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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

A Quick Lighting Build in Times Square

May 12

In Lighting at 12:17pm

Changing the light bulbs on the coke sign in Times Square

Ah, the crossroads of the world, Times Square, New York City. Neon blares, thespians tread on venerably historic stages, with fashions, movies, and the cult of celebrity all shining brightly outside. It’s really the only place I’ve been where your shutter speeds at night need to be faster than they are on some days. It’s a whirlygig of lit up pop culture, where in the space of a half a block or so, you can quite literally bump into hundreds of rushing people, and likely hear about a dozen different languages, intermingled with the usual, distinctively gruff New Yorkese. And all this jostling occurs…safely. Read the rest of this entry »

A Lighting Build for a Boxer

Apr 27

In Lighting at 7:13am


We kind of all know where to put the light by now, at least mostly. Well, some of the time, anyway. Basic lighting info is all over the internet, some of it good, some of it bad or just indifferent. It’s pretty ubiquitous, to the point of being monotonous, such as the axiom of “If you move the light closer to your subject it will appear softer.” There’s so much of this out there you might actually begin to think it’s important, like the kind of important that shows up on the nightly newscast. Read the rest of this entry »

A Quick Thing About a Shadow

Apr 3

In Lighting at 6:23am


Taught last week at SVA, which was fun to do. Katrin Eismann has built a powerhouse program there for all manner of visual storytelling and communication. She asked me to come in and teach PhotoShop, but I elected to talk about lighting instead. :-))) Read the rest of this entry »

Broad Light, Narrow Light

Apr 1

In Lighting at 8:29am


From the same light shaper. When Gary Astill, the peerless designer at Lastolite and I were brainstorming, I mentioned the quality of light translating through a Lastolite Skylite panel was always quite nice, but it was occasionally too much light. The source, a diffuser panel, is basically a 40′ square. It would often envelope the subject, sometimes in lovely fashion, but other times, it could have a tendency to swamp the subject, flooding them with too much light. I have an active imagination and I had visions of the subject drowning in light, gurgling something like “Use a more narrow source,” as they bubbled downwards in a sea of photons.

Below is an example of the the skylite, used frontally, with a bit of bounce fill card action from below. This type of an approach gives you a full look, very soft, flattering and open.


That discussion about volume of light with Gary prompted the Skylite Rapid Diffuser w/ Masks. You still have access to a large square of light, but you can patchwork quilt it down to a very narrow, still soft, beam. It’s handy.

I demonstrated this to an advanced lighting class in Dubai recently. Jon was our test subject to start, and he was bracketed between two open Skylites, filled with light. The result is predictably soft, and very diffuse. There is detail throughout his face, and hair, and the fall to shadows is very gradual.


But then, to demo the process of doing an in camera double exposure, I needed much more narrow light. Reason being, of course, to do a double, you really need control and you need areas of the subject’s face and environment to go really, really dark. You need a definitive line of demarcation between highlight and shadow, a very distinct border. And the fall to shadows has to be quite quick and complete.

Bring out the masks! They velcro to the source and turn a 40″ square of light into a strip light soft box, essentially. Handy and quick. You can also see below, there is gaffer tape masks shrouding my speed lights, which are affixed to a Tri-flash. I didn’t need lots of power for this particular setup, but we were heading into the realm of high speed sync that day with the class, so we simply got multiple speed lights ready early on. But the gaffer tape helped control the spill and splash of light on the set. When doing in camera moves such as multiples, it speaks to exerting all the control you can over the nature and spread of the light.


On that day we worked with big flash and small flash, showing how to use TTL groups to shoot double exposures, and then we did a big flash double, with a focus shift. The in camera controls, programming the numbers of exposures, and the camera factoring the potential exposure gain take a lot of the guesswork out of multiples.

Below is an overall of the setup.


I demonstrated this for a few frames, using the multiple exposure mode in the camera set to two exposures, and using my focus cursors to help me map out her position. Quick result, and informative for the class.


We continued into the realm of bigger flash, and did one of these with this dancer and two Profoto B1 lights, with the upfront source being a 1×3  RFI strip, and the larger source in the second, or background exposure, being two 1×6 RFI strip lights. Made the first exposure, shifted her position, and the focus, and she struck a dancer’s pose for the second.


In a blacked out studio, you have control, which is what you need. We did not have that for these demos, but close enough, and the class had fun observing the process. As did Cali and Jon, who decided to enact their own pas de deux for the camera. The great thing about having them as first assistants in the studio is that they are also very good friends. So they decided to do a quick “bromance” spoof for the class. Camera and lens setup across the board here was the Nikon D4S fitted with a 70-200mm f2.8.


Fun with lights, camera, action! Good friend and fellow shooter, Jeff Snyder, has seen these sources in action, having been with me on set numerous times, and can always check in with him as to ease of use, availability, etc.

More tk…

Off to a Fast Start

Jan 20

In In The Field, Lighting, On Location at 5:27am

The year, that is. The facts of the calendar. The pace. Not me, really. I haven’t accelerated at all. In fact, I might have lost a gear along the way. It’s barely mid-January, and I’m already in danger of being left behind. That’s nothing new. As I showed in my last blog, had a blast at the end of December shooting underwater production for a Kelby class. During that same visit to Tampa, I also shot a light shaping class. Definitely fun. The below was shot with an Acute 2400ws unit outside this abandoned warehouse, some strategically placed holes in the wall, a smoke machine, an overhead beauty dish, and two Speedlights flicked off the floor into a silver Lastolite panel. More on this class at a future time.


I’m surprised actually that the lovely Orshi, above, posed for me again. Last time we worked, I had her fictitiously killed off in a noir-ish scene in a seedy Tampa hotel that was definitely on the bad side of town.

Tom Aellis and his son Jared

The shot at the top the finished the clicking for 2014, but there I was on a plane on Jan. 4, heading for Vegas. You always figure the year is bound to be interesting when the first stop is Vegas. First night there, I was humbled and honored to receive the PMDA Photog of the Year award. Shocked the heck outta me, I tell ya. But it was a wonderful evening and certainly a positive opening salvo from 2015. There have been years I’ve started off staring at an empty calendar and a pantload of bills, and looking at my (very) used cameras and wondering if I turned them upside down whether any loose change might fall out of them.

Then….onto CES. The Consumer Electronics Show. The gods of technology were in full cry at the Vegas Convention Center, I’ve never seen that many people walking around in slack jawed stupor, literally being actively concussed by the visual power of curved megaplex sized TVs, ear popping, thrumming, shock wave audio capabilities, and of course a popular display mannequin amazingly infused with seemingly human woman qualities and who appeared to be more conversational and friendly than the person who checked me into my hotel.


It was all very impressive, in a numbing sort of way. For me, it was a simple lesson in how to feel like a troglodyte. But, I tried to turn the overwhelmingly gee whiz uselessness of the environment into an advantage. I was shooting, seminar style, in the Nikon booth everyday. And I said often to the weary throngs in the booth, you have just spent several hours wandering canyons of circuitry and gadgets you will never, ever use. Only to arrive here at the Nikon stage, where in a half an hour, I could actually teach them something they could use–how to use a speed light to make CES go away.

Let’s face it, ya can’t do much in three yards of stage, with no backdrop, and a couple of small flashes in hand. You are facing off against about a zillion different color temperatures, and a background so jumbled and distressingly colorful it looked like somebody ate a convention sized bowl of Trix and then barfed it everywhere. The only healthy thing you can do in this environment is to make it disappear, and for that mission, the speed light is your magic wand.

Thankfully, my foreground was occupied by the lovely Alexandra, all like, seven feet of her, in stilettos, doing her showgirl thing. Below is an available light snap from the stage. Nice, huh?


You just know you’re in trouble here. Especially onstage in front of like, 300 to 400 people. You got a half an hour, and less than half a prayer. Shutter speed becomes your friend, as does high speed sync. Not to mention maybe a calming, zen like interior chant, “Be one with the photon, be one with the photon.”

Actually it’s not that stressful. I try to have fun at these things, engage the audience and try like heck to make sure at least somebody goes away with a modicum of useful information. And if I screw up, well, it ain’t the first time, so it wouldn’t exactly be news.

But, via the relationships of shutter speeds, f-stops, and flash, in fairly short order, with some help from the audience of course, I was able to take the superfund cleanup site of a photo above and turn it into something respectable.


Nikon D810, three SB-910 units, two behind her, firing through red gels, and one up front, on a paint pole, with a little Lastolite Speedlight Box attached. 1/8000th @ f1.4, with 35mm prime lens. Alexandra, on cue, sprouts wings and a smile. I go click, and, at the combo listed above, the clutter behind her goes away. Except of course for the dude who chose to wear frikkin’ white pants in the lower right. Maybe he just came in off the links. Oh, well. The high speed maneuver crushed just about everything else, and for a brief split second of exposure, the absurdist world of CES, a riotous Pandora made of ones and zeroes and wires, went away, tamed by a four battery speed light. Technology I can use…..

More tk…..