Category Archives: Lighting

Articles relating to the lighting of photographic subjects

Portrait Session with Anabelle

It has been a few years since I shot any portraits, and in recent months, the desire to shoot some more portraiture came back to me.

A friend of mine has a very photogenic daughter, Anabelle, who I thought would make a great subject.

In terms of location and conditions, I want to photograph her in natural surroundings during the warmth of the late afternoon light.

I also wanted to use my new lens for the shoot, plus my staple portraiture lens.

We headed over to Rouse Hill Regional Park, where, after some earlier recce, I had located a nice lake with trees and grasses surrounding it.

Here are some of the images I captured:

Beaming

Beaming

In this image, I captured this distant shot of Anabelle beaming as the sun shone upon her.

Anabelle in the Park

Anabelle in the Park

For this image, I specifically wanted rim lighting on Anabelle‘s hair, so I had her facing away from the sun, and I used a reflector to bounce the wam, late afternoon light back onto her.

When photographing human subjects during golden hour, the challenge is that even though the sun is low in the sky, if a human subject looks into the sun, the eyes will be largely hidden due to squinting.

That never looks good in images, so the work-around is to have the subject facing either 90 degrees or 180 degrees away from the sun, and use a reflector to bounce the light back.

Lastly, a black and white image:

Portrait of Anabelle

Portrait of Anabelle

This is a close-up portrait of Anabelle as she sat in the park during the final moments before sunset.

While this image was originally shot in colour, I also wanted a striking black and white version.

All in all, it was a fun and productive session.

It was Anabelle‘s first time modelling, and she did well.  I landed some pleasing images in the conditions I had pictured in my mind, which is always satisfying.

Glowing

Here is a still life image I shot back in 2008, but which I only published recently:

Glowing

Glowing

This was from a series of wine glass images I captured.  At the time I only published one image, but I liked the drama and contrast in this different version of the same subject.

The lighting setup was quite simple:

  1. Canon Speedlite 580EX II at 1/64th power and 24mm zoom, positioned behind the subject, outside a light tent with a blue backdrop, and triggered with a PocketWizard PLUS II.
  2. Desk lamp with fluorescent light globe at 90 degrees camera left.
  3. Desk lamp with tungsten light globe at 90 degrees camera right.

Photographing Guitars is Difficult

Photographing guitars is difficult, as I discovered during a frustrating, but ultimately fruitful excercise in photographing one of my guitars today.

Why are guitars difficult to photograph?

Well, they make great subjects, and are rich with beautiful colours, patterns and details; but many of them are highly reflective, which makes lighting them, or capturing them in ambient light, quite a challenging task, as distracting or detail-diminishing specular highlights tend to be quite a hindrance.

Having recently returned to playing music, and having recently bought a new guitar to add to my lineup, today I decided to photograph it and feature the awesome Aged Cherry Sunburst finish on my new Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster’s ash timber.

Here is the image I captured:

Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster in Ash

Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster in Ash

Lighting this guitar was quite difficult, as the reflective surface could often result in too much reflection, or an unappealing highlight.

I hand-held my Canon Speedlite 580EX (diffused by a softbox) at 45 degrees camera left, pointed it downward on a 45 degree angle, which resulted in an appealing, but subtle highlight along the curvature of the guitar.  Featuring the beautiful timber grain and the Aged Cherry Sunburst finish was crucial to the image.

I initially used a reflector to bounce light back into the right side of the guitar, as there was too much deep shadow.  However,  had difficulty with this approach and was not able to bounch enough light into the shadows, so I decided to shoot two identical compositions, but during the second shot I held the light on the right side, and in post-processing I blended the two images.

Normally I would use a second light, but by this stage I was frustrated and wanted to get the shoot finished.

Macro Experimentation: Focus Stacking

It has been a while since I shot a macro image.

Photo macrography is a form of photography which has traditionally frustrated me, because it is very challenging in terms of depth of field.

My past efforts have produced images where focus is very selective, and with a 180mm macro lens at minimum focus distance, it is hard to get very much of anything in focus, even when the aperture is stopped down considerably to increase depth of field without introducing diffraction.

For a while I have been pondering experimenting with focus stacking, a technique whereby one shoots a series of images with an identical composition and exposure level, but different points of focus; and then digitally ‘stacks’ the images in Photoshop to produce an image with a much greater depth of field.

Today I made my first attempt at focus stacking, and it was a success.  Here is the result:

Doing My Rounds

Doing My Rounds

I am looking forward to seeing what I can do with this technique when shooting a more interesting subject, but at least I have proven to myself that it can work very well.

A few important notes:

  1. Yes, this ammunition is real.
  2. Yes, I am licensed to possess and use this ammunition.

Xenedette’s African Wildlife Photography Début

We have been back from Africa for over two months now, but it has taken a while for Xenedette to get around to working with her images.

With a little help today, Xenedette has made her African wildlife photography début on 500px, with the upload of her first image — a stunning portrait of Makepisi male, the first leopard we encountered on our very first game drive in the Motswari Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati region of greater Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga province, South Africa.

Here is Xenedette’s portrait of Makepisi:

Makepisi

Makepisi

Please visit her image at 500px and show some love.

Africa: Day 4 – The Big Five in One Drive

By Day 4 of our time in Africa, and Day 3 of our safari in the Motswari Private Game Reserve in greater Kruger Park, the motions of waking before 5am, driving in the bushveld for three hours, coming back for breakfast, a rest, lunch and then going out for another game drive from 3:30pm until the darkness of night, had become normal — almost routine.

A rather fantastic routine, that is.

By Day 4 (Day 3 in Motswari), we had been for three game drives, which was half of our safari in terms of wildlife sightings and photography.  We had been out twice for afternoon/evening game drives, and once in the morning.  The 6th of October was a full day worth of game drives, and much awaited us.

Astute readers will have noticed that so far, we had not seen any lions.  We had seen and photographed two unique leopards (Makepisi male and Rockfig Jr female), but the King of the Jungle had been somewhat elusive, which is ironic when it is to be considered that leopards are very elusive, and we had seen two of those.

Lions were very much on the mind of Chad Cocking, our guide.  He was well aware that we had not seen any yet, but he was also aware that lion activity in the reserve had been somewhat subdued over the past few days.  There were some small signs of lion activity, but no guarantee we would encounter any.  Chad probably felt under pressure, but being the reserved professional he is, it did not show.

As we embarked upon our second morning drive at 5:30am before the rest of the guests at the lodge departed 30 minutes later, Xenedette and I were mentally resigned to the fact that we just may not see any lions at all.  However, we were only half-way through our game drives, so the situation was not as dire as it may have seemed.  Still, we were over the moon to have seen everything we had seen to this point, and not seeing lions was not going to otherwise diminish the awe of what we had seen and experienced.

A few minutes into the morning drive, before sunrise, we encountered a giraffe grazing near the Motswari airstrip.  We stopped for some silhouette images against the reddish glow of the pre-sunrise sky.  Here is one of the images I captured:

Standing Tall at Sunrise

Standing Tall at Sunrise

After a short visit with this lanky individual, we proceeded onwards.  Our next stop was Argyle Dam, home to hippos and crocs, and a popualar watering hole for much of the Motswari wildlife.

Chad took the Land Rover onto the muddy banks of Argyle Dam, where we disembarked, and in so doing entered the back yard of the most dangerous animal in Africa: no, not a predatory cat, but the hippopotamus.

Mario and I dashed off for a silhouette landscape we captured just after sunrise, while Chad followed us, and spent his downtime videoing and photographing Mario (our safari leader) and I in action, using one of Mario’s cameras, which he had brought to shoot video footage of the safari.

Throughout the trip he shot his stills with a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and used a Canon EOS 60D for video.  Meanwhile, Xenedette and Petros (our tracker) stood on the bank chatting.

Here is an image I captured of a sunrise over Argyle Dam:

Sunrise over Argyle Dam

Sunrise over Argyle Dam

A faint reflection of the rising sun in the water can be seen.  What was more interesting was what we would next see.

The sun continued to rise, and the light became very warm.  We could hear the distinctive grunts and snorts of hippos echoing throughout the morning silence of the Timbavati.  The hippos were only a little way in the distance in Argyle Dam.

Mario and I set about photographing the hippos, patiently waiting for a hippo to yawn, as it makes for much more interesting imagery than what otherwise looks like a submerged rock in the water rather than the hippo that it is.

Finally, our patience paid off.  Not only did we both land shots of a hippo yawning, but the angle and direction of the sunlight backlit the hairs on the hippo’s nose.

The Hippo's Yawn

The Hippo’s Yawn

Soon enough, it was time to make tracks for further wildlife viewing.

Well after sunrise, our next encounter was a pair of southern yellow-billed hornbills perched high atop a tree.  From where we were, even with a focal length of 600mm, it was not going to be possible to feature a hornbill prominently in the frame, so some liberal cropping would later be needed.

We sat for a few minutes, capturing these distinctive birds in their habitat.  Fortunately our vantage point was such that the warm morning light shone upon the hornbills.

Portrait of a Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill

Portrait of a Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill

As we continued on our morning drive, we had sightings and captured images of impala, a Wahlberg’s eagle, a solitary crocodile basking in the morning sun, and more impala.

Ten minutes after the most recent impala image I shot, we were laying our eyes upon something magical.

The Motswari trackers and guides had been hard at work, and all of sudden, in front of us, resting on a termite mound in the morning sunshine, were two Jacaranda pride lionesses.  Wow!  Finally, we had seen one of the species of majestic big cats we had longed to see.

Not only did we finally lay our eyes upon wild lionesses, but we were a matter of only a few metres away from them.

Jacaranda Pride Lioness

Jacaranda Pride Lioness

Just to be seeing these regal big cats was an awesome experience, but the photographic opportunities were also fantastic, with warm morning light in the right place, and a relatively clean background.

Even though we were quite close, I used long focal lengths to produce tightly framed portraits, isolating the Jacaranda pride lionesses from the bushveld surrounding them.

Pretty Kitty

Pretty Kitty

During the 25 minutes we spent with the lionesses, something rather unexpected happened.

One of the Jacaranda lionesses got up, climbed down off the mound and wandered about 20 metres away.  We followed her, and observed her doing something out of our direct sight.  Little did we realise at the time, but we had observed the most unexciting lion kill in history.  She had found a small tortoise and killed it!

She returned to the mound, where we shot stills and video of her with the small tortoise in her mouth!  I have not processed or published any images from that spectacle yet, but will eventually get to it.

Soon we departed, had a morning coffee and biscuit on the banks of the Nhlaralumi, and eventually made our way back to the lodge for breakfast.

As exciting as it was to see Jacaranda lionesses towards the end of the morning drive, we did not know that on our afternoon drive, we had see and photograph every African wildlife species in the ‘Big Five’: Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino.

Within a short time of embarking on our afternoon drive, we encountered six Cape buffalo bulls in the bush near the Sohebele River.  While we stopped to photograph them, I did not land any great images, as the light was still quite harsh and the buffalo were in thick bush, with points of contention being branches, foliage and messy backgrounds.

Our next sightings included kudu, elephants (again in thick scrub under harsh light), a large crocodile on the other side of Argyle Dam (where we had been that morning), and giraffes.  We also spotted baboons running through the scrub, which as it turned out, was to be the only baboon sighting we would have during our time in Africa.

That aside, it had been only 15 minutes, and we had seen and photographed two of the big five.

Our next sighting, merely an hour after embarking, was a familiar creature: Makepisi, the male leopard we had encountered on our first night.  We found him again, less than 48 hours after our first sighting; and looking at the GPS coordinates, he was in almost exactly the same spot.  On this occasion when we found Makepisi, he was sitting in the shade.  The sun was a little lower, but still quite hot, in the high thirties.

I captured a number of images of Makepisi, and have one ready to publish, but have not quite got to it yet; I will post that image on another day.

Our second encounter with Makepisi meant we had seen three members of the Big Five in the one drive.  So far, that is.

The next sighting was an elephant bull grazing in the scrub, and we spent a bit of time there watching, photographing and videoing him.

As the sun got lower in the sky, our next encounter was three white rhino grazing in the warm afternoon light.  They were heading for a drink, so we got ahead of them and parked down on the banks on the watering hole in anticipation of their arrival.  I kept my eyes on the bush up the banks, and spotted the tell-tale shape and movement the first rhino.  Sure enough, two of the rhino came down to the waterline for a drink, with the third following a short time later.

Fresh from a Mud Bath

Fresh from a Mud Bath

This rhino sighting clocked four of the Big Five.

The best, and last member of the Big Five was yet to come, only we did not know it.

Less than 20 minutes after watching white rhino drinking from a watering pan, we found ourselves in a dry river bed where two Ximpoko male lions were resting in the late afternoon light.  Another big wow!

Seeing male lions was a real highlight of  this drive, and of the whole day.  We were rapidly losing light, and the lions were quite sleepy, but we did manage to land a few shots and witness them moving around a little, with just a hint of a roar from one of them.

I managed to land a pleasing image of one of the Ximpoko males looking directly at us, and what a majestic lion he was.

The King's Face

The King’s Face

As darkness fell, Petros brought out the spotlight for some lion light painting!

The King of Timbavati

The King of Timbavati

The lions soon moved up the river bank and plonked themselves on the ground for more rest and sleep before the big night they had ahead of them.  We shortly thereafter departed and rushed back to the lodge.

A pleasant and unexpected surprise was a sighting of two porcupines in the bush along the road.  During the night drives, Petros waved his spotlight in an arc across our field of vision, looking for wildlife.  How he managed to see these two porcupines in the darkness and hindered by the speed at which we were travelling, I do not quite know; but he is a tracker, and his job is to find the wildlife that prefers not to be found!

Earlier that day, I had mentioned to our party that it was Xenedette’s birthday.  To have seen all members of the Big Five in one day, and even more incredibly, in one drive, was a magnificent birthday present.  Of seeing what we saw that day, Xenedette said it was the best birthday present she could ever have received.  There we were, in the African bushveld, seeing and photographing some amazing wildlife, right in the thick of nature’s finest.

We soon arrived back at the lodge, and headed to the boma (escorted, of course) for dinner and celebratory drinks.  It was Xenedette’s birthday, and she had experienced some amazing sightings that day.  A cause for celebration indeed, and there we were, having the experience of a lifetime.  What a day it had been.

Stay tuned for Day 5 of our African trip, which would be our final day in the Timbavati.

Luxurious Hydration

Lately we have been buying and drinking a lot of wine.  Tough life, I know.

The cellar — actually a climate-controlled refrigerator specifically for wine — has got rather full, and I have lately felt inspired to photograph some of the good stuff.

For inspiration I had been looking at other marketing-style images of wine, and I had an idea of the kind of image I wanted and how I would light it, so last week I went shopping for some ‘studio’ supplies (backdrops).

This afternoon, I set up a ‘studio’, grabbed some Grange and Bin 707 from the cellar and set about photographing it.

Being the fussy sort of photographer I am, I mucked around a lot with lighting and positioning, as well as my studio set, to achieve the kind of result I wanted.

And here it is:

Luxurious Hydration

Luxurious Hydration

The background consisted of black cardboard, which I had bent to form a seamless background.

The key light was a Canon Speedlite 580EX II shot through a softbox positioned at 45 degrees camera right.

For separation lighting, I positioned another Speedlite behind the wines and pointed it at the backdrop.

The last source of light was a white reflector dish placed to the left of the subject to bounce some of the key light back onto the bottles to provide some fill in those deep shadows.

I used my PocketWizard PLUS II triggers to fire the flashes wirelessly.

All in all, I am happy with the result.

The wines, by the way, are spectacular.