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Outdoor Lighting Juggling Shot

I recently did a photoshoot to get some new head shots.  Ultimately, for social media websites, which are universally 1×1 crops.  We’ve noticed recently that the crops of photos are wider than in the recent past, showing shoulders and more of the back ground.


Jay Wacker Juggling

I started with my husband who wanted a new profile picture for Quora, his new job. He wanted something appropriately casual and quirky.  He’s doing work as Quora’s “Ontology Architect,” organizing topics, which are building blocks of ideas.  So we decided to have him throw blocks up in the air.  After a dozen or so shots trying, we realized that he wasn’t going to be able keep his chin down and toss the blocks at the same time.  Of course we could always photoshop them in, but that is really cheating.   So instead, we decided to have Larry Liu throw up the blocks from underneath while I took the photo.

I usually like narrow depth of field for head shots, usually f/4.0 to f/5.6.  Sometimes we even like to go down to f/2.0.  We also usually like a mid-telephoto lens with a focal length of 135mm to 200mm.  But for this shot, we decided that we needed a wider field of view and we also wanted to have the blocks in reasonable focus, even if they were going to be blurred by motion, so we chose f/8.0.

There are additional challenges to shooting outside with lighting.  We usually simply connect one of the strobe lights and trigger the other view for the bounce light.  Outside this doesn’t work because there isn’t enough bounce light to trigger.  So we switched to pocket wizards (actually Yangnuo knockoffs).

It was a simple two light setup with the background lit by late afternoon sun.  Jay was in the shade so he could look at the camera without being blinded by the sun.  The key light was a soft box that was fairly straight-on and exposed to f/8.0.  The fill-light was a speed light in a strip box exposed to f/5.6.   The strip box was pretty close to the subject, giving a slightly more dramatic fill light.

The diagram of the setup is below with the resulting shot.  You can see the lighting in the catch-lights.Outdoor juggle lighting setup


Photobooth At An Eating Contest

Photobooth At Yishan Wong's Eating Contest

Last weekend we attended an eating contest. My husband was invited to this even through the question-and-answer social networking site Quora. I love shooting parties and an eating contest party was sure to have a lot of drama.

One thing I like to do at parties is to set up a photobooth off in the corner where I can have proper lighting and have a consistent setup. This way I can grab a decent number of perfect exposures that are tack sharp and need very little editing… well in principle.

The contest was held outside on a bright sunny day. I found a narrow corner that was out of the way and wouldn’t be disturbed. I still sandbagged the lights and the tripod with 25lbs weights. This was a great thing because there were some strong breezes that could have knocked over the camera and blown the lights away. Even indoors, it’s a good idea to sandbag the setup because kids or tipsy adults can bump into the equipment.

The narrow corner was only amenable to a 2 light setup, and in order to have people squeeze by the lighting and tripod, the key light, a softbox monolite, had to be essential on top of the camera. The fill light had be very close to the subject and set wide right and I used a monolite with a shoot-through-umbrella. The umbrella was set far enough off-center so that only one catchlight appeared.

The eating contest was going to have roughly 12 contests with a Win-Place-Show for each contest. They had victor crown and I decided that the victors for each event would be photographed with the crowns, with the King’s crown for the winner, the Queen’s crown for the second place and the Pharaoh’s hat to the third place. This went over pretty well and documented the winners for posterity.

I used my APS-C crop sensor camera for this shoot and used my full frame camera for the candids. Tend to be moving faster and hence more light. In order to the ISO down, a full frame works better (roughly one stop better). It’s also good, because the photobooth camera was going to be largely unattended throughout the night and I’d hate to lose or damage the full-frame (roughly four times more expensive).

On the camera, I used the 16-50mm f/2.8 kit lens. It’s a crop-sensor only lens, but it’s very nice and produces pretty good shots. It’s effectively a 24-75mm lens after taking into account the 1.5 times crop factor. You need pretty wide angles for photobooths when a group of people are cramming in, but when you have one or two people, it’s good to be able to get to 55-80mm (or longer if you have enough space).

As I described above, the lighting setup had some constraints to work around. We got stuck in a bit of traffic getting there, so we were down to about 15 minutes to set up — enough to get it set up comfortably, but not enough to experiment a lot. What ended up happening is that the exposures came off a bit cool. I didn’t get a chance to set a custom white balance and because the lights were in pretty close (only 8 feet/3 meters from the subject) the lighting was harsher than I would have liked.

Nevertheless, it still provided tack sharp images. The only issue was that they required some editing. The good news was that the same editing worked on every shot — which is one of the wonders of controlled lighting. I had to drop the highlights and bring out the shadows and dropped the blacks to not lose contrast.  I bumped up the vibrance and saturation to brighten the skin tones. I manually changed the white balance, bringing up orange and green. These weren’t huge changes, but you can see the difference. I think the photo quality is good and could stand up to printing.

The catchlight was a bit too dead-center on, but there was not much to be done. I would have liked to used a hair light shooting down in a strip box to help even out the light in the background. I don’t think it would have worked, but I didn’t get a chance to try it.

I’ll give myself a pass on this one. But I could have nailed it better.

Head Shot For Young Professionals

Head Shot Set Shoot

I had a head shot booked Saturday morning with two young, professional twins looking for photos for their workplace websites. I set up the home studio with a simple white backdrop.

I wanted to do a four light set up, a key and fill plus two hair lights to give a symmetric feel for any joint shots with the two twins. I first exposed the hair lights and set the exposure to f/2.8. The hair lights were in strip boxes with speedlites aimed down. I then set up the fill light to f/4.0 with a monolight with a shoot-through umbrella. Finally, I set up a softbox monolight as the key light exposed to f/5.6.

I set the lighting expose on the low side because my home studio has a low ceiling with white paint, which thankfully isn’t gloss. In the past, brighter exposures have had problems with bleed over from light bouncing off the walls and ceilings. I sometimes set up black backdrops on the sides and even the ceiling to control the bounces. But I didn’t want to set up these control measures because they look a bit ghetto, particularly the backdrop covering the ceiling.

After the shoot began, it went pretty fast, we knocked about 200 shots off divided evenly between Ashley, Dana and the pair together.  Throughout the shoot I used an 85mm f/1.4 on a full-frame camera shooting without a tripod and a 135mm f/1.8 on a APS-C crop sensor for an effective focal length of 202.5mm mounted on a tripod. The 85mm came out very well and provided more unique shots because of the free form, but the best shots in the lot were on the 135mm, which is better length for portraits.

I included a crop of the catch-lights. I’d be a bit happier with the catchlights being more symmetric and a bit wider. I am thinking about getting a second softbox and white shoot-through umbrella to be able to get symmetric catchlights.  I like the look when catchlights frame the pupils.  I wasn’t gong for that look here, but I think angling both catchlights wider would have given a better result.

Party Photobooth

Party Photobooth

I photographed a beautiful 50th birthday party recently. When I do parties, I like to set up some lighting in the corner to take portraits. You can knock off a bunch of portraits really fast and not totally rely upon candids to get the shots of the evening. I love the look of candids, but they are dicey.  Usually I just use a single soft box key light to keep things simple and non-intrusive. This time, I had a proper walled-off corner where I could set up and not be in the way.

I used a soft box key to the right, a fill shoot through umbrella, and then two hair lights in strip boxes shooting down on the subjects.  I used a 24-70mm at 24mm on a crop sensor at f/7.1 and was a 50mm f/8.0 for most of the night.

Narrow Depth of Field Portrait


I love big catchlights and narrow depth of field.   The lighting set up is illustrated below

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 9.54.52 PM

It was a five light set up with two strip boxes in front, a shoot-through umbrella off to the right and two bare head monolights illuminating the backdrop.

I shoot in my home and it has relatively low clearance, less than 10 feet with white paint, thankfully non-gloss.  When the strobes go off, particularly off a blown out white background, the light ricochets around the room and spills over into the image.  It’s imperative to control this.  So recently, I’ve added two more backdrops to the studio.  I put black muslin and use these to keep the light from bouncing off the walls.  I also drape a third black muslin sheet over the top of the three backdrops to black out the ceiling.  I’m still working on making the backdrops stable, but the results work pretty well.

This was shot with an 85mm f/1.4 Zeiss lens on an APS-C sensor.  The subject was 1.2m from the camera meaning that this shot had 10mm depth of field. It took quite a few shots to get the eyes in sharp focus.   With a few more tries, I could have gotten a bit sharper, but this was pretty good for a test shot.

Felix in the home studio

Felix in the home studio

a quick shoot with a neighbor’s son

Ali on the Embarcadero

This was a night time shoot on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Ali had rented a few dresses from Rent-the-Runway and wanted to get some new shots for her blog.  We used two speed lights to light her.  Overall it was a pretty quick and successful shoot.

Ali on the Embarcadero