Category Archives: Lighting

Foil shoots with Sian (Setting up).

This will be a post in three parts. The first will go over the setup for the shoot ans the other two will cover the actual shoots. As such you will not see any finished images in this post. Rather the images will show the progress of the setup.

If you keep an eye out it is quite possible to acquire interesting props from the most unusual materials. What I was working for Whittaker’s Chocolate I visited Lamprint which in one of the companies that print the chocolate wrappers. 

Labels are printed on a large roll several across and then in the final part process they cut into secret rolls. At either side of the main roll there is an amount of silver left over. This was being cut off and put in a bag for dumping.

When I saw it I instantly thought it would be great to repeat my tape shoot but this time with reflective metal and coloured lights. So I asked if I could have some foil. 

The next day Shaun delivered a small bag to me. I said thanks, but told him that I was thinking of a much larger quantity. The next day he came back with the larger amount.  Now ideally I would have had a shoot sorted out straight away, but in reality the bag sat in the garage for quite a few months, until my wife got sick of it and told me I needed to use it and then get rid of it.

The full bag of foil spread across the floor.

So I when Sian came round for the Dressmaker shoot I asked if she would like to do a shoot using the foil and she agreed.  I also found out that her star sign was cancer, which is one of the water signs so I knew that I could make the foil look like water with the right lighting. 

When my daughter left home, I claimed the family room back as my studio. The great advantage of this was that I could set it up over a number of days rather than trying to do everything in one go. It also means that I can take my time setting lights and trying different combinations before the model actually comes. In this respect my dress dummy is quite useful, although I have to be careful as it is shorter than a regular person.

As I knew we were going to be shooting two different concepts in the same session, I want to minimise changeover so I hung the backdrop for the second session and then placed a blue fabric over it for the first. I needed three pieces of fabric to do this and while they did not match that didn’t matter as the background would be fairly dark anyone.

I also placed blue fabric on the floor before covering it with the foil. This is because I had planned to shoot from above at some stage and I wanted the flexibility. Having the blue meant that if it did show through it would fit with the theme rather than work against it.

It was now time to set the lighting. I had planned a three light setup and when I use such a combination I always add them one light at a time. I start with a setting and shutter speed that will eliminate all of the ambient light in the room. That ended up being 1/100 at f6.3.

The setting that removed all ambient light.

I has positioned two lights near the floor to light the foil and these were both covered with blue gels. There was no real metering to these lights. rather they were adjusted until I got a look I was going for.

Light left
Right light

The main light was my Godox AD600 in the 24″ softbox on a boom arm. During the testing it was positioned camera right. It was providing quite a nice light and was also picking up some of the background. This was not an issue as I was going to replace the background anyway.

All lights in play

The advantage of taking the time ahead of time was that when Sian arrived we were pretty much ready to shoot. In fact the only change was to reposition the main light from camera right to camera left.

In my next post I will cover the first shoot with Sian, which was for the Zodiac series.

che in the woolshed

On the weekend away to the Glenburn Station, the organisers has arranged for Che to join again to model. After looking around the wool shed in the morning I knew that it would be a great location, so I arranged for Che to meet me before the others arrived. That way I was not competing with the other photographers, and I could help them if they needed it.

Despite the fact that I had brought lighting gear with me, I had worked out that there were pools of natural light in the building that could be used and we made the most of them.

Che bought a couple of outfits but I have chosen to only feature one here.

Playing with new toys

On Thursday night I attended a product launch hosted by Wellington Photographic Supplies who have become the local agent for Profoto lights. Sean from WPS and Greg from CRKennedy (the New Zealand distributors) has brought down both models of battery powered lights in the Profoto range.

Now I have often seen these lights used in the videos but it was a real treat to be able to use them in action. While I had my own camera there I also jumped at the opportunity to play with a D800E. The lights use TTL so it was quite interesting to see how they would perform as personally I shoot with lights on manual.

We shot down on the Wellington waterfront with the love Laura. It was a great time.

While I would love to own a set of these babies the reality is that they fall into the “when i win lotto’ category.

This was shot full TTL
This was shot full TTL in aperture priority. As such the camera knew that a flash was in play and set the shutter speed at 1/60s

This is a more traditional image bringing out the model from the background. The sky was much lighter than shown in the image but I had the camera set at f14.

As the lights had the ability of high speed I thought I would give it a try. This was shot in manual at 1/1250s F4. It is still maybe a little overexposed, but given of my other lights can shoot anything about 1/200s I am happy.


Dance & Movement shoot with Hayley

dance-2When I posted the images from my previous movement session online, I got an instant response to the images, and other dancers wanting to take part. Hayley introduced herself as a Salsa dancer who had a number of flowing dresses, so we set up a time to shoot.

I used the same hall as for my earlier shoot, however having learned from the first session, and reviewing a different YouTube clip, I made a couple of changes. The most notable were to make sure I had a second light bank and a much bigger (and taller) backdrop. The new lights were two Interfit continuous lights borrowed from a fellow photographer at work. While not being particularly strong they were more than adequate for the long exposure work. I used a small light stand and boom arm to set them one on top of the other giving me an effective stripbox. I had them positioned behind a large reflector so their light was fairly concentrated. The diagram below shows the layout.

dance-layoutIn these circumstances you have to work solely in manual and therefore the first shots are generally trial and error. Focusing is also on manual by selecting a spot roughly equivalent to where she would be when the flash fired. Given that the camera was set at f11 I knew that there was a degree of flexibility in the depth of field.

I initially had the computer tethered to a laptop as this made showing the images to Hayley a lot easier. Unfortunately it is fairly old and struggled to keep up so ended up being ditched. Tethered shooting is really good when it works but can be frustrating when it plays up.

Hayley had a number of outfits which we moved through. He initially one ended up only being used for the test shots as it was blending too much in the background. The lighter coloured dresses worked best, although the speed that Hayley was dancing did cause some issues. With long exposures if the subject is moving quickly then rather than a blur, they simply disappear. Trying to find the right balance in the speed was important.

dance-1At one point we placed a red gell over the continuous light to see what effect that would make, especially when she was wearing a white outfit. I would rate this has been only marginally successful. When Hayley was over by the gelled light the red came through strongly but it was too far away for the main light to be fully effective. When she was closer to the main light the colour was essentially bleached out by its strength.

dance-6I then moved to a series of shots using lengths of fabric and a fan to add the movement. Hayley added to these by playing with the fabric in the air and the results from these images are really good.

dance-3 dance-4Towards the end of the shoot I changed tack and tried to get the images that would essentially freeze the action. Leaving the existing lights in place I introduced a third lights which I shot into a large silver umbrella. The shutter speed when then put up to maximum sync speed and I shot some images of Hayley jumping.


Getting the light right (Sort of)- NSFW

In an earlier post I wrote the failed attempt with Sian to recreate the images of Mayer George that involved shadows and light on models. By the end of the shoot we had concluded that the shapes had been projected onto the model using a data projector rather than a gobo on the studio lights.

Image by Mayer George

Sian was willing to give it a second go so I designed a series of shapes in photoshop. We had a lot of fun with the shoot along with a few challenges, with the first of them getting the images to display.

I work on a Mac but have an older laptop that I recently updated to Windows 10. That was the one to be connected to the data projector. I do not know why Microsoft insist on making things harder to do when they update their software, but that is exactly what they. Try as we may we could not get the screen to display the image full screen without toolbars. In the end I went back to the mac and using Fotomajico created a quicktime movie of the images. That at least I could display as I wanted it.

The second challenge was to get the image into a portrait orientation rather the natural landscape. The answer was to put the projector on its side but this meant holding it rather than having it on a stand. So once again I was like a one-armed paperhanger with the projector in my right arm and firing the camera with my left.

LR_SHadow-4LR_SHadow-2LR_SHadow-3The results this time were much better than the first attempt however we still had the issue that the image was spilling from the model onto the backdrop. This does not occur in the ones that I was trying to replicate.

I have therefore come to the conclusion that images were produced by having the model go into a position in front of the projector and then the shadows are drawn so that they only fall on the model.

Maybe next time I will give that a go.

Trial, Error and Failure (NSFW)

Sometimes you think you know how something is done and then discover that you are completely wrong. This was certainly the case with a photoshoot that happened a couple of weeks ago.

It started when a model posted the image below on Facebook  from Mayer George and said that she would love to do something similar.

Image by Mayer George

I looked at it and thought that it would be relatively simple to replicate as I was sure that the photographer had used Gobo’s on his lights. A Gobo is simply a mask that you put in front of the light causing it to create patterns on the subject being illuminated.

So I set about trying to replicate it with the assistance of Sian. I produced a number of modifiers with varying size cuts in them that I planned to put in front of a single strobe fitted with a seven inch reflector.

I had thought that it would be a simple task but it turned out to be anything but. I am not sure whether it was a lack of distance to the subject, or something else but no matter how hard I tried I could not get clearly defined edges. I thought that maybe the light source was too big so change the reflector to a snoot with only a small opening.

This meant that I had to hold the gobo in place rather than tape it. As there was only Sian and I in the shoot it created a comical dance where I had to press the timer on the camera (which was on a tripod) and then quickly place the gobo.

It produced some interesting looks but again nothing sharp enough.

20151019In the end we decided that maybe a different approach had been used and then I remember a shoot I had done two years before using a data projector, and how it had given me reasonable sharp lines.

The next post will cover the second attempt at the project.

Practise makes perfect

I have often found that you only need to know a little bit more about a subject, and be able to deliver that information with confidence, then other people will regard you experience in that matter.

In this regard I firmly believe that if you are involving other people in your photographic ventures then it pays to practise what you are going to attempt to shoot before actually taking up their time. That way no one sees the mucking around that you have done and all they see is a confident photographer who comes in, sets up lights and nails the shot quickly.

A case in point was a recent entry for selection in the Wellington interclub on the topic “lets make music”.

The submitted image
The submitted image

I knew that I wanted to shoot a cello, and for the lighting to be dramatic. Fortunately a friend of one of work colleagues plays in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and was willing to pose for me at her home.

I had a pretty good idea what the light placement would be but I also wanted to pursue other options. I just did not want to waste Sally’s time as I worked through them. So the night before the shoot I enlisted the assistant of my daughter Samantha and dragged out an old guitar as a substitute cello and set up the lights.

I firstly tried a small reflector with a honeycomb grid and orange gell CelloPractise-1

It produced a very interesting light but was definitely not what I was looking for. I then  fitted my large strip box with a grid and positioned it as a rim light and then moved it around until I ended up with something like I was after.


The practise session lasted around a hour but it was time well spent because it meant that the whole shoot with Sally took about 15 minutes. Other images from the shoot are shown below.

LR-Cello-2 LR-Cello-4 LR-Cello-5 LR-Cello-6 LR-Cello-7

Finally for those who need an image to visualise things  the lighting diagram. The strip box was actually vertical rather than the implied horizontal in the diagram.


I would like to say that the image was selected. It made it through to the final selection round but was then beaten by one vote from an image showing a rock band in concert.


Natural Light Session at Palmer Head

A couple of weeks ago we had a speaker at the Hutt Camera Club, who blew eveyne away with his portraits that were taken with the bare minimum amount of gear. He had a series of low key images that were actually taken using only natural light.

Kat-11Now generally you associate low light low key images with those shot in studio, where you can control the light, but these were all shot using natural light. He mentioned that they had been shot at one of my favourite locations Palmer Head.

I thought this was a great opportunity to try something new and decided to turn it intp a workshop inviting other members of Hutt Camera club to tag along.

Kat agreed to be one model and my daughter Samantha as the other. I had been approached by a new makeup artist Wendy who wanted to add to her portfolio, so we went with a glamour look on Kat and a simple look on Samantha.

Kat-15As it typical at this time of year the sky was grey and the wind quite strong, but that did not affect us much as we were shooting inside. We based ourselves in the most sheltered location so that Wendy could work her magic.

The trick to achieving the look is to place the model by a window, then doing a meter reading of the brightest element of the highlight and then dialling in 2 stops of exposure compensation.

Samantha-2Once people has mastered that technique we then moved to another part of the structure that had larger openings and therefore more light. Here the group practises more high key images.

Despite the conditions everyone seemed to have fun.PHWS-1

Basic Lighting Designs

Last Sunday I had a studio booked for an art project I am working on so as I was going to have all my lighting gear set up decided that I would run a lighting workshop as well.

Over the course of 4 hours I took the photographers through seven different lighting arrangements using the lights and then finished utilising natural light. I had booked an experienced model for the event but she contacted me the night before to say that she was ill and not able to make it. So my daughter ended up stepping in to help and she did quite a good job.

I wanted to emphasise that lighting is an art and not a science and that the process of working with lights was to add them one at a time. I was mindful that not everyone can afford expensive studio lights so we started with arrangements that could be replicated with off camera flash using speed lights.

As I was instructing the others what to do I did not have time to shoot example images with each arrangement.

These are  the seven arrangements that I demonstrated:

Using one light

One light with reflector (45degrees)

This is one of the simplest and most common lighting arrangement. A single light is set at a 45 degree angle to the subject and then a reflector is introduced on the other side at a similar angle to bounce some light into the shadows. In this and the next arrangement the main light was in a 1 meter softbox.

One light at 45 degrees with reflector
One light at 45 degrees with reflector

One light with reflector (rim)

This lighting arrangement is similar to the first however the main light is brought alongside the subject. This produces a must stronger ratio of the light between the two sides of the face.

One light set as full rim
One light set as full rim



This lighting involves a single light mounted above the camera aiming down at the subject and a reflector positioned below to fill in the shadows. The arrangement produces butterfly lighting with a shadow below the nose. For the clamshell the main light used a beauty dish.


Single Light Highkey

Normally when you think of highkey lighting you would think that it involves multiple lights. It can be produced with a single light and a couple of reflectors. In this case the single light is placed behind the subject and essentially becomes both the light and the backdrop.

In front of the subject two large white reflectors are placed and you shoot between them. The light is metered for the front of the subject resulting in a background blowing out.

The arrangement
The arrangement

For the shot ideally I would have liked to use my 1.5 meter October but I forgot to pack the adapter ring that allowed the Bowen mount to fit my Elinchrom lights so instead had to use a 1m softbox.


Two Light arrangements

Two light axis lighting

An axis lighting arrangement has the subject standing in the middle of two lights aimed on the same axis. I demonstrated two arrangements. In the first both lights have the same modifiers. In the second arrangement the rear modifier was fitted with a small honeycomb grid. In this case its was much more of a hair light.

Equal front and rear lights
Equal front and rear lights

Second light was now solely set up as a hair light
Second light was now solely set up as a hair light


The final arrangement show was what a referred to as “production lighting”. This is used when you wish to shoot a large number of subjects quickly and the aim is to have well lit rather than dramatic lighting on the subjects.

In this arrangement both lights are set to the same power.

Lighting Workshop - 4

No Lights

As the studio we were using had large north facing windows at the end of session we simply used the window and reflector to produce images like this one, proving that you don’t need to spend much money at all.