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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

The Company of Photogs

Sep 18

In Lighting at 7:21am

I have always enjoyed the company of photographers, and last week, in a couple teaching stints, I was definitely in the mix with hundreds of funny, gregarious, passionate shooters. Some of whom, as you see below, helped me out by becoming extroverted, unabashed subjects for my camera.

These impromptu modeling sessions have become a staple when I teach, and my search of the audience for faces alternately produces groans, rueful smiles, outright enthusiasm, and sheer unadulterated dread. As a people photog, though, I enjoy the very haphazard search for faces. It has been a search I’ve conducted, literally, my whole career.

The lighting above is dead bang simple. The basic light shaper is a piece of xerox paper, taped to the computer screen. Done deal. You can control the sideways spill of it, if you wish, with a few strips of gaffer tape.

Background is a light on the floor, and the red hair light is a third SB unit, suspended overhead. You can send them signals to behave as TTL lights, or manual lights, and maneuver the exposure at camera to achieve a decently saturated look and feel. One of these days, I’ll take the time to craft a fancy spot light for the front of the computer, but when moving through demos, I don’t take that extra time. This is just a fun few minutes with gels, colors, simple light techniques, and some folks who obviously have some pretty good acting skills.

Have a few more teaching stints this year, mostly for the Kelby group down in Tampa. Here’s link for places and dates.  Also head to Mexico twice. First up, San Miguel, with the Santa Fe Workshops.  Then, in December, I return to Mexico for the PhotoXperience, in beautiful Guanajuato. 

Head to the UK today. Some vacation, and then, GPP PopUP.  All the best, to everyone! More tk….

Hi Tech Machine, Low Tech Flash

Jul 11

In Lighting, On Location at 6:58am

So how do you shoot a medical marvel that is an absolute tech wonder, producing and providing highly detailed maps of the interior of the human body, but, on the outside, sort of looks like a big refrigerator with a hole in it?

The only sexy thing about this machine, visually speaking, were the blessedly intense, focused red beams that created the cross hairs used by the technicians to “aim” the scanner. The patient slides into the machine, and the device is aligned with assist of these beams. Turn the lights off in the room, which is one of the first things I often do when I walk into an environment, and you basically have the picture below.

Once again, up pops the irony of being a “flash photographer.” At any given moment,  the most important light you deal with is the ambient light. What exists, is the first question you grapple with. Then, and only then, after you wrangle what exists and what role (dominant, background, fill) that light will play in the photo, can you mess with flash.

So in the darkness, with a D800E set at f5.6 at ISO 400, I sorted out a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Which was fine, as my “patient” wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, in this iteration, I’ve got a red light and no context, or information. Luckily, I had a wall behind me, flat and white. I turned the head of my SB 910 backwards into the wall, and shifted my color balance to incandescent. That flat wash of light off the wall, un-gelled, and plain white, defined the machine, and the tungsten WB gave it a bluish cast, which I felt would work better than dead bang white. One flash, on camera, re-directed, gave me color, tone, context and editorial content.

Still couldn’t turn on the overhead fluorescents to provide the background illumination, as their overall, blah quality of light, filling the room (which is what they are supposed to do) bleached out the intensity of the red aiming beams, and those red beams were the anchor for the picture. So, I kept the room dark, and flashed the background of the photograph with two SB units, each slightly warmed with a CTO (color temperature orange) gels. I believe the gels were fairly mild, maybe a quarter cut, or 25% of the truly warm tone a full conversion gel would have presented. They are placed, TTL, in Group C, which is always the group I use for the background lights in any photo. I switched my on camera flash to double duty, acting as a TTL main light, and the commander for the background fills. Done.

But, was I really done in the darkness? As is said in The Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. I was moving fast, needing to clear the room of my gear so they could get back to scanning. I had a nice picture, one I knew the client would be happy with. So I plunged ahead.

Now, I love Manfrotto stacker stands. I just don’t love them when they’re actually in my picture. Doh! They had to be retouched out in the final TIFF sent in for the book. As I always say, whenever you are feeling lock solid and dialed in, think again, and check again.

In the darkened hallways of my mind, the ghost of Numnuts is cavorting about and laughing, and that laughter echoes, as it has for my entire career.

More tk….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different Flash, Different Look

Jun 5

In Lighting at 6:11am

Out there in the rainy morning mist, my first instinct was to pop some light. I definitely needed a bit of contrast, but had to be careful because of the white nature of the gown. Between the attire and the background, I was dealing with a pretty monochromatic situation.

So I put up a beauty dish in what I’ve heard Greg Heisler refer to as “standard, regulation beauty dish position.” It was up and over the model, fairly steeply, to camera right. And it did its standard, regulation job. Nice light, mostly collecting around her head and shoulders and then fading down the length of her gown. Read the rest of this entry »

A Little Light in the Back of the Set

May 21

In Lighting at 7:35am

Last week I blogged a version of a recent portrait of my college photography professor, Fred Demarest. I enjoyed my time with Fred during my last visit to Syracuse, and was a bit nervous on the set, really trying to do well, as this was the guy who first critiqued my work as a shooter, a long time ago. So, I kept it simple.

The up front light was a Profoto 2400ws unit, fitted with a beauty dish, draped in a diffuser sock. The Profoto folks have graciously outfitted the Syracuse studios, so the students there have the benefit of top of the line gear to shoot with. 

That unit is a very efficient light source, and of course, at 2400 ws, it’s got power to burn. I had it cranking at just about min power, and still had f11 at 1/200th of a second. (Also, I wanted something around f11 to retain sharpness in the background objects.) So, it was with some trepidation that I put an SB 910, running at full power, in SU-4 (manual slave) mode, at the back of the set. I didn’t know if there would be enough juice in that little light. What I needed it to do was light the seamless, which would in turn silhouette the old style constant lights that are kicking around in the SU studio.

I set it up on the little floor stand that comes with the unit, left the dome diffuser on, tilted the head up about 45 degrees into the wall, and let fly. Bingo. That little sucker had just enough power to complete the photo.

Seems a little crazy, when you’re using a monster pack up front, to use a speed light in the back. I use small flash in conjunction with bigger flash all the time, but usually those bigger units are in the 400ws to 1100ws range. Using a 2400 pack, I thought the hot shoe flash might be like a small rock thrown into a deep quarry made of photons. It would vanish immediately.

But, it hung in there. When I overshot it, and the flash did not fire, this is what I got.

Small flash, big difference. More tk….

Small Lights into a Big Source

Apr 18

In Lighting at 9:47am

Ah, the lowly umbrella. Simple, relatively cheap, no frills. I have often denigrated umbrella light as being a bit boring, while at the same time praising it for being utterly reliable, producing predictable results time and again. In other words, boring. It is a very basic light shaping tool, often the very first one in a photographer’s arsenal. Light, cheap and collapsible, it’s easy to see why.

But lately, I’ve been using bigger umbrellas more and more in all manner of situations, and have been collaborating with Lastolite to perhaps produce a couple hopefully advantageous wrinkles in the lighting options an umbrella presents. We’ll see where that goes. But in the meantime, I’ve been having fun using speed lights, and firing them into umbrellas that are about the size of a small midwestern city.

Shot the above in Saudi Arabia a couple weeks ago, and the shaper is an jumbo Lastolite umbrella box type of light, the type with a soft piece of frosted material over the umbrella scoop. I’ve got three SB-910 speed lights on TTL firing into it, all hung on a ratcheting tri-flash. The results from this are generally soft and wrapping–a very easy going quality of light that has a lot of forgiveness in the shadows.

Now, could you do this with a single big light? Of course. Just didn’t have one of those with me. But the nice thing about having small, multiple sources pointing into this Sasquatch of a light shaper is that they do all combine to produce a large, lovely volume of light. And, given the vagaries and alchemy of TTL, I can send a signal to those lights via the commander flash, and they resolutely (well, sometimes reluctantly) follow me to f1.4.

The other thing about using small, position adjustable flash guns into a giant shaper is that if you need to sequester the light into a certain quadrant of that shaper, you can do it by clicking the speed light heads in different directions. Say you want more light being produced out of the lower scoop of the umbrella. Just take two of the flash units and click them downwards into that area. The effects are subtle, but definitely visible, thus giving you a another fairly easily accessible element of control over the broad brush of flash lighting you are painting the scene with.

At PhotoShop World in Orlando, and demonstrated this type of approach on stage, albeit with a big shoot through umbrella. Found a wonderful member of the audience, and asked her to come up.

From ten feet, it looked like this…

 

From five feet, it looked like this….

 

Then, by redirecting the speed lights inside the brolly, and pushing them towards the right hand side of the umbrella, the shadow side of my subject’s face opens up, just a touch….

 

Small adjustments inside a big light….more tk….