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Archive for January, 2007

New shoot online

Posted in shoots on January 27th, 2007 by gregr

Whew! I’ve finally got the fashion shoot from last weekend online here. Took a while – I didn’t really plan ahead, and I had to change the website around a bit to accomodate a complete fashion “story”…whereas before, it was really set up for individual images.

A quick shout out to those involved…first, the model Karli – she was amazing, fun, professional, and a pleasure to work with. Zoe did a fantastic job on the makeup, which not only helps set the mood for the shoot, but makes retouching go so much quicker. Kelly from Off Broadway Styles did a great job turning my very rough ideas into an actual hair style, despite my use of adjectives that could mean just about anything. :-) Thanks to Wendy at Swank for wardrobe…and of course a big thanks to my assistant for the shoot Jeff, who makes everything possible.

Take a look!

Shoot over the weekend

Posted in shoots on January 21st, 2007 by gregr

I did a shoot on Saturday, pretty much all day.  Loaded into the studio at 8:30am, and everyone left at about 5:30pm. Yikes!

I don’t really even notice during the shoot…when the energy is flowing, and the shots are working, the time just flies by. I’m totally focused on what’s going on, and for the most part, it’s just me and the model.  I mean, there are other people there involved with the shoot, but when things are clicking, we both tune everything else out.

But after the shoot, when everything is unloaded, whew – what a crash. I grabbed some taco bell, and plopped down on the couch – finally realizing how exhausted I was. Shooting usually isn’t physically demanding (well, unless you count a 5-pound camera/lens combination as demanding – lol), but it’s mentally exhausting. But I don’t notice until I get back home!

One thing I’ve learned is never, ever, edit the shots the night after a shoot. I’ve found I’m hyper-critical at that point, and I would discard great shots just because I’m tired. I always try to wait until the next day – or at very least wait a few hours.

I also shot tethered for the first time in quite a while – I have mixed feelings about shooting this way. Maybe I’ll write a bit about this later.

And I’ll post the shots from this weekend in the next couple of days – check back soon!

Shooting with a White Background

Posted in lighting, strobe on January 14th, 2007 by gregr

I often hear questions about how to shoot with a white background.  The first time someone tries it, they will typically get a nice white spot somewhere, and a gradual fade to gray as you move away from the spot.  Then, they spend a bunch of time in Photoshop making it pure white as they originally intended.

I typically spend extra time trying to get things right in the camera, so I don’t have to fix them later in Photoshop.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the bottom line is I want to reduce the total time per-image I have to spend in post processing.  I sit in front of a computer screen just plenty, thank you, so if I can do something in the studio to reduce it, count me in!

So let me try to talk a bit about one way to get a nice, all-white background, without Photoshop.

Waist up

If you only need to shoot head and shoulders, or perhaps even down to the waist, you might be able to get away with a single light on the background. Maybe not, but it’s at least possible.  But I’m going to assume you have two lights for the background, and go from there.

This is easier than full length, because there’s a limited amount of backdrop visible behind the model. So really, you only need to light that part evenly.

I typically use two medium-sized softboxes, one to each side of the background paper, each pointing about 1/3 of the way in from the edge.  Meter them together, so the whole area behind the model meters within +/- 0.2 stops or so.  And overall, you’re looking for about +1 stop brighter than you’re going to use for your key light.  More than that, you’ll most likely run into a lot of spill and flare problems; less than that, you’ll have problems getting your background to look pure white.

And you don’t have to use softboxes on the background here – just pick something that allows you to get even coverage across the part of the background that shows behind the model.

Full length

This one is tougher – to shoot full-length, and get a perfect white background, everything has to come together just so – because there is a LOT of background you have to light.

I start with the same two medium softboxes pointing towards the white seamless background; if you have more lights, 4 heads is even better.  I start with the boxes about 5 feet high, pointing in about 1/3 of the way on the background.  Then start metering again all across the background – top to bottom, left to right, and keep adjusting things until you get it pretty even (as before, ideally you want this +/- 0.2 stops).

Now, you have the problem of the floor the model is standing on.  This is a tough spot to light.  What I typically do is place a large sheet of plexiglass material (white or clear works) on top of the white paper you’ve pulled out.  This plastic sheet will actually reflect the light hitting the background, and once you get things adjusted right, will seamlessly blend into the background.

The tough spot with all of that is the back edge of the plexiglass; you’ll sometimes get a shadow there, which appears as a dark line going across the picture.  You can adjust the background lights a bit to compensate for this – try pointing them down a bit more.  Or…you can use a platform.

I usually use a platform that’s about 10 inches high.  I cover the platform with white seamless paper, and then put the plexiglass on top of it.  The model stands on top of all of this.  Once you do this, you effectively hide the part of the background that is most difficult to light (the part on the floor), and the plexiglass foreground reflects the background light…with no seam.

Note in the lighting diagram above I’m not showing the fill – just a main light and two background lights, with the platform.  (Many thanks to Kevin Kertz for the lighting diagram template!)

September 2006 Vogue Cover shoot

Posted in misc on January 9th, 2007 by gregr

The Vogue cover shot with Kirsten Dunst certainly wasn’t everyone’s favorite, but there’s an interesting behind-the-scenes video of the shoot. This was done by Annie Leibovitz and crew in Versailles, France.

[via Style Bites]

Light modifiers

Posted in lighting on January 2nd, 2007 by gregr

This is pretty cool…the Broncolor web site shows a head-to-head comparison between different light modifiers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people ask about this, so I have to blog it so I don’t forget the URL!

I wish they included the huge parabolic umbrella reflectors they have in the comparison, which I’d love to try out, but hey – you can’t have everything.

[via Strobist]

How to choose a lens

Posted in gear on January 1st, 2007 by gregr

Every now and then, someone will ask me “what lens should I use?” or “do you think this lens would be good?”. The answer is nearly always “it depends”, and the first thing I ask is what the person intends to shoot.  Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that the answer is “people.”

Focal length

The first question is focal length – and that just depends. :-)  Personally, I use anywhere from about 30mm to 200mm for my fashion and glamour work, and that’s on a Nikon digital body with a 1.5x crop factor.  The big thing to worry about is normally the perspective distortion you’ll run into if you use a short lens, and end up having to get very close to your subject.  Longer lenses also have perspective issues of their own (in that they tend to “flatten” images), but it’s generally a pleasing perspective for photographing people.

The focal length question is also related to how much room you have to shoot.  If your studio is 50 feet long, you will have no problem shooting full-length shots at 100mm if you wish.  But if space is more cramped, or you want to be closer to your model, you may need to go with a wider lens.

Max aperture

The max aperture is a more touchy question, as the price of the lens is often directly related to how wide the max aperture is.  Having a “fast” lens gives you two advantages: first, it lets you shoot at that max aperture (duh!), in the event you don’t have a lot of light or you want to limit your depth of field.  And second, it lets more light into the autofocus mechanism in your camera, which will generally let it focus faster and more reliably.  Let’s dive into each of these for a moment.

How often are you going to be actually shooting at f/2.8, or perhaps even faster?  Good question.  When I first got started, I thought I’d be shooting down there a lot in the studio…turns out I actually don’t all that much.  You can take some cool shots with very wide apertures; it just depends on your style and what you’re trying to achieve.  Note, however, that I do use f/2.8 or faster fairly often when shooting outdoors…just not often in the studio.

What about the autofocus advantage?  This one is big.  When you’re setting up a shot in the studio, often you’ll have all of the ambient lights off (or turned way down), and you’ll be setting up the shot with just the strobe modeling lights on.  These modeling lights are sometimes nice and bright, but not always, especially with big softboxes or other modifiers.  If you don’t turn up the ambient lighting before you start shooting, you’re just going to have the modeling lights – which means you won’t have a ton of light to focus.  You’ll likely have enough – just not a lot…which means the more light your lens can pull into your camera’s AF mechanism, the better off you are.

Variable aperture

The last thing I’ll mention about lenses for studio work is this – be careful about variable-aperture lenses.  Many “consumer-grade” lenses (meaning ones that are reasonably priced!) have a variable maximum aperture.  So for example, Nikon makes a 55-200mm lens that has a maximum aperture of f/4 at 55mm, and f/5.6 at 200mm.  The problem comes if you’re in the studio, using strobes, and shooting on manual…you may need an exposure of f/4, and when you set up the shot (at say 55mm), everything is great.  Then during the set you zoom in for a close-up of your model’s face – and your camera is suddenly (and silently) shooting at f/5.6.  You’re now a whole stop underexposed – and you might not realize it until you download your images later.

For that reason, all of the zoom lenses I use for studio work (or any other times where I’m shooting on manual) are constant-aperture across their zoom range.


This one never ceases to amuse me.  On some of the internet forums, people obsess for days over whether a certain lens is sharper than another; and I’m not afraid to admit that I was one of them when I first got started. :-)  But here’s the thing…

Most lenses are very sharp when stopped down a couple of stops.

Now, that’s a pretty big blanket statement to make…but if you buy a name-brand lens (Canon, Nikon, Sigma, etc), it’s generally going to be true.  So if you can live with shooting at f/8 or f/11 (which is common in the studio), most lenses are going to be plenty sharp.

However, if you want to shoot with a lens wide open, or close to it, that’s what separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.  If you need tack-sharp at f/2.8, or f/4, then do some research.

So for shooting people, do you need that sharpness?  Interesting question.  I about fell over when I read a forum post that said something to the effect of “for shooting people, you really don’t want a very sharp lens, because you’ll have to retouch more.”  Not sure I would go that far. :-)

My take – yes, you want a lens that’s nice and sharp.  And it’s not because you want to see every last pore on someone’s face – you usually don’t.  But there are parts of an image you want nice and sharp.  For example, fashion shooting isn’t only about skin, but it’s also about products – and there might be details in the product that you need absolutely tack-sharp, depending on what you’re shooting and how large it will be printed.

So anyway, lots of random thoughts in here…hope it’s helpful to someone!