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:



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.



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



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 Speedlight 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 bouce light back into the right side of the guitar, as there was too much deep shadow.  However,  had difficulty with this approach and wasn’t 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’d use a second light, but by this stage I was frustrated and wanted to get the shoot finished.

Macro Experimentation: Focus Stacking

It’s been a while since I shot a macro image.

Photo macography is a form of photography which has traditionally frustated 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’s 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’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with this technique when shooting a more interesting subject, but at least I’ve 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.

Luxurious Hydration

Lately we’ve 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.

Hawaiian Mercury

It has been a few weeks since I’ve been out for a photoshoot, and this afternoon I felt a desire to create an image.

I decided to re-visit water drop macro photography, so I set about rigging a ‘studio’ to shoot some water droplets of water.

Here’s the result:

Hawaiian Mercury

Hawaiian Mercury

In my initial setup, I placed a tray of water on the loungeroom coffee table, and used one of my cymbal boom stands to suspend a ziplock bag of water over the tray.

Using a needle, I made a small hole in the base of the bag so that water could drip at a consistent rate and in a consistent position.

I set up one of my Speedlites, attached a PocketWizard PLUS II to it and the camera, and placed the flash at 45 degrees camera left, pointing at the backdrop.  I wanted a colourful pattern to backlight the subject, and used my Hawaiian shirt, which produced a pleasing result.

My initial plan was to shoot the water droplets landing in the tray of water, but I found that my setup just wasn’t working well, so I changed my approach and set out to suspend the water droplets in mid-air.  I moved the ‘studio’ to the bathroom, and used the bathroom sink, with the tap serving as a water source.

I repeated the setup with the flash and Hawaiian shirt backdrop, and shot many frames to capture a pleasing water droplet formation.

The lighting and staging wasn’t a huge challenge, but achieving sharp focus on the dripping water was particularly difficult.  I shot well over 500 frames (probably closer to 600).

The problem is that even after achieving focus on the water emanating from the tap, the thickness of the water increases as the drop falls, which means it’s difficult to accurately gauge focus, as the subject’s proximity to the focal plane changes subtly, but enough to become out of focus!

The difficulty is further compounded by the use of a macro lens, to which I had also attached a 1.4x tele-converter, so the depth of field and margin for error was even narrower.

I never quite landed the tack-sharp result I wanted, but I am still pleased with the image.

Water drop photography can certainly chew up a few hours and incite frustration, but when one lands a pleasing image, it’s worth the effort.

It’s been a few years since I dabbled with this sort of photography.  Macro in general is enormously challenging for me (I’m predominantly a landscape photographer, which is worlds apart), and the challenge is increased by the use of water, which introduces timing and focus issues on top of the inherent focus/DOF challenge macro photography presents.

There’s plenty of creative image making to be achieved using water droplets as a subject.  There is more reading and experimentation ahead of me, and I suspect some frustration too, but it’s all part of the process.

The Making of “The Smoking Gun”

Almost five years ago to this date, an old Flickr contact of mine, Rich Legg, created a photographic image of a smoking gun.  I was impressed, and I commented on his image at the time.

I recently decided to have a go at this type of shot myself, and did so today.

Rich used a Glock 29, but I decided to use a real gun (sorry — gun humour).

Firstly, here is the image I produced this afternoon:

The Smoking Gun

The Smoking Gun

Now I’ll explain how I created it.

I vaguely knew how Rich went about creating his image, but I decided to take a slightly different approach.

While Rich did it in one shot, I decided in advance that the final image would be a composite of two images: one of the firearm, and another of the smoke.  I didn’t want to rig the set to capture both elements in one frame, and more critically, the lighting setups for each shot would be different, and wouldn’t work together.

The image of the firearm was shot with one lighting setup, and the image of the smoke was shot with a different lighting setup.

To photograph the firearm, I did the following (not in this particular order):

  • set up the firearm on a table, and angled it to point upwards at roughly 45 degrees;
  • placed a non-reflective black backdrop 90cm behind the firearm;
  • mounted a Canon Speedlite 580EX II on a light stand, positioned at 45 degrees camera left;
  • mounted a 42″ white translucent (shoot-through) umbrella on the stand;
  • configured the flash for half-power at 24mm zoom;
  • placed a white backdrop under the firearm to bounce light under the barrel assembly;
  • mounted my camera (with 135mm lens and remote shutter release) on a tripod, composed, focused and dialled in 1/160th at f/11 and ISO 100; and
  • attached PocketWizard PLUS II transceivers to both the camera and the flash.

With my remote shutter release in my left hand, using my right hand, I held my 80cm silver reflector to the right of the firearm, pointing upwards, to bounce light into the underside of the muzzle area.

To photograph the smoke, I used the same ‘set’, consisting of the black backdrop and the camera setup.  What changed most significantly was the lighting setup.

The smoke source was an incense stick I had bought.  I placed this in a glass bowl on the table where the pistol was positioned for the earlier shot, and lit it.

I placed the flash at 90 degrees to the right of the incense stick, about 10cm away, and elevated to the same height as the smoke.  On the flash, I dialled in 1/4th power and set the zoom to 80mm to concentrate the light to a narrower beam.

From that point it was simply a matter of snapping away, capturing various smoke formations wafting through the air.  I occasionally moved around, or waved my arm to agitate the smoke.

Shooting the smoke was the most challenging aspect, as smoke tends to be unpredictable, and it can take a while to score an aesthetically pleasing, well-composed shot of smoke, especially when it is to be used in Photoshop compositing as the smoke emanating from the muzzle of a gun.

After many shots, I landed one or two that were useful.  I settled on the second of the two candidates.

To create the final image, I performed raw conversion on both the firearm image and the smoke image.  I rotated the smoke image so that the smoke wafted upwards rather than at the angle it was moving at the point of capture.

I added the smoke image as a new layer in the firearm image, re-positioned it to align with the muzzle, added a black layer mask and painted the smoke into the image using a soft white brush at 100% opacity.

As anyone who has shot smoke can attest, smoke tends to appear blue.  To counter this issue, I added a desaturation adjustment layer, dialled down the saturation in the smoke so it appeared a more natural grey, and using a black layer mask, I painted the desaturation effect onto only the smoke.

Other minor adjustments included cloning, contrast and sharpness.

For those curious about the firearm, the pistol is a Kimber Gold Match Stainless II, chambered in 9mm Parabellum.

In conclusion, a few important legal and safety-related notes:

  1. Yes, this firearm is real.
  2. Yes, it is mine.
  3. Yes, I am licensed to possess and use handguns.
  4. No, it is NOT loaded.

I hope you enjoy both my image, and learning about how I created it.