Violinist II

October 5th, 2010 — 9:17pm

Tonight I had a chance to photograph my girl again during her practice and I used a different lighting setup. Wanted to do two things differently - move from low key to mid key, and give more emphasis to the background.

Lighting setup: 3 portable flashes - no ambient light was used.

Key light - to camera left, SB800 with 20 degree grid.

Fill light - SB800 pointing to the wall to camera left (not visible) - barebulb, used the wall as a bounce reflector.

Accent light - there is an SB-24 flash hidden behind the lamp on the top right corner. The lamp was actually turned off, and the light you see coming from it is the flash.

I am not too happy about her frontal position and the shadows of the bow and her right hand, but this is just an exercise for me to try different lighting setups at home. The way to eliminate this shadow problem would be to have her wear dark, which would change the mood. I coould also reduce the shadow contrast using a larger source of illumination, but that would change the light structure in the background. So I would need to think about it more.

The original color image had a color shift, with the fill being 5600K and the key and accent being 3200K color, but I wasn’t pleased with the color trickery and decided to process to black and white with Photoshop. Simple is good.

Violinist II

Violinist II

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Tired violinist practicing on a Sunday evening

October 3rd, 2010 — 9:34pm

We had a full weekend enjoying the nice weather. My daughter didn’t do her violin practice until Sunday evening, and she was really tired by the time she started. She patiently practiced and waited for me to set up lights, and finally she posed for me. Then she lied down and went to sleep. You can see her sleeping in the “behind the scenes” image below.

Tired violinist

Tired violinist

And the behind the scenes setup:

Sleeping musician and lighting set up

Sleeping musician and lighting set up

I had a couple of technical issues with this simple portrait:

(1) The shoot-thru umbrella was sending light up and to the wall, producing a shadow of the umbrella, I solved this by standing a piece of black foam core board on the umbrella, behind the flash, blocking light from going to the background wall.

(2) Her sweater was red - I did the B&W conversion of the sweater separately to achieve a darker tone that wouldn’t compete with her face.

(3) The flash on the keyboard was spreading light too much - I solved this my wrapping a piece of cinema foil around the head and making a snoot out of it to focus the light on the keyboard.

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The young violinist in nature

August 26th, 2010 — 9:19pm

This is a portrait of my daughter we did after her violin class right behind the public library we normally go to. She just started to learn violin and I wanted to get a “classy” portrait. So instead of using a fake background I used a real sunset. Lighting is the sunset as fill and an umbrella to camera left as main.

The young violinist in nature

The young violinist in nature

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Fitness portrait of Amara

August 22nd, 2010 — 8:10pm

Final effort

Lighting: 4 strobe lights plus ambient. The portrait was made on location at a high school track this morning.

Light 1 - Key was a 22 in. beauty dish with a 40 degree grid in front of the model and pointing down, about 12 ft from her.

Lights 2 and 3 - There were 2 SB800’s one on each side behind the model, with grid or snoot, acting as kicker lights and putting a highlight around her arms and shoulders.

Light #4 - A bare SB-25 flash on a boom right above her providing a kiss of light on her hair.

Fill was ambient light.

My assistant sprayed some water around Amara to create a fresh “real” feeling.

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Hold the sun, son!

August 3rd, 2010 — 9:40pm

Pablo and I went to the library to pick up some books just a little while ago, close to sundown. There is a nice little pond behind the Davis Library in Plano that had lovely water reflections and the sun setting over it.

I said to him, how about a sunset portrait? And he said, “Sure, let’s pretend I am holding the sun!” - I don’t know if he’s seen this kind of fun picture before or what, but it was totally his idea.

It took five minutes to set up my beloved EX600 strobe on stand, mount the 70-200mm lens on the D700 and take the equivalent of a roll of film. He picked these two. Colors are straight out of the camera, as is the exposure - I desaturated his bright blue shorts to make them less distracting.

Good photo fun!

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Spaghetti with meatballs

July 20th, 2010 — 4:13pm

Spaghetti with meatballs

Spaghetti with meatballs

KayLee, a model I have worked with before, and I headed to an Italian restaurant to do a spaghetti and meatballs portrait. When we got there, at about 11am, the table next to the one with the map of Italy over it was taken up by three cops. I talked to them and reassured them that they would not be part of the picture  KayLee came to me whispering if she was going to be arrested for taking a pic next to a glass of wine, as she is under 21. I reassured her that the cops where busy with their own meatballs and they could clearly see that the wine was just a prop. With all that out of the way I ordered this mega spaghetti plate for her and set up the lights.

Lighting: two SB800 flashes. One, the key light, set to camera right on a stand, with a 32 in thru umbrella. This light was about 4 feet above her and feathered. One with a 20 degree grid set 3 ft over the table and pointing down on a Nano stand with a C-stand arm attached to it. I was afraid to set up a full C-stand in this tiny place.

D700 camera with 70-200mm lens and Pocket Wizards controlling the flashes manually.

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Daniel, landscape apprentice

July 10th, 2010 — 9:44pm

Daniel enjoying his landscape work

Daniel enjoying his landscape work

It was a fun project this rainy afternoon, and the photo was done while the rain was coming down in front of my house - fortunately, it was just a drizzle.

First the inspiration from this shot came from two places - one, the Mexican landscape guys came this morning and I saw them not walking, but running with the mowers. The second source of inspiration was the Germany-Uruguay match I watched on Univision - all those players in the air on the replays. My son invited a buddy of his, Daniel, fellow soccer player, to come home and I mentioned this idea of doing a reckless mower ride with them. Daniel’s face lit up when I explained what I wanted to do (but didn’t know how to do) and said “Can I go first?” - so he got the honors.

Ok, without further ado, here is the pullback picture and I’ll explain how the image was fabricated.

The image was created right in front of my house using ambient light and two flashes. I am really enjoying using my new EX600 flash for these images, and in this case I added an SB800 as well. I underexposed ambient by over a stop. As it was raining ambient light was rather weak.

The camera was on the tripod and both the camera and the mower remained unmoved in order to shoot the two frames it took to create the final image. This was important so that I could overlap the images with a minumum amount of postprocessing work.

The first frame was just the lawnmower with nothing behind it. I asked Daniel to lift it from the front so that I could have a shot of the background without the stool, in the same position it would be in the second frame…This would make getting rid of the stool very easy by painting this are of the frame from this image.

The second frame had Daniel acting while laying flat on his belly on top of the stool you see on the image above. I asked him to bend his legs back, to wear the hat in a certain way, and to express the feeling of being pulled hard by a lawnmower. He lifted the front of the lawnmower up the same amount he had lifted before for the first shot, but this time pulling down as he was laying on the stool. Kids really know how to do this well! 

Digital editing including adding a radial motion on each of the three wheels and a mild motion blur on the background.

That’s all there is to it - what it took the longest was to come up with the idea, the execution was a simple problem solving exercise.

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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!

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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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