ObG Thursdays – Old Post Office Light Painting Composite

Lighting a large scene with just one flash is something I’d wanted to try for a while and finally got around to it with this shot in today’s Oldie-but-Goodie.

This photo is a composite of six shots, stitched together in Photoshop CS5. In each, I lit a different part of the building using a single SB-900 flash with the standard diffuser cap. I fired the flash using the test button and in most of the shots I fired it multiple times. The camera (Nikon D300s wtih Tokina 11-16mm) was set to manual exposure (f/8 8s ISO 100) and manual focus and set on a tripod in the parking lot. The long exposure allowed the camera to capture the ambient light but also gave me the time for the flash fires.

Here are the shots that went into the composite. In the first four I lit both the concrete and brick walls.

DSC_9339 DSC_9340 DSC_9341 DSC_9342 In the next two I tried to light the smoke stack by zooming the flash in to 200mm. The flash lost a lot of power at that distance and even with multiple fires it was difficult to light the stack.

DSC_9345 DSC_9346At this point the images look like a mess with many points of light and many Owens. However, by choosing which part of each image I wanted to come through using layer masks I could clean this up considerably. Below I show a capture from Photoshop with each of the images and their corresponding layer mask. Notice that for the most part only a small area (the white region of the layer mask) is used in the composite.

ScreenHunter_16 Apr. 11 07.19In the end I did have to remove a few stray flash bursts and Owen limbs here and there using the healing brush and clone tools. Finally, with a curves adjustment to brighten the lower mid-tones, I ended up with this!

DSC_9339-EditAs this was my first ‘light painted’ composite, I did learn a few lessons. Most importantly, it was difficult in a few instances to remove my ghost from the image. Next time around I would use brighter flashes and stand further away from the subject to not catch as much of the reflection. Distance would also help broaden the spot as it falls on the surface. Overall though, I was happy with this first attempt!


OBG Thursdays – The Flash (with 4 Flashes)

Today’s Oldie-but-Goodie is a fun little ‘portrait’ of an action figure. After reading about some cool lighting setups for defining muscle I wanted to try it out on a real live muscular person. Unfortunately, I am not this person…

7313886510_b9be4a5d09_oThe Flash (fittingly) would have to stand in for me. This shot is actually one of the more complicated lighting setups that I’ve done. It uses four flashes in total and each of them is modified. The principle of the lighting is to use a softbox in a ‘tabletop’ position, meaning that it sits directly above the subject pointing straight down. The direction of light causes the muscles to cast strong shadows, adding definition. With just this one light, the shadows are quite strong. Rim lighting or fill lighting can lift the shadows.

For this shot I used the lighting diagram below:

lighting-diagram-1363206547A Lumiquest Softbox LTZ on SB-900 sits directly above the subject (even though in the diagram it’s placed slightly in front) and points down. For rim lighting I use two more strobes. On the right is a SB-700 with a grid spot. On the left is a Metz 48 AF-1 with a grid spot.

For the backround I used a fourth light, an Alienbees B800 with 22″ beauty dish with a diffuser sock placed over it. I’ve had a lot of fun placing this light modifier directly into photos as a creative element in the past.

The SB-900 used for tabletop lighting has a Full CTO gel on it. The Metz 48 AF-1 on the left is gelled with a light blue. In hindsight, the blue was probably unnecessary as it doesn’t look much different from the non-gelled flash (see the highlights on his waist at left and right).

The final shot was with the D300s and AF-S 60mm f/2.8 G Micro at f/13 1/125s ISO 100. The B800 with beauty dish was set to minimum power and is still quite bright at f/13 ISO 100. The tabletop light is at 1/2 power and the two rims are 1/16 power.

Blending with Soft Light – A Quick and Simple Way to Increase Contrast and Saturation in Photoshop

DSC_0292-Edit-2Today I’d like to show you a really effective, but simple, way to boost contrast and saturation in an image by walking through how I arrived at the above image. The trick is using a layer blending mode called ‘Soft Light’. Photoshop has the ability to blend different layers with each other using a number of methods. The Soft Light mode works like this:

  • Areas that are brighter than 50% grey get ‘screened’, meaning they become lighter depending on the lightness of the lower layer.
  • Areas that are darker than 50% grey get ‘multiplied’, meaning they become darker depending on the darkness of the lower layer.

I’ll demonstrate. Here is a layer in Photoshop that is a simple gradient going from white to black, left to right. In the middle is 50% grey.ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.32If I add an adjustment layer on top of this, say ‘Levels’, and change its blending mode to Soft Light the lights get lighter and the darks get darker depending on how light or dark they are. In the middle, 50% grey, is unaffected. In the image below, the top half has been blended with Soft Light. The bottom half is the same as the previous image. Notice that the gradient becomes more steep… the transition between white and black is shorter. This is an increase in contrast.ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.35In an image with colour, Soft Light blending can also increase saturation. I’ll demonstrate with an image. First, I’ll show the image as it is first pulled out of Lightroom into Photoshop.ScreenHunter_13 Mar. 12 19.57If I add a Levels layer and blend it with Soft Light the contrast and saturation increase dramatically.ScreenHunter_15 Mar. 12 19.57I can scale the effect back by lowering the opacity. Here I’ve set it to 47%:ScreenHunter_15 Mar. 12 19.58I’m finding that there’s still too much of an effect on Mitzy so I’ll paint some grey into the layer mask over her. Grey will decrease the opacity of the mask by another 50% where I’ve painted it in.ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.00I’m happy with how the Soft Light blending has improved the image so let’s finish it off. First, I’ll remove some of the messy details in the bottom right corner using the Spot Heal Brush in a new layer.ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.04Next I’ll brighten Mitzy a bit further using a curves tool, masked so it only affects her.ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.05Here, I’ve decided that I want to bring a bit more of the contrast back in to the background so I increase the opacity of the Soft Light layer.ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.06Finally, I add a bit more contrast into the right side of the image with a masked Curves tool. The image is done!ScreenHunter_16 Mar. 12 20.08So there have it. Soft Light blending. Quick and simple!

Meet Easton Nathanael Persaud

Nat and Lauren, some of my best friends, have a new member of the family as of February 7. Easton Nathanael is an adorable baby boy and I feel so lucky to have met him when he was just 8 hours old. Lauren and Nat had Mitzy and me over on Saturday to take some photos of the new family of 4. I haven’t had a lot of experience with baby photography but I love shooting their kids. Their daughter, Harper, has become quite the photogenic toddler especially now that she’s warmed up to me. Here is one of my favourites (D7000 with AF-S 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 1/200s ISO 400):DSC_9809-Edit-2To give a bit of editing history, here is the image when first imported into Lightroom.DSC_9809-2In Lightroom I did a few tweaks to prepare the shot for editing in Photoshop, namely

  • highlight reduction/shadow boost
  • reduced clarity/increased sharpness
  • vibrance reduction
  • lens correction
  • ‘Camera Portrait’ camera calibration

This is how the photo looked coming out of Lightroom:DSC_9809In Photoshop I removed some dry skin and red patches (under the nose and the lines on the shoulder). I used the color correction tool to shift some of the magenta tones in the skin towards the green and some local reduction of red saturation. I tried out a new Photoshop preset (a gift from a friend) to get the final look.


The Tragically Hip at the Aud – More Photos

This post is a follow-up to last week’s about my impromptu shoot at a Tragically Hip show at the Kitchener Auditorium. I thought I’d show a bunch more photos but also give a few tips and tricks.

Let’s start with packing gear. Because I hadn’t ever shot at an indoor stadium show and had no idea what kind of vantage point I’d have, I brought nearly everything (11-16, 17-55, 50-135, 35, 50, 85 and both the D300s and D7000… oh, and some strobes and light modifiers too). I really didn’t know if I would even have the chance to change lenses during the shoot but I wanted to be safe. At the time I also didn’t know the extent of the shoot…. would I be covering just the show? or maybe shooting the band afterwords? would the writer need some details to support an interview? In the end, when I found that I would just be shooting the first three songs, I opted for a simple and versatile setup that would need no lens swapping. I put the AF-S 17-55 f/2.8 on the D300s and the Tokina 50-135 f/2.8 on the D7000 and left the rest in the car.

Concert photography presents a few technical challenges due to the extreme contrast and colour of light and fast-moving performers. In the concerts I’m used to shooting, there is barely enough light to shoot 1/60s with a wide open lens at ISO 1600; however during this show there was ample light. I chose to shoot at ISO 1600 with the lenses wide open or near-wide open but was able to get very fast shutter speeds like 1/250s. Freezing the subjects was a breeze.

When shooting a concert the hall is usually quite dark and the subjects quite bright. Imagine trying to properly expose a backlit penguin in the snow and then invert the light and dark. The camera will want to expose for the shadows and completely blow out the subjects. When shooting wide angle with the D300s I dealt with this extreme contrast by setting the exposure compensation to -1EV and crossing my fingers. For the most part it worked and I got a lot of keepers. With the D7000 and 50-135 I used the spot meter instead of the matrix meter. I actually have the function button programmed to quickly switch to spot meter while pressed. Occasionally I would combine the spot meter with the AE-L (exposure lock) when I needed to recompose.

In all I got 20-25 shots that I consider keepers (not bad for three songs). Here is a selection.Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-18Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-2 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-17 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-16 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-14 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-13 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-11 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-10 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-9 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-7 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-6 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-5 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-4 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-3 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-20 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-21 Tragically Hip - Feb 5 2013-22

An Oldie but a Goodie

Here is a photo that I took a few years ago (June, 2008, to be specific) of my friend Elsa as part of a series of art for her upcoming album. Elsa wanted an “ethereal” feel and dressed accordingly. After taking a few in the garden and another few under a tree (with a lamb!) we saw that the sky was rapidly darkening. As the clouds rolled in and claps of thunder were heard in the distance I made the snap decision for us to hop over the fence an up into the field.2549214861_b348e08ffe_oWe had two lights with us, Vivitar 285HV, and cheapo ebay triggers for firing them. I set them up in a simple arrangement with the main light at camera right and the other at camera left to act as a rim. This second light can be seen at the left of the frame. I set the camera (K10D) to manual, 1/80s, f/6.3, ISO 160 to get the ambient exposure how I wanted it (1/2-1 stops underexposed) and adjusted the flashes to either 1/2 or full power. The lens, a Pentax DA 16-45/4 was zoomed out to 16mm.

A few quick snaps later and we were happy… and just in time, because as soon as we packed up the skies opened up and it rained like you wouldn’t believe!


Lighting Candid Photos with Handheld Flash

When photographing candids in a dark environment, there are many options for lighting. One could choose to use the camera’s built-in flash, but that gives harsh shadows and terrible red eye. Adding a speedlight (flash) to the hotshoe and firing it directly moves the light source a bit off axis, but shadows are still harsh and red eye is still a risk. Diffusing the light, say with a Gary Fong Lightsphere or a Lumiquest Softbox (both of which mount directly to the head of the shoe-mounted flash), helps too. However, the light is still on axis.

A very common solution, and one which I often use, is to tilt the strobe head up and bounce it from a ceiling or wall. This effectively provides a large off-axis light source, giving a very soft fill. However, if the ceiling is quite high, non-white, or not there at all bouncing just won’t work. Even if bouncing does work, the fill is still quite soft and undramatic.

A lighting solution that I’ve been working with for the past while is to hold the flash in one hand while shooting with the other. I put a diffusion on the flash, usually a Lumiquest Softbox LTz and hold it with my left arm outstretched at about 30 degrees from horizontal. This method gives soft (but not too soft) off-axis light that is easily under my control.DSC_8341I trigger the flash (Nikon SB-900 or SB-700) using Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System). I set the camera’s built-in flash as a “controller” so that it will control remote flashes but not add to the exposure. If I had set it to be a “master” it would fire as part of the exposure. I then set the handheld flash to be a remote, making sure that both it and the built-in flash are set to the same channel and group. (Note: Nikon CLS isn’t actually that complicated once you figure out all of the terminology. I found this site to be extremely useful.)

DSC_8347Of course, having more than one light source usually improves a photo even more. In the case of a wedding I did this fall in a barn, the light shining through the windows and poking through cracks in the wall provided an excellent backlight to complement the light from my flash.DSC_6378DSC_6429 DSC_6436 DSC_6427Thanks for reading!