Category Archives: Lighting

Photographing Art

One of the advantages of being part of the photographic community is that occasionally you get offered work from other photographers, when they don’t feel comfortable undertaking it themselves. This is exactly what happened when a friend contacted me to see whether I was willing to produce digital versions of the artwork that a local artist Bill Hunt was producing.

I have actually been photographing art works since 2011 when my wife started an arts diploma at the Learning Connexion in tighter lower Hutt. As part of her diploma she needed to document the work she had produced and she did this by way of a blog. That meant I was taking images of the various pieces she was producing.

As these images were largely for documentary, and not for sale, we did not have to worry too much about the final product being exact replica of the original. The pieces came in all shapes and sizes and on various materials which also created challenges in the photography. The set up for most shoot was simple in that we would take an easel onto the front deck and I would stand on a small stool to try to get the right angle. We shot outside so as to use natural light as this created a much even light across the whole image.

The major challenge that you face when photographing an art work on an easel is making sure that the camera is square on to the front of the piece. Otherwise you end up with distortion which has to be fixed in post. Some people attempt to deal with this by hanging the art work on the wall however even then you face the same issue as the hanging line will generally result in the painting being further away from the wall at the top than the bottom.

In 2018 my wife donated a piece of her art to a charity auction and then told the organisers that I could be available to photograph all of the donated pieces so that they could put them into the catalogue. This meant that the images had to be of a higher standard than what I have previously dealt with.

When art work is photographed by professionals they generally use a rig that holds the camera absolutely square to the image. For the auction catalogue I recreated such a rig by putting the camera on the boom arm and using the Panasonic image app to see the image and control the camera. The paintings were laid on top of the white sheet on the floor in the doorway of a garage where they were being stored.

I had placed a level on the floor and got that reasonable straight in camera. That was then used to position the various pieces, and meant that I did not have to play around with each image. That saved a lot of time especially as there were over 30 pieces to photograph.

While the camera/lighting arrangements meant that I could shoot fairly fast and that the paintings did not have distortion, I did face a problem that the light was coming from one direction. This was particularly in an issue on the number of pieces that were behind glass or had a highly reflective surface. These images had to be corrected in post.

Fast forward to 2020 and the request to reproduce Bills work, which I know were acrylics painted on canvas. This was going to be a completely different requirement because the end product needed to be exact copy of the original because it was intended for sale. I also wanted to create a setup that was easy to put together and take down so that I could replicate the process, assuming that the first shoot would end up with further work.

I looked at a number of YouTube clips and settled on an arrangement using two large square soft boxes placed at 90° angles to where the canvas would be seated. Both boxes were at the same power and positioned at the same angle and distance from the centre of the easel support. To make sure that the light settings were identical I metered across the board placed on the easel and confirmed that I was getting a consistent f9.

The camera was placed on a tripod and tethered into my computer using the Panasonic tethering app. This meant that I was seeing the images come up at 27inch and not the back of the camera. This mean that I could really nail the focus.

The app has a really great features that make this sort of work a lot easier. Within the live view (which lets you see exactly what the camera is seeing) you have grid lines but also the ability to place guidelines.

We would position the first piece of artwork on the easel and then drag out a vertical and horizontal lines on the canvas. We would then tweak the angle to the camera, or the easel, to the get the image as straight as possible. Once we had that as close as we could then each of the art pieces at that size would be photographed.

We would adjust the guides only when we were moving to a different size piece.

This worked out really well. We did face an issue that not all of the canvases were actually square at the corners and so on some images did need some fine tuning in Photoshop.

As it turned out Bill was pleased with the first session and I have done two further sessions with his work.

Foil shoots with Sian

This is the final post about the shoot with Sian and a bag full of foil. sorry that you have had wait some time for it, but life and Covid got in the way. You can read the setup to the shoot in this part.

After shooting the Cancer images I had Sian stand up and drop the tape over her. There was plenty of this to go around and if was quite easy to cover her.  

While this had been easy using the cassette tape, this foil proved more cumbersome to manipulate as the length of it were longer. A pair of scissors was needed to essentially cut the end of the foil from that lying on the ground. 

For the final shot I had Sian lying on the top of the foil and I can reposition the camera out on a boom arm to shoot straight down using the Lumix app on my iPad. I have use this app number of times and it is great as you don’t longer need to be behind the camera.

I repositioned the lights as Sian was now in a completely different location to before and I brought in some additional colour gels using my Lime cubes. I had learned from an earlier shot that the cubes got very hot and that you could not put the gel directly against the light so I made a holder out of a gel holder and a the head of a selfie stick which worked well.

The final image was exactly what I wanted and I was pleased with the results. My wife was also pleased with the shoot because the next day I bagged up all the foil and gave it away to another photographer that I know so it is no longer taking up space in our garage.

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

laura-5
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.

laura-7
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.

dance-7

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.

12006357_808194935969549_2561422507514538998_n
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.

12003397_808194925969550_295897261149477314_n
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.

CelloPractise-2

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.

CelloLighting-Diagrams-G-1.2-final

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