Wednesday, 27 February 2013

LED Lights for Stills Photography

I spent the day at the Broadcast Video Expo in London yesterday looking at continuous lighting which may be of use to stills photographers. There are more and more LED units appearing on the market for a broad range of applications and prices. Soft lights, there are few, but hard direct LEDs seem to dominate (motion picture DPs and gaffers work differently to stills photographers). By their nature, direct LEDs give a very hard light, which when shone directly into the talent's face will give an effect similar arc eye or rentina burn.

Many of the new LED lights on the market are going to open up many opportunities for stills photographers, but some will need to rethink their lighting and fear of high ISO, which on newer full frame DSLR cameras will not be a problem. Use of diffusion media with hard direct lights is an essential skill, soft boxes and brollies are not designed with these lights in mind, so a stock of diffusion sheets, which incidentally are not expensive and cheaper than many special light modifiers will be needed.

You can see how a small selection of Rosco's diffusion sheets work here:

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Lighting Alicia

This test image of Alicia Sandeman, a brilliant makeup artist was posted to Facebook a few days ago.

Alicia will provide makeup and hair for a forthcoming project, as she has never been photographed professionally, decided to take the plunge, a) to get some images for her portfolio and website etc, b) to experience what others experience in front of the camera when I'm in control, so I had to be a good lad!

A lot of people have commented on the lighting so I thought I'd share more about the image.

Before the shoot I had not met Alicia, only spoken to her on the phone so had no idea what to expect. So on arrival at the studio I hadn't made decisions about the background or lighting, other than having a couple of Elinchrom soft boxes set up from previous work.

As Alicia wore a black dress I opted for the black background paper so she would stand out from the background. To prevent light polluting the background I kept my key light close to Alicia just out of frame and the accent light was feathered to prevent spill.

Key to Lighting Design
1. Elinchrom BRXi 250 with Portalite 66 cm square soft box, about 1' above head height to add depth and shimmer to the hair. Softer and more subtle than a undiffused grid spot.
2. Elinchrom BRXi 500 with Rotalux 100 cm square soft box, about 1'6" above head height and angled at about 30 degrees down.
3. California Sunbounce Mini Micro reflector with gold/silver zebra, positioned below light rather than in front of Alicia to maintain a degree of modelling/soft shadow.
4. The star of the show:-)

Both lights were set to minimum power giving a quick and responsive recycle between shots.

Camera, Canon 50D, 50 mm f/1.4, Elinchrom Skyport. ISO 160, 1/125th second, f/9. Exposure was established using a Sekonic L408, none of this wind the power on the flash down until it looks right. Using the exposure meter looks professional and saves precious time.

This simple set up works with a variety of backgrounds and allows the model room to move. The crop here was in camera, not added in post, allowing either a landscape or portrait crop from the one shot.

A monochrome treatment using Snapseed on an iPad.

Elinchrom lights in the UK are available from The Flash Centre. Contact Simon Burfoot and mention this blog.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Rosco Lighting Gels in the Studio

Colour correction and colour effect (FX) gels have to one of the most underused tools in the photographers tool box, whether working in the studio or on location.

In the studio most photographers use coloured gels to light backgrounds, but what about the subject? Many proponents of off camera flash and Strobist style lighting seem to use the paler cuts of CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gels such as Rosco Cinegel #3408 1/2 CTO, #3409 1/4 CTO and #3410 1/8 CTO. All of these for my taste are too red, so I either use CTS (Colour Temperature Straw) #3441 for daylight to tungsten/incandescent correction. For warming northern hemisphere pale flesh tones  Rosco Cinelux #02 Bastard Amber or the more subtle #302 Pale Bastard Amber.

Rosco Cinelux swatch showing
#302 Pale Bastard Amber and #02 Bastard Amber

Click on image to view larger

As you can see in the above dyptic on the left, Jamie's skin tone isn't his normal summer tan. But then with the summer we've just experienced in the UK I'm not surprised! On the right you can see the effect of adding a Rosco #02 Bastard Amber warming gel in front of the flash tube.

The background for the above images was white cyc paper lit only by the light spill from the key light, a large silver PLM brolly with a Canon 550 EX Speedlite set to 24mm to camera right, feathered so only the edge lit Jamie. 

When working with coloured gels, I try and shoot a control image without the gel, either for the just in case scenario where you need an alternative, or as a reference comparison as above.

You can also introduce gels to change the mood and atmosphere of an image. Most will go straight to a coloured primary or secondary colour for the background, but few will think about using a cinematographers lighting FX gel such as Rosco Cinelux #3152 Urban Vapor. This gel is designed to simulate the colour of sodium vapour street lights without the horrid green content to the light.

Rosco Cinelux #3152 Urban Vapor gel

Creativity with 3 small flash units in the studio.

Here I've used Rosco Cinelux #02 bastard Amber on the key light, which incidentally was a DIY homemade beauty dish. The accent back 3/4 light was a strip light made from a 3" diameter card postal tube lined with Rosco Cinegel reflection material #3830 Spun Silver (bright side) and diffused with #3030 full Grid Cloth, a diffusion material not dissimilar to that used to diffuse soft boxes.

The background was lit with a single Speedlite zoomed to 105 mm, single cut of Rosco #3152 Urban Vapor held in place with a Gel Clip and snooted with Rosco Photo Foil (aka black wrap) to give the shape and effect of a street light. Do remember with gels that the more light you push through them, the paler they'll appear. Here the light was close to the white background paper as I wanted a hotspot that faded off. I was able to achieve this as Rosco's Photo Foil can be moulded to shape, and in this case an opening left to spill light onto the background giving the hot spot.

You don't need complicated gear to get some great effects in camera - just previsualisation, planning and some relatively inexpensive kit. In my experience, the cost of a camera and lens can far outweigh the cost of lighting kit. All it takes is practice and imagination to create some great images.

You can learn more about Rosco's vapor gels in use here with Joel Svendsen.