Archive for the ‘People Shots’ Category

Anime Ninja Shoot

When my friend and model Patrice Laren asked me if I’d do a shoot with her to get photos of  a new costume she was working on, I of course jumped at the chance. She also had a couple other friends who wanted to come to see how I set up shoots — a very odd experience I have to say, but the fun part was to come next.

Patrice also wanted to have some gun props, so she asked a mutual friend of ours if he could lend her some guns for the shoot — we’re talking real guns here, the kind that shoot things dead. Come shoot time we meet up and it’s like some kind of post-apocalyptic dinner party. Her two observing friends are there asking me questions about cameras and lighting, sitting around the dining room table which is absolutely covered with over a dozen different kinds of firearms. Handguns, rifles, shotguns, and then various combat knives sprinkled here and there like some kind of garnish.

Our gun friend is there enthusiastically explaining each weapon to the group, its history, when it was created and by whom, what its advantages and disadvantages are. Patrice, meanwhile, is spending over an hour in and out of the bathroom doing all manner of complicated make-up things, flitting out from time to time to debate over which guns she wants to use.

Incidentally I should point out that as a photographer, I understand — in some vague ill-defined way — that all that make-up and hair stuff makes for some kind of difference in the end. But as a guy, I don’t understand the process at all. She looked about the same to me a half hour into the process as an hour in.

1/80th at f4.2 on ISO 400 with 35mm focal length

I finally attempted to conclude at least the firearm discussion:

WoodJr: Don’t worry about what they’re used for. Just pick the one you think looks cool. That’s all that matters.

Patrice: Well, I like this one. And these are awesome. And this is huge. Maybe we should just bring them all.

WoodJr: No, no, no, we are not bringing all of these. There is no way we’re doing these shots with every single one of these guns.

Patrice: Well… I don’t know. Which of these looks better?

WoodJr: Okay, you know what, let’s just go with two handguns. These two look fine, that’s all we need.

Patrice: I like this one better, it’s shiny.

WoodJr: Fair enough. Those two then.

Patrice: And one of these big ones.

WoodJr: Okay, fine, and one rifle. But that’s it! Are we ready now? Let’s get started.

Patrice: No, I have to finish my make-up obviously.

When everything was finally decided, the party trooped downstairs to the studio where I had the lights set up. This was before I had strobes, so these were continuous lights. A 750 watt Tota and a pair of Impact 500 watt floodlights. The temperature in the room was reminiscent of the surface of the sun. I saw the dessicated husks of spiders falling dead from the ceiling, killed and shriveled by the heat, the telltale shimmer of heat waves blasting out the windows and setting a neighborhood cat ablaze.

It was a shoot we’d have to do quickly or all that vinyl Patrice was wearing was going to melt and suffocate her.

1/160th at f4.2 on ISO 800 with 35mm focal length

There are a handful of important safety tips to keep in mind when shooting with actual firearms: First off, the owner — the one with an actual license for them — should be present. Obviously and most importantly they must not be loaded. Every single time you pick one up, you should check to make sure it’s not loaded, including checking the chamber, and then make sure the safety is on. If you set a gun down for 10 seconds to stamp out a small fire the heat of your lights just created in the carpet, when you pick that gun up again you check it all over again. Every single time you pick it up. And finally, even with these precautions, you never, ever, actually point the gun at anyone.

This last bit was the part that Patrice had some troubles getting used to.

As we were switching between setups she’d inevitably be pointing the gun at someone — one of her observers, quietly melting behind the lights, the owner of the guns, or at me. When she talked she’d gesticulate with a gun, pointing it wildly every which way. There was a lot of ducking out of the line of fire with “Hey, don’t point that at me!”

In the end we got several good shots. I added a sword to the getup, which seemed appropriate (and let’s admit here, is far cooler than a gun anyway) and despite the hours of setup and wading through cases of guns, and the sweltering heat of the lights, it was a good shoot, and great fun.

I think it was during this shoot, in fact, that I finally decided that I had to have some strobes. I could not go on with those hot lights and crummy shutter speeds.

1/100 at f3.5 on ISO 800 -- background just manufactured in Photoshop since the ugly floor was in the shot.

How to Make a Soft Focus Effect

This guide will explain how to quickly and easily apply a soft focus effect to your photographs using Photoshop. Note that this soft focus technique works with any version of Photoshop, including CS3, CS4, Cs5, and even very old versions from long before the CSx days.

To get an idea of the effect, here is the photo that we’ll be using before the soft focus Photoshop effect is applied (we increased the contrast of the original, since the soft focus effect reduces contrast):

Image before the soft focus effect

And here is the same photo after applying the soft focus effect:

Image after the Photoshop soft focus effect is applied

To apply this soft focus effect in Photoshop, you just need to follow these 4 steps:

  1. Make a duplicate layer of your photo
  2. Use the Gaussian Blur filter on the new layer
  3. Reduce the opacity of the new layer
  4. Use the eraser tool (or mask) on areas you want to be sharp

1.) Make a duplicate layer of your photograph

Open your photo in Photoshop and make a duplicate layer. You can do this via the Layer > Duplicate Layer on the menu, or by just hitting Ctrl+J (windows) or Cmd+J (mac).

Photoshop - duplicate layer

2.) Use the Gaussian Blur filter on the new layer

The soft focus effect actually comes from a blurring of the image. So what we do is select the new layer, then apply a Gaussian Blur filter. We do this by going to the menu and selecting Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Photoshop - gaussian blur filter

In the Gaussian Blur settings we’ll have a slider bar that controls how blurry the filter will make our image. Because this is based on pixels, there is no single right number. The amount that you’ll need to blur your image depends not just on how soft you want your focus, but also on how many megapixels your image is. The general rule of thumb is you want the image to be “very blurry” so that the details are entirely lost. You’ll probably want to play around with different blur levels until you get a feel for what works at your mexapixels, and your preferences.

3.) Reduce the opacity of the new layer

Photoshop - setting opacityHere’s the step where the soft focus magic happens. In your layers palette select the blurred layer. In the top of the palette you’ll see the Opacity setting. When you click on it you will get a slider that lets you adjust the opacity from 0% to 100%.

You’ll usually want to set the opacity somewhere from 40% – 60% — the ideal amount varies from photo to photo. Once you have the opacity in that range though, you’re picture will suddenly transform on your screen from a blurry mass of blobs into magical soft focus.

4.) Use the eraser tool on areas you want sharp

The final touch is to grab the eraser tool, set it to around 60% opacity, and carefully erase any areas of your blurry layer that you actually want to keep sharp. On pictures of faces, like our example, this will almost always be the eye. On wider pictures you’ll often want the entire faces to be sharp (or at least less blurry) or other main focal points.

Photoshop - erasing areas to be kept sharper

Keep in mind that the eye will automatically look at the sharpest areas of your photo first (and the lightest, by the way).

This step can also be done by using a layer mask and masking the area that you want sharper, but simply using the eraser is faster and simpler.

5.) Voila!

And here we have our new soft focus picture, complete with a sharper point of focus in the eye. This soft focus technique does have a tendency to reduce contrast in your picture, so it’s often a good idea to make the contrast on your original image a bit higher than you normally would.

Image after the Photoshop soft focus effect is applied

Strobe Misadventures, Part 3: Strobe Flash Duration Answers

In part 1 I got some new monolight strobes and saw some strange results suggesting the flash duration was much longer than the 1/600th – 1/1,000th that was listed. In part 2 we did some crude testing of the strobe flash duration and verified that yes, it was indeed the flash duration and not something else that was off.

After the strobe testing I finally did some research and discovered the answer: yes the strobe flash duration was much shorter than it seemed it should have been, and the reason has to do with the way that manufacturers measure the flash duration.

Flash Duration – T.5 vs T.1

When a flash goes off, it gets up to 100% brightness really fast, then trails off mush more slowly. Because you can never say for certain exactly where the point is that you’re back to ambient light, flash durations are measured in terms of how long they are over a certain percentage of their brightness.

Most manufactures measure flash duration as T.5, or the duration that the flash is over 50% of its brightness — the amount of time from half brightness to full brightness and back to half brightness again. The problem with this is that the flash curve gets really long on the tail end, and even though it’s less than 50% of maximum brightness, that’s still plenty of light to expose.

The more accurate measurement in terms of establishing the stop motion capabilities of the flash is T.1 — the duration of time that the flash is 10% brightness or greater. This is about three times as long as the T.5 measurement.

Monolight Flash Duration, T.1 vs T.5 measurements.

Thus that 1/600th flash duration, as reported my the manufacturer, is suddenly only a 1/200th or so duration. Plenty slow enough for motion blur, especially if you’re using a longer focal length.

Furthermore, for most monolight strobes — like my lovely Flashpoint 1820a — when you turn the power down (as I was) you actually get a longer duration, not a shorter one like you might think.

The Monolight Strobe Solution

There are basically three solutions here. Firstly you can just get yet faster strobes. Be sure to check the T.1 rating on them so you know how fast they’ll really be. Of course faster strobes tend to be far more expensive. If you want really, really fastness, you’ll want to use flash heads (but that’s a whole series of stuff for another day).

If getting much more expensive strobes isn’t a great solution (which it is not for me) then solution #2 is just to put the camera on a tripod, which you should really be in the habit of doing anyway, even if that’s a habit that I’ve never developed.

Finally we have the WoodJr solution, which is to go to the max sync speed of my camera. I had been shooting with the default flash shutter speed, which for some reason my D200 thought should be 1/30th of a second. However, the maximum sync speed of the D200 is actually 1/250th of a second. While this isn’t blindingly fast, it’s plenty fast to avoid any hand-shake blur. In effect it’s just cutting off the tail end of the strobe (and I had to turn the strobes up / open the aperture to compensate) but I still got great, even, consistent lighting every shot.

Once I popped my camera to 1/250th I went back into the studio and had no more hand shake blur issues at all, and I’m back to loving my strobes to death.

1/250th at f10 on ISO 100 with 38mm focal length

1/250th at f9 on ISO 100 with 26mm focal length

Strobe Misadventures, Part 1

It was with great excitement that I unpacked my first monolight strobes, a pair of Flashpoint 1820a 900 watt/second strobes. Up until just recently I had always made due with continuous lighting — the lights that also doubled as video lights for video projects.

But of course I had all the problems that everyone has with continuous studio lights. With 1,750 watts of lights (requiring 2 circuits) I was still struggling to get better than 1/60th of a second at 24mm and ISO 400 on full shots. I just needed so much light. And of course they were hot.

The temperature in the room was easily 10 degrees higher within minutes of turning on the lights — and another 10 degrees in front of the lights. My models didn’t just have sweating problems — after a while they simply burst into flame, and as you can imagine this made cleanup a chore.

But model combustion aside, the bigger issue was brightness and what it did to my shutter speed. You can pretty safely guess that any studio shot I take that I showed to my father, the conversation will go pretty much like this:

WoodJr: Hey, here’s some recent shots I took.

WoodSr: They’re out of focus.

WoodJr: No… no they’re okay.

WoodSr: They aren’t tack sharp. Did you use a tripod?

WoodJr: … No. I couldn’t. I was suspended above the model from cables… in a 300 mph wind… underwater. I couldn‘t use a tripod.

WoodSr: Well that’s why they aren’t sharp. Camera blur.

But no longer! With these strobes I no longer have to care about shutter speed! They fire at the speed of light, c, 186,000 miles per second. Well, more importantly the flash duration is — optimistically, but I’m of an optimistic mindset with these strobes — 1/1000th of a second. Unless I’m using a crazy long lens, which I’m not, the studio room isn’t that big, there is no way I’ll get camera blur ever again.

I can finally show shots to my father and have him exclaim “Dear boy! These are as sharp as your very clever mind!”

So I quickly badgered a friend into posing as I tested out the lights. The weather was against us with a nasty and humid 92 degrees — so much for no more sweat — but I’m happy to report the model never once burst into flame.

And I was delighted with the strobes. They were bright. Stopped down to 1/4 power I was still getting f8 at ISO 100. It was fantastic! I had flexibility I’ve never had before. The lights didn’t have to be just on the outside of the frame. I could move them across the room if I wanted. And as they weren’t within a few degrees of the surface of the sun, I could toss whatever kind of filters or material I wanted over them.

Then I got back to the computer, to look through the shots, and saw several shots like this one:

This shot is… not sharp. In fact, it looks very much like blur caused by camera movement. Suspiciously so. But at 1/1000th of a second, that shouldn’t be happening. Okay, optimism aside, the low end of the flash duration is 1/600th of a second. Still plenty fast to stop any incidental motion.

Was it possible that I was legitimately out of focus? Does the auto-focus of my camera require adjustment? Are my strobes somehow insanely slower than they should be?

The only way to find out is to run some tests!

Part 2 of Strobe Misadventures: the disturbing results of some crude testing!

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PhotoBug Blog

Photo Bug is the home of Brian's very occasionally updated photography journal. Posts are sporadic, and I keep swearing that some day I'll dig through the archives and start filling things up. Some day...