Posts tagged ‘light’

October 7, 2013

Book Review: The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes: Creative Applications of Small Flashes (Voices That Matter) by Joe McNally This one isn’t technically on the reading list but was recommended to me. You know it’s going to be an interesting read when you learn something new in the first 12 pages. The HSD, unlike the other flash books recommended in the course notes is not a manual on how to shoot flash – Joe even states that on the into page xiii – This Is Not The Manual. This is a book you can sit down with in the train or with a cup of coffee and read like a normal person. And just who is Joe McNally, well as a National Geographic, Time, & Life photographer and internationally acclaimed American Photographer he knows a heck of a lot more about different light situations than I ever will. 😉

“Light is quicksilver. Magic. It is here, then it is there. Then it is gone.”

Its basically a book filled with different lighting examples and the stories of how they were shot, this makes it sound pretty dull but I found it really interesting to read. I tried to make notes on it as I went along so I would be able to refer back to my book review when I needed to look stuff up for reference (hence the page numbers throughout the review).

The introduction is all about the nuts & bolts of what Joe uses and why. What was the thing I learnt in the first 12 pages? Well, on p11-12 he is explaining the importance of EV. Mostly when I’m using my camera for underwater work it’s in manual mode, since my flashes are all manual so was my camera (this however may change now with my new Olympus set up), I rarely use Aperture priority so didnt have to understand this EV thing. EV is exposure compensation. In Aperture mode you are selecting the aperture and letting the camera select your other settings but what if you wanted it slightly darker or lighter than the camera suggests? That’s where EV comes in. You can compensate for the extra brightness or darkness you want.

Bright backgrounds will silhouette your subjects, hence you know to program in some plus exposure in order to brighten things for them. (p11)

Flash has independent EV controls because the camera EV is scene wide, a global input, which is both available light and flashlight. So if you dialled in some over exposure to the camera you have dialled in the over exposure to the flash too which would need to be corrected or the whole scene would just be darker than you anted (assuming we’re using TTL, which is sort of automatic mode for flash).

Upfront he lays out the very basic settings he usually uses and the reasons why. The book is very Nikon-centric but I’m sure it’ll translate into Olympus (or anything else) once you understand the gist. After twenty or so pages you might start to tired if the witty americanisms but push on because the content is worth it. He writes in a conversational tone but somehow gets the facts over. I found the little section on rear curtain sync (and why not to use red eye pre-flashes) on p14 interesting because I did have mine set to rear curtain but was finding the recycle time too long for the tiny hotshoe flash which my strobes optically slave from, I now have it on 1/64s power – more experimentation needed I think.

There is a section at the start on flash concepts which clearly lays out the terms Joe uses throughout the book, eg TTL (through the lens metering), CLS (creative lighting system – this is Nikons name for it) etc. He talks a lot about zooming the flash (so that your flash coverage is edge to edge even when you zoom in your lenses). I must remember to check out this feature if I purchase a topside flash, it seems important throughout the book (introduced on p22). There is an interesting introduction section on gear, gels, light modifiers etc that had me reaching for google to check out extra info on them. Given the price on some of this stuff, I think careful consideration on exactly what you might need and what might be DIY’d will be in order. Given that he isnt saying you need any of this stuff, he’s just explaining what things are that he uses so when he talks about them later in the book you arn’t left scratching your head wondering what he’s on about.

Once you set one of these puppies off, light goes everywhere. It’s up to you to tell it where to go. (p27)

Joe goes into quite a bit about colour, specifically balancing the colour of the flash (which is usually neutral white daylight) with whatever the available light happens to be. This is going to come in handing during the end of Section 4 of the course. On pretty much every photo he examines he explains which colour gel he put over his flash & why which I found really useful.

Light can be hard, soft, wrapping, harsh, slashing, sumptuous, glowing, ethereal, muddy, muted, brash, poppy, brassy, contrasty, clean, open – it’s a little nuts. (p38)

I found the explanation of how Joe shot an image of a Tanzanian woman (below) on p56-57 really interesting – balancing the natural (harsh) window light with his flash. He makes the point that straight flash would destroy the mood and atmosphere of the scene, the lighting from the window reminds me of the “cathedral” lighting I often see in caves, shipwrecks and under jetties.
Joe McNally p56

On p61-67 Joe goes through a couple of the pitfalls of on camera flash and iTTL (intelligent through the lens), and gives a good explanation of EV, gels & colours, again explaining that he adds a CTO gel to warm up that flashlight and he moves the flash off to onside, right near the subject to produce a more flattering light. On p70 & 71 he talks about adding Magenta filters to the lens to offset the overall greenish tone to a city night scene but then having to green-up his flash with filters to offset the magenta filter and blend the light with the available light (in digital you can just use the fluorescent white-balance instead of the magenta lens filter). One great effect this has is the dusky sunset gets more magenta – which made it look even better. On p83-85 Joe goes over why you might use fill-in flash, what exactly it is, and how such small nuances may effect the mood and story of a photo.

You know why they call it “fill”? ‘Cause the glass is already just about full. All you have to do is pour a little more in. (p84)

And what, pray, is a Lastolite All-In-One umbrella? Being new to topside flash I’m amazed by the variety of accessories and lighting modifiers. On p96 Joe goes through why he was using this umbrella and its various features to shoot a girl in a hoodie at twilight. He goes further with teh accessories on p98 where he basically overpowers the natural light with flash to recreate the sunset!

The ballerina photo on p102 is a really nice example of using shadows of things that are between the light and the subject to tell a better story in the photo.

The smaller the light source relative to the subject, and the farther away it is, the sharper and harder the shadows will be. (p104)

He gets serious with lighting delicate hospital moments (and how to over come the banks of hospital overhead florescent with a Lumiquest 80-20 attachment) on p109 and p130.

The moment is more important than the light. (p110)

The next few sections cover topics such as light texture (lacey light to get that net curtain effect), working without strobes and introducing them slowing in an on-site scenario (although most of us wouldn’t get to document behind the scenes at NASA), various times when putting the lighting outside the windows creates great effects, lighting on water in just a plastic bag – eek, mixing neon, flash and tungsten light sources and some other interesting stuff.

Seedy motels mack of illicit liaisons, last stands, one-night stands, and desperate deeds done in the dark. Great photographic fodder. (p153)

On page 155 he goes into lighting without messing up the atmosphere of the scene as it stands. Increasing the punch and depth of the shadows by zooming the light through old dirty windows seems to be a favorite technique that he uses again and again.


I want to get this posted up for my tutor to see what I have so far, so I’m leaving this unfinished to come back & edit to when I’ve finished reading… to be continued.

October 7, 2013

Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques

by Suzy Walker-Toye

For this assignment the task was to apply different lighting techniques to one object to emphasise Shape, form, texture & colour. Click on the small images below to enter the gallery view.

I’ve put my critical review & thoughts into my learning log pdf part 4.

Here are two bonus photos which didn’t quite match the rest of the set but which I also liked…

This could be an alternative for Texture:
Bonus 1

This could be an alternative for Form:
Bonus 2

October 3, 2013

Book Review: Light Science Magic

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

This is Nice simple introduction to lighting principles. I like the way they don’t try and narrow it down to using flashes and get too bogged down in the equipment right out of the gate. That is often off-putting to a beginner like me, when you pick up a book about lighting & flash. However here, they acknowledge that the same principles apply whether you are using the sun & clouds, desk lamps & DIY diffusers or high-end studio lighting. They are teaching the physics behind it (but in a practical and useful manner whatever your equipment).

For me personally I found this book very useful because I have only used flashes underwater (where the physics is a little different due to the water column, depth away from the sun, particles in the water catching the light (backscatter) and a host of other factors). On those flashes (two Inon z240 strobes), they come with two types of diffusers (but I have only ever used one set) and I have DIY red gel filters so that I get nice blue backgrounds. Colour drop off due to depth & distance is not an issue on land of course. When I shoot on land I use desk lamps for macro with official diffusers (just a little DIY tracing paper). Quite often I use shiny surfaces as backdrops so the explanations in this book will help me to master the glare and reflections to achieve the photos that I want rather than my previous trial and error approach. I’d recommending reading this straight away if you are doing this course and not waiting for section 4 (the lighting section).

They go through examples of photographing things and what sort of set ups would work and why. Such as photographing artwork & other flat surfaces (great for OCA students)! Also, shiny surfaces such as metal, transparent objects like glasses (the subject I found most useful considering my first assignment ideas) and photos that would need a mixture of surfaces catered for. Also, chapters on lighting people with one or more lights. Also, lighting for difficult extremes such as black on black or white on white.

I’d recommend this as a must read to anyone new to lighting or someone who’d only read lighting books that explained the who & what but didn’t get around to the why. This is a nice companion to the course and I’d say the most practically useful book so far. It’s also nicely laid out for reference, I shall be dipping back into this as a reference for years to come I expect.

October 3, 2013

Exercise: Shiny Surfaces

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The exercise on p163 is about taking photos of reflective surfaces. The instructions were a bit weird, take a shiny object to lay flat and photograph & light from from above. Then take a cone of tracing paper to put over the lens and the object (but not in the photo) to stop the shiny object from reflecting everything about. Right, so I duely got about a spoon and gave it ago. However I couldn’t get the tracing paper cone big enough or stiff enough to stay in place over the spoon out of shot. Finally after getting very irritated with such a silly request I managed to (sort of) do it with a five pence piece. The first photo is the 5p just lit with a bare desk lamp. The second 5p is lit with the silly cone of shame over (see the little set up shot).

5p bare light
5p under the cone
5p Setup tracing paper cone

What we’re actually seeing here is that in the first shot the light is not in the family of angles that would be a direct reflection on the 5p. Chapter 6 of the Light, Science and Magic book (see my bookshelf) explains this very well. In the ‘under the cone’ shot the 5p is reflecting its surroundings (the cone). This is actually better demonstrated in my next set of images, which dont use a cone but a light tent (better, more stable version of the cone).


Setup 1

The first image is just the two bare lights. You can see it reflects its surroundings completely.
Photo with Setup 1

Setup 2
I thought to soften the light with diffusers but you can see the brown cardboard in the left hand cup and my arm reaching out to hold the second diffuser in both the larger cups.
photo with setup 2

This was the same set up as before but I moved the diffusers closer to the cups, you see its removed the brown colours in the left hand cup because the centre of the diffuser is now firmly in the family of angles which the cup directly reflects. But you can still see me and the rest of the surround reflected.

Photo with setup 3

Setup 3

To fix that you need the whole object surrounded (like with the cone) so we can use a light tent. You can still see me and the camera in the opening from the tent though.

Photo from setup 4

Setup 5

The light tent comes with a little front piece with a slit in it for just such an occasion which attaches with velcro. This allows you to just poke the camera lens through the opening to minimise as much of the direct reflections as possible. Obviously we cannot not have the lens there, if we don’t point the camera at the object we don’t get a photo, but we’ve done what we can. I guess if you wanted too, at this point you could just clone that out in photoshop to tidy it up a bit.

Photo from setup 5

Setup 6

The reason I took this last photo, is I thought that the left hand cup was a bit bright, so I re-angled the lamp outside of the tent a bit more to my liking.

Photo from setup 6

In truth I prefer the wider angle of the first few photos, and the light tent with the front open, if you were to just make the opening black to remove the reflection of camera & me then it would look better I think than the weird frontage that the front flap reflection gives.


September 24, 2013

Olympus Image Space @ The Loading Bay

by Suzy Walker-Toye

This weekend Olympus was doing a very special event to celebrate the launch of my camera‘s big brother the EM1. I went along to the free workshops and they were a great chance to try out some types of photography I’d never done before. Studio lighting with a model and Indoor urban performance photography. And there was a photographic exhibition on in the space – Women of Iceland by Gabrielle Motola. It was especially good given that the current chapter I’m doing for TAOP is ‘Light’. Here are some of the shots I produced.

Studio Lighting with Damian McGillicuddy:

Damian basically set up the lights and talked up thought the choices he’d made and why he’d set the lights up like this. He had two FL-50r speed lights (with some sort of little lighting sock on them so they didn’t light up the white columns they were next to) behind the model for a back/rim lighting. The main light was another FL-50r behind a soft box into the models face from the side. He then got the model to stand ‘like an innocent little girl’ which to be honest given what she was wearing I found a bit creepy. I got her to do the same pose to see if I could get similar photos to Damian but she looked so sad that when Damian was busy with something else I got her to be a bit silly – which she seemed to enjoy – doing aeroplanes 🙂 Here are the photos…

Setting up – I wanted to take a few shots when no flashes were going off and I actually really like these:
Setting up

Damian’s assistant Matt took the light meter readings – all the flashes were on manual mode:
Matt taking a light meter reading

I took this shot before I changed to square format. You can see that they’d moved one light a bit so they ended up slightly asymmetric, maybe its ocd but I really wanted to go over and change it!
Wide shot

On Damian’s advice I set it to square format (thinking I’d be able to choose the crop again later since I’m shooting raw, but for some reason it only showed me the square format in LR and I could get back to the original, not doing that again, I’d prefer to crop in LR if I’m going too):

You can see the light flare in from one side where the light was nearer on one side that the other – it does look quite cool but I would have preferred it if it was intentional.

Aeroplanes 🙂

Urban Performance Photography with R. Cleveland Aaron.

We actually arrived just as one session was finishing – with some cool acrobats doing flips etc but I wasnt standing in the right place for this one. I really wished we’d been there for the whole session with them. As much as the next session was really good, I have less than zero interesting in football.

Urban performers Urban performers

Our session was with football freestyler Colin Nell. He was very talented. If you like football tricks. They work better in video than stills though.

Football freestyler

Football freestyler

I did get to test the ISO capability of my camera though because downstairs it was very dark – only lit by those LED lights so to get a reasonable shutter speed with my not so fast lens I was up at 4000!!

Here is a 1:1 of a portion of that image with no noise reduction on it – ouch:
High Iso 4000

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

I switched to video which worked much better to capture his actions:

We then went upstairs for another round with a bit more light (thank goodness)! Where Colin demonstrated the same stunts with a hat, a tennis ball and lastly a golfball. He finished off by catching that one in his mouth – eek.

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

Football Freestyler

As talented as he was (and he was very skilled, not one ball came bounding over to the photographers) I still would have preferred to be watching the previous people backflip.

Women of Iceland Exhibition by Gabrielle Motola.

More infor about this in my paper log.
Women of Iceland Exhibition

Here is another review of this event.

September 18, 2013

Exercise: Contrast & Shadow fill

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The exercise on p160 introduces the concept of shadow-fill. Essentially if you have your light source at an oblique angle you will have high contrast on your subject – the side facing the light will be bright because it is lit and the side facing away from the light source is very dark because it is not lit. So what do we do above the loss of details on the unlit side? Add a second light? Maybe – but then we’d blast the contrast out and lose the depth in the picture – the 3D-ness of the subject would be lost. This is where shadow-fill comes in. A small bit of light to just lift those shadows. This exercise is to show that affect. Firstly using a straight light. Then light + diffuser. Then light + diffuser + a white ‘bounce’ card opposite the light to bounce back the light into the shadows of the subject. Then further experiments with the reflectiveness of the bounce card.

First the light only shot:
bare light only

I noticed that the light was actually lighting up the white ceiling and wall (even though the table was as far from the wall as I could get it) so I set up a black ‘gobo’ (go between) to block the natural shadow fill of the room. Here is the resulting shot. Notice how the right hand side of the headphones are now darker.
Light & black bounce card

This is the same set up (with light and black gobo) but with a diffuser added in front of the light. I’ve added the set up shot (taken on my iPhone) for this below. Notice this has softened all the shadows and reduced the highlights.
Light & diffuser & black bounce card

You can see that the light is a desk lamp (with daylight bulb) and the diffuser is the same home made one from the previous exercises. The black gobo to block the shadowfill is just my black laptop-case propped into position by some cans.
p160 exercise set up

In this one, I’ve removed the black gobo. so the rooms natural shadowfill is back but lessened by the diffuser
Light & diffuser only

In this one, its the same as above, in fact from now on we’ll keep the light & diffuser static. however this time I’ve put a white card about 1m away from the headphones, opposite the light to bounce the light into the right hand side of the headphones to fill the shadows (even more than the room already was).
Light & diffuser and white board 1m away

I’ve moved the card nearer to the end of the table here, nearer to the subject an d the light. It’s effect is magnified and the shadows are lifted even further.
Light & diffuser & white board at tables edge

In this one, instead of just a plain white card I have covered it in kitchen foil but with the dull side out. This is bouncing more light than the plain white board.
Light & diffuser & dull foil board at tables edge

Here even more light is being bounced into the shadows because I’ve turned over the foil and am now using the shiny side to reflect the light (you see why they may be called reflectors now). This is as bright as my shadows get in this little series.
Light & diffuser & shiny foil board at tables edge

This one here is less bight in the shadows because although I’m still using the shiny side of the foil as they reflector, I’ve crumpled it them smoothed it back out but the effect is lessened because it can never been as smooth and reflective as it once was. This is brighter than the white card but less bright than the dull side of the foil before it was crumpled. It does seem a bit more even than the other foils shots though so probably my favourite.
Light & diffuser & crumpled shiny foil board at tables edge

You can easily see the difference a simple reflector makes to the contrast of the image.

September 16, 2013

Exercise: the lighting angle

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The exercise on p158 is a series of photos where the camera & subject stay static and the light moves around the subject. This is to get a feel for the way the angle of lighting will affect a subject. I’ve chosen a subject with many facets to show light & shadow with each angle change. The first five are at subject level. The next five are at a 45 degree angle from the subject and the last one is directly lit from above. Please click on the thumbnails to open the gallery:

I took small setup shots on my iphone for each of them (below) but it may be easier to see what the lighting set up was from my diagram which shows the table, first from above then from the side of all the positions the lamp was in for each of the 11 shots.

Lighting Diagram p158

In each of the set up shots I used a lens cap to represent the placement of the camera (usually) just out of shot.

setup 1 setup 2 setup 3 setup 4 setup 5 setup 6 setup 7 setup 8 setup 9 setup 10 setup 11


September 13, 2013

Exercise: Tungsten and Florescent lighting

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The exercise on p151 is a follow on from the earlier colour balance exercise. It’s split into two parts – part one is essentially its a comparison between tungsten & daylight. I couldn’t find any tungsten environments in which to test this one, none of the lights in our house (and all my friends & family) were tungsten. Mainly everyone uses halogen now as they are much better for the environment so I think perhaps the course needs to be updated ;). I’ll leave this here as a place holder in case I’m able to find something before I finish the section.

The second part of the exercise is comparing different florescent bulbs. The first set below are of our friend Danbo again this time lit by a small florescent bulb. The second set are Danbo in my office light by the florescent overheads. The third set are the same images shot indoors, light by daylight (for comparison).

Its interesting to note that modern overhead florescent lights we have at work at very close in white balance to daylight. The florescent at home (top row) is much warmer but I was surprised to see that the incandescent white balanced looked the closest to the correct white balance!

The overal colour quality in the top two rows dont look as good as those shot in daylight because florescent lamps do not emit a full colour spectrum.

August 7, 2013

Exercise: Variety with a low sun

by Suzy Walker-Toye

In this exercise, p142, we are demonstrating advantages to shooting when the sun is low, so called magic hour. The light is golden and lovely but from which angle should we shoot? I think the photos get more interesting when we consider all the different angles.

Frontal Lighting: With the sun behind the camera, striking the subject fully. The lighting can appear intense (or flat because the shadows stretch out behind the subjects, be careful not to get your shadow in the photo as I did here in the second photo)!

Frontal Lighting, the sun is behind me

Frontal Lighting, the sun is behind me

Side Lighting: The sun to the left or right will make strong shadows on half of the subject, great for bring out textures but it can be a little harsh if overdone.

Side Lighting

Side Lighting

Side Lighting

Back Lighting: Shoot towards the light (don’t look at the sun though as it can damage your eyes). Interestingly using a higher f-number increases the number of points in the sun ball. This style of lighting is best of subjects with in interesting shape for the silhouette.

Back lighting

Back lighting

Edge Lighting: A special condition for shooting towards the sun where the sun is not behind the subject (usually not in the frame at all, although I choose to keep it within the frame in these tree photos, I included the lion photo again from exercise: measuring exposure to show the sun doesn’t have to be included). The sun hits the edge of the subjects to create a strip of light along the edge of the subject to define it from the background.

Edge Lighting

Edge Lighting

Edge-lit Lion

August 6, 2013

Exercise: Judging colour temperature

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The exercises on p136 & p139 are two parts of a whole story about judging colour balance. This function is also know as white balance because it sets the very brightest parts of the scene to pure white. Although I thought I had a fairly good handle on what white balance is (when I’m in the sea I set manual WB see below), when using new functions on my camera I like to know what they do. I most often just leave my white balance set to auto and then adjust it slighting in Lightroom if necessary. For the exercise we are using a Danbo (which doesn’t have a strong colour – he’s amazon cardboard box coloured). First I took a few shoots inside (with no lights on, just available daylight) to check the sorts of looks each setting produces.

As you can see, if you hover the mouse over the thumbnails it lists the white balance (WB) setting selected from the camera (you can click to open them bigger in a gallery but its easier to compare them with the thumbnails). The only extra one I added was the auto white balance which has been auto white balanced in Lightroom. I didnt include the flash ones because this post is related to available light photography and not supplied light such as a flash or strobe.
White Balance sliders in Lightroom 4 White balance is made up of Temperature (measured in K for Kelvin) and Tint and those appear as two sliders in LR. Also you can set similar presets (daylight,cloudy,tungsten etc) in a similar way as you can set in the camera. As shot will use the cameras WB settings. The difference here between the auto white balance in the camera and the auto white balance in lightroom was so minimal I could hardly tell a difference by looking at the pictures. However the camera one was 3900K with tint +18 and the auto one was 3850k with tint +17 which is ever so slightly bluer looking with a touch more magenta.

As you can see, the camera presets have a marked difference (apart from underwater which is frankly just confusing as I was expecting that to be really red, but it seems to be just auto with an extra +1 tint so we’ll ignore that one). The sunny setting warms the whole photo up to 5000k (+5 tint). The shade setting warms it even further 7250k (-1 tint). Cloudy is in between them at 5800k (+5 tint). The next two are for dealing with different types of artificial light, incandescent (tungsten lights to you and me) and fluorescent (like you get in shops and offices). These two sets of lights obviously behave quite differently. Incandescent is way down at 2700K (0 tint) and fluorescent is at 4200k but with a massive magenta tink of +53. While I was googeling to check that incandescent actually meant tungsten I found this really useful link.

Anyway, once I took Danbo outside for the real part of the exercise things got pretty interesting. For this exercise I took shots in the sunlight in the middle of the day, shots in the shade in the middle of the day and shots in the sunlight at the end of the day when the sun was low (sometimes called magic hour because the warm colour of the light makes everything look so nice). Here they all are compared.

As you can see depending on if you’re in the sun or the shade and what time of day it is the white balance presets give you different results. The shady images are more blue than the sunny ones and the low sun ones are a really warm yellowy colour. As you can also see, the LR auto WB has quite a different effect on each bringing it back to neutral colours, although we wouldn’t want to in the case of the low sun because we usually shoot at that time of day expressly for the colour balance of the sun at that time. My favourite one? Well the colour of Danbo in the auto WB magic hour is the nicest but I do like auto WB sunny Danbo too. Which one do you think is the best white balance?

When I’m in the sea using shooting available light I use a red filter (called a magic filter). I have to set the manual white balance to allow the camera to compensate for the filter. The filter goes on the back of the lens like this.
Magic Filter

and I set the manual white balance using my hand like this
Setting the white balance manually

This is a shot where I’ve used a magic filter (in this case I actually manually white balanced on the ship since it was white, and with my larger dome my hand doesnt always fill enough of the frame to get a good reading):

And this is a non-filtered available light shot where I’ve tried to white balance on the sand in LR afterwards, as you can see the sea in the top is also white but the blue has gone a horrible colour.

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