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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

Plan B - dealing with unexpected on-location issues

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 14, 2013


Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Maria DjMarki Boutzoukas

We planned to photograph this one outside in an alley with a cool motorcycle, but there was a problem. It was raining. Things like this happen al the time and when they do you have to be flexible. When faced with a situation that just won't work as planned, it's hard to let go of the original idea and struggle to somehow make it work anyway. I've found that the best thing to do once you realize your idea won't work is to start looking for an alternate. The alternate in this case was a dirty, cramped, dark shop. Perfect. We moved some of the equipment around to make an interesting background. We photographed our subject standing, but it just wasn't intimate, so we found a bucket for her to sit on. That worked.

The lighting

The lighting on this was simple; a beauty-dish for a main light, a snoot for an accent light and a reflector to fill in the shadows. The biggest challenge on this was to find a good place behind the subject to place the accent light without being in the frame. The accent light (also known as hair light and rim light) is important because it helps separate the subject from the background and it helps make the subject more three dimensional. Putting the light behind an to the left created a little bit of hair light, some rim lighting around the edge of her jacket and a nice accent on the left side of her face. Use an accent light if you can and your images will be much better for it. The accent light should be between 1-2 stops less than your main light and make sure you position it so it won't cause a lens flare.

The setup


The moral of the story

Arrive early and be ready for a total change of plans. Ideally, go ahead of time and scout the location so you'll have options in mind just in case. Frequently, plan B ends up being better than the original idea.

Pinup Model and a Hotrod Car

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, January 26, 2013

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Erin Faultin, Stylist: Pat McGlinchey, Car: Paul and Julie Swink.

Who doesn't love pinups and hot rods? This was a lot of fun, and it was done quickly without a lot of equipment. 

The street where this was shot was pretty dark, so there was no practical way of including any ambient light, so we used two lights and a reflector to supply all of the light for the shot. The main light uses a 60" umbrella on the left. I chose a large umbrella because it provides nice soft light for our model, and spills a lot of light onto the car as well. A large white reflector on the right help to lighten up the shadows and also casts some light on the door of the car. There was a danger of having our subject's hair blend in with the dark interior of the car, so a hair light was added, which also serves as a kicker to cast some light on the right side of the subject. This does two things; it provides a nice hair and rim light to separate the subject from the background, and the light it casts on the right side of her face helps make her look more dimensional. Being able to shine the hair/kicker light through the back window of the car worked out very well.

The only thing that was challenging was to control the shadow side of the subject from getting too dark. A large reflector worked just fine for this even though the door was in the way. The reflector kept us from having to add a third light. 

Here's the setup

Main light: Bowens 500ws with a 60" Umbrella. Fill: 42" White Reflector. Hair/Kicker Light: Bowens 200ws with a 6" Reflector.


What you need to get started with off-camera flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Putting together a light kit involves a lot of pieces and it's difficult to know if you got all the right parts, so here's a list of what you'll need to get your flash off your camera. You'll need a light stand, a flash holder to attach your flash to the stand and allow you to add an umbrella and to tilt the flash, a way to trigger your flash and a sand bag to keep the whole thing from falling over from wind or bumps.

Inexpensive setup that will work well

(This list assumes you already have a flash)

33" White Umbrella $10.95 

Flash Holder / Umbrella Bracket $15.25 

 Light Stand $35.00 

 Flash Trigger Kit $99.95 

 Sand Bag $12.95 

 Total Cost $174.10

Setup with higher quality components 

(This list assumes you already have a flash)

 45" Convertible Umbrella $37.95 

 Flash Holder / Umbrella Bracket $15.25

Light Stand $59.90

Flash Triggers (need 2) $149.00 ea.

Sand Bag $25.95 

Total Cost $437.05

What do you recommend? Tell us in the comments below.

Using a fill flash for a classic look

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, December 31, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Models: Natalie Budde and Lucky McGlichey. Stylist: Patricia McGlinchey.

Augmenting ambient light with a fill flash is the easiest way to get a beautiful image without a lot of equipment. In this example, a pair of glass doors provided the main light, but the shadows on the subject were too dark and hard. To soften the shadows, we used a fill flash. The fill flash was just a simple Canon 550EX flash set to manual mode, shooting through a small Photoflex Octobox. You may be wondering why we didn't just use a reflector? The reflector just didn't give enough light in the shadows for the look we were after, and the flash has more range and is a bit easier to control.

We positioned the subject for a nice loop-light pattern on her face and set the flash to control the shadows. If you have a light meter, set the flash power to about 1-1/2 stops less than the main light. If not, start at 1/4 power and adjust up or down from there. Remember to put your flash on manual mode so you'll have complete control of it. In this case, we just adjusted the flash power until it looked the way we wanted it to. 

A bare flash would have also worked well, but the octobox made the light softer for smoother transitions between shadows and highlights. Possible alternatives would have been a diffuser (scrim) or an umbrella.


Here's the setup:


A large window on the right and a small Photoflex Octobox on the left with a Canon 550EX flash.


Getting the dog in on the act

Our dog, Lucky loves Natalie and kept wanting to get in the shot so we decided to go with it. Photographing animals can be challenging and here are a few tips we used to control (somewhat) what the dog did. First, make sure only one person is interacting with the dog. If multiple people are talking to the dog all at once, the dog will get confused and  just do what it wants. The dog will usually do what it wants anyway, so be very patient and just shoot and wait. What kept Lucky's interest in this shot was the fact that Natalie had a dog treat in her lap and Lucky knows he has to sit to get a treat. A lot of it is just luck though, sometimes a dog will eventually do what you want, sometimes they won't. Know when to say when, if the dog is done, don't try to extend the session, it will just lead to frustration and a frazzled pet. If you have to get the shot and it includes a dog, consider hiring a trained dog for the part. Otherwise, just do your best and maybe you'll get a winner. Try not to get too obsessed with what you want, his would have been a nice image with or without the dog. Incidentally, if you're interested in a pet photography class, there's a great one-day workshop in St. Petersburg, Florida January 19th, 2013 click here for information.

Flash Power Pack Review

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, December 22, 2012

Flashes are incredibly convenient, but two issues have kept me from using them as much as I'd like; recycle time and battery life. Fortunately there's an inexpensive solution. It's the Flashgun Power Pack made by Pixel. What makes this power pack unique is that it uses standard AA batteries, the same as the flash itself. The pack holds eight batteries which along with the four already in my flash totals 12 batteries!

I ordered mine from FlashZebra.com and since it was just days before Christmas, I expected to see it well after the holiday. Nope, they shipped it Priority Mail right away which was a very pleasant surprise. It comes with the correct power cord (mine was for Canon), a case with a belt loop and a clever screw to attach it to the bottom of your camera using the tripod socket. 

My tests showed that my Canon 550EX on full power recycled nearly three times as quickly as it does normally. The additional batteries extend the time between battery changes considerably as well. There's just one thing to be careful of; the reduced recycle time can overheat your flash if you misuse it. Flash Zebra recommends no more than 15 consecutive flashes before allowing the flash to cool, which shouldn't be a problem at all. Just be aware of it or you'll melt your flash. The same is true of any external power pack.

I'm looking forward to using my flashes more!

Pixel Flashgun Power Pack

Bought from Flash Zebra

$66.50

Available for most Nikon, Canon and Sony flashes




Soft Light With No Modifiers

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 06, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Pat McGlinchey

Look around, you could be bouncing off the wall

For this image, the first thought would be to set up a couple of soft-boxes. A couple of soft-boxes would do the job just fine, but in this case there were two considerations; there were light colored walls on both sides of the subject close enough to act as giant reflectors, and there really wasn't enough room to set up large soft-boxes anyway. The solution was to bounce the light off the walls. 

Here's the setup:

We set a strobe with a 12" parabolic reflector to bounce off the right wall and used a second strobe with a snoot to bounce off the left wall for fill light. For this shot, we wanted a ratio of about 3:1 between the main light and the fill light. Putting the fill light farther away from the wall makes the light less bright by the time it gets to the subject. To get the ratio, we first metered the main light, then adjusted the fill light to be about 1-1/2 f-stops less. That can be accomplished by either changing the power on the fill light or moving it. The snoot only serves to keep that light off the subject and the ceiling. 

You may ask "why didn't you just use another 12" parabolic reflector on the left at less power"? Good question. We found that it made the light a bit too soft because both sides were bouncing off the ceiling a bit making the light  a little flat. It was easier to just direct the light with a snoot. Another way to do it would be to block the fill light from hitting the ceiling with a piece of cinefoil, a barn door or anything else that can block light. There's no right or wrong, it's just two different ways to get the same result. The truth is the snoot was right there and something to use to flag the light off the ceiling would have required a walk to the storage room, so the snoot was the obvious choice. One thing that is not shown in the illustration below is that the actual shot was taken from a ladder.

This same look can be created using any kind of lights, clamp-on work lights, flashes or strobes. Also, consider using some large pieces of white foam board if walls aren't available. There's always a way.

Equipment used:

  • Norman 800ws Power Pack
  • 2 Norman strobe heads
  • 1 12" Parabolic reflector
  • 1 Snoot
  • Canon 5D
  • 8' ladder
Links to these pieces of equipment can be found on the Resources page

Photographer of the Year!

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, December 03, 2012

CHUCK VOSBURGH NAMED TAMPA BAY’S PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR

Tampa, Florida –  The Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association has named Chuck Vosburgh Photographer of the Year. The award is given annually based on a combination of awards earned during the year and service to the profession.

Chuck Vosburgh is a native of St. Petersburg and began his photographic career in 1986 and is based in St. Petersburg. Chuck specializes in commercial and editorial photography and has traveled the world on assignments. Chuck also teaches at the Morean Arts Center, MoreanArtsCenter.org in downtown St. Petersburg and is the editor of the Lighting Is Easy blog, LightingIsEasy.com. For more information and to see some of Chuck’s work, visit ChuckVosburgh.com.

The Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association is an organization devoted to providing educational opportunities to aid members in achieving their business and artistic goals; to create and foster fellowship, mutual respect, and cooperation between all members; to encourage an ongoing exchange of knowledge, resources and information amongst its members to build their businesses and raise the standards of the profession in general; to improve the public’s awareness and appreciation for the art of professional photography; and through education, ethical standards, cooperation and self-improvement encourage members to provide the highest quality photographic product possible. Go to TAPPA.org for details.

A 3-Flash Setup for a Girl and Her Motorcycle

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Tiphani Taylor. Stylist: Patricia McGlinchey.

A fun environmental portrait of a motorcyclist

For this project we wanted to show the motorcyclist and her motorcycle in an urban setting that is consistent with her image. We were lucky to not only find a nice alley to photograph in, but we also found some perfect graffiti! The lighting is very straight-forward; A main light to light the model, a light behind the model with a blue gel to light the wall on the right and a third light to light the motorcycle. The lights weren't anything fancy, regular flashes work just fine.

Step One:

The first step was to find a base exposure for the background; dark, but not too dark. A little experimentation showed that 1/6 second at f-5.6 looked perfect.

Step Two:

Light the model. We placed the light for a simple butterfly lighting pattern and set the flash to half power and using a flash meter determined that the correct f-stop at half power was f-4. If you don't have a flash meter, you can do a test shot and adjust your exposure up or down until it's correct. The f-stop was already set at f-5.6, but the aperture doesn't affect the ambient light when you are using flash, so the easy thing to do was to simply open up the aperture to f-4 instead of increasing the power of the flash to full power. Using the flash on full power would make for longer recycle times and shorter battery life, so changing the aperture one stop was the best choice.

Step Three:

Next we lit the wall on the right with a flash and a blue gel to go with her blue hair. We started at half power of the flash and adjusted it to light up the wall just right by doing test shots and adjusting the power accordingly. In this case it was 1/4 power to get the right look.

Step Four:

Finally, we lit the motorcycle. The process was the same as lighting the wall; we set up the light at half power and adjusted the flash power by doing test shots until the motorcycle was lit the way we wanted. In this case, the power was set to 1/16 power. We also attached a card to the side of the flash with a rubber band to block the light from spilling over onto our model.

Here's the setup:

By lighting each part of the scene with its own flash, it was easy to adjust each of the parts separately to make refinements to the overall look of the photograph.

Q&A

You may be wondering...

Q: If the shutter speed was 1/6 second, why isn't the model, motorcycle and wall blurry?

A: Since it was pretty dark, there wasn't enough light to show the model and motorcycle, even at 1/6 power. The flashes were the only significant light source for the model, motorcycle and wall. Since the duration of the flash is a tiny fraction of a second, everything lit by the flash is frozen no matter what the shutter speed is (within reason).

Q: Why wasn't a modifier used on the main light, like a soft-box or umbrella? 

A: Direct light worked well for the edgy, urban look we wanted. Also, most modifiers tend to spill light on the rest of the scene which may have interfered with the dark look we wanted.

Q: Why did you choose a butterfly light pattern?

A: The butterfly light pattern has a flat light pattern that obscures texture. It works well with skin, especially if no modifier is being used to soften the light. You can read more about the basic lighting patterns (including the butterfly pattern) on this blog.

Equipment used:

  • Two Canon 580EX flashes
  • One Norman 200B flash
  • Pocket Wizard radio triggers
  • Various light stands
  • Bricks found in the alley to weight the stands
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 16-35L lens (image was shot at 35mm)
Links to all the equipment listed can be found here.

Doing this kind of environmental portrait is easy, fun and doesn't require a lot of equipment. If you don't have three flashes, team up with your friends and share!

Look Around – More Options may be Right Behind You

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Ninell Taveras. Location: The St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art

It’s easy to get many different looks without moving very far.

Being able to get several different looks in the same area reduces your workload and helps keep the shoot moving so your model stays fresh and in the case of an outdoor shoot, keeps his or her hair and makeup looking good. In this example, all the images were photographed within about a 15 foot radius with a simple fill-flash. The whole thing took very little time.

It’s easy to focus on the area you intend to shoot and miss other nearby opportunities. Arrive early so you can take a look around by yourself without distractions. Chances are you’ll find a lot of options. That way, when people arrive you’ll have a plan. Having a plan reduces stress and makes you look professional.


Classic Female Pose and Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, October 08, 2012

Here's a classic way to photograph females

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Natalie Budde

In this example, we used the standard female pose, which is the subject looking over her shoulder at the camera. It's a flattering pose and one that will always get a positive reaction. Combine it with the classic Rembrandt lighting pattern and you'll have a beautiful portrait that will stand the test of time. When you use this pose, have your subject keep their arms at their sides and try not to have them hold this pose for too long. It can be an uncomfortable pose and if you make your subject uncomfortable it will show in your photographs.

For the lighting, we set the lights in the Rembrandt pattern which is characterized by the triangular shape of light on the subject's cheek. There's an article about Rembrandt lighting on this site. 

Here's the setup:

Give this classic look a try. It's simple, elegant and timeless.