foto feedback

making light our bitch since mid-2009

Welcome

We’re photographers. We used to work together on staff at a newspaper, The Salinas Californian. Brittany was the new girl, just starting out. Scott was the guy who had been at it for 10 years.

Scott was just starting to teach Brittany about lighting when she got a new job on the other side of the country. So we started this blog as a way to keep the conversation going.

Brittany posts pictures and asks questions. Scott provides feedback.

Written by scott

January 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Photo

Commercial

with one comment

britt

Britt says …

College taught me that when photographing products you need to use really expensive strobes on really expensive stands, and have 16 foot seamless paper. What happens when you’re too poor for those lights and stands, and you have the shoot the products on location? I attempted to figure it out…

For our annual food book called “Krave” I needed to shoot three photos. One for the dessert section, one for the food/wine/beer pairing, and one for cigar bars. Rather than doing the norm of chefs holding their concoctions, I tried to dramaticize the products, and give them a high-end feel with a  touch of the fun alt-weekliness.

Dessert:

Sweet

Food beer pairing:

Abbey

Cigar Bar:

Michael's

Set up for the cigars:

Michael's

A cheeseboard for the cover image:

Abbey

I’m curious of your thoughts on design, the light, choice of products, and how appropriate it is for an annual book on where to eat, and features on local restaurants.

scott

Scott says …

That cigar image is fantastic. Great light quality, depth, composition. I have never and will never smoke a cigar, but the image almost makes my mouth water. (Almost.) The only bad thing I could say is that the highlight on the cigar wrappers is a little distracting — if those were toned down a little it would help.

The food/beer pairing is nice and subtle. I think you should’ve paid more attention to the background, those blown highlights back there get pretty distracting. And the highlight on the beer glass is making some of the logo on there go away. Turn up the power on your light, then speed up that shutter and stop down and you’ll help tame both of those issues.

The dessert: It looks delicious in spite of your lighting. I think I see what you were going for here — that blown-out background and narrow depth-of-field you see in so many food mags — but it’s just not quite there. You need a more blown-out background … and it’s lacking a bit of … I don’t know … deliciousness?

The choose plate is cool and I’ll bet it worked well for a cover image. A lot of choices for placing type. But it looks a little flat. You know what would’ve made it awesome? Light-painting.

Overall, for an on-location food shoot, this stuff is quite good. Most of these pictures would leave me wanting to know more about the places that produced this stuff, and that’s an indication of a successful image.

Written by scott

October 7, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Photo

Mayoral light

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britt

Britt says …

“Next week’s issue is on the three people running for mayor.”

Okay, first thought I need to make these people look important and, determined. Wait, are they? I sat in on a few interviews, and yes they are. Knowing the mag would print all three faces on the cover, I decided to light each the same, giving them all an even presense. Here is what I came up with:

O'Brien

Toomey

Lukes

Thoughts?

For one of the interviews I shot a bunch of one of the candidates, O’Brien. Here are a few of the shots:

O'Brien

O'Brien

The set up was:

O'Brien

scott

Scott says …

The first thing you did right: You lit all the candidates the same way.

In elections, it’s super important to be as fair as possible — even if that makes your newspaper boring. Better to be boring than to be blamed for tainting the election.

And your light is effective. The candidates look serious and the light adds to that. Your lighting scheme is most effective on the middle candidate. Good balance between light and dark, and the background is a nice value. The top guy, you probably should’ve moved the light up a bit, he looks a little up-lit. And the bottom woman, she’s disappearing into the dark background a bit.

And easy way to make these better would be to add some light to the background, something that you’re controlling. Make it consistent, but interesting. Maybe shoot the light through a potted plant to create a pattern of light and shadow across the wall. Check the technique at Strobist.

Written by scott

September 24, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Photo

More the merrier, or not

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britt

Britt says …

In the past couple of weeks I’ve shot groups of people outside, and used the sun as well as my SB-800 with the umbrella. The first one was sort of a promotional shot of a woman Punky, who sells vintage clothes out of her Haberdash trailer. Professional models were posed standing around her showing the clothing. I cranked the power on the flash in hopes that it would be slightly obvious a light source other than the sun was used. I wanted it to have that exaggerated feel of beautiful models outside lit as if they were in a studio with seamless. Effective?

Punky Haberdash

Here’s another outside group shot. Again, I wanted the exaggerated superstar feel. I wish I had two lights for this, and the sun was pretty much down by the time these kids got their act together. What’s the best way to light a group like this with one light?

King of the Worm

One last group shot. This one was much easier to control. I had to show a family of Iraqi refugees in their home. Composition okay? Boring light? I like that one girl isn’t looking at the camera, what about you?

Iraqi refugees

scott

Scott says …

Some good stuff here.

In the trailer fashion shot, I’m doubting that your SB800 in an umbrella was doing any good. But there’s an easy way for you to tell in the moment — shoot one frame with the strobe and one without and take a look.

You might’ve got better results had you ditched the umbrella and used bare flash. But to overpower the sun for a big group like this takes a lot of power. However, your SB800 can produce some nice fill. Try it on a stand, about six feet up, just slightly camera left.

But the photos still works. Although I would’ve liked to see Punky a few feet closer to the camera.

The group shot of the crazy bros shows great one-light lighting. Nothing fancy, but you definitely got the light in the right place.

And the Iraqi refugees — I dunno, I’ve never really seen an effective family-on-the-couch group shot, and I’ve done my fair share of them. I don’t have a good alternative for you, but I will say this: Ask for a bit more time and try a few other places in the house. Maybe the kitchen. Maybe the porch. Force yourself to improvise and you’ll probably find yourself coming up with something better than you originally envisioned.

(And no, I wish the girl on the left was looking at the camera, too. But what do I know?)

Written by scott

August 5, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Photo

Bringin’ out the blacks

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britt

Britt says …

My favorite color is black. However, when a black tee shirt blends into a black stereo system in the background, I’m not a fan.

Here I was, trying to shoot a semi-dramatic portrait of a DJ. I decide to shoot with a shutter speed of 1/250 to create a hard light on his face, and to not blow out the wall/ceiling behind him that is being lit by the floor lamp. By doing this, I ended up with little to no detail in my blacks, and every black object blending into one another. In this case, I want people to decipher the different DJ equipment in the room.

What to do, what to do? I want to love my blacks again..

DJ Shame

scott

Scott says …

You need to put light on the things you want to see.

If you want to see the DJ equipment, then put some light on it. How to do that? Ambient is always a solution, but a poor choice in this case — you’d lose detail above the lamp and the shadows on his face. A backlight is a traditional way to provide separation between the subject and the background, especially when both are dark in tone. That solution might work for you here, but that room looks a little cramped.

I think your best choice would have been to light the background with a tight beam from a second flash. A snoot or grid would work great. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but some tinfoil provides a no-budget solution for snooting.

Some other comments on this portrait: You’ve got a reflection of your umbrella in his computer monitor (which you could’ve used as a secondary light source). You’ve got some bad merges between your subject and the junk behind him (that CD spindle growing out of his shoulder is especially distracting). And while I like the hand-resting-on-face pose, you didn’t do this guy any favors in the belly department. Perhaps a leaning forward pose would’ve been better, and still got you the low angle you needed for the background.

Remember that we get the luxury of control when we make portraits like this. We can set up our lights however we want. We can put our subject wherever we want. We can move things in the background if we need to. The picture is ours. We’re creating it, and we’re not trying to fool anybody into thinking we’re not. So own it.

Written by scott

July 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Photo

Live music

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britt

Britt says …

Last Saturday I shot a hardcore show upstairs of the Palladium in Worcester, MA. Perfect place to shoot. I shot with my SB-800 on a TTL cord, doing the typical slow shutter, rear curtain flash shots.
Flash in hand
Here is a shot I took a band called A Loss for Words. I used the flash as shown above.
Loss for Words
I turned the flash off, changed a few settings on the camera, and shot with the available light.
Ambient
The two shots are of the same band, but have a totally different feel. The first gives me the local hardcore band performing to a crowd of rough and tough loyal locals. The second one feels like the band is performing at a stadium with a bunch of teenie boppers who idolize this guy with blonde hair who can sing. More decisions, decisions.
scott

Scott says …

Somebody’s been thinking a lot about ethics. That’s a good thing.

While I don’t view your live music scenario as a weighty ethical dilemma, it does seem to me that you could use some parameters in which to frame your ethical choices.

My advice? Consider the audience.

If the audience for your pictures is the band and its fans, then I think you could shoot them however you want. However, if the audience is the readership of a general-interest publication that likely knows nothing about the band or hardcore shows or how all that looks, then you need to start considering the truthfulness of what your pictures show.

In your example, I think both pictures are fine and don’t cross any lines. But back to the parameters.

When I was starting out as a photojournalist and was trying to figure out how to think about shooting ethically, I used to do a little mental exercise. I would pretend that my entire readership — all 20,000 of them (or whatever) — was standing behind me as I took the picture. Seeing exactly what I saw. Would those people feel like what I put in the paper was an honest interpretation of what we all saw? If I could answer yes to that question, I was doing OK.

My little ethical exercise — pretending to have a crowd of witnesses — was a way to keep myself honest. I like it because it doesn’t get hung up on burning an dodging and f-stops and saturation, it’s just a simple gut-check: Am I trying to deceive people? If I am, that’s bad. But if I’m trying to show them a convincing representation of the world in an interesting way, well … that’s my job as their local newspaper photographer.

Written by scott

July 15, 2009 at 12:49 am

Posted in Photo

Decisions, decisions

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britt

Britt says …

Scott and I used to discuss the ethics and responsibility of taking photos for news. The choice to photograph Mayor Dennis Donohue as he smiles during a press conferance, or as he points into the crowd scowling is a big decision. The two images would tell two different stories, and could give the thousands of viewers a different opinion on the main man of Salinas.

Now, I’ve discovered that lighting someone or something adds even more decision-making. Most people think flashes and extra light is used so that the subject will show up in the photograph. Yeah, that’s important, but it also gives a mood, and tells the story.

I photographed a boxer/MMA fighter.
Todd

Without thinking too much about it, I went with my instincts and put a harsh, dramatic light on him. By doing this, he looks so much more badass. I like it, he likes it, but is it true to who he is? Who am I to decide who these subjects really are? I do have to take their photo though, so do I set up a light that covers the space evenly and make every shot boring, or do I decide on the spot how to light them with a specific mood?

A few more I played God with…
Tattoo

Scott Erb

Cynthia

scott

Scott says …

Just for kicks, we should do some serious drama lightning on a cute teddy bear. That would illustrate the point you’re making in this post.

You’re right, Britt — you do get some real control over how people will perceive your subject based on how you choose to light them. But when you’re practicing photojournalism, it’s uncomfortable to have all that control. It feels wrong. Where’s the objectivity?

The photojournalism comes in when you get to know your subject. A quick conversation, a little research beforehand — sometimes it’s just reading what’s on your assignment sheet and going with your gut. You’re not going to light a kindergarten teacher with a grid spot, a fog machine and blue gels (although I would very much like to see that photograph), and you’re probably not going to pose your MMA fighter like he’s in a Sears portrait studio.

Or maybe you would. Maybe your MMA fighter is a softy, he raises bunnies and bakes cookies for old folks, and that’s what the story is about. Maybe you’ll ask him to hold a daffodil. Irresponsible? Too much power? Only if your photograph does not contribute to your readers’ understanding of the subject.

I know we’re both fans of David LaChapelle, who is definitely not doing photojournalism and certainly never plays it safe with his lighting (or anything else). But many of his portraits were made for print in magazines, to illustrate stories about the people pictured. So let’s consider, for example, this photo of Chris Rock. The fingerprint of the photographer is all over this one, but does it contribute to our understanding of Chris Rock as a person? I’ve listened to his comedy albums and I’m inclined to say yes. I would guess that Rock would endorse this image of himself. Plus, it’s a fantastic and fascinating picture.

In portraiture we get leeway to interpret. To make a judgment. So if your MMA fighter strikes you as a badass, make him look like it. Light him so he looks like he’s about to jump out from a dark alley and kick your ass.

Besides, what would you rather look at: A flat, safe, picture that objectively shows what the person looks like, or a living, dynamic portrait that suggests what the person is like?

Written by scott

July 14, 2009 at 1:05 am

Posted in Photo

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