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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Lighting comedian Meredith Myers

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, August 24, 2014


Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Client/model: Meredith Myers. Assistant: Scott Edwards.

The assignment

Photograph The Standup Librarian Meredith Myers in a cramped, dark library setting. Meredith wanted it to have a classical dark library feel and also feature the trademark costume of her character along with some other items that are important to her craft. The biggest challenge was the cramped quarters. To solve it, the lights had to be closer than usual to the subject. When the lights are very close, the inverse square law makes it important that the diastance between the main light and the subject be kept consistent, so no moving around while shooting without re-metering. Since this was a well thought out set-up there was no worry about the subject moving too much.

The setup

As usual, there are three main sources of light; the main light, the fill light and the separation light. The main light was provided by a beauty dish on the left. The reason I chose a beauty dish is that it has fairly soft light without spilling too much light on the rest of the scene. To further direct the light, I put a bit of Cinefoil (black foil) on the back side of the beauty dish to keep the light off the background. The fill light was provided by a reflector on the right, and I hid a flash between some books on the shelf behind there to provide some separation light. The separation light was turned down until it was about two stops less than the main light. Or to put it another way, it was one quarter as much light.


Equipment used:

Canon 5D

Canon 50mm lens

Canon 550EX flash

Pocket Wizard triggers

Bowens 500 monolight

Bowens beauty dish

You can easily replicate this look with any kind of directional main light or by using something to block the light from the background. Controlling light spill is the key to getting this kind of look.

Anything can be a reflector

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I received this e-mail from a photographer today and it shows how there are things you can use to improve your photographs everywhere. This is an ingenious use of a makeshift reflector.

Photographer: Mark Davis

Hi Chuck:

I noticed some interesting light coming into my kitchen on Sunday and decided to shoot a garlic bulb on the kitchen counter.  Since one side was too dark, and remembering that you said anything could serve as a reflector, I quickly found a cash register receipt and . . . voila!

You are a good teacher!
Mark

Great work Mark!

Cropping your images

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 06, 2013

Have you ever had to cut off something you like to make your image fit a standard size print? Here's how to plan ahead for cropping

Most camera sensors are a 2:3 ratio which fits some paper perfectly and others, not so much. Here's a breakdown of how it works with all the popular size prints:

4x6

5x7

8x10

11x14

16x20

20x24

20x30

30x40

40x60

So, the sizes that match your sensor and require no cropping are:

  • 4x6
  • 20x30
  • 40x60

All the other require some cropping to fit, so when you're shooting give yourself a little extra room around the edges.

Lighting a car inside and out

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, September 29, 2013

100 ISO, 1/3 second at f-8. Focal Length: 29mm. 

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Art Director: Michael Wilkinson. Models: Mirela Aldea and Rafael Hamis.

The best solution is usually the simplest and it took just three battery powered flashes to get exactly what the client wanted. The key to success was prior planning and getting there early enough to get everything all set up and do some tests before the models arrived. Once they arrived, all that was needed was simple tweaking and we were ready to go. Since the exposure was long, one third of a second, it was important to instruct the models to hold their position until the exposure was finished or there would most likely be a small halo around them. Each shot was done the way I thought looked best and also one stop lighter. That way, I would have more to work with back on the computer if needed. As it turned out it wasn't, but I'm not one to leave anything to luck.

The Process:

I started with the people in the car since it was the most difficult and vital part of the image. With that done, everything else will fall into place.To illuminate the models inside the car, a flash was used behind the back seat of the car firing toward the back of the car and bouncing the light back toward the models using a small white reflector. I adjusted the power of the flash until I could get f-8. I knew I needed a long depth of field and the combination of the wide angle lens and f-8 gave me enough depth of field to be safe. There are several apps you can get on your phone that can help you determine the depth of field. I use PhotoCalc to quickly make sure I'm ok. The little screen on the back of the camera can not show focus well enough to trust. I also recommend using a light meter to make your setup easier. Once that was set, the next step was to illuminate the outside of the car. A combination of ambient light augmented by a portable strobe with a small parabolic reflector to illuminate the side of the car and the guitar. The back of the car was illuminated by a flash with a small flag to block some of the light and keep the flash from casting a glare on the rear window of the car.

The Setup:



Equipment Used

  • Two Canon 550EX Flashes
  • Norman 200B Portable Strobe
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 16-35 f-2.8L Lens

Keeping it simple does two things; it minimizes the variables and the chances for failures and by doing so it reduces your stress and workload which allows you to focus your attention on the details of the shot. Attention to details is frequently the difference between success and mediocrity. How do you keep it simple? Please share your ideas in the comments :)

Best quality images for FaceBook

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Myth Buster!


There has been a lot of talk about different ways to make your images look their best on FaceBook. Not being one to just take someone's word for it, I did some tests. 

The Claim: Saving your image as a .png will yield better quality than  a .jpg when posted on FaceBook.

The Test: I chose an image with a lot of small details in it and saved it as a JPEG at maximum quality and did the same as a PNG. They were both uploaded to FaceBook at the same time and here are the results:

The image on the left is the JPEG and the image on the right is the PNG. See the difference? Me either. Here's why they are the same; when you upload an image to FaceBook, they process the image into a JPEG automatically regardless of what file format you are uploading. To confirm this, I downloaded both files from FaceBook and they were both JPEGs. I'm not a tech-person, but results don't lie.

So, how do you get the best quality from FaceBook? Sharpening plays a role and most of all, uploading the best quality image you can will yield the best quality you can get from FaceBook. No tricks about it.

Is there anything I overlooked or am mistaken about? Write it in the comments please :)

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.

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




Backup Strategy for Photographers

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, September 24, 2012

I've always said that there are two kinds of photographers; those who back up their files and those who eventually wish they had. Our photographs are priceless and irreplaceable and we should treat them that way. I've seen systems that range from nonexistent to insanely complex. Here's my backup workflow:

Here's how it works

In the field, as soon as possible I copy my files to my notebook computer and also to an external hard drive at the same time. Lightroom can do this simultaneously. I leave the files on the card also, which gives me three copies of the files.

Once back in the office, I copy the files to my desktop computer, which automatically back up to another hard drive hourly. The memory cards can now be erased and put back in my camera bag. I leave the files on my notebook and field external drive for now if possible.

As I work on the files, they are continuously being backed up to a second drive and once a week to a third hard drive.

One problem remains. If some kind of catastrophe happens at the office, my computer and all my backups are in the same building. The same condition that destroys my computer would also most likely destroy my backups as well. This is where off-site backups come in. Even though it's slow, my desktop is being continuously backed up online to an offsite server. I use Carbonite. Also, once a project is finished, I make a 300 year archival DVD and keep it in an off-site location. I use MAM-A gold archival disks for this.

Nothing is foolproof, but in 25 years I have never lost a file. I'm confident that as long as I follow my system I'll be fine. What's your system? Share your ideas in the comments below!


An Adapter to Make any Paint Pole or Broom Handle a Light Stand

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here's another one of those "I wish I had invented this" items. It's simple and solves a big problem for photographers who travel. Most of my assignments involve travel, and it's very inconvenient to travel with light stands by air. Stands small enough to get by as carry-on are too short and flimsy, and suitable stands have to be in a case and checked.That's where the Kacey Pole Adapter comes in. It converts any painting extension pole or threaded broom handle to be able to accent a standard photographic light. That and an assistant, some bungee cords or some tape and you have a light stand that you can find anywhere. Genius.

It's made of aluminum, small, incredibly light and very nicely made. I'll be ordering more for sure.

They're about $20. Here's a link to their web site click here. I got mine at Flash Zebra.

The Easy Way to use Fill Flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, August 02, 2012

Most photographers shy away from using fill flash because it seems complicated. Use this two-step process to easily get great results every time.

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Kimberly Ridgeway. Photo Editor: Jessie Adler. Photographer’s Assistant: Patricia McGlinchey. 

The Problem

The subject is in the shadows, so if you make the subject look good, the background will be too light or completely white. If you make the background look good the subject will be too dark. You want both the background and the subject to look good.

 

The Solution Step One

Start by getting a good overall exposure of the scene. Use Manual Mode on your camera and set the shutter speed to 1/125 second or less. Don’t worry about how your subject looks, just get the background looking the way you want it to by leaving the shutter speed at 1/125 second or less and change the aperture (f-stop) to adjust the exposure. 

The solution Step Two

All that’s needed to make this photograph look great is to add enough light on the subject to make her look good. If you have a light meter, this step is quicker, but for this example I’ll assume you don’t have a light meter with you.

Put your flash on a stand or have someone hold it. Put the flash on Manual Mode and set the Power to 1/2. Take a test shot and see if the subject is too light or too dark. In this example, the subject was too dark. Adjust the aperture up or down. Since this example the subject was too dark, the aperture was opened up a couple of stops. You can also adjust the power of the flash to make the subject lighter or darker, or move the flash closer or farther away.

FAQ

What if my aperture is open all the way and the subject is still too dark?

If you can’t or don’t want to open the aperture any more, increase the power on the flash.

What if my aperture is open all the way and my flash is on full power and the subject is still too dark?

Move the flash closer to the subject take a test shot, adjust the distance until the subject looks good.

What if the subject is still too dark?

Increase the ISO on your camera or add another flash or a more powerful flash.

Why it Works

The flash will lighten up the subject, but since the background is pretty far away, the flash won’t reach it. A regular flash only reaches about 10-20 feet, usually closer to 10. Remember, the shutter speed must be slower than the sync speed of your camera. 1/125 second or less is safe. Read your camera’s instructions or experiment to see if you can go higher. The shutter speed controls the exposure of the background and the aperture controls the exposure of the subject. The flash power and distance can also be used to control the exposure of the subject.

The Setup:


Equipment Used:

Canon 5D camera body

Canon 70-200 lens

Two Pocket Wizard Plus IIs, one on the camera and one on the flash

A Canon 550EX flash held by an assistant