Sunday, October 23, 2011

photography challenges - more cyclorama - creative efficiency

I didn't really know how to title this post since rather than focus on one detail (challenge) of getting this shot, I decided to focus on it in its entirety. If you read [this] post about cyclorama (cyc) photography, then you have an idea of how this type of shot is produced. If you haven't, be sure to check it out to get an idea of what will be discussed in a bit more detail today.

Last night I was contemplating what it was that I would write about today. I was torn between which photo I would post, how I would write. It is sometimes difficult to come up with awesome content every week. I'm glad I don't post everyday or you, the readers, would be learning how I cook ramen noodles, rather than learning about photography. Be thankful I post about once a week. Anyways, rather than juggle my brain trying to figure out which of my photographs needed speaking about I decided to throw up the studio equipment and shoot something that I wasn't thinking about all day and night. A fresh start of sorts. A clear mind.

So, without further ado...

Why Efficient?

As in the post title, I mention the word "efficient." You may have guessed already that the work that went into the photo is more than meets the eye. I was introduced with a number of challenges, as I usually am, while trying to pull this one off. How so? That's the information I am about to enlighten you with. A couple of challenges that I was faced with, and were not limited to, were studio size restrictions, equipment limitations and post processing obstacles. If you noticed, I didn't use the word "problem" in any of those descriptions. As a photographer, you can and will be met with many "challenges." It is your job as a pro to recognize that a problem is not a problem but just an important crossroad in which the proper path will need to be chosen. This will separate the pro from the amateur. The amateur may see these challenges as problems and call the imminent task impossible. A photographer is creative and along with making creative photographs, he or she also needs to be creative in their technical adversities. There is a solution to every problem, just need to find it.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

-Yogi Berra

Ok, that quote has a humorous and quite literal meaning to it but I think you get the point. Now on with my list of typical problems challenges that I encounter on a frequent basis. Of course this one is article specific but you will get the idea that every shoot has its own handful of obstacles that need to be deciphered. 

Studio Limitations

The photograph you see above was taken right here, here being at the location you see at the photograph to your left. Impossible? Almost but not quite. 

Not as roomy as you would imagine by looking at the first image, now is it? I often convert my home into studio mode for many many shoots. The problem challenge with this is that I am very limited on space, that is on a floor to wall point of view. If you have probably already noticed, that is my kitchen fridge you are seeing. Zack Arias said it best that a studio is nothing more than a floor and some walls. Again, get creative. You may not have the largest digs in the neighborhood but I'm sure with a little elbow grease, you too can produce a working studio. I'll give you a few minutes to walk around your house to discover that I am telling the truth, for once.

Are ya back? Did you discover that you have some room to make for a makeshift studio? I hope so. In this economy it's sometimes hard for people to afford a second mortgage or rent for a studio space. In the grand scheme of things the separate studio is better for other reasons but if you have the drive and need to get a shoot done on limited space, anything's possible. 

Now, on the other hand, although my (home) studio is lacking in the length and width departments, it makes up for in the height department. I never took an official measurement but if I had to guess, I would say that my ceiling is at least fifteen feet high. I know this since last year the wife wanted a ginormous Christmas tree. It was thirteen feet to be exact, with plenty of room to spare for the angel on top. I digress. And even though the it's tight on the floor, the height gives me lots of versatility. Hell, I would have had a very hard time pulling off this lighting scenario with the traditional eight foot ceilings. I'm not saying that it can't be done but it would have been quite difficult. I've known photographers to shoot in basements with even lower ceilings who make the impossible, possible. 

I keep mentioning that you need to be creative in what you are confronted with. Take a close look at the photo. You can clearly see that I have two strobes firing through brollies. Can you find the third? It's actually on a stand placed at the left corner of the refrigerator. It made for grabbing my Chimay a bit difficult but I learned to improvise. Creativity. 

Equipment Limitations

This part will discuss a couple of variables that I had to solve for to make the final image possible. The first and most obvious is the actual size of the seamless white (cyc) background. The other is lighting related. 

It is quite obvious that there was some post processing done to make the final edit. It is now anyway, once the actual shot from the camera is revealed. The model, who if you haven't guessed, is my wife/business manager/VAL/Stefanie. She was kind enough to pose for my impromptu photo shoot. 

Due to my space limitations, I have had to plan accordingly, how I would buy certain grip for specific studio setting shoots. Take a look at the backdrop. This is 53 inches (I think) in width. Typically, the next size up is somewhere around 108 inches. If you aren't a math wiz, those sizes are somewhere in the range of 4 1/2 feet and 9 feet, respectively. It's not that I couldn't pull off the 9 foot roll of seamless, the fact is that I don't have a convenient place to store a 9 footer. I had to opt for the smaller roll which in itself, introduces a multitude of problems adversities. The first challenge is that I obviously need to have enough room to squeeze the subject in frame, entirely on the white seamless. If one of her hands had dropped out of the white, I'd be able to fix in post but that is just a giant pain in the ass. Another issue with the size of this seamless is that I have to be conscious of which lens I use. Shooting against this size with a long lens, say 85mm or more, would have yielded a very tightly cropped image, since I wouldn't be able to back up too much more that the walls allow me. Tightly cropped for a headshot would have been cake to work with as the seamless would cover the whole frame. As for this shot, I knew I would not be able to get the seamless to cover but went with the wide angle lens regardless. I just had to angle myself in such a way that I would get her whole body on the white, in frame. Post processing was inevitable, I knew how to create infinite white from finite. 

[Note: while writing this I had an epiphany. In need of a nine foot roll for easier wide shots on seamless, I could just grab a second four 1/2 footer and throw them up side by side. Storage would be a breeze. Life behind the lens would be less problematic challenging during these sessions. You see? Creativity. I ROCK!]

Now, where were we? Ok, the first equipment limitation was the seamless. Problem solved. The next issue was not so much a challenge but a creative technical decision. Lighting. It's what this whole thing is about right? Think I wouldn't get some nerdilicious lighting details in the post? Ha! Think again. 

Yes, this is the same photo from above, I'm just placing it here for the lazy people who don't feel like scrolling up to see what I'm talking about (don't be offended, I'm one of them). I went with a three light scenario for this shoot and many others like it. Remember, there is a third strobe hidden near the fridge. 

Here's the kicker. Those three lights will act, in essence, as six. Huh? Did I just blow your mind? Did you think that you had a grasp on reality and your reason for living until this very moment? Is your world crumbling around you as your read each word? Six lights from three?! Are you thinking I'm nuttier than a pecan pie (needed extra corny there)? I am a bit off, so I'm told anyway. But this is simply physics. 

Physics? Boring. No worries, I won't get uber nerdy here. I won't get into the inverse square law or anything like that, hell, it's the weekend and I don't want to think too hard either. Ok, let's work counterclockwise starting from the shoot through brolly with the 1/4 CTO'ed strobe. Oh yeah, look close, you can see the warm color coming from the flash. It's the strobe at far right. This was initially going to be my key/fill but ended up being a fill. I would have moved the CTO to another light but I thought it would have worked against the look I was aiming for. So, again, this strobe was the fill light, nothing more, one purpose. Let's move on. The bare strobe at the corner of the fridge had two roles to play. first and most obvious was to blow out the white seamless. That part was a no brainer. It's second role was to leave the strobe head, illuminate the seamless and ultimately reflect off of the paper and onto my subjects back side, separating her from the paper. This gives added depth and dimension to the photo. Last and certainly not least is the third brolly towards the left. I decided to shoot into this umbrella for the reasons you are about to discover. Notice the first umbrella, pure white and strobe firing through. For the other one, I left on the black cover and reversed its position. This becomes a shoot into rather than a shoot through umbrella. Depending on what look you are going for, shooting through or into will yield different results. More on that another time. I wasn't looking for one light from that black brolly but three. Yes, that strobed brolly was to perform three tasks. The first two were identical to the bare flash (near fridge). It was to light the background and the back of the subject. The last task was to act as the key (initially planned as a rim), illuminating the model from camera left. Look at the final edit. You can see that there is a heavier amount of light, about 1 1/2 stops, on her right side. The positioning of that brolly allowed me to create this three from one light scenario. Ultimately it was a six from three light scenario but who's bragging?

I mentioned physics. Basically, you just need to know where and how light will reflect and how much power it will take to make that happen, without screwing up the exposure. Without using a light meter that can get tricky. Just takes some practice and a little finesse. Trust me. 


I don't have too much to say except that I was very pleased with the final result on short notice. Not too much planning went into the whole thing. Just needed a cooperative subject, which to my surprise, she was. 

Post processing was simply cleaning up, correcting and extending the seamless to the edges. My fingers are too tired to type more today so I will give that tutorial another time. 

A.M.F. (adios....imagine the rest)

Until next time.