Archive for May 2010

more old Hollywood attempts

May 17th, 2010 — 2:50pm

Tammy - homage to old Hollywood glamour

Tammy - homage to old Hollywood glamour


am fascinated by the old Hollywood glamour style.  I like the dramatic use of light, props and pose to create this vaporous, impossibly beautiful images of the movie stars of the time.   I have occasionally paid homage to the style using modern equipment and techniques, and generally feeling dissatisfied with the results.  So yesterday I tried again, with Tammy, a lovely local model.   What makes the style distinctive are these features, in no particular order:

·         Lighting is the key component.   In the 30s photographers like Hurrell used large movie style tungsten lamps equipped with a Fresnel lens.   These fixtures are still available today, but their practical use is limited, as they are very heavy, consume lots of power and generate plenty of  heat.  Alternatives in the form of strobe Fresnel are made by some manufactures like Profoto.    Norman modified an old tungsten can to contain a strobe, and called it the F10 fresnel – that’s what I used for this shoot – actually I only used the 250w modeling light, not the strobe itself to achieve shallow depth of field.

·         Black and white images, with ortho film in the very early days, which gives reds, like lips, a dark tonality.     Black and white can be successfully obtained today with digital processing, down to the level of grain and film type – although not for those old films from the 30s.

·         Smooth skin – this was achieved by hand retouching the negative for hours until the desire effect was achieved.  It’s much easier today with digital post-processing.

·         Use of a large camera and negative, 8×10, and slow lenses, which give a very shallow depth of field- this is doable today shooting with 35mm wide open with a fast lens, although the results are not exactly identical.  Digital processing can be added to modify depth of field,  with only modest success.

·         Makeup, pose, wardrobe and props – very important to achieve the look of the 30s.

So, for the images below I used a Normal F10 strobe Fresnel as the key light, but only the modeling light, not the flash itself.  This is a fairly low power lamp of about 250w.   I had to shoot at f/2.8 and 1/30 sec or so.  This forced me to use a tripod to avoid camera motion.   There was a hair light, a 650w Lowell strobe, which was difficult to control because it was (much) more powerful than the key light and it has no dimmer.   So I moved it as high up as my ceiling allows, and I don’t think I did a great job controlling it.   Finally I had a 250w Home Depot working light run thru a home made cookie to break the white seamless and produce the pattern on the background.   We shot in my home studio, the garage, which was quite hot because of the summer like temperatures outside and all the hear generated 1,000 watts of lights.    I’ve got lots to learn, but this is a good stop in that direction!

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The scary story

May 12th, 2010 — 9:12am

As I have shared before, this year I am trying to improve my story telling ability, my use of multiple planes, and my on-location lighting. This evening I did this portrait of my son to continue to exercise these abilities.

The title is “The Scary Story” because this is what I told him the book was about, and he gave me this expression

Some technical details about the shoot:
Nikon D700 with 24-70mm at 62mm, f/3.5, 1/250 sec, ISO 200

The background was a 9 ft roll of seamless paper, reddish brown color, extended behind the couch in my living room. I did this because there are windows with blinds behind the coach and I wanted a simpler background. The lamp with the flash inside and the vase with orchids were moved there to break the background and add some night time feeling to the image.


  • Key light was a WL X3200 in very low power with a 20 degree grid to camera left, triggered with a PW. This light was flagged with a piece of black card board, preventing the spill from causing a shadow behind the lamp. You can see there is still a shadow there, but it doesn’t bother me much.
  • There was an SB800 flash inside the lamp, also triggered with a Pocket Wizard. The lamp shade was modified to be a warmer color in post processing, as I didn’t use a gel this time.
  • No fill light for more drama.

The scare story

Minimal postprocessing, no cropping, no color adjustment, just warming up the lamp, which was a bit too white and bright. Just resizing and sharpening for the web.

This is a case where a spot light works great. A softbox would have ruined the night mood, as it would have filled the place with light.

Comments welcome!

1 comment » | Photo Sessions

Film Nostalgia

May 9th, 2010 — 9:39pm

Sometimes I get film nostalgia and feel compelled to go back to the old ways. For me the nostalgia is more sentimental and emotional than rational - I love the little film camera from my father that I keep in its immaculate condition, a wonderful Olympus OM-1, in all its mechanical simplicity. I love the noise it makes when I press the trigger, the feel of the trigger as I press it, and the great view I get thru the viewfinder. And I love the memories associated with this camera, memories about my father.

So when the nostalgia hits me I get the camera out of its brown leather case, put a roll of film in it, and take some pictures. Today I connected a Pocket Wizard to the flash sync port and shot the camera with a softbox. I ran to Costco to have the film developed and then I scanned one of the frames in my very sh*tty flatbad scanner.

When I opened the image in Photoshop, the disappointment started to replace the nostalgia. While the feel of photographing with this little camera is wonderful, the images I get are not. It’s not the camera or the lens, for sure, it’s my poor ability to make decent digital images of my color negatives. I’d need a much better scanner, and much better knowledge about how to scan, in order to go a good job. The scan had at least 100 specks of dust, and I had just taken the negative from the sleeve to put in into the scanner tray. The image just doesn’t look good.

So now I get the urge to get a good scanner to do justice to the negative, which I know is good. But then I realize that I am trying to mix film and digital, at some expense, to simply feed the feeling of nostalgia. There is nothing special about the images I took with the Olympus OM-1 - the only special thing is what’s inside of me when I touch the camera, it’s a purely emotional thing. I can do a better job with digital equipment.

So… I think I will not try to bring those negatives into the digital realm - when the urge to shoot film overtakes me, I’ll run a couple of rolls thru it and print them 4×6 but not scan them. It’s just for the pleasure of feeling the camera in my hands.

Here is the scanned image. I don’t like how my wife’s right arm is posed, but I like their expressions. We’ll put it away as a Mother’s Day portrait.

Olympus OM-1, with Fuji Superia ASA 400, f/11 1/60, with a softbox to camera right. Some postprocessing in Photoshop, including skin smoothing.  Converted to platinum monochrome on the computer.

Mothers day

Mother's day

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Prehispanic kids

May 4th, 2010 — 10:37pm

Prehispanic princess

Prehispanic princess

After dinner today my son asked me to make a portrait of him. He got new glasses today, so the request was partially to get pictures with his new glasess, and partially to get a 99c app he had been checking out earlier. He gets an app whenever he models for me.

Trying to do something different I set up a mini studio in the living area and decided to do something with a Prehispanic theme, just because we’ve been to Central and South America together and have artifacts from those countries. They are wearing ahuipil (heavy wool blouse) we bought in Guatemala.

I used my new Photoflex octabox with the gold panels inside as key light. The SB800 in a small softbox acting as hair light also had a full CTO on it. I set the white balance to 3550 Kelvin in postprocessing for a warm, rich tonality.

My daughter saw the action and she wanted to be part of it - she picked some crafts we bought in Peru, and posed for me. I love these kids!!

Prehispanic princess

Prehispanic princess

Prehispanic prince

Prehispanic prince


Lighting diagram

Lighting diagram

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