Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day with Mikey and Andy

Andy and crew arriving at the Market
This is the big weekend of Lighten Up and Shoot at CreativeLIVE. I hope you are getting a chance to watch the free live stream going on this weekend.

Mike and Andy have been putting on a great class about getting out and taking photos, concentrating on the experience, rather than the technicalities. As their name says, Lighten Up and Shoot! Last night I had the pleasure to accompany Mikey, Andy, students and staff folks from CreativeLIVE as we headed to the Pike Place Market and Victor Steinbruck park for an evening of photography.

We got a chance to approach strangers to ask them to be photographed. And we also had people come up to us and ask to be photographed. Great experience for all involved. Here are some photos from the evening...

Behind The Live's Kenna
Fran at the Market
Everyone seems to do this at the infamous Gum Wall
Christian Jacobson, Market Ghost Tour leader
Mikey gets his point across
Tonya from Poprock Photography
Amber seems to have fallen into a hole!

Below are two photographs showing the set up for a couple of images by Fran and Kenna that were shown during the class on Saturday.


One more day left in the FREE workshop. If you've missed the first two days you can purchase the full video of all three days for $99 until the end of the workshop on Sunday evening. After that the price goes up.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Getting ready to LIghten Up and Shoot

Andy and Mikey from Lighten Up and Shoot are in town (Seattle) this week getting ready for a 3-day free online workshop at CreativeLIVE on Fri, Sat, and Sun.
Yesterday and today have been two of those perfect days in Seattle and we went around to people we found on Craig's List, some garage sales, and some thrift stores to start picking up inexpensive and free props for use in the workshop. The idea is to show folks that you don't need to spend a lot of money to build a set for your photographs.
Negotiating to purchase an organ
After dropping off some of our treasure at CreativeLIVE we headed out to a wonderful dinner at The Skillet restaurant. You might remember their food truck from the Penny De Los Santos workshop.
Andy, Craig, and Mikey outside the CreativeLIVE studio
From there we regrouped and did some prop "shopping" in my basement, and then headed out to a wonderful dinner at The Skillet diner. You might remember the Skillet food truck that was part of the Penny De Los Santos weekend a couple of months ago.

After that we visited the Photo Center Northwest's 24-Hour Long Shot celebration to finish up a long day.
Mikey gets photographed with a
tiny Rollieflex digital camera
And turns around to take a portrait of the camera
I happend to look down as we were standing around
talking outside the Photo Center
Always nice to run into Tonja Gabryshak
Andy, Susan, Kim, and Mikey
On Sunday morning, I headed out to the Ballard Farmer's Market to photograph some people on the street.
Buskers at the Ballard Farmer's Market
This guy was an amazing slide guitarist.
Great tone and style. I tossed some money
in the hat, but totally forgot to find out
more about him.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Catchlights

This is an update to this morning's blog post about square vs round catchlights. I wanted to add another light modifier, the 60" Photek Softlighter II. This is a sort of combination umbrella/softbox. It is a 60" reflective umbrella with a diffusion panel over the open end of the umbrella. So you get reflected light (via the umbrella) passing through a diffusion panel.

Here is what the catchlights look like:

As you can see, it produces a larger round catchlight. But as it is based on an umbrella, you can also see the light stand and the flash head in the catch light. I would probably be tempted to retouch those out. But I do like the softer/larger round catchlight as compared to the beauty dish's hard light (shown below).

The next test should be with a large Octodome to eliminate the light stand and strobe head, but I don't own one of those. Instead, I'm testing it out with an Alien Bee Ringlight and the 56" Moon Unit:

Here, I used the silver side of the Moon Unit, which has me wondering if the white side might give a more even distribution across the face of the unit. And so another test with the white side of the Moon Unit...

And we see that the white side does offer a more even distribution across the face of the unit. But still not as uniform as I would expect from an Octabank. Who wants to send me an Octa to test with? I'll even raise the light a little higher to get the catchlight into the 1 or 2 o'clock position (sorry about that).

Round or Square?

Catchlights that is.

Catchlights are those highlights that give life to your subjects' eyes in your photographs. Without a catchlight, the eyes can look lifeless. So much so, that in the old days of glamor and hollywood portraits they would paint in catch lights if the lighting setup didn't provide them.

Every once in a while I get into a discussion with other photographers about catch lights. Some people like round ones. Others like rectangular. I fall into the "rectangle" camp and would like to offer my reasons. I also like LARGE round catchlights, such as from a large octabank. See my next post for more about that.

When I think of catchlights, I think of old masters paintings. And I think of light coming from a window or a doorway. And in most situations, those windows and doorways are rectangular. But what about the great outdoors? The catchlight in the great outdoors is often provided by the full sky. And that tends to be rectangular in shape.

Other folks say that the catchlight should be round. They say the main source of light in the world is the sun, and the sun is round. I don't disagree, the sun is pretty much round. But the sun rarely provides a catch light. For one thing, it is so far away that if it does show in the eye, it is just a pin-point. And if the sun is shining directly into the subject's eyes, their probably squinting and not looking all that comfortable, and the squint may be blocking the catchlight. Or it is so bright that the subject looks away from the sun, and now the wide open sky provides the light for the scene and the catchlight.

So, there's my argument. But, as with all things, it doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what other photographers think, either. It just matters what you think. You like round catchlights? Use round lights or modifiers and be happy. You like rectangles? Use rectangular lights or modifiers and be happy.

All I ask is that you think about it and reason out why you have one preference over another. And maybe you don't have a preference. That's OK, too.

And now you get to look at my pretty face (that's what happens when the model has to cancel at the last minute)...

This first image was created with a Photoflex Silverdome NXT Medium Softbox. Below is a close up crop of my eye from the above photo.

This second photo was taken using a Speedotron 22" beauty dish with a diffuser on it. Below is the close up crop.

This third image goes back to the Photoflex softbox, but I added three strips of black tape across the face of the softbox to try to imitate the look of a window. Again, below is the close up crop.

What is your preference for the shape of a catchlight? And what do you think of multiple catch lights, as you might get from some multiple light studio setups? The above photos were all made with one light and no fill, so only show the single catchlight in each eye. A reflector board or secondary fill light may have added an additional reflection in the eye.

For this image, I kept with the Photoflex softbox, but added both a white card and a Photoflex 32" 5-in-1 MultiDisk reflector with the gold covering, which provided an extra reflection in the eyes (as well as a warmer overall tone to the image). In this case, I don't think it detracted. But if the extra reflections were harder and more similar to the main catchlight I would suggest removing the extra catchlights in retouching.

Speaking about catchlights and portrait lighting, the catchlight is what we call a specular reflection. It reflects the light back to the camera like a mirror. And like a mirror, the brightness will remain the same, no matter the distance between the light and the subject. At first, this seems to contradict the inverse square law, but it actually doesn't. The inverse square law says that when you change the distance between the light and subject, the amount of light will change by the square of the change. So, if you moved your light from 2' to 4' from the subject (2x the original distance), the subject would receive 1/4 the amount of light. If you moved the light 3x the distance, the subject would receive 1/9 the amount of light.
In the case of a mirror reflection, instead of the brightness changing, the size of the light will change. So if you move the light twice as far back, instead of the light falling off to 1/4 power, the size of the light in the eye would be 1/4 the size, but at the same brightness. Knowing this, we can control the brightness of the catch light. To make it darker in the overall exposure, you would have to bring the light in CLOSER. By bringing it closer, the catchlight gets bigger, but remains the same brightness. However, by bringing the light in closer the overall scene (the face) gets brighter. And you have to lower the exposure (stop down the lens or lower the power of the strobe) to get the proper overall exposure, and by doing so, you are also darkening the specular reflection, bringing closer to the overall exposure level.

Remember to check my follow up post about larger catchlights.

All images taken with a Canon 5DmkII and Canon 70-200L f/4 IS lens. Manual white balance setting of 5700 degrees Kelvin was set in the camera. Light was a Speedotron Force 5 monolight that remained the same spot for all images (just the modifier was changed between the softbox and the beauty dish. With a little bit of work the Speedotron beauty dish can be modified to fit onto other strobes, but you are on your own for that. At around $150, this beauty dish is a bargain.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Art Class with Jeff Hengst

Tomorrow is the last day of a wonderful art class Kim and I have been taking with Seattle artist Jeff Hengst. It has been a wonderful set of sessions on Sunday and Monday evenings this summer.

Setting a base color on the canvas
 The class has been about finding your muse and ways of being creative, but we've also brought in some "practical" technique sessions, too.

This has been a wonderful experience for me. I haven't taken any sort of art class (outside of photography) since college. And, quite frankly, I sucked at anything involving drawing, painting, or sculpting back then. Probably what drove me more into photography.

I can't say that I'm any better now, but not because of anything lacking in the class. I was in the class mostly for the discussions. Why the nude as a subject? Working on large scale or small scale? What inspires us? How we can learn figure painting by eating chickens.

For most of the class we worked in small to medium sized sketch books. Jeff encouraged us to try new materials. If we always worked in pencil, try charcoal. Or try oil paint. We learned how to stretch a canvas and prep it with gesso. We talked about tools. We talked about ideas. All encompassing.

This evening we made a big jump from the sketch books to large paintings. Paintings on plywood panels using limited palettes (2 colors) of latex house paint and large brushes. It seemed that everyone in the class really enjoyed this exercise. In the very very first class we burned our art. We kept that theme going. Creating things and letting them go. With the large panels tonight we painted them. Then we hit them with water from a garden hose. Then we painted again. 

Though Jeff has been a working artist for many years, this is the first time he has offered classes, and Kim and I feel so honored to be part of the first class. We're looking forward to more classes. Kim is especially interested in working with concrete, which will be offered in August.

It looks like Jeff doesn't have a blog set up yet, but you can contact him at to get information or call the studio at 206-328-4758 and Jeff or his assistant, Gio, can help you with class info or sign you up for a class.

I made a conscious decision to not bring a camera to class until this last week of class. I didn't want the distraction for me or for the folks in the class. But I'm glad I did bring it tonight. Here are some photos from this evening's class:

My initial piece from this evening, before
attacking it with the jet spray
The transformation after the spray, working
with a much wetter media