Photography Tips From Damian McGillicuddy

Damian McGillicuddy shares more of his photography knowledge, this time he's talking about white balance.

| Portraits and People

Photography Tips From Damian McGillicuddy: Ms Charlie Edwards

It gives me great pleasure to read feedback from people who have enjoyed reading my articles and I had one such kind message from a Mr S. Hodge recently. Shaun was more than complimentary but had a question regarding what white balance (WB) I set on my camera.

So, in a rather unusual move, as I knew I’d be manipulating WB in the picture I’m going to talk about today, I decided to 'welcome you all into my World'.  What's unusual is this images was shot during one of my "normal" commercial working days.

It is, therefore, a true 'behind the scenes' look into my professional life and what I do. I must firstly thank the designer I was shooting for, Juliana of Ooh La Latex of London, for allowing us to have a 'first airing' of one of her simply fabulous couture designs. I then must mention that because it was a time sensitive commission with the fabulous designer 'on set', I didn't have time to shoot loads of 'behind the scenes' images so please accept my apology.

Location:   The estate around the McGillicuddy Studio.
Subject:   The terminally pretty Ms Charlie Edwards.
What was in the bag:   Olympus E3
Olympus 14-54mm f 2.8 / 3.5
3x Elinchrom Ranger Quadra
1x 36” McGillicuddy BIG dish multi modifier
2x 18cm reflector dishes
2x CTB gels
1X CTO gel
Sekonic 758dr meter
Camera settings:   Image captured in RAW
ISO 100, f6.3 @ 1/125 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1

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

Juliana the designer of this fantastic couture creation was looking for imagery that was not the usual fashion plate but had a narrative and a mood to the image. The red latex chauffeur uniform, to me at least, told its own story of a sassy, hard edged, slinky and very sexy driver. It's hard to admit but despite what people say, this isn’t my own chauffeur but it IS very much how the BIG Dog would LOVE to roll!

Ok lets talk capture. I’d scouted the location previously and fell in love with the industrial simplicity of the location. I wanted to contrast the new and shiny against the jaded, tired, industrial drab.

The shiny black STR, which I'm proud to say is one of mine, was parked to allow the brick and metal shutters to rhythmically fade away behind the vehicle depending on the crop while still giving space to position the subject, lights and to hide away the smoke bombs I was planning to use!

In Essence it's a very simple four light setup. You can see from my 'behind the scenes' snap that it really was that straightforward and simple. The 'key' or main light was a 36" BIG dish multi-modifier of my own design.

Photography Tips From Damian McGillicuddy: Behind The Scenes Shoot

It was configured with an inner baffle to spread, soften and diffuse the main light and the outer diffuser was the strip mask accessory. By configuring the 'key' as a strip light I gave myself a lovely 'slice' of soft light to flatter the subject and give a head to toe highlight to run down the whole of the outfit but without 'spilling' too much uncontrolled light into the image and detracting from the effect.

This main light was positioned to camera left, just out of shot, and was set and 'feathered' to achieve a sculptural 'loop' lighting pattern on the subject's face. This is lovely light for creating shape, depth and relief.

My next two lights were fitted with 18cm spill kills and were positioned to both camera left and right. They were then aimed back into the image to rim light the subject, illuminate the smoke and to add attractive highlights to the car's coachwork. These lights were set at EV -1 and 1/3 of a stop to the 'key'. Both lights were fitted with Colour Temperature Blue corrective lighting gels.

In this case though, I wasn’t correcting anything I was using the gels to add to my 'midnight blue' feel to my surroundings, this shoot was started just after lunch. Interesting to note when looking for deep rich colour in this manor, it is far more effective if you pump less light through the gel. The more white light you push through the gel, the more pastel the shade of blue becomes, counter intuitive once more, good old photography!

The fourth light is simplicity itself and is the afternoon ambient light. As I do with all my shooting the first thing I did was to take an ambient light reading of the available illumination that existed in the scene, it measured a 60th of a second at f/4. With this information to hand I can now design the image and make sound and sensible decisions regarding exposure.

I wanted to isolate the subject with light so I measured my main light to give f/6.3 on my subject. That is 1 and 1/3 of a stop more light than the ambient. So by setting my aperture to f/6.3 I’d get perfect exposure on the subject and the effect of underexposing the rest of the scene within my frame. Now add to this the shutter speed increase to 1/125 of a second and we 'burn' another stop of light, basically under exposing the parts of the scene not effected by the supplemental light by a total of 2 and 1/3 stops. This helps the model 'Pop' and stand off the underexposed background.

Now here comes the white balance or colour temperature manipulation magic! I’m looking to create a slightly surreal effect and this is one of my favorite and simplest ways to turn that trick.

The white balance on my camera was set to a custom white balance of about 3400 degrees kelvin (you’ll need to experiment with this - as this is the combo that works well with my equipment), now this pushes the colour response towards the tungsten balanced end. In other words, the camera is expecting very warm light. By putting the CTO gel over the tube of the key light this is what it gets. However, because that's what I’ve 'told' the camera is going to happen and made the appropriate shift in camera, it views the orange light as being more neutral and records it as being more white!

The clever thing is, and perhaps the key to this effect, what happens to the rest of the image. In other words, the area not effected by the 'key' light. The ambient light 'shifts' towards being a 'cooler' light (in more ways than one!) and renders itself as being more blue. By adding the additional CTB gels I’m just deepening and enhancing the colour shift. A simple but very effective trick of colour isolation. I actually use this little 'secret' a lot in my work. If you do, people never think of the obvious and just assume you’ve become an instant Photoshop expert!

Final act - through the smoke bombs in to create the spooky effect and shoot away to ensure one captures the smoke in a pleasing manor.

The only remaining difference in the two finished images offered today and a useful point to think about, hence the inclusion of both, is the focal length and position of shooting. It is surprising the difference this has on the finished image. The image on the left was shot at an equivalent 35mm focal length of 70mm, this compresses perspective slightly and helps increase the effect of differential focus.

Now moving closer, standing on a ladder and getting the subject to lean forward into the shot, while shooting with a focal length equivalent to 28mm in 35mm terms, makes for a slightly quirky, comic book effect with dare I say it, a little greater impact. For me at least, who says you shouldn’t shoot portraits on wide angles!

Hopefully you have enjoyed the trip to work with me and you may be thinking it's the little pro tricks that make a difference. If you want to give your imagery a 'leg up' why not check out the links to my workshops and let an old dog teach you some new tricks!

What about post production?

I believe all images need finishing properly and enhancement to give them a professional veneer but as you should know by now, I’m no fan of shopping for shopping’s sake. All my manipulation other than creating the layout and adding my brand was carried out in or through Apples Aperture.

Firstly I set the black and white points, increased both saturation and contrast slightly. Retouched out skin imperfections and stray hairs etc. Apertures FABULOUS skin softening brush gives the subject the quick 'once over' and using the burn brush I add a subtle vignette.

I then open OnOnes fab Phototools 2.6 (note to self - You MUST load suite 6 on to all the Mac's) and use the 'edges to black' tool to finish the image off. This has the effect of containing the viewer's eye within my frame... so just 'stacking the odds' my way as usual.

Photography Tips From Damian McGillicuddy: Ms Charlie Edwards

Thats all folks! Until next time,

Damian McGillicuddy

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

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leewil Avatar
leewil 13 United Kingdom
11 Nov 2011 11:51AM
gotta love this one.... constantly keeps pushng my knowledge of the subject.. thank you
thebopper Avatar
thebopper 14 8 United Kingdom
11 Nov 2011 8:23PM
Excellent read, with stunning photographs!
Damian_McGillicuddy Avatar
12 Nov 2011 10:30AM
Thanks guy's that's greatly appreciated, I'm glad you ae enjoying the series.

all the very best,

JackAllTog Avatar
JackAllTog Plus
14 6.4k 58 United Kingdom
13 Nov 2011 4:37PM
This is a greatly helpful article, thanks.
nsutcliffe Avatar
nsutcliffe 17 90 United Kingdom
16 Nov 2011 8:01AM
Another excellent article. Thanks for the insight.
Damian_McGillicuddy Avatar
16 Nov 2011 11:52AM
My pleasure...

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