I recently had a photo student from Parsons email me. The final project in her class was to pick an image where she liked the lighting and try to figure out how it was lit and then recreate it. She did a pretty damn good job. The only difference was that she used two lights, one gelled blue, where I use one light with a blue reflector. You can see her portfolio at http://www.megantepper.com/


Fun with Perforated Hardboard, vol, 3

This shot I did of Radii shoes, I opted to use the board as an illuminated backdrop. I placed a strobe behind the pegboard and zoomed the flash head out to around 24mm to allow for a wide light spread across the board. My main light was a LumoPro LP160 attached to an LP621 mini-boom arm, shot into a silver umbrella above and slightly to the front of the shoes. I used a LumoPro LP655 silver reflector under the glass to light up the shoe soles.5

Exif Data: 1/200, f/5.6; 200mm; 500 ISO 


End of an Era

This was my last product shot for JackThreads. I freelanced for them for the past 14 months, up to the day they moved all production to NYC. I have learned more about lighting technique in the past year than any other time in my photo career. The fast-paced climate gave me little option. Now I have the freedom to set up a work space almost anywhere. All my preconceived notions about what every photo studio needs has been thrown out the window. My new “studio” is now a 10'x15’ unfinished basement, and I can shoot almost any product that I am given. 

And don’t worry. I will continue to post lighting info here. 

Exif Data: 1/200, f/8; 160mm; 250 ISO 


Use Perforated Hardboard as a Backdrop for Epic Portraits with Beams of Light

I have a couple large sheets of perforated hardboard that I picked up at the hardware store. I’ve been experimenting with how to modify light with them. The most effective way I’ve found is backlighting a subject with it. Then today I had the thought of adding smoke from a smoke machine. This would turn the pins of light into a radial of light shafts. I couldn’t wait for my next shoot to try it out so I thought my sons Halloween costume would work just as well. He wouldn’t stop staring at the main light, which turned into a happy accident as it gave him that heroic superman gaze.

Read more at http://www.petapixel.com/2012/10/26/use-perforated-hardboard-as-a-backdrop-for-epic-portraits-with-beams-of-light/#iw19Y14Ab2G0fJ3H.99 


Lighting Watches

Your goal, when lighting watches, is to illuminate the face, without getting glares from your strobe or from ambient light. This is a tricky task. The tools I am working with a a LumoPro LP160 strobe, silver umbrella and an LP621 mini-boom arm for my stand. The strobe is being triggered by a Radiopopper JRX remote.

As you can see above, I have a piece of cardboard, covered in black cloth, placed on a stool. The light source is about 4-5 feet above the watches. I then angled the watch faces at a 45 degree angle to the light source. I turned off the overhead lights, rather than cranking up the flash output to kill the ambient, in order to conserve battery life. However, if I had been shooting a watch with an illuminated display, the only way to capture that would be with a slow shutter speed, so there could be no other competing ambient light.

Exif Data: 1/200, f/8; 200mm; 200 ISO


The Athletic Aesthetic

When you are shooting athletes and athletic gear, the rule of thumb is typically to show off their strength and rugged features. So you can go as hard as you like when it comes to environment and lighting. For these Saucony running shoes, I wanted to have a rugged terrain that didn’t distract too much from the product. I picked out a spot near some train tracks, where there was a large, flat and wide open rocky terrain. The issue was that the sun was out and almost directly overhead. So I would need to overpower the sun with my strobes. I decided to gang up two lights on one stand and shoot bare-bulb, directly overhead, to allow for a strong, focused output. I added one strobe behind the shoes as an accent light. 

The image looked pretty good straight out of the camera, but I decided to pump up the contrast and clarity in Photoshop and then desaturate the rocks from their brown color. One nice trick in boosting your contrast in Photoshop is to create a duplicate layer, desaturate it and overlay it. Then you can use a layer mask to paint back in some of the shoe color from the bottom layer.

The tools I am worked with: Three LumoPro LP160 strobes and an LP621 mini-boom arm for my stand. The strobe is being triggered by a Radiopopper JRX remote. The two main lights are mounted to one stand and there is one back light. They are all set to ½ power and zoomed to 105mm.

Exif Data: 1/200, f/13; 200mm; 50 ISO

Side Note: A documentary focusing on portait photographers, including yours truly, is currently on Kickstarter. Please consider supporting the project. Thanks!

Flash: Off or On Camera? That is the Question.

Both have their benefits and drawbacks. One camera flash is faster to set up and allows for more subject movement. This is ideal for street fashion, when you may be trespassing or blocking traffic and need to work quick. It also has a more paparazzo, raw feel to it, a la Terry Richardson. So when I am shooting a skater or hip hop brand, I often opt for this technique.

Off-camera flash is nice because of it’s dynamic quality. You can highlight a specific part of your subject and really get creative (especially when you start using colored gels and multiple strobes). But setup takes a bit longer, and is tough without an assistant there to manage the umbrellas and sandbags, etc. 

Above is an “A” and a “B” shot for T-Squad apparel. In shot “A” I opted for an off-camera flash. One of the models simply held the strobe just out of the frame to the left. It is a nice, dramatic image. But I think it comes off as a bit too dramatic for an image selling a tank top. In the “B” image, I opted to leave the flash on camera. I actually prefer this image. It feels more gritty and street, and thus more appropriate for a tank top line.

Exif Data in image “A”: 1/200, f/10; 75mm; 50 ISO; Flash zoomed to 85 and set at ¼ power.

Exif Data in image “B”: 1/200, f/5.6; 25mm; 50 ISO; Flash zoomed to 85 and set at ¼ power.


Using Colored Gels

You can a lot with a little. Most of these shots were done with an already-colored wall in the JackThreads building. The walls aren’t even especially vibrant to begin with. But once you start bouncing light off of them, especially colored light, you start to get real colorful real fast. 

If you take note of the captions under each photo, you can achieve completely different colors by adding colored gels to your background light. Thank you Color Theory 101! If you add red or magenta to a blue wall, you get purple. Add cyan to a red wall and get fuschia/pink. Add red to a yellow wall and get orange. Add yellow to an orange wall and get a vibrant gold. The only combinations that don’t work is when you add the complementary color gel to the background color. For example, don’t add green to a red wall or blue to a yellow sweep. These colors just get muddy and cancel out. 

Keep in mind how you are modifying your light and also how much light is pumping through your gels. The more hard your main light is, the more the background color washes out. Similarly, the more light you pump through the gels, the whiter the light is. So if you want saturation, use soft light and low outputs in your gelled strobes.

And as always, just keep experimenting!


Business Portrait

Typically, when shooting a business portrait, time is an issue. Not only do your subjects need to get back to their job but they also hate getting their picture taken. So the goal is to work quickly. 

This specific seamless white setup was done with three speedlites, though seamless white head shots can be easily done with two lights. The main thing to remember is that your background light needs to be 4 stops brighter than your main light. Also, for group shots, set your main light far enough away (and high enough) so that there is minimal fall off from the left to the right of the group. 

And in the case of the second shot, where the group of subjects was larger than the white backdrop, I chose to make it work for me. It has a behind-the-scenes feel to it which makes the company seem more friendly and approachable.

Exif data: ISO 250, 1/200th, f/4.5


Expose Yourself

Most of the time, my goal as a photographer is to erase any trace of myself from my images. My images are for my client’s use, so seeing my reflection or a light stand in the background is considered sloppy. But sometimes, tossing convention aside can allow for some great experimentation and results.

Previously I posted about a Reebok shoot I did several months ago. In that post I describe the direction that I was given by the production director. The selling point for these shoes are the soles. So I knew that once again I wanted light coming through from behind the shoe. But I didn’t want to recreate the previous image. I decided to see what would happen if I put the silver umbrella directly behind the shoe as a back light. The large silver surface, combined with the glass, created a really nice abstract environment for the shoe. I then added a cyan-gelled strobe underneath the glass and an accent light to the right of the shoe.

The tools I am worked with: Three LumoPro LP160 strobes and an LP621 mini-boom arm for my stand. The strobes were triggered by a Radiopopper JRX remote. 

Exif Data: 1/160, f/10; 200mm; 100 ISO

Side Note: A documentary focusing on portait photographers, including yours truly, is currently on Kickstarter. Please consider supporting the project. Thanks!

Making Lemonade

At JackThreads, we are constantly restyling out-of-season apparel. We shoot fall and winter stuff in July and beach wear in February. This can be problematic. In the first image, you can see the aesthetic of the brand I was supposed to emulate- SoCal life. In the second image, you can see what I had to work with-the Scioto river. So here is what I did…

Luckily the sun was out on the days I had to shoot. If it hadn’t been, I would’ve been S.O.L. When I took a picture of the scene, exposing for the model’s face, the water and sky appeared blown out white. So I needed to add a strobe. I use a FourSquare bracket from Lightware Direct that allows me to mount up to four speedlites on one stand. For these shots I used anywhere from 2-4 lights, depending on how sunny it was outside (I almost always set the speedlites to ½ power with the zoom set to 105mm so that I have a decent refresh time with a minimal falloff). Once I added the strobes I was able to expose for the water and the sky and fill in the model’s shadows with the strobe. And if I waited for the wind to move the water perpendicular to my position with the sun, the sunlight would catch the water ripples and give the image those nice highlights (see the difference betwwen Maui & Sons and WeSC). 

The other factor that really helps make this transformation complete is depth of field. Most strobe users only have the option of killing their ambient light with aperture since their shutter speed maxes out at 1/250th of a second. But since I use the Radiopopper PX system, I can go into high speed sync (HSS) mode. So I shot these images at a high shutter speed (bewteen 1/3200 and 1/8000) with a wide open aperture. This allowed the water to go soft, which help add to the airy west coast vibe by mercifully obscuring the murky river. 

The final step in the transformation is the post-processing. I do all my editing in Lightroom 3. I have a range of presets that I created that I use to fine-tune my images (available for purchase here). But the main thing that I did in these images was shift the cyan and blue hues to a more aqua color. I also pumped light into the orange and yellow channels, which opens up the skin tones. 

Watch on rglr-blog.tumblr.com

Getting the Shot: Emulating a Brand (e01)

Presented by the Run & Gun Lighting Resource (RGLR), this is the first episode in a new web series that focuses on street fashion photography. In the episode, we explore emulating a brand. The brand, Amongst Friends, is a contemporary New York brand.

I’m Bringing Glossy Black (sung to the tune of Sexyback)

Nothing is sexier than a glossy black surface. And it actually doesn’t even take a black backdrop sweep to achieve it. 

In the top photo, you can see that all I have is a 2'x3’ piece of wood, covered in black fabric and a sheet of glass. For lighting I have one LumoPro LP160 attached to an LP621 mini-boom arm, fired into a silver umbrella. I angled the umbrella slightly and placed it just behind the sunglasses, to keep the light from spilling onto the black board. This angle also allowed the sunglasses to be lit from above and behind, which complemented the translucent frames. 

Exif Data: 1/200, f/8; 68mm; 500 ISO 


The Slow Shutter Product Shot

For Creative Rec shoes I wanted to make sure to capture the patent leather elements as well as communicate a street-vibe to the shot. The art director has been pushing for more color in my images lately since it is so dreary outside. I made a run to the craft store and picked up a range of colored plastic tablecloths. I decided to go with pink for this shot. 

I was using my strobe on camera. I wanted to infuse energy into the shot, so I started slowing down my shutter speed. I slowed it all the way down to 1/6 of a second. It worked a bit but the ambient light was reading really orange and didn’t look good. So I added a ½ cut orange gel to my strobe, set my WB to tungsten and eliminated the orange. But the energy still wasn’t quite there. Finally I started playing around with zooming my lens from 70mm out to 24mm, during the exposure. This allowed me to get the final image.


How I Shot Versace Man Cologne Bottle

Over the past two weeks I have photographed the same bottle of cologne a half a dozen different ways. You can see the whole series of images on my blog. I gave myself this self-assignment in order to sharpen my skills at product lighting and editing. The lighting diagrams, which were not in my blog posts, are included here. Happy shooting!


This is the lighting diagram for the Abby Zbikowski and the New Utility shoot. It was shot in a large warehouse with concrete floors and a grey wall. I used four Canon 430 speedlites. They were triggered with Radiopopper PX transceivers by the Canon ST-E2 master unit (I normally use these strobes for high speed sync use). There were all bare bulb, two of them placed directly on the floor and two on stands at head level. I shifted the WB to a cooler blue hue in post.