Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category|
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
I just finished a series of four blog posts talking about the various advantages and disadvantages of different types of lighting for photo and video work (the first post, with links to the others, is here), and why I’ve decided, for the time being, to use a mixed kit of fluorescent and LED lights. This kit is great and should serve my needs very well, but there is one hurdle that needs to be overcome first: while these lights are all advertised as “full spectrum” and “daylight balanced” at 5600K, in reality they all have visibly different color temperatures, so they need to be balanced with each other in order to work well being used together to light the same scene. In this post, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions on how I took three different lights with radically different white balances and balanced them to work together beautifully.
In the image above, which I designed intentionally to exaggerate the color balance differences of the three lights, I placed (from left) a miniature LED panel, a fluorescent softbox and a 1×1 LED panel next to each other and aimed them at a uniformly white ceiling. The difference is striking (and awful).
As is, it would be very difficult to use these lights in a scene together without them appearing different colors. So they need to be balanced together. How to do this? Gels! Pulling out my collection of gels, I got to work.
I keep an assortment of gels to color balance pretty much anything (from left to right): CTOs, CTBs, Plus Greens and Minus Greens each in 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 densities. With this assortment, no matter which way a light is off balance, I can balance it.
In order to balance the three different lights (from three different manufacturers!) I started with the one that is most difficult to gel: the fluorescent (this is one of the biggest weaknesses of fluorescent lights in my opinion… they’re a pain to gel). I used that as my basis and then adjusted the other lights to match it.
It is possible to simply judge the color of a light visually in comparison to others next to it, like in the photos above, and to experiment with different gel combinations to get the lights to the point where they visually look the same to the eye, but “eyeballing” it like that is extremely difficult to do accurately; I have a very good eye for color (I scored a 19 on the X-Rite Online Color Acuity test! Take the test yourself, it’s fun!), and even I can’t achieve the level of precision that I want by eyeballing it. So to measure the color balance precisely I decided to use a couple of precision instruments: my camera and computer.
To start with, I set up a simple 18% neutral gray card on a light stand (I use this one from Amazon… it’s cheap and does the job well), along with a color chart. I lit the gray card and color chart with the fluorescent light (placing the light at an angle so that the light is illuminating the card but not reflecting glare). I then blacked out the windows in my office and shut off all the other light sources (overhead lights, computer monitors, etc.) so there was no “contamination” and I knew all the light hitting the gray card was from the light in question, and I took a still photo of the gray card and color chart with my Canon 5D Mark II camera in RAW format.
I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and opened the file in Photoshop (you could also use Lightroom or any other application that can work with RAW files, I just happened to choose Photoshop). Using the White Balance Picker / eyedropper tool in the Adobe Camera Raw conversion screen (the same tool is in the Develop tab in Lightroom in the White Balance box), I sampled the 18% neutral gray card to set the proper white balance for the image, the values of which are then displayed in the white balance section on the right (it is a good idea to click a bunch of times in a few places on the gray card as the individual measurements will vary slightly, then average the values).
Sure enough, I now saw numerically what I had seen visually on the wall: that fluorescent light was very, very green (+28 tint!). Since that is the light that was most off balance, ideally I would have gelled it to match the other lights, but since this light is so difficult to gel and the other are so much easier, I instead went the other way around and gelled the others to match this one.
With the temperature and tint white balance values for the fluorescent light in hand, I then repeated the process (blacking out the room, lighting the neutral gray card with a single light source, and shooting a photo) for each of my other lights and then found the white balance values for them as well (I found that my miniature panel has white balance values of 5100K temperature and -3 tint, and my 1×1 LED panel is 5050K temperature and +5 tint).
With that information, I then knew precisely how off balance my lights were from each other. I then added a gel to one of the lights, repeated the process of measuring the white balance values, and noted the numerical effect of a particular gel (bear in mind that as much as the gel manufacturers try to keep the color of their gels as pure as possible, a Plus Green gel will never be purely plus green…for example, my Rosco 1/4 Plus Green gels turned out to add +28 points of green tint, but also knocked off 300 degrees of temperature. But after measuring the color balance values of each light and the color effect of each gel, it was very straightforward to figure out which gels to add to each light to balance them together.
In the end, to balance my LED panels to my fluorescent lights, I needed to add 1/4 CTB and 3/8 Plus Green (one 1/4 and one 1/8) to my mini LED, and 1/8 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green to my 1×1 LED, which, while not numerically perfect, got my lights as closely balanced as possible with 1/8th-increment gels. Now I can comfortably use all of my lights in the same scene together and be confident that their colors will be balanced and visually indistinguishable.
Tags: 1/4 Plus Green, 18% gray card, 5600K, 5D Mark II, Adobe Camera Raw, balance, camera, Canon, Color Acuity, Color Balance, color temperature, computer, CTB, CTO, daylight balanced, fluorescent, full spectrum, gels, LED, light, Lightroom, Minus Green, mixed light sources, neutral gray card, photo, Photography, Photoshop, Plus Green, RAW, Rosco, softbox, temperature, tint, tungsten, video, videography, white balance, X-Rite
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Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
(Note: I originally started writing this as a single post, but it turns out there is so much to say on the topic that I’m going to break it into several posts. Links to the others will be at the bottom.)
I recently found myself in the same situation that every photographer and videographer occasionally faces. I’m currently expanding my arsenal of photo and video lights, so I’ve had to tackle the question of which type of lights to buy. Since my work includes both still and video (and since I already have a selection of strobe lights that I’m happy with), I’m focusing now on continuous lights that can be used for either still or motion work.
First, some background. As photographers and videographers know, the most commonly used lights have traditionally been xenon gas flash tubes for still photography and tungsten incandescent bulbs for video and film (HMIs are also somewhat common for motion as well, but less so than tungsten). These traditional kinds of lights work very well and they definitely still have value in the right application (in fact, in certain types of applications they’re still the best type of light there is), but they do have significant weaknesses and disadvantages, and recent technological advances have improved other light sources such as LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs to the point where they too are now practical for photo and video use.
So we now have this whole range of light sources available to us that includes the traditional tungsten and HMI (such as those made by Arri, Mole-Richardson and many others), fluorescent (in both tube format like Kino-Flos and CFL format like Westcott Spiderlites) and LED (like Litepanels) as well as some even newer and more exotic technologies that are still coming to market like organic and plasma panels (the Zacuto “PlaZma light” will be very interesting to keep an eye on once it is introduced, hopefully later this year).
Among all of these options, how do we choose the right light? Every type has advantages and disadvantages, and as with most things, which is best comes down to your individual needs and what type of work you do. Personally, the vast majority of my work is done on location instead of in a studio, so the factors that are important to me are 1) efficiency (i.e., power use), 2) heat generation, 3) portability, 4) speed of setup and ease of use, and most importantly, 5) light quality (CRI). (Cost is of course also a factor, but with each type light there are expensive options and cheaper options, so that’s less relevant). So for my current round of equipment purchases, I evaluated each of the light types on each of the criteria above. In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about how the various types of lights compare when it comes to efficiency, heat generation, portability, speed of setup and ease of use, and light quality, finally ending with my conclusions and my purchases.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the efficiency and heat generation of each types of light heads.
(Update: Links to the subsequent posts in this series are here:
Post #2: Efficiency (i.e., power usage) and Heat Generation
Post #3: Portability and Speed of Setup & Ease of Use
Tags: Arri, compact fluorescent, continuous lights, CRI, efficiency, flash tubes, fluorescent, fresnel, heat, HMI, HMIs, incandescent, Kino-Flo, LED, lights, Litepanels, Mole-Richardson, motion, photo, Photographer, PlaZma light, portability, setup, Spiderlites, still, tungsten, video, videographer, Westcott, xenon, Zacuto
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Friday, December 21st, 2012
On this last rainy weekday before everyone takes off for the holidays, I had a few free minutes and decided to add a couple of images to the website that I really like, but until now very few people had seen. The first image, “Dave,” was shot several months ago during the summer, and the second image , “Kaylee 2″ was shot just last week. Here they are.
Dave is a master craftsman who works for a large marine services company in Portland, Maine called Portland Yacht Services. This summer I was in Portland on a commercial shoot for PYS on a dry dock in Portland harbor producing a timelapse video of PYS’s employees using the drydock to service a large yacht that had been damaged. The drydocking process is fascinating (the entire structure lowers itself under water, the vessel to be serviced maneuvers inside, and the structure rises back up, lifting the entire vessel out of the water). It was a great shoot in a totally unique setting, and I also just happened to catch this candid shot of Dave on the dock. To me, guys like Dave epitomize the Maine maritime economy and culture.
Kaylee is a musician and music therapist from Seattle in the final stage of her training. Last week I was shooting a music therapy session at a senior housing community called Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Framingham, Massachusetts shooting marketing photos. I was severely limited in the amount of equipment I was allowed to bring into the facility and was limited to a single strobe and reflector, so I had to get a bit creative with my lighting. In order to create the image above I decided to take advantage of large windows that were in the room, and use the natural light as my key light and instead use the strobe only for fill. Given the limitations I really like how the image turned out.
That’s it for me, now it’s time to pack up and get on the road to my parents’ house for the holiday.
Tags: candid, commercial shoot, creative lighting, dry dock, equipment, fill, Framingham, Framingham Massachusetts, image, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, key light, lighting, Maine, marketing, marketing photos, Massachusetts, natural light, photo, photos, portfolio, Portland, Portland Maine, Portland Yacht Services, reflector, shoot, strobe, time-lapse video, Timelapse, timelapse video, video, website
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Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
Yesterday’s shoot location was a warehouse in Sudbury, MA. The shoot involved a wide shot down one of the long aisles and since the warehouse’s lights were pretty dim (even though it may not look that way from the iPhone image above), we ended up needing to light the entire length of the aisle.
We ended up with nine Profoto studio strobe heads arrayed down the length of the aisle, powered by five packs.
Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
We’ve all got favorite places; places that for whatever reason we keep coming back to, whether it’s because they’re pretty, they’re comfortable, there are good people there who we enjoy spending time with, whatever.
The weather has been beautiful in Boston for the last couple of days (with the exception of that earthquake yesterday! Does that count as weather?), and I had some free time last night so I decided to go back to one of my favorite places in Boston for shooting at night.
The Longfellow Bridge connects Cambridge and Boston across the Charles river, and looks out on the part of the river known as the Sailing Basin, because as the widest, most open part of the river, the MIT, Harvard and other university sailing teams, as well as the public all use it as a great spot for sailing small boats. On any given afternoon there are dozens of sailboats on the water here.
This spot on the bridge is a favorite of mine because in addition to the great view of the river, from this vantage point there is also a great view of the Prudential building and the Hancock Tower, Boston’s two tallest skyscrapers, and the bridge faces southwest, meaning it is wonderful for shooting landscape photos at dusk.
For this image, because I knew I wanted both the natural light in the sky as well as the artificial lights inside the buildings to be visible with a nice balance between the two, it was important to wait for just the right light. I knew that would mean in this case that would mean a little bit after sunset, when the sky had dimmed sufficiently to not overpower the artificial lights (sunset photos can be gorgeous, but I’ve found that often the best light is actually after sunset, such as here). With the camera on the tripod and using a wide-angle lens (my trusty Canon 5D Mark II with the superb EF 17-40mm f/4L lens), I stopped the lens down to f/8 because shutter speed wasn’t going to be an issue (thank you, tripod) and I wanted the little bit of extra sharpness that comes with a smaller aperture. Using a remote cable release to fire the camera to avoid shake I fired a few frames to test exposure (the camera’s internal light meter here is a decent starting point but only a starting point) and play with a few different angles. Since I wasn’t using a tilt/shift lens and the camera needed to be angled up to get the framing I wanted, I had to do a bit of digital alteration in post (Photoshop’s “Lens Correction” function) to remove the distortion and make the buildings straight.
The result is what I think is a nice image, somewhat different than ones I’ve taken here before. It is by no means perfect though (if in fact an image can ever be), so I’m sure that I’ll be back to this spot again some time.
Tags: 17-40mm f/4L, 5D Mark II, Boston, Cambridge, Canon, Charles river, earthquake, Hancock Tower, Harvard, Lens Correction, Longfellow Bridge, MIT, Photoshop, Prudential, remote cable release, sailing, tilt/shift lens
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Friday, July 1st, 2011
Ah, it’s that time of year. In a couple of days, towns and cities all over the country are going to be having fireworks displays, and I have to say, cooking out on the grill with friends & family then sitting in the grass watching fireworks is one of my favorite things. Fireworks are beautiful and make for beautiful, striking and colorful photographs, but they’re also technically challenging to photograph well, primarily because there isn’t a whole lot of light.
If you’re planning to take pictures of fireworks this weekend, there are a few things you can do to make your pictures much better.
#1: Camera Support. Because it’s nighttime and there’s very little light, the camera is going to need a very slow shutter speed (ie, a long exposure) to get enough light to properly expose the photo, and therefore needs to be held very still to prevent the picture from being blurry. It is very difficult to hold the camera steady enough in your hand, so you need to use something else to keep the camera from moving during the exposure. The most common kind of camera support is a tripod: if you’ve got one and are able to carry it with you, great. That’s your best option. If not though, there are other things you can do to steady the camera: anything you can rest the camera on can be used to steady it – this could be a backpack you put on the ground and then the camera on top of; a jacket you ball up, or even a fence rail, window sill or other fixed structure that the camera can sit on.
#2: The longest exposure you can manage! In the photo above, there are at least a half a dozen individual fireworks exploding. They didn’t all go off at the same time! By keeping the camera exposure as long as you can, you can pull off a trick: since the fireworks are so bright against the night sky, one going off after another after another will have the effect of “layering” the explosions on top of each other, and the single photo will end up having lots of explosions that happened at different times. The photo above was exposed for 25 seconds, so all of the explosions that happened during that whole 25 seconds show up in the photo. The flip side of this trick though, is that the camera needs to be help absolutely still for the whole time, or else the photo will be blurry, so the camera support above is that much more important.
In cameras that have full manual controls (SLR cameras and other high-end ones), setting a long exposure is easy (with an SLR camera you should also use a small aperture [high f-stop #] to gain a deeper depth of field and allow a longer exposure!). In other cameras like “point & shoot” types that can fit in your pocket, it can be trickier or impossible to set longer exposures (on some models, the “exposure compensation” can be turned all the way up to force the camera to take a longer exposure).
#3 Avoid the smoke. When fireworks go off they make a lot of smoke, and if the air is humid or there isn’t much wind, the smoke can hang around and obscure a clear view of the fireworks going off. If you can, try to pick a spot up-wind from where the fireworks are going to go off, so that the smoke gets blown away from you, instead of in your face. Photos look a lot better without a ton of smoke in them.
#4 Avoid extraneous light sources when you can (or at least figure out how to keep them from being distracting)! Extraneous light sources can be distracting in an image, especially since they’re going to be magnified many times in brightness by the long exposures you’re going to be using. In the image above, there were a bunch of light sources (street lights) that just couldn’t be avoided without really screwing up the framing of the image. I did work though to keep a really, really bright light that was facing straight at me out of the frame to the left. Even so though, you can see the light and lens flare that came from that light.
Good luck, and have fun!
Friday, July 1st, 2011
So I walked over to my town’s local fireworks display last night (right around the corner from my house), and just for fun, I carried along a camera and tripod (of course… it’s just who I am). It was crazy – a much bigger production than I’d assumed: all of the streets were blocked off, there were thousands of people in the streets, food trucks, etc etc.:
No sooner than I had set up my tripod I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as writer for the Boston Globe, asking me who I was there shooting for (in other words, if I worked for another news organization). When I replied that I’m a self-employed photographer and was just there shooting photos for my own amusement, she asked if she could use one of my photos for her Globe article – apparently the Globe “didn’t have budget” to send one of their own photographers to cover the event.
Everyone knows that times are very tough for print media organizations – since everyone is getting their news online, newspapers’ subscriber bases are evaporating and with them go the newspapers’ revenue, which has resulted in terrible staff cuts at just about every paper. But it is a sad state of affairs indeed when a leading regional newspaper “doesn’t have budget” to pay a photojournalist to cover an event on which they plan to publish a story, and this was an example of why I am very, very glad that I am not a photojournalist.
In any case, I was there shooting photos anyway, and since they’d already decided they weren’t going to pay for photography of the event (that much was clear) I told the writer that provided I was given proper credit for the photo, I’d give the Globe one to run with their story*. The writer took my email address, and several hours later via email I sent her a few photos I captured from the evening.
For the Globe’s article, they picked one of the photos I sent, and the writer actually quoted me as well (which I didn’t know she was going to do! If I’d known I was going to be quoted, I’d have paid attention to my grammar!). The article can be seen here: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/somerville/2011/07/somerville_fireworks_light_up.html
Here are a few of the photos I shot that night (it really was a great display, and as Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone was sure to point out, the fireworks didn’t cost taxpayers a dime, since they were funded in full through private donations).
*: I understand this issue may anger some professionals in the industry who rely on paying editorial work. The debate about shooting for pay vs. shooting solely for a credit is not an insignificant one, and it is truly embarrassing for the Globe that they have cut back so dramatically on paying editorial work that they didn’t send a staff photographer or editorial freelancer to shoot something that they thought was important enough to warrant a story. It is a bad time to be an editorial photographer or photojournalist indeed.
Tags: Boston, Boston Globe, Fireworks, Independence Day, July 4th, Mayor Joe Curtatone, media, newspaper, Photographer, Photographing Fireworks, Photography, photojournalism, photojournalist, print media, revenue, Somerville, taxpayers
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Thursday, March 25th, 2010
Take a look at this photo – does anything seem wrong here?
After shooting a portrait for a client the other day, the subject emailed me with an unusual request. Now, in editing portraits in Photoshop, I often trim a few inches off the waists of subjects, remove skin blemishes, etc. This client’s request though, was a new one for me: he wanted me to give him a thicker beard.
Apparently, he had given up shaving a week or so before the portrait was shot, and therefore had several days’ growth of stubble, but wanted a fuller beard for his portrait. In fact, the subject’s beard was pretty stubbly. Here is the original image:
I emailed the subject back that this kind of digital Rogaine would be tricky to do without it looking fake, but nonetheless he asked me to do what I could. I generally don’t like manipulating photographs to such a degree that it crosses the line in my mind from simple retouching (correcting skin blemishes, for example) into outright fakery (which this clearly did), but at the end of the day, my job is to make the client happy. So I proceeded. After my standard, basic Photoshop tweaks (slight Curves, Hue & Saturation and Color Balance adjustments in the form of Adjustment Layers), the image looked like this:
To give the impression of a fuller, heavier beard though, I was going to have to get creative… I decided that in order to achieve a realistic look I would need the texture of actual fibers and strands of hair. So, I identified the thickest part of the subject’s facial hair (which looked to be an area under his nose, highlighted in yellow below), selected it and Identified it as a pattern for the Pattern Stamp tool. Essentially, I was going to use the subject’s own hair to clone in additional hair.
I then used the Pattern Stamp tool to “paint on” the additional hair into a separate layer, varying the opacity from 90% where the appearance would be heaviest around the subject’s mouth, to 10% (in 10% increments) where it would be the lightest, on the sides of his face. The “mask” created by this process is represented below as a Quick Mask, showing the varying degrees of opacity. This process got me close, but didn’t give me quite the look I wanted, so I repeated the procedure using another pattern, this time taken from the subject’s head (highlighted above in green), rotating the selection such that the strands of hair flowed the correct directions. Again, I used the graduated-opacity mask shown below.
The end result came out pretty well – I was able to significantly thicken the subject’s beard, but don’t think a typical viewer would look at the photo and think anything had been altered. Placed side by side with the original, however, the difference is substantial:
As I said above, I don’t like altering photographs to an extent that constitutes fakery (the distinction of which of course is a completely subjective judgement, but which in my mind means going beyond simply erasing an unattractive pimple here and there)… I find it distasteful. But as a corporate headshot, the purpose of this photo is to make the subject look good (this isn’t a documentary or photojournalistic shot), and the job of the photographer is always to make the client happy. With this little bit of Photoshop creativity, I think I succeeded.
(By the way, this portrait was shot on my new Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro prime lens using my Canon 5D Mark II body. This was the first time I used the lens for client work, and it is fantastic! The lens is so good I think I’m going to have to write another blog post about it when I get the time! For now though, great lens, highly recommended!)
Tags: Adjustment Layers, Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro prime lens, Canon 5D Mark II, clone, Color Balance, corporate headshot, Curves, fakery, Hue & Saturation, mask, opacity, Pattern Stamp, Photoshop, Portrait, Quick Mask
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Monday, December 21st, 2009
This was a fun little personal project. A friend of mine is a very talented musician, and recently asked a favor for assistance with a project he was working on. Brian is a big Beatles fan, and he had an idea that for Christmas presents for his family and friends he would record a CD of his cover versions of a number of his favorite Beatles songs (no small task, as Brian played all of the parts [lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums and vocals] himself!). Brian asked me to create the front and back covers for the CD.
Brian’s idea was that we would recreate one of his favorite Beatles album covers, and do a take-off on it. He decided to use the cover from the Beatles’ first U.S. album released in 1963, With the Beatles, which looks like this:
The idea was that we would substitute Brian’s face for those of John, Paul, George & Ringo. If I could get him in a studio in front of a black background with studio lighting this would be easy. Unfortunately Brian currently lives in Chicago, so not only couldn’t I get him in a studio, I couldn’t even shoot his headshots myself. Instead, I instructed him to set up his Point & Shoot camera zoomed all the way in to match the flattened look of the Beatles’ faces, with a single light on to his left, to light the left side of his face as the subjects on the real cover were lit. With the help of his wife Katie, he took those shots and emailed them to me. They looked like this:
A good start, but they needed a lot of work in order to make them look authentic to the original. In Photoshop, I outlined Brian’s head and shoulders, removed the background and replaced it with a solid black background. I then converted the image to black & white using various adjustment layers and masks to achieve the high-contrast lighting of the originals. I arrived at something that was pretty close.
I used a gradient to blend his shoulders to black to make them disappear, then used this file to create a composite image of four different Brians, laid out like the original image. For the four Brians, I layered the images one on top of another with their shoulders slightly overlapping to give the appearance of four people standing one in front of another, slightly decreasing the size and softening the focus each time to create the illusion of depth of field. After a few minutes in Adobe Illustrator to recreate the Parlophone logo and typeset a title bar, I then used Photoshop’s filters to add some noise and texture patterns to the image, to give it the look and feel of an aged, grainy, textured paper, instead of a 21-st century glossy digital print! The result:
I think it is pretty faithful to the original…
I also quickly laid out the back cover / track list using Adobe Illustrator, in the same style as the original:
All in all, a fun project.