Friday, September 23, 2011

My ABCs for studio photography

My ABCs for studio photography

Some "Do"s and "Don't"s for the studio

A - Aperture. Yes, f5.6 will save power and you'll think you are getting an artistic depth-of-field, but f8 will make the subject sharp

B - Bend arms and legs. Basically, the rule is: "If it bends, bend it. If there are two of them, bend them differently." This refers to the model(s) but it might not hurt to loosen up the photographer!

C - Catch light. That's the white reflection of the light in the iris of the model's eye. If the eyes don't catch the light, they look dead.
D - Dream your shots before going into the studio and making them. Write down the poses, the position of the lights, and the effects you want beforehand.
I dreamt of this motif the night before the photo session.
E - Eyes. When we look at a picture of a person, we are drawn to the eyes first. Make sure that at least one (the near one) is sharp. The second thing we look at are the hands (see "H").

F - Fill the shadows with reflected light or a second light source unless you have a good reason to have harsh shadows. 

G - Glasses present a problem because of the glare from the studio lights. Place the lights to the side to avoid glare and reflect soft light into the face. Or: Take two pictures - one with and one without glasses (and one with, one without flashes/lights) and photoshop the non-glare glasses back on.

H - Hands are interesting. Get the model's hands up around the face, in the hair, where they are visible. Give her something to play with using her hands. 

H2 - A hairlight helps set the model's head apart from the background and gives the hair a nice shine. It doesn't have to be much, but it makes a big difference if it's there.

I - ISO settings should help you balance the shutter speed and aperture. If you shoot a model at 1/60 sec. all day, you're going to end up with lots of blurry pictures. ISO 400 will allow shutter speeds of 1/160 and f8 and I promise you won't have any noise. Go for it!

J - Just let the model have fun and you try to have fun and it will be an enjoyable experience. Let her know things are going well and act confident.

K - Know your camera. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it...

L - It's not a photograph if there's no light. Think about it. Light is everything. Experiment with lighting effects but know the basics of what (parts of the face and body) you need to light.

M - Make pictures, don't just take them. Concentrate as much as possible on the details: background, hair, fill-light. It's better in the end to spend five minutes setting up a picture and getting one good shot than to shoot 30 pictures in five minutes and not get a single good one.

N - Never forget the rules from the letters in this list that make up your name. (It's a good place to start, anyway.)

O - Overexposure leads to blown out highlights that cannot be (easily) recovered in post-processing. Set your exposure for the highlights using spot metering.

P - A Pinnochio nose results when the model's face is turned to a 50°-85° profile and her nose extends beyond the line of her cheek. The nose then looks bigger than it really is.

Q - The Queen of England can be photographed from dead straight on and look like the strong monarch she is. Does your model have that kind of stature or does a slight turn look more attractive? (I'm taking bets on the latter.)

R - Raccoon eyes come as a result of the main light source being too close and high. Then you've got shadows from the eyebrows (and forehead bone structure) darkening the eyes.
The light source was too high, causing shadows on the eyes.
The light source was placed correctly.
 S - "Suspect eyes" are those where you can't see the whites on both sides of the iris. Your model will look less like a criminal and more natural if we can see whites on both sides of her eyes.

Even with her face turned, we see the whites of her eyes on both sides of the irises.
T - Texture the light. Instead of having it bounce straight off the model, make it graze the skin, showing the body's texture.

U - Underexposure results in black clipping. Like the overexposed parts, these cannot be recovered in post-processing. Even in low-key photography, the gray-to-black area should ideally consist of a number of shades. 

V - Vary positions, both yours and that of the model. However, remember that most models do not look their best when you are accentuating the mass of their thighs and looking up their nose.

W - The waist is often a sore spot, but did you know that it bends? Twist to the side and the hips and waist seem to disappear (or at least become slimmer). Have the model bend forward to get the chest results...uh "best" results and to help eliminate a double chin. 

X - Experiment in your free time and watch others while they are shooting. When it is your turn with the model, you should have a plan.

Y - Yield to your first instinct. 

Z - Zoom in from a distance and use 70-200mm rather than getting up close and using a wide-angle lens: it will make the model appear slimmer (if that's what you want).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting the light you want

Getting the light you want

Fynn in my "studio"
My sister Susan is a widely acclaimed artist in Richmond, VA. She has a one-person show up at this writing with 50 of her own paintings of nude women. This past summer when I visited her in the studio she had built in her back yard, we talked about photographing her models. I'm a serious photographer and have spent the past two years reading everything I could about light and experimenting on average 3000 times per month with different lighting situations. I've come to know a little bit about creating lighting situations that provide me with the look I'm striving for.

Working with other photographers and two models in the studio
She bought two large lamps from Home Depot for her lighting needs. She usually only uses one bare bulb to light her models. As we looked through hundreds of images on her computer, one group caught my eye. "Yes," she said, "the sun was shining in through the window that day, so we used that light. It was awesome." It did look nice, but I immediately wondered why she didn't just stick a light outside (or behind a light shaper) to get that - or a similarly awesome - look every time! She thought it would all be too complicated. She wants to use the camera as an extension of her hand, she said, and not have to think too much. There is a fine line when you are photographing nudes, she told me, between doing your work and making the models feel comfortable.

Getting the pose and lighting right for Kristina
We talked about various ways to shape light, discussing the pros and cons of different types of light sources. All that, she admitted, would put her over budget. Besides, she can recreate any sort of mood lighting she wants when she is standing at the canvas. Like photoshopping, she can lighten and darken areas at will. So why was I worried about her lighting? My last thought was, "I can't wait to see her work once she starts thinking about light!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

The beach

The beach

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, is a wonderfully wide sandy beach on the Atlantic. It offers families a nice retreat from the likes of Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach or even the Outer Banks, which fill up with rowdy groups during the summer months. Granted, it is risky to go to the Atlantic during the hurricane season from August-November, but the house was rented and the weather report looked good.
Little did we know what would happen to the East Coast three weeks later - when we were back home safe in Germany! Hurricane Irene tore up the coast, leaving trees draped over electric lines like wet laundry.

I grew up near Virginia Beach. My summer memories include sunburns, hot feet running over the dunes and learning where the "sand" in sandwich came from. But I also remember the elaborate sand castles our father built with us and the fun we had body surfing and collecting shells.

Walking up and down the beach has always been one of my favorite past times when I am down at the ocean, and this summer, with camera in hand, it was no different.

And as always, there were interesting contrasts in abundance! See the little wiener out there with his board?
With all these pictures of the sand and surf, I must admit that the image below, for me, says, "Beach" more than any other. What do you think?