Tag Archives: Project 52

A Sports Shot – JT Dettman

This is JT Dettman, a Sr. on the local high school basketball team. I needed a “Sports Shot” for this week’s Project 52 assignment. JT is the only athlete that I personally know, so I called him last weekend, and he agreed to meet me at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning.

I was going to use a stripbox, with velcro grid on each side of him as a rim light on his arms, shoulders, and side of his head. I was going to use a beauty dish in front of him for a “hard, edgy” look.

I say “was”, because after I got it all set up, one of my Einstein lights refused to flash. I would respond to the Cyber Commander remote control for setting the power level and for turning the modeling light on and off, but the dang light simply would not fire!

Sooo.. for Plan B, I positioned him in front of his family’s wooden garage door. The main light was the sun, which was coming from behind is right shoulder. For fill, I used the beauty dish above and to the right of the camera, about 5 feet from JT. Finally, a white reflector was held right in front of JT’s legs to help illuminate the lower portions of his uniform, and to make the “Wildcats” stand out more (needed for the first shot, not so much the second shot).

Although JT is a really nice guy, I asked him to give me his best “tough guy” look. I’m not sure if that’s the reason for the wrinkles in his forehead, or if the white reflector in front of him was blinding him…..

JT suggested the following shot, and I’m glad that he did!  Yes, he can palm the ball and hold his arm out straight while he’s doing it.


A Gardening Shot with LED Lights

This week’s Project 52 assignment was to Welcome Spring with A Gardening Shot – with a focus on gardening. Supposedly the client is simply looking for something to catch the eye. They are a small hardware store and the image is for their “Get Ready for Spring” store promotion.

I wanted to bring a LOT of color to my gardening shot. I envisioned a “wall” of flowers behind some hand tools and some colorful seed packets.

So after work, I headed to my local nursery and cruised around looking for the most colorful (and somewhat color coordinated) flowers, hand tools and seed packets that I could find. My total cost was $56, which was well under the client’s budget of $1100.

I knew that I would have to shoot them that evening, as I had chosen the flowers for the way they looked right then, and didn’t want to risk any of them wilting over the next day or two. Although there was still more than 2 hours of daylight remaining, it was very windy, and I wanted the flowers to remain still while I photographed them.

So it was into the garage I went and simply arranged the items pretty much how I had envisioned them onto a folding table. Since I was going all-out for color, I brought out my blue backdrop cloth, instead of my boring gray one. For lighting, it occurred to me that this might be a perfect opportunity to try out the new Fotodiox Pro LED 312AS panels that Kirk Tuck had recommended.

These continuous lights (as opposed to “flash” lights) have a knob to adjust the color of the light being output from 5600K (color of daylight) down to 2300K (color of a tungsten lamp). I set the knob to the 5600K setting, and set the white balance in my camera to 5600K.

Notice the strong magenta color cast in the gray card (by definition, gray is without any color cast).  Something wasn’t right!

In his LED Lighting Book, Kirk had cautioned about the “green spike” in the color spectrum that these LED lights would produce, so I was very careful to perform a custom white balance in the camera. After making that adjustment in the camera, I took this photo, and you can see that the camera completely neutralized the magenta color cast!

Now I admit that I’m not sure why the color cast was magenta, and not green.  I know that the two colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Kirk had to use “minus green” gels (which are magenta in color) over the face of his LED lights in order to neutralize the “green spike”. I can understand that concept, but I don’t understand why when the light was set to 5600K and the camera white balance was set to 5600K, the resulting initial image had a strong magenta color cast. (At any rate, I have ordered some 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and Full MinusGreen gels made by Rosco to put over these lights in the future.)

OK, so I can’t explain the science, but I was glad to see that setting a custom white balance in the camera corrected it. Now on to my Project 52 assignment!

This first photo is very much how I had originally envisioned it.

It was certainly colorful, and would catch your eye at the hardware store, but I thought it was “too busy”.  To simplify it, I removed the gloves and the sprinkler head, and moved in a little closer.

That was better (to me), so I knew that my lighting was getting close to its final arrangement and power levels, so I took a photo with my ColorChecker Passport in it. Using this photo later in post processing, using software from X-Rite, I could create a custom “camera calibration” for my camera using these LED lights at this 5600K color setting.

The photo looked better but the angle didn’t seem right, so I got a little lower and took this one, which I liked the best (and it’s the same at the first photo in this post).

And finally, here is my set-up shot, which shows the 3 LED panels that I used.  Note that the top one didn’t have a fabric diffusion panel. It was there to light up the tops of the three colorful flowers in the back. It was positioned close to them, using a boom, and the power was turned way down in relationship to the other two lights.

Salad Ingredients

This week’s Project 52 assignment was to shoot the ingredients for a salad on a white background, and they would need a little white space at the foreground for some type (words).  The photo above is what I submitted for this assignment, and this post is the story of how that photo was created.

Since I will be shooting family portraits for Diane V. and her sisters next Saturday, I wanted to get this “salad shooter” assignment out of the way this weekend.  So yesterday, Barb and I headed over to the HEB to get our groceries, and also anything that looked like it might be interesting to include in the photo.  It was important to remember that this wasn’t going to be a photograph of a salad, but rather a photo of the ingredients that were to be going to be used in a salad. We were looking for anything that had lots of color!

After we got home, I started setting up my lights. Following Don Giannatti’s recommendations, I put my largest softbox on a C-Stand with a mini-boom and positioned it directly over the island in our kitchen.

We then spent the next half hour or so just washing and trimming the vegetables that we thought would make interesting items in the photo. We then got out one of Barb’s white tablecloths and thought about how we could use it for the white background requirement portion of the assignment. Our solution was to prop up a large piece of poster board right next to the gas cooktop and then drape the tablecloth over that poster board and the counter top. We then placed a large white cutting board onto the tablecloth.

With that in place, Barb started to arrange some of the vegetables onto the cutting board while I started setting up my other two strobe lights. We quickly decided that we didn’t know how to position the veggies, as we didn’t know how the picture would be “framed” by the camera…. So I went and got out my camera and tripod. I put on the 50mm f/1.4 lens, even though I knew that I would be using a much smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) to get as much depth of field as I could (front to back in focus).

A requirement was that they final image was to be 8.0 wide by 10.5 high aspect ratio, so I positioned the camera in the “portrait” orientation. I also realized that some cropping of the photo that the camera took would be required to get from the 2 wide by 3 high aspect ratio that the camera captures to get to the 8.0 wide by 10.5 high aspect ratio. This meant that I would not be cropping anything from the sides of the photo, but rather I would leave extra space at the top and/or bottom to cut off later.

By knowing this, we arranged the vegetables to fill the entire frame from side to side, and left plenty of room at the top and the bottom – especially the bottom, as that’s where the client was going to want to add the text for the recipe. So Barb made a reasonable first attempt at veggie placement while I finished setting up the two other strobes in stripboxes.

With the large 30 inch by 50 inch softbox directly overhead, and the front of the softbox pointing straight down, it was about 24 to 26 inches above the surface of the countertop. To get the 30 inch long stripboxes to come in under the overhead softbox, I simply rotated them to the horizontal orientation. Next thing to do was to meter the light, adjust the power level of all the lights, and position the two stripboxes on the sides.

In the end, the stripboxes were slightly below camera height, and shining their lights in at 45 degree angles from the line of sight that the camera had. I set the shutter speed on the camera to 1/125 second, and the ISO to 100. I also manually set the White Balance to 5700 Kelvin, as I knew this would be close to the color of the light that the strobes produce, and I was going to adjust it to the final correct setting in post processing anyway. I set the aperture of the camera to f/18 to get a lot of depth of field, and set the light output power of the strobe in the overhead softbox to the level that would result in a proper exposure at f/18. From there it took 10 or so trials with power levels and resulting meter readings to get to the final setting. With all 3 lights firing I now had too much light for an f/18 aperture, so I stopped it down to f/20.

The power of the stripbox on the right ended up being 1/2 the power level down (-1 f-stop) from the overhead softbox, and the stripbox on the left was 1/4 the power level down (-2 f-stop) from the overhead softbox. I did not want the lights all at the same power level, as this would result in a photo with no shadows. (The distance of all the lights to the subject was almost identical.) I did not want “no shadows”, just some “soft shadows”.

OK, so we were pretty excited how things were looking on the LCD on the  back of the camera, but experience has taught me to zoom in to 10x magnification and check out the details. Everything seemed to be pretty good, but the top of that iceberg lettuce was sort of blending into the background. Easy enough, we’ll just rotate it to get more of the green portion on top.

Well, that didn’t look very good…. so we fiddled around with that for a while and decided it simply needed to be replaced with something different. While I grabbed a bunch of the green leafy lettuce that we had already cleaned, Barb noticed our wooden pepper grinder, and said, “Hey, that’s a salad ingredient“. I thought it was a brilliant idea! So we spent another few minutes arranging our new items, and then made this photo.

Looking good!  Zoomed in to check on the finer details, and noticed the radishes now had a white “dust” on them. Hey, so did the carrots! It had been quite a while since we had washed the vegetables, and now they were drying out and looking rather crusty. Think. Think fast….

Hey, this is just a picture, so why don’t we oil them down!  OK, so I took the radishes and the carrots over to the kitchen sink and rubbed olive oil all over them. I also cut the ends off of the radishes to reveal more of the “white dots”. I then used paper towels to wipe off the excess olive oil, and finally tried to reposition the radishes and the carrots back in their places.

That looked pretty good, but upon zooming in to examine the details, I didn’t like how one of the carrots was now blocking the stem on the yellow bell pepper. Easy enough, just move it over a bit.

OK, so that shot turned out to be the “hero shot”. It was taken with the aperture at f/20, but I wasn’t sure that there might be some highlight clipping, so I also took another shot with a smaller aperture of f/22 (not shown).

Before heading upstairs with my memory card, I wanted to take 2 more photos that would help me with the post processing on the computer. I always try to get a shot with a gray card in it. This isn’t a traditional 18% gray card used for setting proper exposure, but rather this gray card is certified to be free of any color cast (Red, Green, and Blue are all equal value).

Once on the computer, using RAW processing software, such as Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, you can select all of the photos taken under the same lighting conditions, make this photo the “most selected”, and then using the White Balance Tool, click once in the center of the gray card in the photo, and voila!, all of the photos are set to the correct White Balance setting. You might remember that earlier I had set that to 5700 Kelvin in my camera, which turned out to be very close, but just about 100 too high. (Now I don’t know why Adobe and Canon can’t agree on their number systems. When I set my Canon camera to 5700 and then use Lightroom to open the RAW file, it’s “As Shot” setting is about 500 Kelvin down – at 5200.)

When I really want to make sure that all of the colors of the photo captured by the camera are as accurate as possible, I also take a photo of the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport under the exact same lighting conditions.

I don’t want to really get into the details of how this thing works, as it would double the length of this already-too-long post.  I will just say that the ColorChecker Passport comes with some software that can examine the photo with the color swatches in it, compares the color values that the camera records to the actual known values, and then creates a “profile” that can be used by either Camera Raw or Lightroom to “calibrate” your camera colors.

So I got the series of photos processed on my computer using Lightroom 3.6, and everything was looking fine, until I noticed the pattern in the tablecloth seemed to be very visible on my 24 inch monitor.  This was going to have to be taken over to Photoshop for more work.  Using the Quick Selection Tool, I selected the white background in the top half of the photo, decreased the size of the selection by 20 pixels, feathered it by 10 pixels, and copied that selection up to a new layer. There I simply used the Gaussian Blur filter with the setting at 28 pixels wide.

That was enough to “blur out” the pattern in the table cloth, which you can see if you look closely above and below my hand in the previous two photos. I also had to blur out two of the stripes in the fabric below the tomatoes.

Lastly, I thought that the white background at the top left wasn’t quite white; it definitely looked gray when compared side-by-side to true white on my monitor.  So I used a simple Curves Adjustment Layer, and using its Targeted Adjustment Tool, clicked in the area that I wanted to brighten up, and dragged the mouse straight up for just “a little bit”. Every Adjustment Layer comes automatically with a Mask, where you can be very precise in which areas of the photo that you want the adjustment to effect, and which areas it will not. I masked off the vegetables and the bottom of the photo, as I did not want them to get any brighter. Here’s the result of all of the Photoshop work

Only two things left to do.

First, to meet the requirement for the assignment, the photo had to be cropped to 8.0 wide by 10.5 high, and right now it was still 2 wide by 3 high.  Simple enough; I handed the Photoshop file back over to Lightroom, made a Virtual Copy of it, and then took that Virtual Copy into the Develop Module where I just typed in the Custom Crop aspect ratio. (I find that MUCH easier than cropping to a specific size in Photoshop.  Besides, doing it to a Virtual Copy preserves all the pixels in the original file.)

The final version that I submitted for the Project 52 assignment is at the beginning of this post.

Oh, I almost forgot…. the second thing to do was to put away all of my gear, and sit down to a WONDERFUL salad that Barb had made while I was working on the photos.  Any guesses on what was in that salad?

Cell Phone Portrait

Last week’s Project 52 assignment was to pretend that a local cell phone distributor and online data service (think AT&T or Verizon) had contracted with me to shoot a point-of-purchase poster sized image that people would see in their stores and kiosks.

The “art director” had scribbled some concept of how he/she wanted the phone and the model to be positioned in the frame of the photo. (Check out the sketch by clicking on the Project 52 link above.) The photo was to be tall and skinny (3-wide by 7-high), and there was to be some room down the left side for the addition of text on the final poster.

A major part of the exercise was to also to submit a realistic estimate for the job. I’ll not go into that in this post.

Last Friday I received my order of three Einstein studio flash strobes from Paul C. Buff in Nashville,TN.

I also purchased the Cyber Commander radio control units, and several light modifiers to go with these flash units.  I had spent all of Friday evening, almost the entire day on Saturday unpacking, inspecting, and putting together everything to make sure it was all in good working order. Sunday morning and early afternoon I spent trying to figure out the Cyber Commander radio control for the Einstein lights.

I was tired of all of this unpacking, organizing, and studying, so I told Barb that I was going to go our for my 3 mile walk, and when I got back, we’d try to take the photos for the Project 52 assignment I talked about above.

When I got back, it was about 3:30 PM, and I was hoping that we would be done by 5:00 – but I also was going to be using a whole bunch of equipment that was new to me. I told Barb that I was really going to need her to be ultra patient with me for this shoot.

First thing to do was move the couch and coffee tables out of the way, and swing my Lazy Boy around so that I could position it where the fireplace would be visible behind the edge of the chair.  Even though it was sunny and 60 degrees outside, I lit the fireplace and turned it up pretty high, just to make the flames visible. That was the easy stuff…

Brought down my trusty Gitzo tripod, got out my favorite portrait lens; the Canon 85mm f/1.8. I definitely wanted the fireplace and mantle to be very blurry in the background, and the only way to do that is with a wide open aperture (low f-stop number). I put the camera in Manual mode of operation, set the ISO to 100, the shutter to 125th of a second, and since I wanted a shallow depth of field (that’s why the background would be blurry) to a fairly wide open f/2.2.  (The lens is capable of f/1.8, but lenses are not their sharpest at either extremes of their f-stop range.)

For the lighting, I used all three Einstein flash units. I put one inside a 47 inch octabox on a light stand about 3 feet to the camera left side of the chair. I also put a grid on the front of the octabox, as I wanted to keep the light coming out of it going straight out, and not also lighting up the fireplace and mantle behind Barb.  To the camera right side of the chair, I put an Einstein inside a 32 inch by 40 inch softbox, and positioned it so that the front of it was about 4 feet from Barb’s face. Lastly, I put the third flash unit on a short light stand, put a 7 inch reflector on the front of the light (one that you could also add colored gels to), and aimed it at the wall between the fireplace and the mantle (thus called a background light).

Using the Cyber Commander, I set the power level of the flash unit in the 32 inch by 40 inch softbox about ½ the power (1 f-stop) below the level of the flash in the octabox on the left. I also set the power of the background light to about ¼ the power (2 f-stops) below the flash in the octabox. I was going to have to take a few test shots, using my Sekonic L-358 flash meter to make sure that the lights were putting out the amount of light that I had set my camera to get a correct exposure with.

After about 4 iterative test shots, I pretty much had the photo that you see above. It was OK, but not terribly exciting. It should meet the requirements of the Project 52 assignment – but not until it was cropped to a 3-wide by 7-high aspect ratio.  Now my camera, a Canon 5D Mark II has a light sensor that is a 6-wide by 4-high aspect ratio. I could get it close by simply rotating the camera 90 degrees from the landscape orientation to the portrait orientation. That’s easy enough for me, as I keep an L-plate permanently attached to this camera. That allows me to reposition the camera without changing any of the angles of the ball head on the top of the tripod.  Even so, some cropping must occur in post processing (I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom). Here’s what the same photo looks like with a 3-wide by 7-high aspect ratio.

Of course, you can’t see a 3-wide by 7-high aspect ratio photo while looking through a 4-wide by 6-high viewfinder on the camera. You can kind of guesstimate how much of the photo will have to be cut off (cropped) to get there, but you don’t really know until you do it on the computer. I didn’t do that until the shooting was all over, and then when I saw the result, I was pretty disappointed that the fireplace had to be pretty much lopped off and wasn’t even part of the photo anymore…  I could have set that chair up anywhere!

I had to submit at least 3 photos for the Project 52 assignment, so I had to get imaginative. I didn’t want to re-position Barb or the chair very much, as the sketch I had received from the “art director” although crude, was pretty clear about how they wanted the model and the phone to be positioned within the frame of the picture (also known as “composition”). I’m not sure how creative this will be perceived by Don Giannatti (the pro who operates Project 52), but my solution was to try a few colored gels over the reflector on the background light.

I thought that if I used an orange gel, it would give a nice warm appearance, just like the flames from the fireplace.  Here’s how that cam out:

Not too bad, but let’s see how taking it a little but further would look. Here’s the effect I got by using the Magenta gel on the background light:

Here’s what you get with a Rose colored gel:

OK, so that one probably went too far, but it does kind of match Barb’s cell phone, her painted finger nails, and her red lipstick, so I will submit that one as one of the group.

Since I already thought this was as far into the “red spectrum” that I wanted to go, I decided to reverse direction somewhat and head into the “blue spectrum”. I also slightly repositioned the tripod and camera a little, so as to see a little more of the fireplace. Here’s how the background appeared with a Light Blue gel:

Not as bad as I had anticipated, but it definitely gave the photo a “cooler” feel.  So I went  further towards a stronger Blue gel, and here’s what I got:

Not bad, either!  Kind of gives me a Red, White, and Blue sort of photo. Even better, having repositioned the tripod and the camera slightly, I could now see more of the fireplace after the photo was cropped to the 3-wide by 7-high aspect ratio.

In conclusion, I hope that my attempts to make the various photos “different” by simply changing the colored gels on the background light meets Don Giannatti’s approval.  We’ll find out next Wednesday evening!

Editorial Portrait of an Entrepreneur

A few weeks before last Christmas, I became aware of Project 52. This is a web site that makes “real world assignments” to those learning the aspects of commercial photography. Since this is an area of photography that I would really like to get into, I thought that I would have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by participating in this exercise.

From the Project 52 web site, Don Giannatti explains: “What does “real world assignments” mean? It means you will be given assignments that are similar in scope and diversity as any commercial photographer in a small town. It means authentic work that is exactly the kind you will get the day your shingle gets posted. We work hard to make assignments that both challenge the creative, and produce work that could end up in your portfolio.”

The 4th assignment for 2012 was to make an “Editorial Portrait of an Entrepreneur”. You can find the assignment description here: Project 52 2012 Assignment 4.  As you can quickly determine, the assignment can be “faux”, or stated another way – “pretend”. Thus explains the photo at the beginning of this post.

Here is my lighting diagram that I used to create the photo above:

Hint: Click on any image to see a larger version.

The assignment required 2 photos: one showing the entrepreneur in their environment (see above), and one photo to be a close-up of the entrepreneur. For the close up shot, I simply took the camera off of the tripod and handheld it as I physically got closer to her, which you can see here:

If you would like to hear what Don had to say about my photos, you can go to the Assignment 4 web page, scroll down to where you see the “Audio Crit for Page One”, click on the Play button, and let the audio begin downloading. Once the download progress is about 50% complete, simply drag the leading edge of the white slider to the 31:15 mark.