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Photography Tips From Damian McGillicuddy

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Category: Portraits and People

Learn To Shoot In The Style Of McGillicuddy - 7 - Damian McGillicuddy shares more of his photography knowledge and asks: is the PEN mightier than the sword?

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Model shot by Damian McGillicuddy

One of the things I want to get across in these articles to you, my new ePHOTOzine friends, is that good photography is more about the "what" and "how" you do things. Understanding the core principals and the underlying fundamentals of the craft, along with the simple truth that there is no automated, equipment-centric solution more powerful than your own acquired photographic knowledge is a very liberating experience once the penny finally drops! The latest "all singing and all dancing wonder" won't create the image for you... period.

Of course don’t mistake that sentiment for thinking equipment isn’t important it most certainly is. The equipment you use has to be "up to muster" and should most certainly help you in the process as opposed to blocking or hindering the creative flow, that's the main reason I design my own modifiers, I want them to help in the process and work the way I think they should, I like to stack the odds in my favour. My advice, try to choose kit that is an investment in your photographic future and not a one trick pony or one hit wonder, the key word is - investment.

Here’s a thought to mull over: There’s always a furore when new kit is released and in the main they add additional functionality to either give you access to new features or make features easier to use... but ask yourself this, when you get the urge to "trade up" have you really out grown the features and capabilities of your kit... have you, have you really?

So for this feature we are back to the same session I wrote about in my first article for you. The difference is this image was shot on an Olympus PEN. I can’t tell the difference between this and a DSLR, can you? No. thought not... onwards and upwards with the facts.


Location:   Back canal side in Castlefieds, Manchester
Subject:   The beautiful Nic H.
What was in the bag:   Olympus PEN EP2, fitted with an Olympus 14-42mm
1x Nissin Di 866 fitted with the 19” DMLS “classic” beauty dish.
1x Nissin Di 866 fitted with a CTO gel
2x Elinchrom universal skyport speed
Sekonic 758dr light meter
Camera settings:   Image captured in RAW
ISO 200, f5.6 @ 1/200 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1


So what did I do and why did I do it?

Ok this image is deceptively simple, what it was shot with is not as important as the concept, planning and technique that went into creating the image. One of the fabulous things I’ve grown to love about the PEN is its ability to allow me to control everything manually, from focus point to exposure, even second curtain sync... but more about the camera later.

This image was shot on my "Mini light - Maximum effect" speedlight workshop. The image is designed to show that with just a little thought, the ordinary can transmute into the extra ordinary!

The location was selected for three reasons: Firstly the horizontal, architectural, linear solidity of the steps plays a strong part in contrasting the feminine curve of the model and as a secondary compositional point of interest within the frame. Secondly, the varying height of the steps give more than ample options for me to support and pose the subject with interest and in a flattering manor. Finally, the location has a walled walk way above the steps. This is crucial to this shot as it gives me the opportunity and means to successfully position my accent light to weave a little photographic magic!

As always I start my creative process by metering the ambient light in my scene. This gives me the information I need to make my initial decisions exposure wise. The ambient light measured 1/30th of a second at f/4.

The trick I was planning to show the delegates was how I could turn day into a rather convincing night. To do this I had to relegate the ambient light into a definite secondary role. My "key" light therefore had to be my supplemental light. For this I fitted a third party speedlight, a Nissin Di 866, to my "classic" 19” collapsible and portable beauty dish.

I knew I wanted the flash to be the main light, so I set it to manual and metered its output to be one full f stop above the ambient illumination, ie f/5.6.

The lighting modifier should always be chosen for what it does and the quality of the light it produces or modifies. In this case I wanted a strong, crisp, directional light that gave an abrupt line of transition between highlight and shadow, used in the way I’ll explain below the 19” is perfect for this!

Side view behind scenes

You can see from my first behind the scenes image that the light was positioned about an arms length from the subject and about 45 degrees above the model's eye line. It's also worth noting how the light is "feathered" using the best quality of light from the edge of the modifier, creating a classic "butterfly" pattern of light. Only about two to three tenths of the spread of the light (by volume) is used to strike the subject to rake down the face and create the illusion of three dimensions. It seems counter intuitive for a Northern bloke to be so wasteful but the quality of the image is paramount and this is what is necessary to go towards creating the desired effect.

Our “Key” is now EV +1 to the ambient so being a one stop brighter gives the lighting direction to the image whilst darkening the rest of the frame. However this one stop difference isn’t enough to create the feeling of a winter's night I was aiming for. Fortunately for me I have approximately three stops of light I can “burn” by increasing the shutter speed in the camera. This would give the incremental effect, stop by stop, of further darkening the surroundings lit by the ambient illumination... everything is now in my control - just how I like it!

To add further to my illusion I placed a CTO (colour temperature orange) lighting temperature control gel over my second Nissin Di 866. This gel would normally be used to modify the colour temperature of the lighting output towards the tungsten end of the scale. In reality I was not being that sophisticated, I just wanted a warm orange light to mimic street light out of this speedlight.

Boom stand

As you will see from my next behind the scenes shot my first assistant has the Nissin fitted to a lighting stand. She is using the stand as a boom. It's pushed out over the edge of the stone work directly above and behind my subject and angled down towards her. This light gives the illusion of separation in the study and mimics the "toppy" direction that the street furniture itself would render. You can clearly see the effect that this is adding to the image, giving a depth and believability to the whole scene. Simple and effective.

Compositionally I was a little indulgent in this image. One of the great points about how you can shoot with the PEN is the fact that you can choose what format you shoot in. For this shot I was working with the square format. Now I know that any sensor image / format can be cropped to give a square format in post but that misses the point I’m making. Viewing the scene as a square at the point of capture makes you “see” better and gets the most from the shot at source and that surely can only be a plus. I must confess that it takes a little getting used to, using the back screen of the camera to compose, but once past my blinkered traditionalism the results speak for themselves!


As mentioned previously the steps are a God send when it comes to assisting in the posing. Seating Nic on the third step up allows me to position her feet on the step two bellow, this offers a firm platform in the angle her knees are at for her elbows to rest on. This in turn allows me full and free access to positioning her arms within the frame in a believable manor while using the limbs compositionally to draw the viewer's eye into the subject's face. Note that by holding her coat at the collar and following my instructions to rotate at the wrists Nic presents the “blade” of her hands to camera. This is aesthetically and compositionally more pleasing as the hands add to, rather than competing with the face.

The second advantage of Nic leaning on her elbows turns the line of her back into a diagonal line that leads the viewer's eye to the subject's face once more and adds a strength to the core of the image. It's surprising what is added to the whole of an image by controlling all the elements no matter how small they may at first appear. Shooting from a slightly raised vantage point (standing) does two things in this image: it stretches Nic's neck up to camera and flatters her while adding a very slight hint of vulnerability. Secondly, it cuts out all but the steps allowing me to de-clutter and simplify my background.

Side view of shoot

You can see from my final two behind the scenes images just where the supplemental light touches and how the faster shutter speed darkens the periphery of the image. These shots were not taken at a 200th of a second though as I wanted to add further detail to make them useful to you as a peak behind the scenes. Slowing the shutter speed down has allowed the ambient light to play a greater role in the image, rendering more and supplying more detail to the shot.

That in essence is about it... simple but effective!

What about post:


Using a beauty dish to gain the "butterfly" lighting pattern in this way shows up every minor skin imperfection that the model may have on the day. So in my usual way it's a MUST to clone out any imperfections or stray hairs to tidy the image and give it its professional look. As usual there is also a quick "wash over" with Aperture's skin softening brush, I don’t know how I ever lived without this! A quick setting of the clipping points in levels and an added tweak of vibrancy and that's the raw edit done.

I then added a subtle vignette to enhance the effect, key line and name added in Photoshop - job done.



Until next time,

Damian McGillicuddy


You can read the other parts to Damian's guide here:




Damian McGillicuddy Photography Training

Damian McGillicuddy Photography Training

Web: www.damianmcgillicuddy.com
Tel: 01244 380881

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Comments

nonur
nonur e2 Member 5nonur vcard Turkey8 Constructive Critique Points
28 Oct 2011 - 9:03 PM

I find this comprehensive enough and useful. Nice choice of spot and lighting. Thanks for sharing!

Last Modified By nonur at 28 Oct 2011 - 9:05 PM
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28 Oct 2011 - 9:59 PM

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Pdholder
Pdholder  2 United Kingdom
28 Oct 2011 - 9:59 PM

"One of the things I want to get across in these articles to you, my new ePHOTOzine friends, is that good photography is more about the "what" and "how" you do things. Understanding the core principals and the underlying fundamentals of the craft, along with the simple truth that there is no automated, equipment-centric solution more powerful than your own acquired photographic knowledge is a very liberating experience once the penny finally drops! The latest "all singing and all dancing wonder" won't create the image for you... period".

You said it and I have to agree...I have a Nikon D700 105mm f/2.8 lens Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 + SB-900 and SB-600 basically everything I need for happiness, but I am still waiting for the penny to drop in terms of what I can do with all this top kit. I constantly read your articles on ephotozine and try to understand your principles...But to me you say in this article that "The ambient light measured 1/30th of a second at f/4. I knew I wanted the flash to be the main light, so I set it to manual and metered its output to be one full f stop above the ambient illumination, ie f/5.6". I would have thought that 1 stop above the ambient would be f/3.2? Did you mean 1 stop below or have I still lost the plot?

Results are fantastic I just wish I could get the same results myself.

nsutcliffe
29 Oct 2011 - 2:14 PM

Excellent article once again. Thank you.

PatBPhoto
PatBPhoto  2 United Kingdom
2 Nov 2011 - 4:37 PM


Quote: I constantly read your articles on ephotozine and try to understand your principles...But to me you say in this article that "The ambient light measured 1/30th of a second at f/4. I knew I wanted the flash to be the main light, so I set it to manual and metered its output to be one full f stop above the ambient illumination, ie f/5.6". I would have thought that 1 stop above the ambient would be f/3.2? Did you mean 1 stop below or have I still lost the plot?

Results are fantastic I just wish I could get the same results myself.

f/5.6 is one stop down from f/4, so if Damian had maintained his 1/30s shutter speed and reduced camera's aperture to match his flash's f/5.6 the ambient light would be under exposed by one stop.

However in addition to this he reduced his shutter speed to 1/200s which is another 2 2/3 stops, i.e. 1/30s to 1/60s to 1/125s and then 1/200s instead of a full stop to 1/250s which would be beyond the flash synchronisation speed. Therefore in total Damian has underexposed the ambient light by 3 2/3 stops producing the deep shadow regions - unless he kept the camera at f/4 to deliberately over expose the lit pattern on Nic's face in which case the ambient is under exposed by 2 2/3 stops.

It's a shame he doesn't mention the accent flash settings but I'd guess it was f/4 to retain the orange glow.

HTH Smile

Pdholder
Pdholder  2 United Kingdom
2 Nov 2011 - 8:04 PM

Thanks for the excellent explanation PatBPhoto

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