Thursday, April 24, 2014

4.2 - Ultra-Hard Light / Film Noir

In my previous post, I covered my progress through the first segment of restricting light.  With a few household items I made a gobo, a snoot, and a grid spot and began experimenting with them.

The second segment of restricting light is ultra-hard light.  I discussed the difference between soft and hard light in a previous post titled Apparent Light Size, here.  Hard light refers to light coming from a relatively small source, such as a bare speedlite.  Ultra-Hard light is simply making the light source even smaller.  Using ultra-hard light can be useful when shooting through a gobo or cookie as it will affect the light pattern.

To produce ultra-hard light all you have to do is cover up a portion of the speedlite.  This will rob the flash of power proportionally to how much is covered up, but the trade-off is worth it if it produces the desired results. 

Photo from the 1949 film Stray Dog (wikipedia)
The next assignment in the L102 course is Film Noir.  Now you may be familiar with what those two words used in conjunction mean, but I didn’t have a clue.  Shame on my engineering professors for not covering this in college.  With a quick read on Wikipedia, I learned that Film Noir refers to a filming technique used in classical crime dramas of the 1940s and 50s.  In photography, a classic Film Noir shot would be a person in a fedora holding a pistol peering through Venetian blinds, shot in black and white with the light source being shot through the blinds to create a horizontal pattern across the subject’s face.  Hopefully you're starting to get an idea of what kind of mood this type of shot tries to convey.

Films in this category include classics like The Maltese Falcon and Sunset Boulevard.  More recent films that are an echo of the film noir period include: Se7en, Basic Instinct, The Usual Suspects, Fargo, Momento, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Sin City to name a few.  Some of my all-time favorite movies are listed there, so now not only do I know what Film Noir is but I also know that I like it.  Some of these movies have some great lines too.

"...I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze."
"Are you gonna bark all day little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?"
"What's in the box?"

For this assignment I proverbially wanted to kill two birds with one stone.  If you have ever read any lists on the web of, shots that all photographers should take, you have undoubtedly came across the "self-portrait".  So for this assignment I decided to do a Film Noir shoot of myself.

The shot was taken with a one-light setup.  I used my grid spot and set up the flash high and a skosh camera right.  The ambient was more than 3-stops below ambient exposure so it barely had any effect on the photo (without the flash the photo would have just been black). What I love about this shot is the flipped poker chip in the air.

A while ago, I noticed a function on my speedlite for firing multiple times at different frequencies.  The function can be used to capture an object at multiple locations as it moves through the frame.  I had never attempted to take a shot like this but while I was working on my Film Noir selfie I decided to try it.  Warning, do not try this by yourself!  I tried and tried to get the timing right as I waited for the self-timer on my camera to fire and failed over and over and over again.  Finally my wife came home from her fitness course and was willing to help me and it was still tough to get the timing down.

I had the speedlite set to fire 4 times at 40Hz and was able to capture the poker chip as it flipped through the air after many failed attempts.  I'm gonna count this assignment as three birds with one stone!

As always, thank you for following, and please post any comments or questions below.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

4.1 - Restricting Light

I’ve made it through the first three ways to control light: Position, Apparent Light Size, and Balancing.  Here’s a quick review of what we’ve discussed about these three controls.  Position will affect what is lit and what is in shadow and changing positing (or distance) will affect the power of the light.  The apparent size of the light source affects the length of the transition between highlight and shadow or in other words how hard or soft the light is.  Then the course got into how to use aperture and shutter speeds to balance between ambient light and flash. 

The next lighting control in the Lighting 102 course is restricting light.  This is a fairly simple concept to grasp, but it has some strange terminology.  David Hobby (author of the L102 course) separates restriction methods into four classifications: gobos, snoots, grid spots, and cookies.  These seem to be fairly standard terms they do vary a bit depending on the source.

The term “gobo” is short for “goes between optics” and is anything that shields a lights source.  Typically gobos are used to either shield the flash from spilling on to something in the photo’s frame or to avoid lens flare by shielding a the flash from the camera lens.  The Lighting 102 example of a gobo was a piece of cardboard, or something similar, attached to one side of the flash.

Figure 1: My gobo with the supplies I used to make it.
To the right are the tools and supplies I needed to build my own little gobo; a cereal box, hockey tape, scissors, and Velcro strips to attach it to the speedlite body.

Figures 2 and 3 below demonstrate how a gobo can be used.   The photos were taken with a flash set up to the left of the subject.  Figure 2 was taken without the gobo and Figure 3 was taken with the gobo attached. 

To help visualize what is happening in these two shots I took a step back and took photos of the whole set up.

Figure 2: Flash camera right with gobo attached.

Figure 4: Flash with gobo.

Figure 3: Flash camera right without gobo attached.

Figure 5: Bare flash.

By attaching the gobo to the side of the flash, it acts as a shield and prevents the light from spilling onto the wall behind Mr. Lego man.  This is just one example of how a gobo can be used; they can be made in any size or shape and are used to prevent light from spilling into unwanted areas.

Figure 6: My snoot with the supplies I used to make it.
Gobos are used to shield a light in one direction but if you want to shield the light source in all four directions you can use a snoot.  Snoots are basically four-sided gobos that fits over the front of a flash.  A snoot restricts the light in all four directions effectively narrowing the beam of light.   

I made a snoot from the same materials that I used to make my gobo.  Using gaffers tape would have been a lot easier than the hockey tape but, I utilized the materials I had at the time. 

The length of a snoot will determine the narrowness of the light beam.  You can buy them, or make them, in any length you need.  If you make your own snoot, make sure it fits snug on your flash so it doesn’t falls off easily. 

This photo was taken with a bare speedlite zoomed into 105mm aimed at a wall.
Figure 7: Bare flash, no attachments.
This is the same lighting set up with the snoot attached.
Figure 8: Flash with snoot attached.
A snoot doesn’t have to have square or rectangular sides.  Snoots, like gobos, can be made into any size or shape to restrict the light in the desired way.

Grid Spots
Grid spots are like fancy snoots and as you may have been able to guess, they offer even more control over light.  For the sake of being consistent, I decided to make my own grid spot as well and used Rui M. Leal’s tutorial here for help.

Figure 9: A look through my grid spot.
For this build I had to buy some supplies.  I needed black straws and I finally picked up some gaffers tape to make my life easier.  Gaffers tape is a bit more expensive than other types of tape but it is much easier to work with.  Gaffers tape is used extensively in any type of stage work because it can be removed cleanly without leaving a residue (unlike duct tape).  It’s also strong but easy to tear making it great to use with expensive camera gear.  Together with some glue (I used silicone but any glue would work) and the same basic supplies from the gobo and snoot, I had everything I needed.  This is what my grid spot ended up looking like.  The structural shape is similar to the snoot but straws are added to create the grid spot.

Here’s another look at it.
Figure 10: Photo showing my grid spot's shadow.

So how is the grid spot different than a snoot?  To find out, I first constructed a similar light setup to the one I used to test out the snoot.   I then took a series of photos starting with a bare flash, moving to the snoot, and ending with the grid spot to show the progression of light restriction.

Figure 11: Bare speedlite zoomed to 105mm aimed at a wall.
Figure 12: Same light setup with my snoot attached.
Figure 13: Same light setup with my grid spot attached.
Surprised by the shape of it?  I sure was!  You can see from the previous photos that the grid spot is rectangular, so why is the light pattern round?  Obviously it has something to do with the straws but beyond that I’m fairly clueless as to the physics behind this.  If you can explain this little phenomenon, please add it to the comments at the end of this post.  This was a result that I was definitely not expecting.

Cookies are anything that you put in front of the flash to create a pattern.  Sometimes cookies are also referred to as gobos that you shoot the flash through.  Cookies are used to produce a particular pattern of light and can be bought or made by using every day objects.

Here are a couple photos of a background that I took using improvised cookies. 
Figure 14: Pattern created with cookie #1.

Figure 15: Pattern created with cookie #2.

Cookies are useful for livening up a background.  Now, I said that these cookies were improvised and I truly mean that.  I didn’t have a leafy plant (a quick natural cookie) to use around house but while I was walking through my kitchen I did find a couple things that I could use.  I repurposed a pancake spatula and a fish flipper as cookies.  To prove it I took two more photos showing these improvised cookies.
Figure 16: Pancake spatula cookie.

Figure 17: Fish flipper cookie.

It is interesting what you can create with a few household items.  Typically I work out of my camera bag for my photography, but with this shoot it seems I was working mostly out of my kitchen!

I’m going to continue to experiment with my new gobo, snoot, and grid spot a lot more to get a good feel for how I can use them to enhance my photography.  Luckily, I get just that chance in the very next assignment.  Thanks again for following and please ask any questions you may have.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Assignment - Balance - Part 2

My last post was a bit of a teaser for the Balancing Assignment in the Lighting 102 course.  You can look back to that post for the specifics but basically this assignment was to take a photo that really meant something to someone using the basic skills that have been learned.  I planned to photograph my friends’ first child to satisfy the “special” part of this assignment. 

I had noted that I’m not what you would describe as a “baby person” so I feel the need to put out a disclaimer that no babies were hurt during this photography session.  No amateur photographers were harmed either. This was my first “baby shoot” and I can honestly say that it was vastly different than any other assignment I’ve ever been involved in.  Luckily the parents of this angel are good friends of mine so we could spend the whole day together without feeling rushed. 

This “shoot” took about six hours!  That may sound like an incredibly long time if you’ve never photographed a 4-week-old baby before.  I don’t think a 4-week-old understands schedules or cares about the goals of the guy behind the camera.  Between feedings, burping, changing, and a handful of NCAA Tournament games, we had lots of breaks that turned out to benefit everyone involved.  The baby needed its breaks, the parents needed the breaks to tend to the baby's needs, and I used the down time to review the photos we’ve taken.  The biggest benefit to all these breaks was that no one felt rushed.  Since we really didn’t have a choice, we worked around the baby’s schedule, and I think this put everyone at ease.

I would love to start showing all the wonderful photos that I was able to get of the baby and the parents but when I first began this blog I had to decide whether or not to make it public.  When I made that choice I also told myself that I would strictly adhere to anyone's request to not be included in it.  My friends that were the subject of this assignment have not been sharing photos of their baby on the internet and I was not about to without their approval.  But, since they are such nice people they did agree to let me post a few that keep their family anonymous.  I have even gone as far as to refer only to the baby as "it" instead of "he or she".
Let’s start out then by playing a game.  This is a photo of the baby’s feet; the first person to correctly identify this baby will win a prize!  Just kidding, I really do admire the reasoning behind their decision and respect it.

The entire shoot took place in my friends’ living room.  (Coincidentally, this was also the location of the largest television in the house.) This particular Saturday was pretty dreary so there wasn't an abundance of nature light in the room.  To compensate for this I set up two speedlites; one was set up with a shoot-through umbrella to lighten up the entire room and the second was set up inside a soft box.  Shoot-through umbrellas are sometime referred to as “light bombs” because they tend to throw light everywhere and I positioned it as high as I could in the room so it was away from the baby and it didn’t scare “it”. In this position it also wasn’t in my way as I moved around.  The soft box is slightly smaller than the umbrella and much easier to move around so I could easily bring it in nice and close.

I switched between two lenses that I love, the EF 50mm f/1.8 and the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro, for the entire shoot.  I might have been able to shoot the whole session with the 60mm Macro but for some shots it was just a little too long (on a crop sensor camera) for the room we were in.  If you have a dSLR and are not familiar with the term "crop sensor" your camera probably has one.  Crop sensors have a built in crop factor that makes lenses seem more zoomed in than they would on a full-frame digital or a 35mm film camera.  Both of these lenses have much larger maximum apertures than the "kit" lens so they work much better with limited light.  

This is a second photo of the baby and "it's" daddy.  I tried to do a good mix of close ups and portraits so the parents had a variety of shots but of course I won't be sharing the family portraits.

For this being my first time photographing a baby I felt that it went well.  It really wasn't the baby's best day but with being able to take the entire day for the photo shoot I was still able to get numerous shots that will hopefully be memories for a very long time.  I want to thank my friends for allowing me to photograph their child and for allowing me to post these photos of..."it".  I hope that they feel the "something special" that was the point of this assignment.

As always, if you think that I stink, please let me know in the comments section and if you have any questions I would love to try and answer them.  The next method of control is "Restricting Light" so we get to discuss things like gobos, snoots, cookies and more!