Before you use the studio strobes–See the light first

 
Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 5000, ƒ/1.8, 1/250

Today was the first class of lighting I was teaching to the School of Photography at the University of Nations in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I asked one of the students to be my model.

Bethany is helping me as the model for the first assignment on Rembrandt lighting using just one light with a 10º grid on the Alienbees studio strobe.

The top photo is the first photo I took showing what the fluorescent room light looked like before we used lights.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 12800, ƒ/1.8, 1/250

The first thing I did was turn all the lights off in the room except for the modeling light that is on the Alienbees with a 10º grid on it. Then, rather than jumping into shooting with the strobes, I showed the class you could see what you are going to get with the strobes using the modeling light.

Here you can see the triangle on the cheek, which is the classic Rembrandt lighting with a little twist of me not shooting her looking straight on but slightly behind her.

To see the rest of the assignment, you can go to an older post that walks you through the Rembrandt light exercise. Here is that link

Before using flash, you need to see what you are trying to create.

Lighting Setup: Table-top Product Photography

White or even clear objects on a white background is very difficult to do and can become quite frustrating for even the experienced photographer.

This is a basic setup for a catalog photo shoot where the object needs to be stand out. 

I have couple of examples here. Next you will have the lighting diagram of the setup and finally there is a list of what I used.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/160, ƒ/20

Lighting Ratio

The trick in this lighting setup is the ratio of the background to the subject. I recommend you put 1 ƒ-stop more light on the background than on the subject.

How you measure this is with a flash meter. Always start with the light on the subject. I measured the light at ƒ/22 on the subject and then measured it on the background at ƒ/32. I then bracketed shots from ƒ/16 to ƒ/32 and pulled them up in Lightroom. After carefully looking at the detail in the subject and the background I chose to shoot at ƒ/20.

I also recommend evenly lighting the object for this type of catalog photography. This is why there are two 32″ x 40″ soft boxes at 45º angles from the camera to help wrap the object in light.

The middle 30″ x 60″ soft box in the diagram below is suspended flat over the table using the Manfrotto boom arm.

To avoid lens flare in this setup be sure the camera is ever so slightly not perpendicular to the background. Straight on can give you a lens flare.

Supplies

Here is a list of the supplies I used to make the photo.

I recommend using a vinyl floor or you can use
Sequentia 1/8-in x 4-ft x 8-ft White Fiberglass Reinforced Wall Panel that I bought at Lowes.  I use the backside which is smooth for the photos. You can also roll this up for storage.

To hold the background in place I recommend BESSEY 2-in Metal Spring Clamps.  I have a bag of these I have handy for projects. They sell for just under $3 each.

You need something to hold up that background. You can get the Savage Background Port-A-Stand Kit for about $110.

The primary light for product work is a soft box. I have the 30″ x 60″ soft box from Paul C. Buff.  I like it for many reasons, but one of the reasons is how easy it is to setup and take down.

It works like an umbrella and has a lock that you screw tight to hold it in place.

I use the Alienbees B1600 monoblocs for my work. I like that the power is controlled with each head and I do not have to do math in my head as I did for power pack that split the power to different head. The Alienbees B1600 sell for $359.95 each. Since you are buying the directly from the manufacturer the price break is significant as compared to other lights that you buy from distributors.

Manfrotto 024B Boom is used to hang the large 30 x 60 soft box over objects. It sells for about $149.95 and comes with a 10 lb counterweight. I have a variety of other light stands I use. I put this on my JTL1200 Chrome Air Cushioned Stand (5016) which sells for $69.99.

Sekonic L-308S Flashmate – Digital Incident, Reflected and Flash Light Meter sells for $233.

Shaping the light is how you light metal

Just throwing light on a metal object 

This is what you see a lot of on ebay and other websites of people selling metal objects. My examples are using my Yamaha YTR-734 Silver Trumpet, which I pulled out and started playing again.

After cleaning it up I didn’t want to waste not preserving this for myself.

You would think just putting a metal object like this Silver Trumpet on a blue background and using two off the camera flashes at 45º angles (like copy stand) would give you perfect light. This is how this is lighted.
Here is the setup for the photo above.

I have two hotshoe Nikon Speedlights (1 SB900 & 1 SB800) lighting the trumpet. They are setup like a typical copy stand photo shoot. Works great for objects other than metal. Perfect for copying flat art work and books.

This is the same photo as above with just the room light and no flash.
This is the available light without the blue background

By removing the blue fabric the white table wrap the light around the metal and give it more shape.

Two flashes

My recommendation is Tent Lighting

Here I am using tent lighting. I pulled back the front panel so you could see inside.

When you wrap an object with light all around it you get much better results.

There are four flashes lighting this setup. Two Alienbees B1600 up in the ceiling pointing towards the back and two on umbrellas as you see here.
This is the setup with white seamless background.

I think you might do a better job of selling this trumpet on ebay with lighting like this than the light above.

Notice how in the bell the blue fabric is reflected. if you look really close you will see just a little black spec. This is the camera peaking thought the front panel.

Here the only difference in the above photo is using a blue fabric.

Somewhere in between?

Maybe you want something in between the top photo and light wrapped all around the object. Instead of tent lighting just use white foam board and cut it into different shapes. You can then put a black sheet out of the photo but blocking light. Then just place the strips of white foam board to place you want to add white verses the black. Slowly you can give different looks. Use different color foam board and you can add color to the reflections like the blue fabric is doing here, but just put it outside the view of the camera but in the reflection of the metal.

Rather than me showing you everything, go photograph something yourself and see what you come up with.

What clothing works best for a portrait?

Pick your clothing carefully

There are two types of photos when it comes to clothing: 1) For Portraits and 2) For Fashion.

If the photo shoot is for portrait you need to be sure that the clothing doesn’t distract, but rather compliments the person’s face. The fashion photo shoot is all about the clothing and the model is just there to make the clothing look good.

Look at these three examples of tops for a typical head shot.

Photo #1
Photo #2
Photo #3

To be sure we are concentrating on how clothing can add or distract from a portrait I shot these all the same so that the only difference is really the clothing.

First of all all three outfits look good on the model and the point isn’t about which one you like the most. The point in a portrait photo is which one makes you look more at the model’s face and less about the clothing?

Simple Tips:

  1. Avoid busy patterns as in Photo #1
  2. Choose a solid as in Photo #2
  3. Avoid Stripes as in Photo #3

Each person will look best in one of the following necklines: v-neck, oval or round.

Color choices can be tricky as well. Everyone will look good in Aqua. The reason for this is this is the closest to the complementary color for the skin.

While different ethnic groups have different skin, the general rule is it is more about how light or dark the skin is more than color differences.

However the other factor is our eyes and hair color. Complimentary and the same color are generally good on a person. Complimentary colors tend to make you pop more than the same colors.

The general rule which is often the most difficult to follow is always keeping it simple.


Lighting diagram used for examples

Items:
(2) Alienbees B1600
1-stop brighter on background than lights on subject

White backdrop
I recommend not having it perpendicular to the camera. Slight angle will help avoid light flare caused by light bouncing off background

(2) Alienbees B1600 with bounce white umbrellas

Nikon D4 with 28-300mm
No description for this item.

Versatile lighting setup for groups and head shots

This is a lighting setup I used for an awards dinner last night. A little over 100 awards given on stage in just a few minutes. After they got their award they walked off the stage and I took their photo.  I was averaging about 3 groups a minute with 2 shots each.  We were moving.

So this is where speed was very important.

Items I used for the shoot:

When I set this up I used light stands that go to about 8 feet tall. I would suggest 10 foot light stands if I were to do this again. I set the lights 45º to either side of the camera and as I high as the light stands would go.

The reasoning is that I had no time to have people sit down and pose them. They would all be standing.  I wanted the shadows to go down behind the and not up on the screen. I kept everyone about 2′ to 3′ away from the background to help the shadows to fall down or wide.

I wanted to shoot at f/8 to be sure if I ended up with two rows everyone was in focus. I didn’t need much more depth a field.

I shot at ISO 200 and 1/8th power on the monobloc lights.

Results for the Awards Photos

The reason I didn’t use umbrellas or soft boxes was the space issues.
While you are here photos
Now the primary reason I am hired is to get these photos which are then sent to those in the photos for them to use in their own newsletters to promote their winning of the awards. However, once you are there they often want some other photos. The most common is head shots of their staff.
Since we didn’t have the luxury of time and space to use another lighting setup I shot the staff head shots using this lighting setup. 
Results for quick head shots

The client is satisfied because the photos work well for their uses.
More than photos
If all I were doing was just taking these photos it would be one kind of a job, but they need names of everyone. So I was able to shoot and identify all the people in the photos. Think about pulling this off.

How would you shoot and identify all the people in the photos?

I then print out contact sheets with the photos and the names under each photo. The text is also in the metadata of each photo, so if they can search for photos by names or open the file in software that reads metadata (PhotoShop) and read the caption.

Since the photos all have identification embedded, then the client can easily just drag and drop these photos into a database and easily pull photos in the future.

Keep in mind when you do a job that there might be a better way to do any individual part of the package. However, you must take into consideration all the aspects and how they impact one another to reach the goal for the client. 

Why Learn Ratio Lighting?

First of all there are times you need to be sure your photos can be reproduced properly. The most used photo I know of in publications is the head shot.

There are some pretty cool lighting setups you can use, but if you not aware of how this will affect the photo in print then your client will be sorely disappointed with your photos.

Take this first photo where I am lighting the person with one light on a grid. This is a classic Rembrandt Lighting that gives you a nice triangle on a the cheek.

All the photos here were taken during a class I taught in Hawaii on lighting.

You can do this assignment yourself to understand how to understand ratio lighting. You need to first start with one light and then add other lights. Use this lighting diagram and the instructions below to duplicate this with your camera and off camera flash.

Description:
Rembrandt portrait using one grid light

Items:

  • Monobloc with 10 or 20 degree grid
    • You may use any power setting you choose.  Be sure skin tone is properly exposed and correct white balance.
  • White backdrop
    • You may use a black background as well.  No other lights to be used in this assignment.
  • Woman
    • Please get the best possible expression.  You need to see a triangle on their cheek.  Be sure the triangle includes lighting their eye.
  • (D)SLR
    • Choose the lowest ISO setting for your camera.  Use a portrait lens 85mm – 100mm or if you don’t have full frame then 50mm will be OK.
The first place that the above photo becomes a problem is with your newspaper. Especially when it runs in black and white. You see for the most part everything without light on it in the subject will be black in newspaper print.

So as to still get the nice shape that takes place with an off camera flash you need to add a fill light to help soften those harsh shadows so you can still see detail.

To get the second photo here you need to use the lighting diagram below and follow the instructions. Go ahead and shoot your subject with your camera and two lights.

Description:
1:3 lighting ratio.  This photo is classic lighting.

Items:

  • Woman
    • Your subject should have the main light lighting only part of the face and the shadows should be just a little to show the 1:3 ratio.
  • (D)SLR
    • Choose the lowest ISO.  Use a portrait lens 50mm if you don’t have full frame camera can work.  No more than 100mm.
  • Octobox
    • This is your fill light and get just a reading of this 2nd.  Be sure it is 1/2 the power (1 f/stop less) than the main light. After this is done get a 3rd light reading of both lights which will be the setting for the camera. It can be level with the eyes, but you may have to move up with glasses to avoid glare.
  • Softbox
    • This light is your main light. Get a light reading with just this first. The light should be 45 degrees off the axis of the camera and 45 degrees above the subjects eyes.
  • White backdrop
    • Keep the subject a few feet from the background and do not use more lights to light it.
How to figure the Ratio

You need to change your f/stops into ratios.  What I do is first understand that your main light is putting out twice the light as your fill.  You would think that this means you have a 2:1 ratio, but this isn’t the case.

The reason is you must figure not by what each light is putting out, but how much light is hitting the subject. 

Everywhere the main light is hitting so to is your fill light from the camera’s angle. You then need to add the main light and the fill for all those places which is adding 2 + 1 = 3. The shadow is only being lighted by the fill so no need for addition or subtraction.

On the subject the brightest areas being lighted by the main and fill get 3 times the light as compared to the shadows getting lighted by just the fill which we say is 1 amount of light.

This is what we call the 3:1 lighting ratio and very printable in a newspaper.

Adding a hair light

Go ahead and then shoot this third shot and add a hair light. Use the diagram below and play with the exposure of the hair light till you get something you like.

Description:
1:3 lighting ratio.  This photo is classic lighting with hair light.

Items:

  • Woman
  • Your subject should have the main light lighting only part of the face and the shadows should be just a little to show the 1:3 ratio.
  • Monobloc with grid on boom
  • With dark hair start at same f/stop as main up to about 1 or 2 stops more.  With bald or light hair be careful using hair light. Sometimes better to not use one.
  • (D)SLR
  • Choose the lowest ISO.  Use a portrait lens 50mm if you don’t have full frame camera can work.  No more than 100mm.
  • Octobox
  • This is your fill light and get just a reading of this 2nd.  Be sure it is 1/2 the power (1 f/stop less) than the main light. After this is done get a 3rd light reading of both lights which will be the setting for the camera. It can be level with the eyes, but you may have to move up with glasses to avoid glare.
  • Softbox
  • This light is your main light. Get a light reading with just this first. The light should be 45 degrees off the axis of the camera and 45 degrees above the subjects eyes.
  • White backdrop
  • Keep the subject a few feet from the background and do not use more lights to light it.

Background Light

You can add color to your background by just putting a colored gel over a light and pointing it to the background. You need to be sure your other lights are not lighting the background. For these photos here below we used the first lighting setup with one light with a grid and then added the background light.

Using a white background be sure your value on the background from the background light is -2 stops as compared to the main light. This will give you the same color as your gel.  If you want a darker color then even less light. If you prefer a lighting color add more light.

    Here is a photo of some of the students having fun with their assignments in Kona, Hawaii.