Thursday, October 13, 2011

High Key Implied Photography

Perfection in form is how we refer to this take. Beautiful in its simplicity and yet awe is found amid the organic peaks and hills of the human body.

This was a high key shot taken approximately three weeks ago with a minimal three light setup. We used two medium sized softboxes to flank the sides of the white background paper to blowout the background keeping it pure white. The model which reclined on her side, had our huge 175 cm softbox hovering roughly 4' above her parallel to the length of her body.

What we got was a beautiful wrapping light as should be expected with such a large light source. We instructed our model to tilt just enough away from the light to emphasize her deliciously wonderful toned torso and natural body curvature. We wanted to be sure that we maintained the fine details of natural skin texture as well as the stiching on her garment.

More pics coming...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Location Photography

It is not often enough that I get an opportunity to do on-location photo shoots.  When the opportunity to do so arrived I did not hesitate. Of course, a visually stunning client inspired me. But I was looking forward to another chance to blend a bit of off camera flash photography with ambient light. It isn’t a new trick for me but the weather was exceptionally promising as is so rare in the NW this time of year. Furthermore, time just happened to permit the chance to get out.

Lugging around gear still doesn’t appeal to me much since I decided to forgo the aid of an assistant this time around. However, I do believe the capture shows it was well worth the slight if temporary inconvenience.
She was ravishing in the sunlight and the flash provided just a kiss of fill to emphasize the natural sparkle in her eyes along with her infectious smile.

It was a portfolio building photo shoot for her. However, her looks, the moment, and/or the scene provide the base for the perfect cosmetic’s print ad. But then again, she has a perfect smile, perhaps a dental brochure. There is an endless amount of potential with on-location photography as it relates to advertising. But enough babble about business this time. It was pleasant enough to be the one to simply capture this stunning aspiring model. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photography Tips: Mixing Ambient and Flash

Mixing flash and ambient light results in magical results. It is not as difficult as it seems. However, it does require some understanding of a few basic principles before you get started.

I will not go into too many technicalities assuming most of you know. However, you are welcome to ask in your replies. The most overlooked component missing in other tutorials on this subject is in deciding what aperture you want to shoot with and in emphasizing that it's not just one or two things to be mindful of but several.

As we know, no single setting on your camera controls everything. It’s an interplay of balancing shutter speed, ISO, aperture, lens, distance, available light and/or flash to meet the conditions of your intended capture. The important step in mixing ambient with flash is knowing what shutter setting you need to match or approach your max sync speed (this is important) given a particular ISO and aperture. Ideally, you’ll have a meter to measure your available light let’s say for example… shutter 1/250th at ISO 100. So your meter suggests an aperture of F8. Now you move the mode of your meter to measure flash output. The idea is to match all the settings you measured on ambient to your flash output. Now you should have shutter 1/250th, at ISO 100 at F8 from your flash as reached by controlling your flash output. All things being equal, your image is exposed perfectly for background and foreground conditions. This may not be what you want to achieve but this is the position every photographer wants to be in. This is control central.

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On this image we wanted a slightly overexposed background with a properly exposed foreground (or at least one to our liking). This was all achieved using the technique we're describing.

This is when the magic happens. You now have control over your flash output and your ambient light. Shutter speed controls how much ambient comes into your sensor while your flash is independently controlled. As you lower your shutter speed, the ambient light gets brighter. As you shorten (quicken) your shutter speed your ambient is reduced because you are reducing the amount of time light has to strike the sensor.

This all allows you to independently control how dark or light your ambient light is while your flash exposure remains the same. A bland sky can now look dark, rich and iridescent. Blown out leaves and flowers can now be rich, crisp and saturated in vibrant hues all by controlling your shutter independently of your flash. Or you can create an awash of bright light with ambient. Your ambient can be controlled to achieve a total white or a pitch black given certain conditions all while keeping a perfectly exposed foreground. These are the controls we use to get rich deep sunsets behind a swimsuit model while she is perfectly exposed from the front.

Flash output allows you to do the same but often from the front of your subject. Keep in mind that as you increase the ambient exposure by reducing shutter speed, the highlights or potentially blown out areas will tend to de-saturate your foreground colors at some point due to overexposure whether you decide to adjust your flash output or not. Remember ambient is independently controlled now but it can have a global effect on your image capture after a point. 

Additionally, on your initial measure of ambient, make certain that this is the aperture you wish to capture your image at. Your focal plane will be affected and as such depending on your subject you may need to increase or decrease your aperture beforehand. If it’s full-length fashion or you want more in focus, you may need a broader focus field. All the rules still apply. You will still need to assess your scene as you always have and conclude that this needs to be an F8 or an F16 depending on what your goals are. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Photoshop "Soft Glow" Image FX: Photoshop

I really like using this effect on outdoor portraits. It is designed to give your images an ethereal soft glow. While it can work for any image it seems to work best on outdoor images where the light source appears more natural.

It begins by converting your image to a smart object from which you may access your smart filters. After converting to a smart object it may be wise to double-check your foreground and background color. Make sure that color is set to black for foreground and white for background on the Photoshop toolbar. From your header click Filter to access your drop down menu; choose sketch then Halftone Pattern. Leave the default settings as 1 for size and 5 for contrast. Leave the pattern as Dot then press OK.

Within the layers panel, under Smart Filter you should see the words Halftone Pattern with what looks like a double arrow separated by a single line. Double click that icon. Change the blending mode to Overlay and adjust your opacity levels to your desired level; for our purposes 45% worked great. Then click OK. Your image should be showing deeper saturation and a color shift with some elevated exposure in highlighted areas.

Back on your original layer, go to the header and click Filter and drop down to Blur and then Gaussian Blur. Set your blur to your desired amount. For our purposes we used 50, then click OK.

Go back to your layers panel. Now you should see a sub-layer added called Gaussian Blur with the same triangle off to the right you saw earlier. Double-click that icon; set your blend mode to screen. You should see an immediate exposure change of your image. After which, set the opacity to your desired level. We used 90.

If your image is too heavy on saturation, create a new blank layer. After creating your new blank layer… on a PC, click Control-Shift-Alt-E. On a Mac click Command-Shift-Option-E. This merges all your filters and changes them into one new single layer. You may access Hue/Saturation from your header menu from Image, then adjustments or you may click your layer mask icon to the right of your layer adjustment icon on the bottom of your layer panel. Adjust your saturation to the desired level and Voila. Done.

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Images cannot be downloaded, altered, screen-captured, modified, re-reproduced, resized, or reconstituted in any way without written and signed consent by Helios Digital Imaging & Graphic Design copyright owner.

Photographic Visual Inspiration and set design

It is no doubt where I receive much of my visual inspiration for photographic ideas; movies. I like many people enjoy a good flick. But photographically speaking, what inspires me are movies of the fantastical variety. Movie like "The Fall" "What Dreams May Come" and despite the horrible performances and ill-executed storyline "the Cell." These movies among many more are visual masterpieces.

The creative minds governing and conceiving the sets of these movies are truly gifted individuals. They've taken fantasy and escapism to new heights and literally drag you into the scene as audiences gasp at the sheer scale of it all.

This scene from "The Cell" while not shown in very hi-res is one of my latest challenges for a set. The most expensive hiccup are the trees. Fake or Real they almost always blow my budget and as such creates a serious no-go for the entire idea. The snow, the lighting, the background; none of that creates any serious setbacks. But those trees are a real financial pain.

I have several projects in waiting because I cannot resolve the tree issue. Until then, I continue to collect my inspirational pieces until the day comes when I am not so restricted by my budget or the client's budget.

Photo Shoot Contest

Many thanks to all that participated in our Halloween photo shoot contest. Congratulations to Cassie Walker of Oregon. We look forward to working with you on your shoot.

First hearing about it? Not to worry. A new contest is under consideration right now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Beauty Dish

The beauty dish is one of the most popular light modifiers in use. It is the preferred piece of equipment by amateurs and professional photographers alike.

Mola Beauty Dish
Why is it called a beauty dish? Largely it is called a beauty dish due to its shape and its resemblance to a bowl or dish. That shape attributes largely to the structural characteristics of the light cast. Light from the strobe strikes a central flat and often reflective disc that sits in the center of the dish and bounces omnidirectionally back into the bowl and out again into the dish's outer edges in a conal pattern.

The light cast is considerably more directional and specular than a softbox. While softboxes (as their name denotes) is far softer and generally wrapping but with significantly reduced gradient lumen transition from highlight to shadow. The falloff, as observed in light from a beauty dish, possesses a far shorter specular transition along its edges. While the transition from highlight to shadow is markedly short and evident, it is very mellow along the fringes of lumen dissipation giving the light a spherical characteristic. 

The specular quality of the light is observable in the reflective highlights falling upon the subject. The illumination nears zero as it approaches the outer edges of the cast conal light pattern. So why a beauty dish? Many photographers prefer the directional control and spherical light quality as it falls across a subject. This creates an observable transition within the context of a small frame. While softboxes create a greater spill, beauty dish lumen transition can be seen in a relative small area.This offers a significant degree of creative control for fashion photography and beauty. However, due to the light's swift falloff it is generally preferred with subjects where stronger contrast are more flattering as opposed to broader light sources that create less emphasis on irregular surfaces such as less than perfect skin.

The spherical nature of the light is clearly seen in this capture. Most photographers as do I, try to identify a sweet spot where the transition is perfectly placed. It varies depending on the conditions as well as the subject since the strength of reflection is governed by available light, exposure, DOF, and distance from the light source. Most might say that area is slightly outside of the physical center of the light source; catching the inner rim of falloff. This adds a layer of dimensionality to the shadow cast against the subject, creating more depth. 

Catchlights in the subject's eyes is also an attractive feature of the beauty dish's light. Most find that spherical conal pattern highly appealing. This spherical shape adds more life in the eyes, more specifically, depth created by the transition.
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That pattern can be seen in this image. As aforementioned, the subject lies just slightly off center of the reflective middle. For me this was the "sweet spot" for this particular capture. The falloff is clearly observable on the model's shoulder and this multifaceted characteristic is seen again on her nose bridge while the sphere is evident over the entire frame.

Again, this type of light is often used with subject's with above average skin and complexions. Be mindful that it will emphasize even the slightest irregular surface as seen on the wall the model leans against.

Like many other modifiers the beauty dish has accessories of its own including a sock and/or grids. Grids usually set into the outer rim of the dish and can be purchased in varying degrees often from 15 to 40 to control direction. Socks are made of a diffused fabric material that filters the light and softens it further, creating characteristics more like a softbox but with slightly more direction.

The beauty dish is certainly my preferred modifier and it is available in several different sizes. My personal favorite is the Mola beauty dish as seen above.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Does Better Equipment Make You a Better Photographer? Yes and No

This topic has been done to death. However, I have a slightly different take on things. I say yes and no. While many professionals might say that having better equipment will not make you a better photographer, those same professionals have the most advanced gear money can buy in their bags. So like politicians are they talking out both sides of their mouths?

I laugh at the camera phone enthusiasts that produce some very nice photos with their phones to make this point. However, when the real shoot comes the photographer is breaking out their 39+ mpx Hassie and their mobile self-cooling, on-location battery system.

The truth is, they are right but they are also wrong. They are not explaining the why. A totally green photographer may not distinguish the difference in equipment quality at first. Yet, as they grow and become more proficient the greatest challenge he or she will face is determining whether or not they have hit a ceiling with the equipment they currently have. Now wait a minute… “Better equipment won’t make you a better photographer” right? In style, in understanding light and composition, in understanding the limitations of your gear, in leading a team, in directing, scheduling and managing it will certainly not. However, all things being equal, quality equipment meaning better cameras, lighting and accessories will produce consistent quality.

At some point you will begin struggling and wondering if you’re good enough because you’re struggling to produce the same shot you captured last week. You have the same lighting, camera, and environment. What might it be? It can’t be the equipment because you read somewhere that equipment doesn’t matter. This is where you may have erred. EQUIPMENT DOES MATTER. Why? Because your F6.5 might be F8 and then F4 immediately after. It may not be you. It may be the inconsistencies in the lower quality camera or the flash units.

A better camera means among other things broader dynamic range, consistency, less noise using high ISO settings, more information in your captures for resizing and editing and producing images of crispness and sharpness as compared to lower models. Better lighting equipment means scalability, accessory access, and consistent output flash after flash after flash. It also means accessibility to modifiers and even technical support. Now asking a camera to take an image requiring ISO 6400 with a shutter speed of 1/200 in low light with no noise might be a stretch. Knowing why it didn’t produce the image you wanted is the key. But struggling to make it work with a piece of equipment that gives inconsistent results might not be telling you the whole story.

When are you good enough to discern when it’s you or the equipment is the greatest challenge. It has little to do with the equipment. But it also has EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE EQUIPMENT. So the next time you see a tutorial or an article of a photographer raving about the high-end pics coming out of their iPhone, ask them what is in their other bag. Of course this photographer understands lighting and he or she wouldn’t set themselves up to produce a shot in an environment the iPhone wasn’t capable of capturing.

I know I’ve made the point on both sides but it is important to understand the seemingly blatant hypocrisy of some photographers. Now to play devil’s advocate, what do you expect a photographer that makes a living shooting to say, that it’s the equipment? Get equipment just like mine and you will be as good as I am? Not likely. A better answer might be get quality equipment to set yourself up for success if you can afford it, learn about lighting, style, photography and composition and you’re more likely to be as good or better than I am but different.

The truth is, the real talent does lie with the photographer. It’s not a lie, it’s simply not the entire truth. 

Helios Photography

Welcome to Helios Photography; a blog focused around the photography industry. We'll discuss many issues from lighting setups, tutorials, types of photography, legal issues, product reviews and much more. The intent is to invite all opinions of amateur and professionals alike, so that we may learn from one another in a casual and friendly environment.

We'll discuss design as it pertains to photography and when it might be a good idea to break from normality and academic photography to do something more daring and against the rules. 

No question is too silly. The idea is to be respectful, open-minded and collaborative but most importantly have fun.

The floor is open...