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Photo of the Week – Stop the Bus!

Photo of the Week – Stop the Bus!

I was confined to an exhibition hall because a monsoon had descended on Peterborough Arena and the rest of the show I was at was rained off. Not exactly conducive to photography but hey, I like a challenge and that challenge came from ‘Maxxis babe’ Sarah. Something like “Go on then, come up with an idea!”  “Give me an hour” was my reply.

I walked the hall but came up with nothing interesting. The place was rammed as a some of the outside parts of Modified National had squeezed inside. The atmosphere was great with everyone trying to make the best of it but there was barely room to move.

The only real option for a location was the Maxxis VW van but just shooting the girls with it in front of the Maxxis truck under the orange hall lighting wasn’t going to cut it. So I came up with the concept of the girls traveling the UK with this as their tour bus in a sixties, Summer Holiday style.

So here’s the original image. Everything but the bus is underexposed almost making it look like a composite already. Ideally I’d have preferred the bus on a plain or at least a simpler background but I had to work with what I had.

orig2

Obviously there was going to be a fair bit of compositing involved but the first job was to get the lighting right. The only light in the hall was coming from the high ceiling lights so the inside of the bus was dark and gloomy. If I dropped that onto a bright sunny background it was going to look very wrong. So, with the idea explained to the girls, out came the flashes.

The first is tucked away in the glovebox in front of Amy, camera right. It was set to a wide angle and feathered over towards Sarah on the left to even out the exposure. It’s not perfect but it’s close enough to pull back in post production.

Lana, Nickie and Danni in the back (seriously rocking the 60’s vibe by the way!) were lit with the second flash. It’s sat on the floor firing up towards the panel behind the front seats to make a nice big light source. Being a heavily modified van, this panel was covered in orange audio amplifiers so there was a MacGuver moment when some of the sticker sheets the girls were giving out we’re used to cover the amps and make a white reflector. Without this, the colour cast would have been very strong, especially with the amount of orange Lycra in the shot!

After a few test shots I knew I had the interior lit just right but the front of the bus was far too dark so a third flash is sat on the floor facing upwards hitting the front with just a wink of fill.

After using almost every Photoshop selection technique I know I had a finished layer mask.

Photoshop layer mask
Applying that to the original shot gave me a nicely lit, floating bus, ready to drop onto a suitably sunny background found on a stock library.

Bus Cutout
A quick Google for an Austin Powers font and a touch of the Warp tool and the image was done.

Austin Powers style text
Yes, it’s ridiculous, cheesy and hammy but it shows the sun can still shine in an exhibition hall in rainy Peterborough.

composit2

Q&A: What portable lighting should I get?

Q&A: What portable lighting should I get?

I’ve been getting some question sent to me lately on the blog, Facebook and Twitter, which is brilliant. It means I can turn them into posts so everyone can hopefully benefit from the answers.

First up was Matt with a question about lighting:

Hi Simon

I found your site originally when I was looking into light painting, then I ended up here again when I was looking into different portable lighting systems. Impressive work all around! It’s definitely inspiring me more to give lighting a proper go too.I firstly ended up looking into Alien Bees or Einsteins, but once they’re imported to the UK the cheap price point quickly disappears.Anyway – I’m just curious, would you still recommend the Quadras you have? I’ve been looking into Profoto and Bowens too, it’s just tricky to decide between them all. I’ve found a couple companies that seem to be designing similar ones to Paul C Buffs lights, or at least at that price-point, but there’s practically no reviews for them and I don’t really fancy being the first to try them either.

There’s plenty of people aswell as yourself that love Quadras, so that’ll definitely make it easier to part with the cash in the future.

Cheers! Matt

Hi Matt

I know what you mean about the Paul C Buff stuff. I’d love a Vagabond Mini and a couple of Einsteins but you’re right, by the time you get them to the UK the price is far less attractive.

In answer to your question, yes, I still love my Quadras, there’s so much about them to like. They are small and light, pack a decent punch and the built-in Skyport radio triggers are very handy. The Profoto packs and a heads are gorgeous but I just couldn’t (and still can’t!) justify the cost. And to be honest they aren’t as compact and portable.

If you are just getting in to lighting though, I’d say start small. Buy some used hot shoe flashes and some cheap eBay wireless triggers and learn to use them in manual. Then, when you run out of power and find yourself limited, step up to something bigger.

Bear in mind you can use any constant light source to light paint with though. It’s a great chance to get all McGuyver with a torch!

Hope that helps, Simon

Balancing Act

Balancing Act

If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you’ll know I like shooting on location. I love all the choices I get when it comes to balancing strobes with the available light – juggling all the variables is so much more fun than shooting in a studio where you have complete control over the lighting.

Shooting at night takes that to the extreme. Capturing what little ambient there is can be tricky when your flashes want to nuke everything with light.

I came up against such a situation a couple of weeks ago, so here’s what I did to stop my model, Sarah, from floating in a sea of under exposed blackness.

The image above was taken out by Pendigo Lake at the NEC near Birmingham in pitch darkness. So dark in fact that I had to ask friends to light the area with mobile phones while I set up. Without some artificial light on her, Sarah wouldn’t register at all.

Before the Quadras got powered on though, I found my ambient exposure. If I went straight in with flash, I’d have ended up with a good exposure on Sarah but a dark background. I wanted the coloured lights on the other side of the lake as my background so I left the strobes off for now, slowed my shutter speed and cranked up my ISO. The sweet spot turned out to be 1/20th second, f/4 at ISO 1600. Obviously shooting 1/20th handheld is usually a no no but when using strobe, the very short duration of the flash will freeze anything it hits. Plus, as there was no ambient light falling on her, I knew Sarah was going to be free from any motion blur from camera shake.

Then came the lighting on Sarah: A Westcott 50″ Apollo softbox (review of this coming soon) camera right and a gridded strobe camera right, slightly behind her.

As you have to start somewhere I set both packs to 1/4 power and fired off a test – let’s just say it was a little over exposed! Even at minimum power (25 w/s) on the ‘A channel’ on the packs I was still going to end up with a glowing Sarah if I wanted to keep the detail in background. I could have closed my aperture or lowered my ISO 2 stops to restrict the amount of flash getting in but that would have forced me to go to shutter of 1/5th of a second – slower than I was comfortable hand holding.

So instead I switched my Quadra heads over to the packs “B channel” and dialled all they way down to 8w/s – just enough power to balance the ambient light and produce this set of images.

Pit lane Skyline

Pit lane Skyline

Last weekend saw Trax come to Silverstone and another chance to shoot in the famous Formula 1 pit lane. No planning, no preparation – just a beautiful car and an unlocked garage. Rather that just hitting you with the eye candy, I thought I’d de-construct a few of the shots and tell you what I did to get them.

As always, start simple. At 1/160th (a safe sync speed on the 5DMkII using Elinchrom Skyports) at f/6.3 all ambient light was killed allowing me to add my own light. When shooting a car, you can get away with hard light, so this was lit with bare Quadra’s either side.

With the doors opened, and the car turned around, I exposed for the scene outside (1/160th @ f/8) to give the picture some context, then started adding flash to bring it up to the same level.
I quickly realised this wasn’t going to be very exciting though, so I killed the flash, opened up to f/2.8 and kept slowing the shutter until the car was properly exposed and the bright pit lane blew out. A bit of desaturation and floor clean up in Photoshop yielded this:
Time to move outside and shoot down the pit lane using the sun as a back light. To control to sun, and be able to keep it in the frame I had to stop down to f/16 at 1/160th which meant I had to crank my lights to full power (400WS) and bring them in fairly close.
If I’d had my 18cm reflectors I would have had a bit more leeway and would have been able to shoot wider. You can see here how close I needed the lights.

Then at the suggestion of Chris the owner, we tried a wide, side view as if the car had just driven in  for a pit stop. I knew it was doing to be hard to light, but what the heck! Once again I set my exposure for the ambient light and under exposed by about 1 stop to keep some saturation and detail in the blue sky (1/160th at f/9  this time as the suns not in the frame). Here’s the shot unlit.

And with the same settings but with the flashes firing at full power again. I had to have the lights in a little closer than I wanted meaning I couldn’t quite get the end walls of the garage in shot. I’m rearranging my camera bags this weekend to make sure I always have the 18cm reflectors and some grids with me!

 

Everything in photography is a compromise and working within the limitations imposed by location, subject or gear is all part of the challenge. I’m still happy with the final shot:

And finally, a quick illustration of how a little wink of flash can make all the difference. Its not until you see the lit version that you realise just how much detail was missing from the unlit one.

With and without flash - Animated
Enjoy the final images!
Death of a Cover Car

Death of a Cover Car

Ash Manton’s Type R Civic has been part of the UK modified car scene for several seasons and keeps coming back with a fresh look each year. It’s current stripped out, carbon clad, airbrushed look has just won it the cover feature in Max Power.

As it’s had the Max photo shoot treatment, I wanted to try something different. Enter Georgia Graham, Ash’s girlfriend, showing that hell really does hath no fury like a woman scorned! 

So Ash assembled some props, Georgia put together a suitably OTT outfit and I got to work on the lighting.  The plan here was to go for a dark and moody midnight feel so out came the Quadras again to enable me to stop down far enough at my max sync speed to over power the daylight. We had the car in a shady spot and it was 4pm in September so I wasn’t fighting bright sunlight so f/9 at 1/200th did the job. 

One bare, CTO gelled strobe was positioned camera left adding a rim light to both Georgia and the car to separate them from the dark background and a second strobe, in a 70cm Deep Octa in “beauty dish mode” as the main light. I’ve cranked up the exposure in Lightroom in this shot to give you an idea of the layout. 

Enough talk, on to the pictures!