It’s a shot from a test set-up for a product shoot in which I was aiming for a low key look with lots of contrast to separate the subject from the background. I also wanted to get a lighting set up which would freeze the action but also be fairly even.
I achieved this by using flash positioned to the right of the subject as we look and, instead of using a reflector as fill, I used a mirror to throw back an almost equal intensity of light. I used a black backdrop and set the subject far enough in front of it to get the most benefit of the inverse squared rule to make sure I kept the background black.
Rather than put my signature watermark on the image itself, I’ve chosen to put it on a border which I think looks less intrusive in this case, I created the border by adjusting the canvass size in Photoshop then adding a white layer.
It’s a fine balance set against delivering on a brief, but I believe that one of the added values a professional photographer should bring to work for a client is creative input. So, let me share the story of this one of a set, which I really like.
This is Sharon who asked me if I could do some head shots of herself and the staff at Healing Hands Wellness Centre in Glenrothes. Sharon was looking for photos that would be an improvement on the ones already in place and was thinking of the standard head shot approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but I wondered if she might be open to someting a little more creative which said something about the centre.
I felt that “Healing Hands” was significant in the centre name and ought to be reflected somehow in the head shots. I also have a personal preference to show people in context as much as possible. I had the idea of creating a background shot which illustrated healing hands and put together a mock up of the concept to see what Sharon thought of it. I was pleased when the idea met with her approval and so we agreed on details for doing the shoot.
Each of the head shot images is constructed as this example, with the same background and here’s how they were shot and constructed.
First of all, we shot the background. This involved Sharon and one of her team. The room we shot this in was quite compact and I needed lighting in there along with a camera, tripod and myself. There was only one configration possible for this, which meant me being on the left of the subject with the lighting on the right. I knew this was the wrong way round for the final composition, but it was an easy enough job to flip the image in processing.
I wanted the background image to be muted so that it was very evident but not dominant in the overall composition, This was achieved in Photoshop where I placed a pure white layer under the background image then dropped the opacity of the background image. This was then used for the whole set of head shots.
The portraits were shot in another treatment room which has a pleasing forest image on one wall. I set up a temporary studio there using the feature wall as a backdrop. The lighting for the head shots consisted of two studio lights – one above and behind the subject to add some highlighting to the hair, and one at about 45 degrees from the front as a fill light. The main light was flash bounced into an umbrella reflector.
The final image was completed in Photoshop by blending the portrait shot with the “healing hands” background.
I’m pleased with the final composition and that we have managed to give a fresh expression to corporate head shots. The moral of the story is that we should always be prepared to offer creative suggestions to clients in the interest of adding value to them. Of course, suggestions might not always be accepted – I have experience of that too – but when they are and come off like this, it’s really pleasing.
One from the archive this week, taken on a filming trip to Afghanistan in December 2003 and a personal favourite.
This is in the capital city, Kabul. At the time of my visit it was strugling to find peace after years of conflict and was still in the early days of the UN forces presence. I remember the bombed-out buildings, bullet-holed walls everywhere and the total lack of any street lights.
I was impressed by the reslience of the Afghan people and this man typified it. I was told that he was a former wrestler and was famous in Afghanistan but had now lost his sight. In a country with no social security or welfare benefits you have to do what you can to simply survive. What this man had done was to create a room in his house and knock out an opening to the street. This was his shop and here he traded daily selling a variety of produce.
What I like about this image is the story it tells. Unless I had been told, I would have had no idea this man was blind. Here he was sitting in his home shop, enganing happily with a customer. There is an expression of welcome and engagement on his face and he appears relaxed and at peace with his lot. I like the scales sitting between him and his customers, speaking of balance, fairness and justice. It’s a symbol of hope for a nation plagued throughout its history by bloody conflict.
This was originally shot on film, Fuji 800 Pro if I remember correctly, and the resultant grain gives the image a certain mild grittiness which I think is appropriate.
It occurs to me now that this was almost 15 and a quarter years ago and I find myself wondering how this man’s story developed.
I admit it, I’ve not been all that diligent in recent times in posting on social media or writing a blog post. Life has been, and remains, busy.
What I’ve decided to do in order to rectify this omission is to post a “pic of the week” across all the social media I use and, on this blog, to make some comment on it. This is my promise to myself. The pictures might be something I’ve shot recently (even in that week) or something older from the archive. I feel this is probably something I can sustain as a minimum and maybe on occasion I will be inspired to post more. I’ve set myself a recurring ask reminder, so all being well…
And so we begin with this one, a sculpture on the wall at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I shot this a few weeks back and this one’s for Easter.
The sculpture simply hangs there in the cathedral with no comment, allowing people to interact with it as they will. And that’s how I’ll leave it here. Just engage in the conversation by looking at the photo and allowing it to communicate.
This is the final supermoon of 2019 hovering over the neighbourhood and coinciding with the spring equinox. It’s the last of this year’s three back-to-back supermoons, the first occurring on Jan.21, and the second, which was the biggest and brightest, on Feb 19.
Fortunately we had clear skies so I simply had to grab the moment to get out and take the shot – barely an hour before writing this! I must admit it was opportunistic as I hadn’t been aware this supermoon was due. I had simply gone out to take some rubbish to the bin and was met by this glorious sight.
So, I headed straight back inside to get the camera, change the lens and do my best to get a decent shot. There was no time to faff around setting up a tripod, which is fine (and best) when you are planned and ready but this was sheer opportunism so how do you go about trying to ensure you get the shot? Well, here’s what I did.
The lens I had on the camera was a 55 – 200mm with no image stabilisation. I needed to work hand held but minimise blur from camera shake. I opted for manual mode, and selected an exposure time of 1/500 sec. The rough rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at least twice the value of the focal length of the lens. I was doubling it which more than compensated for the multiplier effect of my crop sensor of 1.6. I chose an aperture of f8 which is around the sweet spot of the lens and then put my ISO on auto. This would at least guarantee a decent exposure and I spot metered on the moon. The pay-off, of course, was going to be grain (or noise if you prefer, but I grew up with film so it’s grain for me!)
After taking a few shots to bracket exposures around my settings and to spread the shake risk a little I took the images into Lightroom. All of the processing of this shot was done in Lightroom. What I did was allow for lens correction and also chromatic abberation. Then I made some global (though slight) adjustments to the exposure and tweaked the white and black scales just a little. I also introduced a little contrast, then made local brush adjustments to the moon to bring out the detail and to the rooftops to prevent the blacks from clipping. I then set about sharpening using the mask to pick out only the edges and bringing the radius down to 0.5. I had to give it a fair bit of noise reduction on luminance with a heavy hand (nearly 100%) on the colour noise reduction.
In the end, I’m quite pleased with this shot which goes to show that you should never pass up an opportunity even if you’ve not planned and therefore think it won’t be the perfect shot. It’s always worth giving it a go.
First of all, let me be clear that Edradour are not paying me for this or sponsoring me for advertising in any way. My aim was only to experiment with a product set-up and lighting.
Before I began I had a fair idea of what I wanted the final image to look like so I planned the set-up to aim for achieving it though, as will become evident there was an alteration made during the shoot.
I was clear that I wanted a black background so set up the studio with a black backdrop which extended down vertically then horizontally along the table under the product and all the way to the camera position. I also wanted to have crisp, sharp lighting so opted for flash with no diffusion. I positioned the flash close to the product to take advantage of the inverse square law to minimise any lighting on the backdrop. If you’re not sure. the inverse square law in photographic lighting is is basically about the intensity of light radiating from a light source (strobe, flash, hot light etc) and how the intensity of that light on a subject is (inversely) proportional to the square of the distance from the light source. Therefore a light source close to the subject resulting in a correct exposure on the subject will render the more distant background much darker. And if that background is already black…
I only wanted to work with one principal light source – largely from the side but clearly needed to make sure the opposing side didn’t fall into dark shadow. Rather than use a reflector, I set up a small mirror to the left of the subject with the flash to the right. Using a mirror would help retain the sharpness of lighting that I wanted.
I also wanted to have a reflection going on so positioned a flat mirror on the table and placed the subjects on that. Because of the shooting angle, it was possible to ensure that the mirror reflected the backdrop as well as the subjects.
The basic layout in plan view looked like this:
Here you can see the flash positioned to the right right and slightly forward of the subject which is sitting on the base mirror. The arrow shows the direction of the flash. To the left of the subject is the reflecting mirror with dotted arrows representing the bounced light. At the bottom is the camera position. The flash was triggered with a remote system from the camera.
Behind the subject, I eventually positioned another light. I wasn’t happy with the initial shots and felt that there needed to be an “inner glow” to the bottle. To achieve this I set up a small LED unit at minimum power to provide the back light giving a pleasing glow to the bottle and contents.
There was some very light touch editing in Lightroom and Photoshop for colour balance and to make sure the background was consistently black. It was very light touch though with most of the work done in camera.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with the result but have some slight issues with the lighting on the nosing glass which seems a little harsh despite toning that down in editing.
I was browsing through my old files today and came across this photo of Lochnagar which I had taken on 28 May 2010. The original shot was somewhat “thin” but I felt it offered some prospect of redemption so I opened the develop module in Lightroom and set to work.
Here’s the before and after comparison:
I felt that this image would benefit from some “thickening” of the colours and contrast and also that the sky could made just a little more dramatic.
Here then, is the story of how I used Lightroom to go from the original to the final image.
The first thing I always do is to Enable Lens corrections and tick for that. I also usually tick to Remove chromatic aberration. After that I make sure the image is straight and then it’s off to the Basic panel.
Usually, this is a light touch approach in here, but this image needed more intense responses to get it to how I wanted it to look. I didn’t work down this panel in sequence but started with the exposure which just needed to come down a little. My next stop was to adjust the whites and blacks, increasing the whites and reducing the blacks until the points where clipping began and adjusting to just short of the clipping point. This already made a big difference. Next stop was to adjust both Clarity and Dehaze, working with both pretty much in tandem until the balance between the two was producing the effect I was looking for, Both of these are adusted here much more than I would normally be happy with, but the image did need it. Both also affect contrast and after experimenting with that a little, I left that slider alone and moved on to the Tone curve.
Here, as you can see, I made very slight adjustments to the dark tones and highlights for a very gentle S curve. I need to emphasise that in processing photos I am not looking for specific settings values but judge the effect being made by eye. I constantly look at before/after comparisons to see how the work is progressing. Next up was a little work on the colour channels where I wanted to enhance the sunlight falling on the corries and flank. And so to the HSL panel.
Here I felt I only needed to make slight adjustments to the red and orange channels where I pushed the hue on both a little more towards orange and then very slightly increased the saturation. Another check of the before/after comparison and I felt we were nearly there. The final destination was for some sharpening.
My approach here is to control the sharpening carefully. To do this I first apply just a little sharpening then holding down the Alt key inclrease the masking until I see only the white parts that I want to actually apply the sharpening to. For landscapes I tend also to reduce the radius to 0.5 and leave the detail as is. Again, holding down the Alt key for the black and white screen I adjust the Luminance to minimise grain (noise) to what I think is an acceptable level, The black and white screen allows this to be visualised more easily. This image also needed some colour noise reduction, probably as a result of the extent of the clarity and dehaze adjustments made earlier. Finally, I made a trip back to the Basic panel to cool the colour temperature just a tad. And that’s it.
It’s worthwhile revisiting old shots occasionally to see what’s there and what might be worth a little more editing work. It’s also good practice for the virtual darkroom.