Last weekend I tried using my new background kit (stands + white seamless) to shoot some portraits of our cats, Gracie and Professor Noam Chomsky. For the key light I used an Alien Bee B800 with gridded beauty dish from camera right, somewhat close to the posing stool. A Paul C Buff Brollie Box on a 2nd B800 was the fill light, set back from camera left. Both lights were set to equal output power, so distance controlled the intensity on the cats. The background light was a 3rd B800 with barn doors to control the spill.
“Posing” the cats was an exercise in patience. While Gracie eventually chilled out on the stool and let me get a long series of shots, Chomsky had no interest. The lamb skin helped but I still only had 10 seconds after setting him down before he’d run away to the bedroom.
I shot withe the D700 + AF-S 85mm f/1.8 G on a tripod and cable release, allowing me to shoot from the floor between the camera and cats.
My good friend Portt was asked to photograph a fully-restored Jaguar E-Type for an Ebay sale. Being the “guy with the lights” and also a car nut he asked me if I wanted to come along and meet the fantastically beautiful work of art, perfection on wheels. “Yes”, I said. I was fully expecting to park the car under a tree, near a fence, with a picturesque farm scene behind. Or on a twisty road, tunneled by tall trees. But in reality it was sitting in a dark and dusty barn basement under a tarp, boxed in by a bunch of other stored cars.
We set up the lights as best we could to not create too many hot spots and blown-out specular reflections. The key was to have the light sources as large and diffuse as possible. Since I don’t own and giant car-length softboxes or strip lights, instead I brought my umbrellas and brolly-box as close to the car as I could. For lights I used my two Alien Bees B800s and a Vivitar 285HV, all remote triggered by Paul C Buff Cybersyncs. The camera was a D300s with AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 @ 17mm f/6.3 1/60s ISO 200.
Here’s a bit of nostalgia for those who were as lucky as me to have been part of the Trepid House in Waterloo.
For those who don’t know, the Trepid House was both a record label headquarters, music venue for house shows, art gallery and a great place to live. The house, mostly under the guidance of Jeff Woods, hosted in the range of 100 shows over its five years and served as a launching point for many local artists. I lived there from spring of 2007 until the winter of 2009, a time I will cherish forever. I do intend to write a much more expansive post about the house (and how my experiences there shaped me into the photographer I am now) but for now I’d like to show the images from an art installation I put up in the attic art gallery.
Called “Scream”, these images all have a common theme that should be quite obvious. They were taken mostly through 2008 using a lighting system that Jeff and I worked out with some trial and error. We worked with three lights, Vivitar 285HV, triggered with cheapo ebay triggers and then later on with Paul C. Buff Cybersyncs. A light was clamped to the door frame at the left and another on a window frame at the right. The third light sat in the back left corner of the room, pointed at the camera to provide rim lighting. Occasionally we would add a fourth light on the right side of the room, pointed at the drummer.
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.We 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!
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.I 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.)
Of 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.Thanks for reading!