Saturday, March 29, 2008

Strobist: Lighting 102: Specular Background Assignment

Strobist: Lighting 102: Specular Background Assignment

This was a second assignment from the online course Lighting102 from strobist.com which put into practice some of the things I have learned so far, namely:
  1. Changing the position of the flash - angle
  2. Changing the position of the flash - position
  3. Changing the apparent light size
  4. Specular Highlights
Unlike the first assignment, this was painful. As much as I tried I never quite felt that I captured the Specular Background that this assignment was all about.

I think I had two main issues:
  1. The initial background I chose was not reflective enough, and
  2. The whole "getting the right angles" thing was not as easy as I thought.
The first image was taken of me against the non-reflective background I mentioned in point 1 above. It was taken with a shoot through umbrella pretty much head on, which I tussled with due to the proximity of the camera to the umbrella (as noted in the lesson). No matter if I stood close of far from the background the image still looked dead.

The second image of my wife and youngest daughter was also taken with a shoot through umbrella pretty much head on (slight to camera right) . I liked the specular highlight better in this image, although the shadow to the left seemed to ruin the picture somewhat.

This was a close up shot which I finally accepted as the best I could do for the moment. I'm still not happy with the left hand shadow behind my wifes head as her dark hair is lost in the shadow, which I was trying to light up with the specular highlight.
Any help on how to get the whole head surrounded by the specular highlight would be most welcome :-)

If I get any improvements on these shots I'll post them here. With more practice and help I should be able to do this :-)

Please feel free to leave comments or questions about this article and I will endeavor to answer them as soon as possible.

Previous lessons from Lighting102:

Strobist: Lighting 102: Assignment - Cooking Light

Strobist: Lighting 102: Assignment - Cooking Light


This was a first assignment from the online course Lighting102 from strobist.com which put into practice some of the things I have learned so far, namely:
  1. Changing the position of the flash - angle
  2. Changing the position of the flash - position
  3. Changing the apparent light size
  4. Specular Highlights
It was fun because it helped me focus on the above four things, rather than trying to figure what I could shoot.

My wife did give me a few strange looks as I went through the kitchen draws to find some things to shoot, but once I had explained what I was doing, she rolled her eyes and gave me that understanding / knowing look and let me shuffle off to the "lab".

I experimented with a number of instruments, lights and material to create the specular highlights.

I've taken still life before with on camera flash which have generally looked flat and boring, but this time having off camera lights really made the shots pop a lot more and allowed much more creativity.

Moving my lights around and being free to moving around with the camera with changing the lights made it a lot more easier to "look for shots" before taking them. I also spent a lot of time moving large pieces of paper around to get the specular highlights. All in all I am really please with with I have been able to achieve.

Lightin102 is really proving to be an eye opener in changing the way I look at taking photos. Below are a few of the image that I took. the rest can be seen on my Strobist Photo gallery.

The image below was my final image I submitted for the assignment. I chose this one because I liked it, and also because it includes several items I have learned over the last four courses. The red and white specular highlights are from a reflective board I placed over head - I especially light the outline of the spoon. The image also has a well defined depth of focus, and the colours, I find, are very sensual.




This was my setup for most of the shots I took. I alternated the background underneath and at the back of the object as well as the top piece of white foam with different colour paper on it. The white foam was resting on the umbrella and the back board, which meant it fell down every now and again - really high tech stuff :-)



The next two images of the Cheese Slicer I included to show the difference by adding in a specular highlight overhead (white foam board) which really adds another dimension to this image. This image on the left has no specular highlight. The image on the right has the white foam board over the top creating the specular highlight.




The next two pictures show the difference of having a red and yellow reflector above the objects.



I included these shots of the teaspoons and the cheese slicer below just because I love the lines that the specular highlight created.




Hope you enjoyed this - I definitely had fun taking the images.


Please feel free to leave comments or questions about this article and I will endeavor to answer them as soon as possible.

Previous lessons from Lighting102:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lighting 102: Unit 2.2 - Specular Highlight Control

This is the fourth lesson of the Lighting102 course on strobist.com and definitely for me the most fun. It showed me what I was capable of with the right tools and knowledge in my hands.

This lesson, Lighting 102: Unit 2.2 - Specular Highlight Control, covers the fourth lighting zone, or area, which is usually brighter than the diffused highlight. The previous lesson had covered the three lighting zones 'the diffused highlight', 'the shadow' and 'the diffused highlight to shadow transfer area'.

The specular highlight is not really a lighting zone but rather the reflection of the light source in the object you are lighting. Although it's relatively simple to understand and carry out in its basic form, it would also seem to have a lot to offer for manipulating images with much more sophistication.

For this lesson, I decided to shoot a glass mainly because I had always wanted to take a nice picture of a glass, and using on-camera flash makes this down right impossible.

The first image, below, was taken with two strobes (580EX II) placed on either side, set to 24mm zoom and at 1/128 power. The strobes are being shot through white acrylic plastic to diffuse the light.

The wide zoom angle gives a nice even specular effect on the glass.

One thing I learned from the photo above in particular, was how important it is to focus on the logo on the front or if no logo on the front of the glass. Having the logo out of focus is very distracting and makes the picture look bad.

This second image below was taken with two strobes placed on either side, set to 105mm zoom and at 1/128 power. The strobes are being shot through white acrylic plastic to diffuse the light.

This time with the zoom set to 105mm, the specular is far more focussed on the middle of the glass. If you look at the larger image you can also clearly see the edges of the light box in the specular.


This image below was taken with two strobes placed on either side, set to 50mm zoom and at 1/32 power on the left and 1/128 power on the right. The strobes are being shot through white acrylic plastic to diffuse the light.

I light this effect very much as it seems to give more shape to the glass.



This image below was taken with one strobe placed on camera left and set to 24mm zoom and at 1/128 power. The strobe is being shot through white acrylic plastic to diffuse the light.

When I downloaded the images from the camera I liked this the most. But I think that it was because it was different to the other images shot with two strobes. In the end, the image above is a stronger image and having two strobes gives you much more control over the shape you are defining. If I was to take this again I would try and put a white reflector camera right to see if I could get a slight contour to help shape the glass.



This image below was taken with two strobes placed on either side, set to 24mm zoom and at 1/8 power. The strobes are being bounced of a ceiling with white shoot through umbrellas acting as gobos - but letting just a hint of light through.

In the larger size of this image there is a lot of stuff going on, with reflections almost being feathered by the glass. I think it looks really pretty but at the same time I can see that it may also make the image distracting.



This lesson was great and it gave me a lot more confidence that I had after the third lesson, which left me wondering if I had really "got it". This time I seemed to have understood manipulating the image with the reflection of the light - now I just have to see how I can put it into action.

Now onto my first assignment...

Please feel free to leave comments or questions about this article and I will endeavor to answer them as soon as possible.

Previous lessons from Lighting102:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lighting 102: Unit 2.1 - Apparent Light Size

This is the third lesson of the Lighting102 course on strobist.com and after the first and second exercises it's exciting to see the potential that off camera flash has to offer the photographer.

The third lesson of this course was rather confusing to me. I think I understand the concepts, but my test images from doing the exercise have left me wondering I have indeed fully grasped them.

My understanding of the subject is summed up as follows:
  1. There are three lighting zones that affect how large a light looks; diffused highlights, shadows and the "diffused highlight-to-shadow transfer area",
  2. The "diffused highlight-to-shadow transfer area"is the primary component in defining if a subject is being lit by hard or soft light.
  3. A hard light can look soft and a soft light can look hard depending on the size of the light source to the subject
I think much of my confusion came from not getting the expected results from the images, which came about by the size of the light source to the subject. From the 38 images I took I selected the following eight images to discuss what I discovered about "Apparent Light Size" and also some interesting other discoveries :-)

The first two images were taken from close up the first with a bare light flash with a piece of wax paper diffuser and the second taken with a Stofen filter. The second image shows a wider transition area on the lemon creating a softer light source, however the shadow on the ground looks similar. It is obvious that the Stofen filter really helps to spread the light out and at the same time reduces the intensity.


The next six images were all taken from the same distance - about 6 ft - and the same zoom on the strobe. The only thing that changed was the size of the light source and the strobe power in order to get similarly exposed images.

The first set of images are taken with the bare light and a Stofen filter. The transition area is much more narrower and more harsh from the bare light than the Stofen, which I expected. What was interesting for me was the amount of extra power needed for the Strobe when the Stofen filter was used.

When the light source was much closer to the subject the difference in the amount of power between the bare light and Stofen filter seemed negligible (reflecting upon this makes it obvious now). I had not thought that using the Stofen filter would have made 2 stops difference.


The following two images were taken with umbrellas, one white shoot through and one reflector. I'm not sure if I'm right with my next conclusion, but I'll do some more research later to confirm it. I found that the white shoot through umbrella gave off more light for the same amount of power and distance, whilst the reflector umbrella gave off less light light but produced a larger apparent light. To get the same amount of light from the reflector umbrella I would expect I would need to pump up the power by 1/2 a stop.


The last two images were taken with the bare light bounced of the ceiling and wall. Obviously these created the softest light of all and also ended up giving us two very different images created by the shadows.


So in the end I think that the images above do show that light size is effected by the three lighting zones. What was interesting to me, as a lighting newbie, was the effect of the light on the subject AND the difference in power needed to get similar exposures with difference lighting.

Now onto the next lessons...

Please feel free to leave comments or questions about this article and I will endeavor to answer them as soon as possible.

Previous lessons from Lighting102:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Strobist: Lighting 102: Unit 1.2 - Position (Distance)

After starting this Lighting102 course on strobist.com and doing the first exercise I was excited to see the results from my first off camera flash experience - a bit like holding hands for the first time with your girlfriend.

I printed out the second lesson which still focussed on Position, but this time it covered distance of the flash to the subject, as well as the subject to the background.

When I first read the lesson it didn't really make sense, in fact said the opposite of what I thought would be true. I thought that if you wanted to make the background darker, you would just move the flash further away.

However, it seems that the opposite is true, as the series of photos I took shows (click on the image for a larger image)


All the photos above were taken with exactly the same camera settings, namely; ISO100, 1/250 sec and f5.6. The only things that changed were the distance of the flash to the subject (my beautiful wife) and the power output by the flash unit.

For the shots I used the following setup:
  • Canon 30D
  • 580EX II (x1)
  • EF 50mm f1.4
  • Strobe stand with umbrella bracket
  • Pocket Wizards Plus II (x2)
  • Tripod
Once I had read the lesson a few times and then done the exercise it really started to sink in the light does have a depth of focus that ultimately I have a lot (if not full) control over it.

With the two lessons completed, I feel that I could spend the next 3-4 months playing with these two aspects of position, distance and angle, and learn ' a lot' without getting bored.

I have a tendency to try and run before I can walk, and as David, from strobist.com says, it's important to get comfortable with the basics and to be able for these concepts to become instinctive.


Please feel free to leave comments or questions about this article and I will endeavor to answer them as soon as possible.

Previous lessons from Lighting102:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are you a Flickr Group Addict?

Although it's a bit early for spring cleaning I thought it might be a good idea to check out my Flickr site and see which groups I had joined, thinking that I would delete a few of them.

I was aghast to see that I had joined over 50 different groups, most of which I had forgotten what they were and why I had joined.

I was reminded about the first few months after joining Flickr being really excited about being invited to join various groups and the fact there was seemingly a group for everybody!

My main aim for joining Flickr was to be able to improve my photography and after about a year of getting comments like "That's great", "Wow!" or the occasional "It sucks" I came to the conclusion that Flickr was a social photography site, which meant that the majority of the comments were about the "feel good" factor. None of the comments, positive or negative, were particularly helpful in making me understand what I was doing right or wrong.


I know that Flickr has a great role to play in the social e-world that we live on and I have seen many great shots made by some amazing people, but in the end I moved away from Flickr to some other sites to get my "education".

It was because of this education, that I have returned to Flickr. I have started a course currently being run on strobist.com called Lighting102 and they have an amazing Flickr Group. Because I am now using my Flickr site as part of my education, I decided to clean up my groups.

At first I thought "it doesn't matter, I'll just ignore the ones I don't use...", but as I clicked on some of the groups it became apparent that many of them were "dead" or at least 'very dormant". Then, slowly at first, I removed myself from some the groups that had been inactive for over 6 months. Then as I saw that I had only one or two images posted for many of the groups, it became easier to be more ruthless with quitting the groups.

I ended up with a healthy crop of 20 groups I kept. These are groups that I have a healthy interest in , e.g. abstract, strobist, flowers, etc. This will help me keep focussed on the genre's of photography I like the most, as well as those that are most helpful to improving my skills.

I now feel liberated in a funny kind of way; Free to choose, free to decide what "I" want to be interested in. So go ahead and ask yourself "Am I Flickr group Addict?".

Strobist: Lighting 102: Unit 1.1 - Position (Angle)

Well, I finally did it! I started the "Lighting102" online course from strobist.com. After much hesitation and lurking in the background as well as contemplating my naval on the subject, I finally made the jump from passive observer to active participant.

I sold the house and kidney as well as spent all my spare time busking in the street to finally gather the necessary pennies to put together a strobist kit as covered in Lighting101. My kit now consists of the following ingredients:
  • Canon 30D
  • 580EX II (x2)
  • 420EX (x1 - retired for the moment until I figure out how I can control it)
  • EF 50mm f1.4
  • EF 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 USM IS
  • EF 70-200mm F4 L USM IS
  • EF-S 17-55mm 2.8 USM IS
  • Strobe stand with umbrella bracket (x2)
  • Umbrella (x2) - These have both reflector and white shoot-through covers.
  • Pocket Wizards Plus II (x3)
  • Tripod
The Lighting102 course overview covers briefly the seven ways to control light that this course will focus on, which are:
  1. Varying the Position
  2. Varying the Apparent size of the Light Source
  3. Altering the Relative Intensity
  4. Restricting Light
  5. Refraction and Reflection
  6. Altering the Colour
  7. Time.
This promises to be an interesting course, and I am hoping that it will help take me to the next level in my photography journey.

The first "lesson" is about position. After reading the lesson I initially thought that this was rather simplistic and considered skipping the exercise, but after taking the images I realize how important it is for people like myself who have been used to having the flash on the camera (even if you have been bouncing it off of walls etc).

I was quite amazed at the difference in the resulting photo when moving the strobe into the various positions. This exercise also gave some insight into being able to reverse engineer photos to understand where the light is coming from.

I originally only did one set of photos (the 5ft set), but after seeing the results decided to also adjust the strobe to both a higher and lower angle to see the effects. I ended up with the strobe positioned at 2ft (60cm), 5 ft (150cm) and 8 ft (240cm) at each of the angles 0°, 30°, 60°, 90°, 135°, 180°, 225°, 270°, 300° & 330°.

Strobe at 2ft (60cm) - these reminded of every horror movie I had ever seen


Lights at 5ft (150cm) - This gave me the most familiar feeing of lighting I had played with



Strobe at 8ft (240cm) - I', not sure why, but I liked this set the most


Although simple, this easy lesson has got me psyched on this course and I'm looking forward to learning more and ultimately being able to control the lighting in order to create the image I envision.