24 October 2011


Shoot Type: Studio Portraiture

Todays assignment was to create some "family portraits of the kids" for a customer, in the studio. To be honest, I often struggle with the "creative" side of these types of shoots because it's all to easy to fall back on familiar setups, which in turn produce familiar results -- but I think it's also important to balance that with the knowledge that although these may be "same old / same old" for us photographers to shoot, they're none-the-less personal and unique to the people they're being created for, which I think is even more important.

For this first shot, I've placed Shannon over a light table (it's a table with an opaque acrylic top, with a studio strobe & softbox mounted below) (it gives some beautiful and soft under-lighting), but balanced with a large octabox to camera left, a hair light to camera right, and a kicker light with grid also to camera right (behind the subject), to give a nice accent light.

This 2nd shot is more conventional, with large octabox to camera left, 2x 1.2m x 2.4m polystyrene "V Blocks" to camera right (for fill light) - Hair Light to camera right (beauty dish with grid and diffuser), and background illuminated by 2 additional studio strobes.

Until next time! ...

14 October 2011

Bellamy Gallery

Shoot Type: Commercial (Art Reproduction)

Like many professional artists, Michelle sells limited-edition framed prints of many of her paintings. Todays assignment was to photograph 2 of her most recent works.

This kind of work is relatively straight-forward, but there are a few "gotchas" to be aware of ...


Lighting can "make or break" the finished product very easily. We shoot art with 2 studio strobes firing into identical softboxes, set either side of the art. The placement of the strobes are quite critical; on one hand we want to make sure that any reflected light can't make it's way back towards the camera (so we position the lights accordingly), but on the other hand, we don't want the lights to be too close to the same plane as the art because it tends to over-emphasise any texture. To complicate things even more, if the lights are placed too close the centre of the art receives less light - but if we place them too far away (even firing into softboxes) then the light becomes harder, thus making the image texture more contrasty. So we have to strive for a happy medium (read "a bit of trial and error"!).We also check the lighting with a lightmeter at all 4 corners and the centre to ensure it's even (or within 0.1 of a stop).


My usual weapon of choice for this kind of work is the Canon TS-E 90mm - the tilt function makes it easier to compensate for the fact that the art often isn't completely vertical (you wouldn't believe how nervous the artists get about their work when we're trying to hang it in the middle of nowhere to shoot it!). The lens is of course manual focus, but the focus confirmation light still works just fine, and the fact that we typically shoot this at around F5.6 is more than enough to compensate for any small focusing errors.

Colour Management

This is another biggie - the colours have to be as accurate as possible, so we take every precaution to get things right - to the point of shooting a reference gray card shot for white balancing - shooting a colour target to produce a custom camera profile - and even to the point of switching off modeling & room lights, which can introduce a (very) small colour cast.

For more of Michelle's great art, pop along to http://www.bellamygallery.co.nz/. For more of my work, pop along to www.pbase.com/cjsouthern.

Until next time ...

09 October 2011


Shoot Type: Location Portrait

Today's assignment was to produce some location portraits for Kayla's portfolio, which was accomplished at 3 different locations throughout the day.

Isel Park

We (Kayla, Kayla's Mum, my assistant, and myself) started out at Isel park in the morning - it was a "glorious day" (meaning sunny, without a cloud in the sky) - which - unfortunately - often creates problems for photography due to the high sun creating unflattering light and hard shadows (overcast days are a LOT easier to work with). So basically I'm looking for shaded areas, but with backgrounds featuring colours & textures.

For this shot I've chosen to use the tree trunk as an anchor for the shot - it's been shot at F2.8 to throw the background out of focus, but with 4x Canon 580EX II Speed Lights (in high-speed sync mode) (mounted on a 4-Square) firing into a single soft box for some serious fill/key lighting (the background exposure has been reduced significantly to make the subject "pop", and to increase the saturation of the background).

Gardens of the World

The shoot continued after lunch at Gardens of the World (just out of Brightwater). For this shot I've chosen a background that I thought would nicely compliment Kayla's hair colour -- and again, using essentially the same techniques as the first photo. (By the way, the flashes are triggered using PocketWizard Mini TT1 & (4) Flex TT5, which allow triggering at speeds up to 1/8000th of a second. Without this capability, it would be impossible to achieve this kind of shot as it would be necessary to stop down the lens to reduce the shutter speed, which would inturn affect the background bokeh significantly. This is a significant advantage over using more powerful lights like Elinchrom Quadras).

Back Beach

The final set of the day was shot at Nelson's back beach. We arrived early evening (hoping to shoot against a glorious sunset) (which didn't happen!), but still got some great shots anyway.

For this shot I've used the same lighting rig as described above, but with full CTO gels (in anticipation of the colourful sunset that wasn't!); in post processing these give the option of either revealing healthy "golden" skin tones (not to mention making the orange dress really pop!), or if corrected, wonderful saturated skies (as more blue is added to the white balancing to counter the orange of the gells, a-la the 2nd shot below).

There's one last shot from the shoot that I'd like to share -- it was shot directly into the glare on the water. It's shot at F32 @ 1/8000th @ ISO 100 and is pretty much straight out of the camera (sans sharpening and a little cropping, but NO B&W conversion) - it just goes to show the sheer power of specular highlights (but makes for a nice photo!)

(More images of Kayla in my galleries at www.pbase.com/cjsouthern)

Until next time ...

01 October 2011

Amaltal Mariner

Shoot Type: Commercial

Welcome aboard the fishing vessel Amaltal Mariner, where the client required a series of images shot at various locations around the vessel. For this type of shoot wide angle lenses are the "weapons of choice", and for this shoot I've used the Canon EF16-35mm F2.8L USM II & EF14mm F2.8L II.

A lot of folks associate wide-angle lenses with truckloads of perspective distortion, but there's a definite "trick" to using them for this kind of work -- and that's to be VERY careful with composition, paying particular attention to keeping the camera sensor perfectly perpendicular to the ground plane to minimise converging lines (essentially leaving only a little barrel distortion which is easily fixed in Photoshop).

Other important aspects of composition are the height of the camera above the ground, and just what elements are visible in the frame (sounds obvious, but the difference between, say, a door frame showing or not showing may well be just fractions of an inch).

Lighting for interior ultra wide angle scenes can also be a challenge; one of my "pet peeves" is interior shots of rooms where the photographer has exposed for the interior, leaving the light entering through windows to simply blowout that part of the exposure. I like to expose for the light coming through the windows, and then light the interior with flash or strobes, but for this, light placement is critical because on one hand we want to illuminate the entire scene evenly, but on the other hand, it's difficult to place the lights in a convenient location because with ultra wide angle shots there's often no easy way to keep them out of the frame. Shadows from lighting gear can also be an issue (one that can be minimised by using some pretty heavy artillery, but that takes time to setup - more time equals more expense for the client - and so this needs to be balanced against what the client requires the images for, and the amount of effort that they're prepared to pay for).

So in reality it's a case of setting them up as best one can (out of frame) - ensuring that the brightest part of the scene that they illuminate doesn't blow out the exposure, and then even things up later in post-processing (this is where the GND tool in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) is worth it's weight in gold.

(More images in my galleries at www.pbase.com/cjsouthern)

Until next time ...