Monday, January 10, 2011

Wraparound light

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II lens iso640 1/100@f2.8

The wraparound light is a technique I picked up from photographer Carlos Baez's See the Light DVD.

While I was in Japan this past December, I shot two photosessions at the White Studio in Edogawabashi.  One of the nice features of this place is a wall of frosted windows in one section of the studio.  In both sessions I did some sets where I had the models stand in front of these windows and shot without flash or reflectors.

Since the model is backlit, it can trick the in-camera meter, so a handheld meter works better in this situation (or using the camera's spot-metering).  By metering for the face and letting the backlighting overexpose, the light comes in through the window and wraps around the subject.  It makes for a very soft romantic high key image.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II lens iso800 1/80@f2.8

This shot of Kayo actually took several tries, mostly because we wanted to position the shirt to show as much curvature as we could without being too revealing. It's actually a lot harder to do than you might think. ;-)

For Miyu's session, I tried this same lighting technique near another window in the studio.  This was later in the day, and the light level from outside wasn't as strong as before.  For this shot of Miyu on the bed, I had to bump the iso up to around 1600. Thankfully the 5D mkII handles higher isos extremely well, and there wasn't much noise to deal with at all.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II lens iso1600 1/30@f2.8

I also had to drastically change my camera angle for this image to get the window positioned correctly behind Miyu.  The bottom edge of the window was slightly higher than the edge of the bed, so I had to shoot this while lying on the floor, between two recycling bins underneath some metal shelving against the opposite wall (it was a very small studio).

In the original shot, there was a part of the window frame that stuck out of Miyu's head which bothered me.  By blowing out the background with this lighting technique however, the window frame nearly disappears making it much less distracting and eliminating the need to Photoshop it out in post.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II lens iso1600 1/160@f2.0

This last shot of Miyu is one of our favorites from the session.  It was one of the last shots of the day, right before we ran out of studio time.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Studio shoot with Miyu - Testing the Speedlight ProKit Beauty Dish

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS 1/160@f4

My second studio shoot in Japan during this trip was with Miyu from Model Mayhem.  We did several setups, and I tried to keep the lighting very simple since we only had a few hours to work with. 

One of the first things Miyu and I worked on was a series of headshots.  For this I went with 2-SB26 flashes triggered with a Pocket Wizard.  Each flash was mounted on a lightstand with a Westcott white shoot thru umbrella in an over-under clamshell style lighting setup. I used the 70-200mm L alens and shot in between the two umbrellas.

I had Miyu standing pretty close to the front of the umbrellas, so I really dialed down the power on the flashes. The top strobe was set to about 1/8th power and the lower one to about 1/16th power.   This allowed me to not have to worry about recycle time.  Also, I only needed to use two Pocket Wizard tranceivers - one on the 5D mkII and one on the upper SB26.  The nice thing about the SB26 flashes is that they have a built in optical slave, so the upper flash triggers the lower one.
This two umbrella clamshell lighting setup is one of my favorites - it's relatively quick to setup and it produces a really clean look on models, which they like.  You can adjust the strength of the shadows by simply dialing down the power of the lower flash or by bumping up the power of the upper flash.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS 1/160@f4

Also tried adding some motion to the hair by fanning it with a reflector, but it's really hard to do it and fire the camera at the same time without an assistant and without knocking down the umbrellas in the process (forgot the sandbags again).  I did try using the DSLR Remote Pro app on my iPhone to fire the camera which I had tethered to my Macbook Pro, but it was hard to get the timing just right.  An electric fan would have been easier, but unfortunately the studio didn't have one.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS 1/160@f4

Miyu did a quick restyling of her hair and we did a couple more headshots before moving on to the next setup.  I also had her do a series of different expressions just for fun.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS 1/160@f4

The next setup was on the bed, and for this I went to a new addition to my traveling lighting kit - a collapsible beauty dish by ProKit.

I really like using a beauty dish in studio when doing model photoshoots.  It has a very nice quality of light that is different from using an umbrella or a softbox.  The main problem with the beauty dish is that because of the size and shape, it is impractical for me to take it on trips to Japan.

I first learned about the ProKit line of flash modifiers via the Strobist website.  The collapsible beauty dish is one of their newer products and although it seemed a bit pricey at $100, it looked like it would travel very well. It packs completely flat, so I could store it in the front pocket of my ThinkTank Airport Security 2.0 rolling camera bag.

Setup was relatively quick, if a bit fiddly.  It reminded me a lot of those "build-your-own-starship" paper model making kit books they used to have, you know the ones where you punch out the cardboard pieces and assemble the model by folding and bending, inserting tab A into slot B etc.

Basically you put a thick rubber band around the head of the flash, mount the dome diffuser and reflector onto that, then insert the assembly into the center of the beauty dish (which itself is basically two large semicircles of white plastic that snap together into a shallow cone).  You then secure the dish to the flash with a strip of velcro and congratulations, you have just built the starship Enterprise - er, I mean the ProKit Beauty Dish.

Canon 5D mkII 24-105mm f4L 1/50@f4 

I was originally going to bring some silk Hawaiian flowers to Japan for this shoot, but totally forgot about getting it until the night before our flight. So I went to WalMart at 1am and found these silk rose petals in the wedding decoration section.  Think it worked out for the better as the color matched her lingerie top.

I also brought a couple other reflectors that ProKit makes.

These reflectors also snap together and are secured to the flash by rubber bands and velcro.  Here I have it mounted to a Justin Clamp on a C-stand.  I used this behind the model as the edge light. The beauty dish is the main light.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II 1/160@f4 

 For these last few shots, I added a CTO and a 1/8 CTO gel to each light and set the white balance to tungsten to add a bluish tint to the background.  Had some difficulty trying to get the rim light to give a good edge to the dress and also highlight the hair.  Next time will have to remember to use 2 rim lights instead of just one.

 Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II 1/160@f5.6

 Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II 1/160@f2

I really like the shallow depth of field look you can get with the 85mm.  I'm seriously considering getting a second 5DmkII just so I can use different lenses on it.

I almost forgot to mention, on this shoot I used version 2.0 of Shuttersnitch on the iPad to collect the images from the WFT-E4 transmitter on the 5Dmk II and am happy to report it worked much better than version 1.1.9.  Didn't crash at all during our session together.  I think the next thing I want to try is to have the WFT-E4 send images to both the iPad and my MacBook Pro running Lightroom at the same time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Studio shoot with Kayo and Yasuko

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso800 1/60@f2.8

Kayo is a model in Japan that I have wanted to work with for a couple of years now, but everytime we tried to setup a shoot, our schedules just would not allow it.  We caught a break and were finally able to do a studio shoot together this past December.  We shot at the White Studio near Edogawabashi station, which I used on a previous shoot with model Stephanie Kei.

Kayo also brought along another model, her friend Yasuko.  Having a second model on the shoot who could also assist made setups go much quicker.

I also got to give my dream lens a proper workout - the Canon 85mm f1.2L II lens. I picked it up secondhand the day before at Map Camera in Shinjuku along with the first generation IS version of the 70-200 f2.8L. I had originally planned to pick up the IS II version of the 70-200 f2.8L, but by trading in my older versions of these lenses and using my saved up points, I was able to get two lenses for less than the cost of the 70-200 IS II lens.

For this shoot I used the 85mm for about 99% of the images. I only swapped it out on two setups- one where I used a 24-105mm f4L to get just a little wider and then for the 70-200mm f2.8 L IS when I needed to compress a background.  Using a prime lens really helps you think more about setting up a particular shot and working out angles.  You have to "zoom with your feet" as opposed to just standing in one spot and moving the zoom in and out.  In run and gun wedding situations, a zoom lens is still essential IMHO, but I think in the near future (when I can afford it), I might switch to using just primes for model photoshoots.

For the first setup we kept it pretty simple, and just used the large softbox light provided by the studio.  I positioned this off to camera right and we started shooting, alternating between Kayo and Yasuko.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/80@f2.8

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso250 1/100@f2.8

While we were changing to our next setup, I noticed the light from a window near the bed cast a nice streak against the wall.  Working fast, I had Yasuko switch outfits and positioned her in the path of the light.  Unfortunately the angle of the light from outside did not cast enough light on where she was, so we had to cheat it a bit.  I setup an SB26 with a cardboard snoot to camera right and raised it as high as I could on the light stand.  I then had Kayo angle it down so that the light came down onto Yasuko's face, mimicking the angle of the light coming in through the window.  We were trying for the look of early morning light coming in through a bedroom window.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso400 1/160@f8

Once we finished with this, we started with Kayo's second look - an open men's shirt with a tie.  I had her lean against the wall and lit her with an SB26 in a Prokit beauty dish.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/160@f5.6

In order to clear this section of the wall, I had moved a table that had a mirror on it.  While shooting Kayo, I happened to notice her reflection in the mirror.  With a few more positioning adjustments, we were able to get this shot using the mirror as a frame.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/160@f5.6

For Yasuko's next look, we moved back to the first area.  This time, instead of using the large studio softbox, I used the SB26/beauty dish combo, and another SB26 with a ProKit reflector as a kicker/edge light.  I added a CTO gel + 1/8 CTO gel to both flashes and set the camera white balance on tungsten to add a bluish tint to the light coming in from the window while keeping the model's color normal.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/160@f4

Also tried adding a bit of motion with a hair dryer.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/160@f3.2

For this next look, I used the SB26/beauty dish as the main light.  A silver California Sunbounce Micro mini below was added to help fill the shadows.
The studio did have a white backdrop, but it was not a roll of white seamless.  It was a slightly off white canvas with some folds in it.  To help hide that, I put another SB26 with a Stofen omnibounce pointed at the backdrop to blow it out to white. I also used the 70-200mm f2.8L IS racked out to 200 to compress/blur the background and hide the edges of the backdrop (which wasn't very wide)

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS Lens iso200 1/160@f4

We then did some shots back in the area of the studio we first started in.  For these I used just the natural light coming in from the window.

Canon 5D mkII 24-105mm f4 IS Lens iso800 1/60@f4

The studio is quite small.  To get a wider shot of Kayo from this particular angle, I had to switch to the 24-105.  Thinking a 50mm 1.2 L lens is next on my to-buy list.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso250 1/80@f1.8

We switched to the bed set next as we were starting to run out of time on our studio rental.

For Kayo's set I used the SB26/Beauty dish for the main and another SB26 with a ProKit reflector for the backlight. Yasuko added motion to Kayo's hair by fanning her with a California Sunbounce Micro Mini reflector.

 Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/160@f4.5

For Yasuko' set, I added some silk rose petals and used a shoot thru umbrella on the main light for a softer feel.
Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/125@f4.5

We ended with a few headshots.  I used 2 SB26 flashes, both with shoot thru umbrellas stacked vertically in a clamshell configuration.  California Sunbounce Micro Mini reflector used again for adding motion to the hair, although a couple of times it almost knocked over the lightstands and umbrellas.  Need to remember to sandbag the lightstands next time.

Canon 5D mkII 85mm f1.2L II Lens iso200 1/160@f4

This was a really fun shoot to do, and there was not enough time to do everything we wanted.  Looking forward to the next time I'll be able to work with Kayo and Yasuko.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Field Test - Canon 5DmkII+WFT-E4+iPad

In order to do a quick field test of the 5D mkII to iPad wifi setup I mentioned previously, I met up with my friend TJ who lucky for me happened to be in Tokyo last month.

We headed up to a park near the NHK building.  Being from Hawaii, I don't normally get to see trees with colors other than green.  We came across some red trees lining the back of one of the NHK buildings which I thought would make a good background.

I had TJ stand up on the wall and I fired up the 5D/WFT-E4/iPad combo.  I used a 70-200 f2.8L lens on the 5D to throw the background out of focus.

Canon 5D mkII iso200 70-200 f2.8L IS 1/80 @ f2.8

It was pretty overcast that day, so I setup an SB26 and a shoot thru umbrella on a stand to get some directional light.  This let me use a faster shutter speed which darkened the background and made the red leaves pop a bit more.

Canon 5D mkII iso200 70-200 f2.8L IS 1/125 @ f2.8

We got a couple of shots in before building security came by and said we could only continue shooting if we took down the lightstand.  Doh!  Time to change locations.

Canon 5D mkII iso200 85mm f1.2L II 1/200 @ f2

We next setup on the steps of a nearby bridge.  Here I tried out the 85mm f1.2L II lens that I had just picked up that morning.  A bit of a mistake to buy this lens, because ever since I put it on my 5D mkII, I haven't wanted to take it off. ;-)  It takes a bit of getting used to the extreme shallow depth of field you can get with this lens - you really have to be careful where you focus.  I've found I get the most success rate from using the center focus point, locking it on the eye closest to me, then recomposing.
Once you get the hang of this lens though, it's amazing what it does to backgrounds.

 Canon 5D mkII iso200 85mm f1.2L II 1/200 @ f2.8

Keeping an eye out for security, I decided just to use an on-camera flash this time- a 580EX dialed down about 1-1/3 stop.  Just enough to lighten the shadows a skosh and put a little sparkle into TJ's eyes.

We moved to a spot under the bridge where there was a lot of colorful grafitti art.  First tried using the 85mm, but because the wall was not wide enough I ended up using the 70-200 to compress the frame and make the wall fill the background completely.  Since we couldn't see security anywhere and figured that under  the bridge was far enough away from the NHK property, I took a chance and setup the SB26 again, this time without the umbrella.

Canon 5D mkII iso200 70-200 f2.8L IS 1/125 @ f2.8

Lucky for me, TJ is the kind of model that looks great no matter what kind of light you throw at her, and she was able to take the direct flash pretty well.  This gave us some much needed directionality of light.

We had hoped to shoot some Christmas lights in Shinjuku, but we finished too early in the day and they had not turned on the decorations yet.  We decided to just grab some Starbucks and chat while looking through the images on the iPad.

Canon 5D mkII iso200 70-200 f2.8L IS 1/400 @ f2.8

Field results from this session:

Setup was relatively quick.  It was much easier to get the 5DmkII/WDT-E4 to transmit to the Shuttersnitch app on the iPad via the wireless router than it was with my 1DmkII/WFT-E1 setup.  The extreme portability of the iPad made it simple to show the model the images as we were shooting.

During this shoot I was using version 1.1.9 of the Shuttersnitch app and 4.2 iOS on the iPad.  Unfortunately the Shuttersnitch app crashed several times while transfers were taking place, so several images only half-downloaded to the iPad.  When the app crashed and I restarted it, it was very unstable so I had to shut down the iPad and restart it.  In between crashes, about 50% of the images made it to the iPad successfuly during the shoot.  The rest of the images I ended up having to transfer to the iPad while we sat at Starbucks after the shoot. I've heard that 2.0 is much more stable, and I hope that the app is updated on the iTunes store soon.

For reviewing images, it's pretty good.  You can set star ratings for each image and zoom in to check focus. I wish they listed the filenumber in the header (right now it only shows exposure info).  Right now in version 1.1.9 the only way to see the filenumber is to press and hold the tiny thumbnail images on the bottom of the interface.

I think once the app developer gets Shuttersnitch to a more stable version, I'll be using this setup more often.  As it stands right now, I can't recommend it for serious work yet.

***Edit - the developer of Shuttersnitch has released version 2.0 of the app which seems to be a LOT more stable.  You can now see the filenumber in the header and while testing it out on a later photoshoot, it did not crash.  Reviewing the images was still a bit wonky - sometimes when swiping through the images, it would jump back to the first image.  But it's way better than the previous version.