Monday, 27 September 2010

Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers

I believe this to be one of the best books I have read so far on lighting for portrait photography. It should have a broad appeal to those looking for lighting recipes and also for people looking beyond that. Though it appears to have been written for film users it talks about digital and quite frankly it doesn't make a great deal of difference. It’s also aimed more at studio work and big flash than small flash but you will find some of the concepts transferable.

The book starts with an introduction to the nature of light from the physics through to the quality of light. Don’t let the thought of physics put you off because it is pretty simple stuff about how the light travels in straight lines and reflects off surfaces. Nothing too taxing.

Following on from that is a section on lighting equipment and terminology, covering a wide range of modifiers, including what Joe McNally calls V-Flats. Here they are called bookends.

There are a couple of pages explaining what lighting ratios are and the term is used throughout the examples in the book. There is nothing really magic about lighting ratios and it’s really just a shorthand a way of communicating the relative balance of the lighting. It’s not something you absolutely need to know and most of the examples in the book give a lighting ratio and the f-stops used to achieve that. However there is one glaring omission and that is that there is no instruction on how to use an incident light meter. You would need one to meter the lights to achieve the ratios that you are interested in. However it’s not a huge problem these days as most digital users will mix their light according to taste rather than fixed lighting ratios.

The book goes on to demonstrate a number of portrait styles and the effects that different types of light modifier have on the style of shot. for instance the butterfly lighting portraits are re-shot with no less than 8 different light modifiers to show the effect that each has on the final image. I think that is the payload for even some of the more jaded strobists who think they know it all. All the shots in the book are backed up with a lighting diagram.

The lighting isn't described as a one size fits all solution, it's a starting point and Christopher Grey takes you through each of the choices and the changes that he makes along the way to the final portrait.

In part two he takes you through more portraits in different market segments often using the basic lighting schemes from part one as the starting point. Along the way showing tips, such as how to apply powder makeup, how to close the sitter's pupils, use flare and overexposure. I was particularly taken with his Hollywood portraits which I thought were beautifully done.

All in all a very good book that should appeal to beginners and more advanced flashers.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The War of Art

In a bit of a departure from the usual fare, I'm reviewing a self-help book. Written by Author Steven Pressfield it is aimed to help writers and other creative people overcome the obstacles that prevent them from doing the work that they love. The book was recomended to me by Kirk Tuck, himself a prolific photographer, author and blogger. He told me that it has saved more creative lives than a defibrulator.

When the book arrived I immediately locked mytself in the toilet and started reading it. By the time I got to page 21 I relalised that the book was warning me about precisely what I was doing. Instead of sitting in the toliet reading a self-help book what I really should have been doing was editing photos from a recent shoot.

Resistance is the first of three themes in the book. It is a force from within and takes many forms. Steven describes them all with examples drawn from his and other people's life experiences. In my case it took the form of a fear of failure that made me resist looking at the photos I had taken. Getting the book gave resistance an easy way out. What would be easier than turning my back on my fear and doing something pleasurable like reading a book?

Even when I had realised what resistance was up to. it still tried to seduce me away from my work. It told me that reading the book was important. I should finish it. But by then the game was up. The book had unveiled the enemy within and shown it in its many colours. I now have a name I can pin on it. For me this was the most revolutionary thing in the book. Now that I understood what I was doing to myself I could fight back against resistance and it has certainly helped me on a number of occasions.

The second theme is turning pro, resistance and fear will prevent many people from taking that step. Turning pro means dedicating your life to the pursuit of your art. The book discusses what it means to be a professional and how it makes it easier to fight resistance. Like this part of the review its a pretty short section and even if you have no intention of becoming a professional its a good section to read

The final section is the most controversial because it gets a little religious. Its about inspiration. The author sees inspiration as divine, the muses are real and god wants you to be the best you can be. Personally I think this is hogwash, but there is still plenty of goodness when it discusses inspiration and staying true to your vision.

Like most books of this kind, there is a lot or reinforcement and repetition, but this works to help the concepts stick. I think that this book has the potential to be life changing its certainly made a difference to me. It has enabled me to recognise when I'm working against myself and given me a spur to get out of the slump I have been in for most of the year. I would recommend it for the section on resistance alone.

There is also a kindle edition of The War Of Art that would work out a bit cheaper

Sunday, 12 September 2010

DIY Budget Tripod Mount for a Bowens S-Type Speedring

Last week I made an impulse purchase. I needed a new softbox and I wanted one with a grid. I had been planning on getting a pop-up softbox, either an EZ-Fold or a Westcott Apollo, but I found the EZ-Fold to be a bit flimsy and some people had told me that they had found that it was tricky to angle the apollo. Not only that, but neither are particularly cheap. So I was procrastinating and then when I was buying something for my wife made an impulse purchase of this Dynasun 60x90cm lightbank.

What the hell was I thinking? I wanted an pop-up softbox and then bought myself a traditional softbox with a bowens s-type mount. I didn't even have a clue how I was going to mount the damn thing to a lightstand. But when it arrived I noticed that the holes for the struts were about the same size of the larger tripod mount. So I did some googling to see if I could figure out how to put a thread on the holes which would allow me to attach the ring using an umbrella mount.

Tripod mounts come in two sizes. The 1/4 British Standard Whitworth, which is the size that will screw into the bottom of your camera. Or the 3/8 British Standard Whitworth which you usually find on the tops of light-stands. To make the threads in the sockets on the speedring you need a 3/8 BSW tap. You also need a tap vice, which you us to turn the tap in the hole. The tap and the vice can be bought on ebay for round about a tenner.

Using the tap couldn't be easier. Just insert the tapered end into the socket and start turning clockwise. Every now and then give it a half turn back to clear some of the clippings and keep going till you hit the bottom. It simply unscrews and that's it done. I made a short video so you can see just how quick and easy it really is.

With the ring mounted on a light-stand you can use a clamp to mount a flash in the hole. I prefer using a clamp to an adaptor because I have the clamps with me anyway so it means I don't have to carry any extra bulky kit with me. Its bad enough carrying the clamps.


So having solved the problem of mounting the softbox I just had to find a quicker method of assembling it. I figured that out too. I can assemble the softbox in around 30 seconds. If you have seen my previous softbox assembly video you'll be a bit skeptical, but the secret is to have the softbox pre-assembled with just the speedring detached. You can have it rolled up in your bag ready to go. Just unroll it, attach the speedring and you can have it set up on a light-stand as quickly as an ez-box. It doesn't look like someone sat on it either.

Here is a video of me popping mine up.