Monday, 25 March 2013

It's All In The Eyes

It has been said the eyes are the gateway to the soul, yet so many portrait photographs exhibit lifeless eyes. This can be the effect of inattention by the photographer when positioning lights, posing or directing the model. In many cases working in a studio where the ambient light levels are low because the flash modelling lights are switched off or the studio house lights are low or off altogether!

Image straight out of camera with usual processing, not much else!
Nice bright eyes showing off the iris colour. I tend not to work with the flash modelling lights on and rely on one of the studio house lights behind me and in front of the model. I use a shutter speed where the ambient light has no influence on the flash exposure.

I personally prefer to see eyes exhibiting the colour of the iris, rather than a dark wide pupil.

There are a number of ways which can correct this - a low power light on the camera/lens axis to fill the shadows created by lights above eye-level will also close the pupils giving more iris colour.

Photographer Rolando Gomez demonstrates this over on his Lens Diaries blog - A Perfect Solution for Shooting Beauty like many photographers Rolando is now exploring the possibilities of using continuous LED lights in his work, especially Rosco's Litepad range and the Litepad Loop.

Here in the UK, photographer Rob Rook has created his own fluorescent ring light with components from a local DIY store.

© Copyright Rob Rook 2013 reproduced with permission

As you can see in the image above, an on-axis light creates wonderful light in the eyes, contracts the pupil giving greater colour (OK it's a monochrome image, but you know what I mean) and clarity to the eyes. The ring light catch light may also be shaped with black tape or foil to create different shaped catchlights, very much like the masks supplied with Rosco's Litepad Loop.

Rob has been kind enough to share his ring light design on his Facebook page here and here

Rob's ring light design is great for studio use, but a little limiting on location as it's mains powered. Fluorescent tubes also exhibit weird and sometimes inconsistent colour temperature which could throw your white balance when working in colour, especially with mixed light sources. This is why LED lights which are more energy efficient and a consistent colour temperature are a necessity for consistent results.

To really see the importance of the eyes in beauty and portrait images, US photographer Joe Edelman has produced a short 4 minute video on eye placement and facial expression - for anyone photographing beauty or portraits, this is must watch and learn video!

That's it for now, TTFN!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Green Screen & Chroma Key

Green screen technique can be tricky for still or video photographers to master especially if you use DIY or inferior gear. Over the last few years I have read a number of blogs etc about photographers, experience with varying degrees of experience with green or blue screen, lumakey or chromakey techniques.

There are issues which need addressing at the shooting stage of production which will make post-production a less stressful process. The first is the quality of the background, whether you choose to use a painted cyc or cove, or some kind of textile. The colour of the background is critical; what looks green or blue and even to you and the camera in fact may not. This is due to the pigments or dyes used to create the colour. If you go to the local DIY or hardware store and get paint specifically mixed, a number of pigments will be used, not a chromatically specific pigment. The same applies to textiles; what looks green or blue may actually contain contaminates invisible to the mark human eye and video camera. Also, with textiles they must be stretched smooth as any creases create shadows. It's only when you get into post do any deficiencies show.

The other element is good lighting. Remember to ensure that the foreground lighting doesn't contaminate the background. Control it carefully with flags, scrims, barn doors or whatever. Turn of the background lights and check on screen for any spill contamination on the background. Lighting the background is just as important. Make sure illumination is flat and even across the cyc, cove or textile. Make sure you either a native diffuse light source, or hard lights which are diffused in order that any overlap between lights blends evenly and doesn't create hot spots.

My friends at Rosco have created an excellent blog showing green screen best practice, to coincide with St Patrick's Day on 17th March. The blog shows how to shoot the background plate, tips for matching the location lighting in the studio and post-production, including comparing DIY paint issues and the effect of single pigment specific green screen paint.

If you can't read this now, bookmark and read when you get time or refer back when necessary, you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Soft Boxes and Shadows

The collapsible soft box, especially those manufactured by Lastolite and numerous look-a-likes have grown in popularity with photographers, especially those working on location and fans of Strobist-style lighting and off-cameras flash.

The aim of this blog is provide a reference showing the effect of the light source and diffusion on your model, in this case the long suffering Fred who never protests or demands exorbitant fees when I overrun!

Click on images to view larger

For the purpose of this exercise I set the zoom on my flash to 50 mm. What one must bear in mind when using a Speedlite based soft box, the light emitted from the Speedlite projects forward with little beam spread to bounce off the reflective interior of the soft box, the majority of internal reflection is created by light bounced from the front diffusion panel.

In the frame above what you see is effectively an undiffused direct Speedlite creating a hard edge, dense shadow, with little or no influence from the soft box. The background is white plastic which has created a fill to the shadow under Fred's chin.

With the addition a white translucent Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce style diffuser the edge of the shadow benefits from the light spread created by the diffuser bouncing off the soft box interior.

With the Omni-Bounce removed and the soft box front white diffuser panel in place the light spreads making a broader softer edge shadow. As the flash is not diffused any internal reflection will be from light reflected back from the front diffuser.

Putting the Omni-Bounce back in place with the front diffuser creates double diffusion where the light emitted from the flash is no longer a beam and spread to create internal reflection.

Do remember that anything you place in front of any light source, flash or continuous, unless it is totally clear and without colour will reduce the light output; here I had to adjust the flash power incrementally to over two stops from the initial exposure to maintain a constant aperture. I was using the Manual setting on my flash for this exercise, but if you're working TTL the camera and flash will look after the exposure for you.

With a few exceptions, the interior of soft boxes is a bright specular neutral silver as this is the most efficient reflector. If you line a soft box with a less reflective white neutral material such as Rosco﹟3830 Spun Silver (which incidentally is double sided benefiting from textured silver and textured white sides) this has the effect of diffusing the internally reflected light creating an even softer light with shadows exhibiting broad edge gradation and less density.

If you are lucky enough to own or have access to portable battery flash such as Elinchrom Ranger Quadras the light quality will differ as the flash tube is not enclosed as with a Speedlite, but totally open  emitting light in all planes.

If you add a deflector inside the soft box you have a very usable beauty dish giving an edgy diffused light which is very much in fashion at present. Adjusting the position of the deflector will create different shadow effects - remember that light illuminates and shadows define.

Broad soft light created with a combination of internal Rosco﹟3830 Spun Silver (white side), a silver deflector and white front diffuser. Elinchrom produce a set of deflectors which include a gold, white and translucent offering differing looks. Even the textile on the front of the soft box will alter the look of the image. 

If you are able, it's sometimes best to get a feel for lighting in controlled and constant environment away from models, this will then give you greater confidence in the studio with models. Fred has numerous relations all who are available for reasonable prices from shop fitting suppliers on and off line.

In his basic form Fred is unpainted white polystyrene which I painted with water-based emulsion testers from the local hardware/DIY store.