Monday, December 2, 2013

Umbrella Specular Portrait

This is the second assignment of the Lighting 102 course and I'm still working with specular highlights.  This assignment is more structured than the Cooking Light assignment as the instructor, David Hobby, has a specific technique to try out.  He specifically states that this assignment is a portrait of someone using a single soft light source and positioning it so that it becomes a specular highlight on a dark semi-reflective surface.

While hunting for my next subject I came across this photo on a social media website.  My sister-in-law took the photo, and without knowing it she produced a purrfect (sorry) example of this technique.  When I spoke with her about using her photo in this blog she told me what shot she was aiming for and that, “The little bugger ruined the shot at the last instant by closing his eyes and sticking out his tongue”.  She may have just been sharing a funny anecdote of the shoot but it certainly wasn’t ruined.  Think of it this way, if you were trying to get a photo of a cat closing it’s eyes and sticking out its tongue, I’d tell you good luck! 

The conversation reminded me of some advice that I read a while back.  The advice went along the lines of don’t be apologetic of your work.  I think self-critique is a great way to improve your photography but you certainly shouldn’t give a list of all the perceived faults when someone offers you a compliment. I don’t think the author of this advice meant to suggest that you need to be an insufferable self-promoter but when someone compliments a photo of mine I catch myself saying “yeah, but…” far too often.  I tell people, “yeah, but I could’ve done this", or "I should’ve done that”, instead of just saying thanks and telling a funny story about how the shot came to be, like my sister-in-law did.  It’s good to constantly look for ways to improve your photography but it's also important to not be too hard on yourself.

The photo of Einstein is also the inspiration for my own work during this assignment.  I decided to make this a family pet themed post.  I certainly couldn’t post a photo of a cat without a photo of a dog!  Again, the goal of this assignment is to get a specular highlight on the background to produce a halo effect behind the subject.  Below are a couple examples of my work with my dog Apollo.  I could get him to close his eyes or stick his tongue out but never at the same time! :)

For the background I used my dining room table flipped on its side.  I then set up my shoot-through umbrella and took a series of test shots at different angles to get an idea of the size and location of the specular highlight on the background.  Once I got that figured out I placed a chair directly in front of where the highlight would be and bribed Apollo into position. 

This all worked well as long as he was sitting, but it didn’t take long for him to lie down and get comfortable.  At this point I needed to work a bit on the fly.  I found that keeping the umbrella close to the camera allowed me to better predict where the highlight would show up.  This was a bit of a test in visual geometry.  If you remember your geometry instructor teaching about angles of incidence and angles of reflection and wanted a real world example, here it is.

If you'd like to read more about this assignment or see other people's work you can find it here on the Strobist L102 blog.

I think that if the goal of the L102 course, over the past few weeks, was to get me comfortable working with specular highlights then it was a success.  I feel that I’ve learned a ton about off-camera lighting so far and I’ve only gotten through the first two ways to control light: position and apparent size.  The next section of the L102 course is about Balancing light and follows the same structure of a series of exercises followed by an assignment. 

I want to thank you again for reading and please be sure to ask any questions in the comments section below.

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