on canvas that wow’d everybody). I also ordered a metallic print of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, and that metallic finish made the colors just pop, which was perfect for that kind of image. I had a few prints done for the office, and I’m working on uploading them another batch this weekend (this “they do all the work” thing can get pretty addicting. Matt and Dave have both switched to Mpix now, too, and now they’re already becoming metallic print junkies).

I have actually seen the MPIX lab in person (they’re up in Pittsburg, Kansas), and I was really impressed with not only their fanatical commitment to quality, but the people there were as friendly, genuine, and proud of their role in the digital community as they could be, and that was really refreshing to see firsthand.

Anyway, I’m passing this on because I get emails all the time asking me which lab I recommend, and because I was sending my stuff kind of “all over,” I didn’t have one in particular to recommend, and well….now I do. (Note: although Mpix is a pro lab, if you’re an advanced amateur, they will let you use their lab as well).

Thursday
Mar
2008
06

Getting That Cool Gritty Look Right in Camera Raw and Photoshop or Lightroom

by Scott Kelby  |  12 Comments

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Before: The original unretouched image of Issac. (Click on it for a larger view)

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After: Issac after applying the effect in Camera Raw and Photoshop (no plug-ins). (Click on it for a larger view)

Direct Gritty Technique
Back on Tuesday a posted a review of the Lucis Art plug-in for Photoshop, which gives you a one-click solution for getting that cool gritty look that’s been made so popular by photographers like Dave Hill (see the Tuesday post for more on this).

Anyway, last year, on Photoshop User TV, my co-host Matt Kloskowski showed how to get that kind of gritty effect from right within Lightroom (he showed the effect applied to an old car), and then I started showing it in both my Lightroom Tour and my Photoshop CS3 Power Tour (where I applied it to a shot of one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

The key to making this technique is the lighting of your subject. If you don’t have a shot with that high contrast, hard-edged light creating serious highlights and shadows, it just doesn’t work (so, in short; if you’ve got the right kind of image—it works wonders. If you don’t—you’re hosed). On Tuesday, I showed a shot I took of Photoshop User magazine editor Issac Stolzenbach, posing with his motorcycle, and I applied the Lucis Art plug-in to it to get “The Look.”

The shots you see of Issac above (click on them for a larger view) are processed entirely in Camera Raw and Photoshop, without the use of any plug-ins. But there was something that occurred to me while looking (once again) at Dave Hill’s photos that finally clicked with me, and helped me take it to the next level (that, in a moment). First, the settings you need to get this look (in Camera Raw) and then in Lightroom (just so you know—they’re the same).

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You can click on the graphic above for a larger view, but either way; here is the basic formula:

  • Recovery = 100
  • Fill Light = 100
  • Blacks = Drag this slider to the right until photo looks balanced again, because setting the Fill Light at 100 will wash the photo out big time. In our example, I dragged it to 24
  • Contrast = 100
  • Clarity = 100
  • Vibrance = 100
  • Saturation = -81 (basically what I do here is drag the saturation all the way to the left, to -100 (which removes all color, making it a black and white image), and then I slowly drag back to the right until some of the color starts to return to the image.

If after making these settings, the image looks way too bright, you may have to decrease the Exposure just a little bit, by dragging the Exposure slider to the left. If it’s too dark; increase the Exposure (so basically, those are starting points).

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After those settings are in place, go to the Lens Correction tab to add a dark edge vignette around the edges of the photo. Drag the Amount slider to -100, and the Midtone slider to around 20 (as shown below) to darken in all the edges.

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The thing I learned, that “aha” moment from looking at Dave Hill’s images is that the skin on everybody (including the men) is silky smooth. In fact, it’s the level of skin smoothing we’d normally apply to a photos of woman, but most of the images on Dave’s site are men. Because this technique adds so much midtone sharpening, it makes every little line, crevasse, and wrinkle stand out like crazy.

Above you see the image of Issac before I applied the skin smoothing technique in Photoshop (which I’ll show you in just a moment). You see how sharp and contrasty his skin is once the effect is applied? We need to greatly soften that. So after I apply those settings (in either Camera Raw or Lightroom’s Develop Module), I then open the image in Photoshop. The technique I used to soften the skin was to apply a 20 pixel Gaussian Blur to the entire image, then lower the Opacity of this layer to 50%. Then I add a Layer Mask to this layer (click the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette); get the Brush tool, choose a soft-edged brush, and then paint over his skin, while avoiding his eyes, eyebrows, lips, teeth, nostrils, hair—-these are details areas you want to keep crisp.

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Look at the image above, and how much softer his skin looks after the softening effect is applied in Photoshop.

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Later that same day, I took that same effect and applied it to a photo of our buddy Corey Barker (The Photoshop Lad, and co-host of Layers TV), posed by his car, which is shown above with a before/after side-by-side image (that’s Matt Kloskowski sneaking into my shot–click for a much larger view). Matt and Corey were so small in the image that I didn’t do the skin softening technique.

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On Wednesday, after my band (Big Electric Cat) wrapped up a rehearsal for our gig at BB King’s Blues Club & Grill during Photoshop World, I grabbed the band members for a quick promo photo shoot in the same location (click on it for a larger view). Here’s the problem; the effect in Camera Raw looked “OK” but it just wasn’t really looking right, so instead I ran the Lucis Art plug-in on it, and BAM—it was there! (click the image above for a larger view: From L to R that’s Scott Stahley on Drums, Tony Llanes on Lead Guitar, Kalebra on lead vocals, me on keyboards, and Felix Nelson on Bass). Note: The band above photo was taken by RC Concepcion.

Note: Last night I was experimenting with doing the skin softening BEFORE you run the Lucis Art plug-in, and after seeing the results, I think it’s probably better to do it beforehand—(but only if you’re using the plug-in). Give it a try and see what you think.

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The original photo: Tony, our guitar player, shot with three Elinchrom RX-600 strobes: One behind him on the left and one behind him on the right (both just outside of the frame). They had no softboxes attached—just metal reflectors, and we put two black flags between them and my camera so I didn’t get lens flare from the flash. The main light was a RX-600 with a 53″ Mini-Octa softbox positioned to the left of my camera. This lighting set up gives us the hard edge rim lights on either side of his face, and the center of his face is lit from the Main light.

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Tweaked in Camera Raw using the settings you learned earler; this version looks “OK,” but it really doesn’t have that painterly look that’s characteristic of this look.

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Lucis Art: Here I applied the Lucis Art plug-in, and to me this looks much better. I also added a dark edge vignette to darken the edges, however I didn’t add the skin softening to this image yet (but I think it could use it).

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Above: That’s me shooting Tony (photo by RC Concepcion) just so you can see how bare bones everything was. You can see the 53″ mini-octa over my shoulder.

So, what did I learn from all this?

  1. Although the Camera Raw (and Lightroom) recipe I gave you above will work with the right kind of image, the Lucis Art plug-in gives you that look much more consistently with a much broader range of images. In short: when the Camera Raw recipe won’t work; Lucis Art usually will.
  2. After the effect is applied (either the Camera Raw/Lightroom version or the Lucis Art version), you need to soften everybody’s skin quite a bit
  3. You often can apply the Lucis Art filter two times in a row, if you apply the filter to a copy of the Background layer, then lower the Opacity to around 20 or 30%.
  4. As always; it’s all about the lighting. When the lighting is right, everything else falls into place. By the way; the lighting here isn’t right, but it’s a start—I’ve got a lot more tweaking to do to get it where I want it.

Before we go, I just want to give a special thanks to my buddy RC Concepcion (co-host of Layers TV). RC usually works with me on all our studio and location shoots, and he not only gets everything up and running, he shoots me shooting, too, so he really has his hands full. I couldn’t do all this without him, and I’m so grateful for his help, input and ideas. If you see RC, or visit his blog, or see him at Photoshop World, make sure you give him a high-five for me.

NAPP MEMBERS: I’m taping a video tutorial for the NAPP member website today on this Photoshop and Lightroom technique. Although I’m filming it today, I can’t swear that the video dept. will be able to get it edited, compressed, and online today, so if it’s not on the member Website by this afternoon, check back there tomorrow. Not here—there. :)

Wednesday
Mar
2008
05

Cereal Shoot Lighting Diagram

by Scott Kelby  |  4 Comments

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I got a number of emails, and comments, asking if I would do a lighting diagram of how the cereal shot from Monday was done, but once I started working on the diagram, I realized how much I hate lighting diagrams, so I set the shoot back up and took a shot of the set-up (shown above–click for a larger view).

The table the cereal is on, is actually the portable laptop stand I use in my Lightroom Tour, —I just covered it with a white tablecloth. The handheld reflector (to the left of the cereal bowl) is actually a Lastolite pop-up gray card, but since one side is white, it makes a nice little reflector.

The light to the right of the Camera is a Westcott Spiderlight TD3 with daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs (I used the TD3 because I don’t need that much light from the softbox—just a little fill. If I needed stronger light, I’d use a TD5). The softbox is 24″x32″ (it doesn’t need to be that large, because the subject (a cereal bowl) is very small, so for lighting something this small, that softbox is huge (at least, in it’s size relative to the cereal bowl).

The camera is mounted on a Gitzo Traveler Tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead, and as I mentioned on Monday, I’m using a Nikon 70-200mm lens, but with the Canon Close-up lens (for Nikon) screwed onto the end, turning my regular zoom lens into a macro zoom lens. The key here is the natural light pouring in from the window behind the cereal, and overexposing slightly to give it that “morning sunlight” look.

Well, once I had this all set-up, I thought to myself, “I should actually shooting something.” So, I went to the kitchen and found this three-cheese bread (I bought it on Sunday, but for a different shoot idea, but I put it to use below).

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You can see it’s the exact same set-up, but if you look at the angle of the camera, you can see I framed the shot so you could see a little bit of the green plants outside the window, and the handle on the tray, to give it more of that “breakfast baked goods” feeling. Well, that’s it folks (sure beats a drawn lighting diagram). You can see the whole set-up is pretty simple, and it ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done.

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