Silhouettes and Backlight

There are few lighting effects more evocative than the silhouette. While showing line and form to great advantage, and without the visual detraction of many body “flaws,” it’s the very fact that so much of the image is left to the viewer’s imagination that makes the silhouette so successful.

Just as there are many ways to approach a silhouette, there are many ways to light it. Let’s begin with the simplest approach: lighting a white wall or background sweep. In my opinion, it’s best to do this with softboxes because parabolic reflectors throw uneven light, usually with a slight hotspot, and we want to light the background as evenly as possible. Umbrellas can be used, but they tend to spray the light more than softboxes. If you use umbrellas, be sure to place gobos between the lights and the model.

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In most lighting scenarios, it’s difficult if not impossible to light the foreground as brightly as the background if you’re using a simple paper sweep. Once you add light to the foreground, some will spill onto the model, ruining the silhouette effect. With a flat foreground/ background, you’ll have to do some Photoshop work to get an even white. (Don’t worry. It’s not difficult, even if your model is wearing white clothing.)

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For a perfect silhouette, you’ll also need to keep spill from the background off the model by placing her as far from the background as possible. It’s also a good idea to use gobos between the lights and the model, and my preference is black bookends. While it’s almost impossible to avoid all spill, more control will allow for the darkest silhouette. Personally, I think a little wraparound spill light makes a more believable silhouette, as it lends some dimension to an otherwise visually flat surface. If you prefer a darker silhouette, the easiest way to accomplish it is to move the model farther from the background, so any spill will fall off before it reaches the model.

Begin by placing two lights with identical softboxes about 18 inches to 2 feet from the background, with the height of the strobe heads equal to 3/4 the height of the model, and at equal distances from the edges. As a starting point, aim the two lights at each other, rather than at the background. The idea here is to feather the light across the sweep, to get as even an exposure as possible. This will be easier if you can figure out how much of the background width will actually be represented in the image, which will depend on the focal length of your lens, how far the subject is from the background, and how far the camera is from the subject.

Begin metering at one end or the other, moving the meter in 1-foot increments and making a mental note of how the light falls. You may see distinct differences in the exposure readings of the light as you move from one side to the other, which indicates that one light or the other will need to be angled differently. Feathering a light takes practice and is usually best accomplished in small movements, but the result will be an evenly lit background. If you’re feathering lights for the first time, you’ll be amazed when you see the final angles of the light; it appears their placement defies logic, as you can see in diagram 5A.

Once you have the lights balanced and blocked off, set your camera 2/3 to 1 stop brighter than the meter reading. If your meter reads f/11, for example, an extra 2/3 stop means f/9, which will ensure that most of your evenly lit background will be too bright to register as a flat surface or to show any texture.

An easy way to get a more perfectly white foreground is to buy at least two sheets of shiny white tile board, a Masonite-based, 4×8-foot panel typically used as a bathroom wall covering. It’s a tough and inexpensive material found at major hardware or remodeling stores. Lay the sheets on the floor so they overlap toward the background, to maintain a visually unbroken white surface. The tile board will reflect white light from the background better than any paper surface. You may also use sheets of white Plexiglas, but you should lay white paper underneath them as they are somewhat translucent. They will give you a cleaner, whiter reflection than tile board but cost about three times as much. Neither will present a “perfect” solution, however.

If there’s any downside to using tile board or white Plexiglas, it’s that you may pick up a reflection of your subject in the surface. Usually this extra reflection is desirable because it’s somewhat unusual and something many photographers don’t know how to achieve. You’ll get the deepest silhouette with both gobos in place, but the foreground will show a shadow. You can easily fix this in Photoshop. See image 5.1.

If you remove the gobos or reposition them to allow more light on the foreground, you’ll add detail to the image as light wraps around the subject. Again, there will be some darkness in the foreground. I removed the camera-left gobo, adding detail to that side of the model and brightening the foreground. See image 5.2.

When both gobos were repositioned, the foreground was brightest, but the silhouette effect was diminished. Light spilled over and lit some of the model’s face. The effect is not necessarily unwelcome, but it does change the look. See image 5.3.

A BASIC PHOTOSHOP TRICK

You can make slightly gray background areas in your images white by taking the time to make some quick adjustments in Photoshop. Here’s how it’s done:

First, select the light-gray areas using the Magic Wand tool. See image 5.4.

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Once the area is selected, go to Select>Modify> Feather, and set the Feather radius from 1 to 3 pixels (the latter will provide a softer transition against clothing and may even help hold an edge). See image 5.5.

Use Levels to increase the brightness of the whites. If your subject is centered against the light, the brightest area of the image will be directly behind her and already be perfectly white. Feathering the selection will help retain detail in many of the delicate areas, like stray strands of hair. See image 5.6.

This trick will work with any silhouette technique, provided the spill light and exposure are controlled. See image 5.7.

SOFTBOX AS SOURCE

A large softbox (a medium softbox will work for tighter compositions) or a modifier such as a Halo may be easier to deal with than trying to evenly light a large expanse of background, although they present their own problems. If your softbox can be equipped with an interior diffuser, please attach it if it’s not already in place. You’ll want the extra diffusion to even out the light as much as possible.

Begin by metering the flash output directly from the softbox fabric. If your flash meter allows it, retract the dome so you can lay the meter flat against the fabric. This will give you the most accurate reading of the light’s strength since there are no opportunities for even the mildest shadow along the contour of the dome.

For accuracy and control, power your strobe to read to a whole stop or a perfect third, as doing so will make any testing easier to document and understand.

I’d recommend you set up a test, beginning with the metered aperture value and shooting one image per 1/3- or 1/2-stop aperture increase. Examination after downloading will give you an excellent idea of how your subject will be affected by various exposures. This image was made with an exposure 1 stop greater than the metered value of the softbox. Notice there is a slight vignette at the corners, where the spread of light out of the box is weakest, but that’s a minor problem that can be easily fixed. See image 5.8.

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PLEXIGLAS AS SOURCE

One of my favorite lighting tricks for partial silhouettes is to hang a 4×8-foot sheet of 1/8-inch thick milk-white translucent Plexiglas about 4 feet in front of a large softbox (a medium softbox will work but may confine your composition slightly), then place my model directly in front of it. The Plexi acts more like a large fiber optic, spreading the light more evenly and consistently than a fabric diffuser itself. It will flare, but not as much as a standalone softbox, and will produce nice edges with wraparound light. See image 5.9.

You don’t need to buy an expensive background hanger mechanism to hang the Plexiglas or seamless paper. You need two light stands (extendable to at least 8 feet), four squeeze clamps, and a 10-foot length of aluminum fence tubing (available at any major hardware store). Place the clamps over the tops of two light stands and place the aluminum tube across the handles. With the stands set just below 8 feet, simply hold the Plexi against the tube and use the other two clamps to anchor it to the tube, and you’ll be in business.

My preferred exposure for almost everything I shoot this way is 2/3 to 1 stop over the meter reading, which is made as it was for the softbox, with the dome retracted and flat against the plastic, aimed at the light, and metering the light that comes through the diffusion panel. At +2/3 stop, the background is perfectly lit, almost totally white, and with enough wraparound to illuminate the inside edges enough to see skin tone and add dimensionality. The Plexiglas is difficult to hang (it’s easier with a second pair of hands), but it’s worth it for the quality of the light you’ll get from this setup. At the time of this writing, a 4×8-foot sheet of 1/8-inch Plexiglas cost about $75.00. Look under “Plastics” or “Plastics Supply” in the Yellow Pages for the nearest vendor or check the Internet for availability in your area.

You may, of course, make silhouettes against any other color background, including colored Plexiglas, or cover the source with a colored gel. You may also place white tileboard on the floor to reflect whatever color comes through.

ADDING DETAIL

Regardless of the method used to create a silhouette, detail can be easily increased by moving in a white bookend or other reflector to catch some of the light coming through the background and send it back to the model. The amount of light will vary depending on the type of reflector used, its distance from the subject, and how much of the form you wish to reveal. See image 5.10.

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LASTOLITE’S HILITE

Another of my favorite methods for producing beautiful silhouettes, as well as perfect high key backgrounds, is a super-large softbox made by Lastolite, the HiLite. Available in a number of sizes (mine is 6×7 feet), it’s a softbox that works like none other. For example, lights are loaded into the side of the 18-inch deep unit, so the footprint on your studio floor is smaller than what you’d expect for such a large piece of gear. Also, the fabric is different from that of a typical softbox and will disperse the light more evenly. The best part? It collapses into a shape that’s 1/4 its setup size and comes with a carry case for location shooting. See image 5.11.

When it’s used without any reflectors or bookends, the silhouette effect is fantastic. Image 5.12 is from a series of shots for which the aperture was set 1 stop brighter than what was read off the background. The special fabric of this box spreads light so evenly that it produces a perfect, clean white, from corner to corner when used in this manner.

You can re-create, to some degree, the look of a supersoft softbox by hanging a large sheet of cotton cloth, as tightly as possible to avoid wrinkles, from light stands and/or supports. You will almost certainly have to do some Photoshop work when dealing with fabric in this manner, but it’s simple. The only problems you’ll see are minor wrinkles in the fabric at the edges and, perhaps, a slight shoot-through view of the light behind the fabric.

I once bought a huge bolt of fabric, about 8×40 feet, which I used to ring 75 percent of a large machine. I lit the machine through the cloth, using the next technique in reverse, creating soft highlights and even light over its entire surface. I’ve used this piece of cloth many times as a makeshift background. While I can’t use its full length in my studio, I have used it to create backlit backgrounds larger than the HiLite. I’ve also found that, if I double it up, I won’t have the same problems with shoot-through light, though the amount of light coming through the cloth will be significantly reduced.

I used my largest traditional softbox (4×6 feet) and set it about 8 feet behind the sheet of fabric so the light would spread evenly over the back of the cloth. The model and the foreground were set immediately in front of it to appear as if a stained and finished piece of plywood, the “stage,” was butted up against a pure white background.

The exposure was measured, into the cloth, at the center of the set. I opened up my camera’s aperture 1 stop over that reading. Even so, One other note: because the background was so much larger than the HiLite, there is more wraparound light in play. The result (image 5.13) is a somewhat diluted silhouette, but it’s still gorgeous.

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We choose our models for a number of reasons, both physical and social, and we’ll often structure the shoot to highlight their physical attributes. Depending, of course, on what it is we wish to accent, a strong backlight can become a remarkable background, especially when paired with an additional accent light that will create a partial silhouette.

The base exposure for image 5.14 was 1 stop over the measured meter reading at the fabric of the HiLite. An additional light, a beauty bowl (without a grid), was attached to a boom and positioned at a slight angle over the model’s head to light her beautiful red hair. It was powered to the working f-stop of the camera, 1 stop over the power of the HiLite.

TRANSLUCENT DIFFUSER

You could certainly use a translucent diffuser as a light source. Smaller sources, such as some made by Photoflex, will work well because of their size. Smaller sources mean less wraparound light, so the silhouette will be more intense and show less detail.

Begin by hanging a translucent diffuser from a frame or from a boom arm. The diffuser may be circular or rectangular, that’s up to you, and you may need to retouch some edges if you want the diffuser to appear as if it’s not supported. I used a large, circular diffuser for image 5.15, hanging it off a boom arm and digitally removing the strap and support in my final image. I set a strobe with a 40 degree grid on a stand about 4 feet behind the diffuser, aiming the light dead-center to the white field, illuminating the diffuser completely, but without spill. It was a smooth and easy solution to create a silhouette with minimal wraparound light, mostly because the source, the diffuser, was relatively small compared to others that you’ve seen, but also because the fabric of the diffuser is different from that of regular softboxes or the HiLite. As you’ve seen from these samples, every fabric, like every modifier, has its own personality.

The diffuser was clamped to a boom arm by its strap and lit with a 40 degree grid, aimed at the middle of the diffuser from about 5 feet behind. All traces of the strap and light stand have been retouched out. The camera’s aperture was set to 1 stop over the actual value of the light coming through the material.

Bare-Tubed Strobe

A bare-tubed strobe is about the closest one can get to a true “point” light source. Without any modifiers, not even a basic parabolic reflector, the light will emulate sunlight, and its specularity, sharpness, and deep shadows will increase as the light is moved farther from the subject. While this light may not be especially attractive for, say, a family portrait, it can be perfect for many other subjects. Those of you engaged in advertising photography should play with this lighting style, as it has recently become pretty popular.

The subject-to-background distance will determine the strength of the light on the background. The Inverse Square Law tells us that light traveling from point A to point B will be only 1/4 as strong from point B to point C when point C is twice as far from the source as point B. This means that if we want the light to be evenly exposed over a wider distance, we must move the light farther from the subject.

To create our first image (4.1), the bare-tubed main light was set about 8 feet from the model, who stood about 8 feet from the white background. Notice how evenly the model is exposed from the top of her head and down her black outfit all the way to the bottom of the frame. Since the main light was placed almost directly over the lens axis, the white background is also evenly exposed but becomes gray because the strength of the light has been lessened by distance. If the main light metered f/11 at the subject, it would meter f/5.6 (1/4 the strength of f/11) at the background.

We can use this principle creatively. To create image 4.2, the same snappy light was used, but this time it was placed about 4 feet from the model, who maintained her distance of 8 feet from the background. Two things happened because the light was placed closer: it lost strength more rapidly (look how it falls off about halfway down her figure), rendering the background darker, and the model’s shadow began to creep up the background because the strobe itself had to be lowered to maintain the same shadow angle.

Bare-tubed strobes can throw quite sharp shadows, especially when the subject is close to the background, and you can control the sharpness of those shadows by changing the distance of the main light to the subject. The farther the main light is from the subject, the sharper the shadow will be.

When we go back to the original light-to-subject distance of 8 feet but snug the model up to the background, we can get an almost perfect white background and a terrific dark shadow. Bear in mind that you can never get a perfectly clean white background because the paper (or any other material) is not a perfectly clean white and will not photograph at a value of 255 unless it’s been lit separately and slightly overexposed. Even though this exposure is darn near perfect, the value is about 250 at its brightest, with still enough detail to register on a print (although a little more work in Photoshop would help). Where the light falls off, near her camera-left thigh, the value is about 220. Doubling the main light-to-subject distance to 16 feet would increase the evenness of the exposure by 50 percent and increase the apparent sharpness of the shadows. See image 4.3.

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I prefer to set my main light with the strobe tube angled sideways to the model, not head-on. I don’t want any of the light to kick off the front of the unit and soften the shadows. Although the manufacturers don’t recommend that you do this, you may find you’ll get an even sharper shadow if you remove the dome that covers the flashtube and modeling lamp. The dome is there to protect you and your subjects should the tube or lamp explode when triggered. That’s never happened to me, but take note that I’m not recommending it, either. It’s your call.

Place your subject in front of a softbox that is at least large enough to cover the subject so you can extend the white (if needed) without having to do any major retouching on whatever parts of the model extend out of frame, and you can use the bare-tube technique to produce very interesting images with sharp, sunlight-like shadows against a pure white background. This is a lighting scenario that you don’t see often, because it’s generally not on anyone’s recommended shot list. The bottom line is that it’s pretty darn cool and should be tried whenever you think you have a subject that deserves it. Of course, there are many derivatives of this technique, many of which you can discover for yourself, just by playing with your toys.

For the first image (4.4), I placed the bare-tubed strobe about 6 feet from the subject and about 4 feet over her head. You may think that this is an unusually high angle for a main light, and you’d be correct. For most applications, it is. However, you must balance the height of the light, knowing that most sunlit images are made with a higher source, against that of perfect portrait lighting. Of course, the shape of your subject’s head and face, the angle at which the face is presented to the camera, and the effect you wish to achieve will help dictate the right spot for the light. Also, when you move a bare-tubed strobe farther back (to get depth of light, an even spread of light over a given distance), you’ll have to raise it higher to get an appropriate and attractive nose shadow.

I’d placed my model about a foot in front of a very large softbox, a Lastolite HiLite. At 6×7 feet, it’s a source large enough to wrap around the subject while providing plenty of white space on each side. I measured the output from the box and powered the main light to be 1 full stop less. This was my working aperture and guaranteed the background would be completely white without flaring into the lens and softening contrast.

Next, I added a beauty bowl to the bare-tubed strobe. The look of the light is similar, although the spread is more concentrated in an arc that extends from the reflector. Note that the falloff of the light looks substantially different than that from the bare tube. Also, as you can see, the shadows are a bit softer. It’s just another option, but one with its own personality. See image 4.5.

Bare-tubed light looks great on black, too. My model was about 8 feet in front of a black paper sweep, and the strobe was about 6 feet to camera left. I’d flagged the light with a piece of black Roscoe Cinefoil to keep all light off the background. I’d also moved a black bookend in behind the model to absorb any light that might bounce back from a wall.

Because the light is strong and omni-directional, I clamped another piece of Cinefoil to a stand and created a shadowed area that I could move around in without fear of lens flare. See images 4.6 and diagram 4A.

Like everything I write about, I encourage you to try the bare-tube look for yourself. It’s one more bullet in your creative arsenal, and you’ll find it’s a very large caliber, too. Just spend some time playing with it to understand it.

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Working with one light and fill

How many lights do you need, anyway? You might be surprised to learn that you can do an exemplary job with very few lights—often only one—provided you understand your equipment and why it works the way it does. Understand that I’m not talking about an oncamera flash; those small, specular sources that throw hard shadows and bright highlights. Ideally, you’ll need at least one studio strobe and at least one quality modifier like an umbrella or softbox, and the larger the better.

But first, a little background.

Beauty and glamour photography frequently relies on soft, open shadows to show the subject in a beautiful and youthful manner, and this is usually accomplished by using a large, diffused light source. It is important to note, though, that placing a large source far from the subject will make it small relative to the subject and will make it act like a small source. For a thorough and exhaustive investigation of this phenomenon, please see Christopher Grey’s Studio Lighting Techniques for Photography.

I’ve heard many so-called formulas for determining the optimum subject-to-light distance for softboxes, some of which might require a degree fromMIT to understand. In my opinion, the optimum distance equals the sum of the height and width of the box. Using my homespun formula, a 2×3-foot box would be placed 5 feet from the subject, while a 4×6-foot would require 10 feet to throw light without specular highlights but with perfectly defined yet open and soft shadows.

The effect of the light-to-subject distance can also be seen when using an umbrella, another modifier most photographers have. The most frequently purchased umbrella has a 36-inch diameter, but if you’re in the market for them or want to add to your existing stock, I’d recommend that you purchase the largest one you can find and afford. The additional size means you can move the umbrella farther away while maintaining a softer look. You can also buy what are known as “shootthrough” umbrellas, made with translucent material. Unlike traditional umbrellas, shoot-throughs are aimed at the subject, acting more like a softbox than an umbrella.

We’ve all heard of the Inverse Square Law (even if we’ve never understood it), which states that light that travels twice as far from point B to point C as it does from point A to point B will be only 1/4 its strength when it gets to point C than it is at Point B. In simple, practical terms, this means that a light that’s placed

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close to a subject will lose its strength rapidly, maintaining a constant f-stop value over a very short distance. Conversely, a light that’s placed farther away will maintain a constant f-stop value over a greater distance. This phenomenon is known as “depth of light,” and it is something to be exploited when envisioning an image.

The bottom line is that you can be extremely creative with minimal equipment when you know how you can change the characteristics of the light that’s produced.

Let’s take a look at some terrific ways to work with a single light.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned when working with a single light is that it can be made to look like more than one source. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, with one of the simplest being the use of various bookends and reflectors.

By itself, image 3.1, made against a white seamless background, is dramatic but lacks detail that would make it more interesting. As you can see in diagram 3A, my medium softbox was set to camera right, racked high enough to get a graceful nose shadow and placed at a distance of 7 feet from the model. My model was placed about 7 feet from the background, to be certain that enough light would fall upon it to keep it bright enough to show the shape of her shadow side but dark enough so the image would have a sense of depth.

Simply adding a white bookend to the shadow side softened and opened up the dark tones, giving the impression of a second light. I prefer reflectors over additional lights because extra sources tend to show secondary shadows on the opposite side of the nose and double catchlights in the eyes. The effect of reflectors is much softer. See image 3.2.

You can also change the shape of the light falling on the background by inserting a bookend between the main light and the background. For this image, I quickly cut a shape into a black piece of foamcore, attached it to an accessory arm on a light stand a few feet from the main light, just behind the model, then moved it into place to keep about half of the light off the background in those places where I wanted it reduced. It was close enough to the main light to guarantee the shadow on the background would be soft and undefined. Moving the form closer to the background would sharpen the shadow line. Note how the gobo shadow gives the impression of a second light on the background. See images 3.3 and 3.4.

Let’s change things a bit and move the light to 90 degrees to the camera, so it’s essentially behind the subject should she turn her head to profile. This is a variation on the broad light position, where the light comes from behind and across the side of the face that’s presented to camera. Notice how beautiful her profile looks when in shadow, as well as the sense of mystery achieved from lack of detail. See image 3.5.

This sense of mystery may be too much for many images, and you may wish to use fill to open up the deep shadows. A bookend, in this instance, may add too much light or not enough contrast (depending on what you’re trying to achieve), although it is soft and beautiful light. You will be able to vary the effect by moving the bookend closer to or farther from the model. Image 3.6 was made with a bookend far enough from the model to bounce back –1 stop of light.

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I use the next lighting scenario quite often, just because it’s so easy and versatile. By changing the three elements (the main light modifier, type of fill, or distance of the main light from the subject), I’m able to create a wide variety of looks. This image, made on a different shoot, utilized a painted canvas background, a smaller softbox (2×3 feet) set very close to the model (but not aimed directly at her face), and a white bookend set about 5 feet from her, far enough away to keep the shadow dark but close enough to reflect a little detail, –1 stop, into the model’s camera-left side. I also inserted a black bookend at camera right to break up the light falling on the background. See image 3.7 and diagram 3B.

Most images are made with the main light positioned above the model’s head, to produce a graceful nose shadow. As long as you’re mindful of where the shadows fall, you can place the main light at other elevations, too. For this example (image 3.8), I used a 3×4-foot softbox but set it low, with its lowest edge just a few inches from the floor and angled up toward the model. The light was placed far enough from the model so it would also light the background behind her, about 4 feet away. I also set my model closer to the background than usual, about 5 feet, to maintain a more even light. I did not use a bookend or other fill, preferring to let the shadows go dark.

Having such a low main light proved to be more versatile than one might think. By reversing the pose, asking my model to angle up and away from the light, the non-filled shadows created a very dramatic image (3.9).

As simple as these principles appear, they can be easily used to create outstanding drama.

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The bookend is a large, broad platform that will bounce soft light. For a tighter and more contrasty fill, try a small reflector—silver, white or otherwise—and aim the bounce at the model’s face. I use a number of Lastolite reflectors (www.lastolite.com) in my studio, but the brand is not as important as the size; the smaller the size, the less area will be accented, and this is another trait you can exploit to match your personal style. As I did with the bookend, you should make exposure strength tests with your gear so you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

BUTTERFLY LIGHTWITH THE SUBJECT CLOSE TO THE BACKGROUND

Butterfly light, the term given to light produced from a source placed high and directly over the lens axis, is beautiful for women. As a single-source light, it can produce wonderful images either when the model is placed close to the background, so as to include her shadow in the composition, or far enough away to isolate her from the background so her shadow has no effect. With the latter, I think you’ll want to keep the light on the background bright enough so the background looks deliberately lit. Also, when using this scenario on a dark background, be careful to keep enough light on it so as to show the model’s complete shape, even in the deepest shadows.

For this shoot, I placed my model into a corner of the studio that I’d painted semigloss gray. Even though semigloss paint may show some reflection from lights, especially with darker colors, the overall effect has more visual impact than flat latex wall paint, an important quality for much beauty and glamour work. Also, painted sheetrock has a flatter texture than seamless paper, which contributes to the look of the final image.

For this shot, the model was very close to the wall, as you can see from her shadow. The large softbox was my only light. It was positioned behind and above me but close enough to the model so it produced only broad, soft shadows. Because my softbox was set horizontally, and parallel to the wall, the exposure was consistent across the entire 5-foot painted expanse. My model was free to move about within that space as she wished, provided she stayed close to the wall. If she had moved more than a few inches toward me, there was a danger she would begin to overexpose. See image 3.10.

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With the light set behind me and the camera handheld, I was able to move around within the frame. This meant I was not tied down to the butterfly position and could vary the direction of the source by not having to move it. This degree of versatility and adaptability can be crucial to the success of fashion and beauty shots. In this case, I was able to use a number of shadow and wardrobe variations to produce a great series of images. See image 3.11.

Large or medium softboxes can readily be used anytime you wish to light a large portion of the model with minimal shadow contouring, regardless of the model’s position. Should you pose the model reclining on her back, you must correlate the position of the light to the model’s facial pose and her nose shadow. In many scenarios, photographers light the model from the side, with the light centered. This is a mistake. When the light is sourced from anywhere near the model’s face (as it would be if aimed at her side), the shadow cannot travel down the nose as it should. It can only travel sideways or, worse, if it’s placed below eye level, up toward the forehead.

You can get a much more even spread of light by “feathering” it over the model, which is to say that after you set it to get the right shadow, you’ll actually aim the strobe head toward her feet. Even though you’re working with a softbox, the light will not be even if it is not aimed properly. In fact, given the spread of light from a softbox, if you simply aim the head at your model’s face, you’re actually wasting half the output. Use your meter to gauge the spread of light.

SINGLE UMBRELLA

Getting terrific results from a single source and umbrella is as easy as working with a softbox, although the results will look different. Umbrellas are designed to spray the light from a smaller source in all directions, expanding the illumination. This makes them difficult to deal with when the light must be controlled. In my opinion, therefore, umbrellas are not the best modifiers to use for background or hair lights.

The only controls we have when using a single umbrella are the angle of incidence to the model and the light-to-subject distance, which will determine the strength of the shadow and the consistency of exposure. For this image, I placed a basic, 36-inch umbrella on a boom and raised it to about 3 feet above and 3 feet in front of her. This woman is 6 feet tall, so I knew, with the Inverse Square Law on my side, that the light that made it to the floor would be 1/4 the strength of the light that lit her face, a 2-stop difference. Since my intention was to not show her feet, I was confident I would have quality light that would gently fall off as it traveled down her body, with the emphasis on her beautiful face.

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A word of caution here: keep an eye on the position of your model’s head. Should she tilt her head down too far, the shadows in her eye sockets may be too dark. In image 3.12, the model stopped just shy of that point, but she looks good.

BROAD SOURCE FROM ACCESSORY FLASH

Please note that while this is an effective way to create a large source from a small one, it will require an external flash meter, as using auto or TTL settings on the flash will not give you the correct flash output to get accurate exposure (the flash unit will actually read the bounce coming back from the diffusion panel). You will only be able to gauge exposure correctly using a combination of manual flash mode and a handheld flash meter. Though it can be done, it presents a number of problems, not the least of which is waiting for the strobes to recycle. See the accessory flash diffusion discussion for more information.

THE BOOKEND BOUNCE

I’ve written of this before, but it’s worth repeating because it’s such a cool and inexpensive trick.

Deadlines can be wonderful things. Some time ago, I was faced with a monthly column deadline and was dealing with a mild case of writer’s block. As I paced the studio floor and glanced at my stack of bookends leaning against the wall, it occurred to me that I’d been curious to know if a bookend could be turned into a main light and how I might use that main light effectively. I had my column idea. I just had to figure out how to make it work.

I began by cutting a hole, about three times the diameter of my lens and at my comfortable shooting height, into the spine of the bookend. I knew that when a model was placed in front of it, the bookend’s white surface would reflect light evenly over her. By itself, this could be a good thing, but I also knew that the completely white reflection would carry across her eyes, glazing her pupils and giving her that “model of the living dead” look we should always try to avoid.

To break up the reflection, I sprayed a radiating pattern of flat black paint, varying the length of the strokes between 11/2 to 2 feet from the center of the hole. This would reflect black onto her irises, giving her eyes color and depth. See image 3.13.

Once the paint was dry, I set the bookend about 12 feet from the background, with the V opened toward the model. I put her in position, no more than 3 feet from the V and facing the cutout.

Next, I set up a strobe with a parabolic reflector on a boom arm and suspended it about 6 feet behind her, aimed at the back of her head but also toward the top of the bookend. If your model has deep-set eyes, the reflection can create a shadow above the lower orbit. It’s easy to fix in Photoshop, but the idea is to keep postproduction to a minimum. An angle such as this means the light will mostly bounce down to the subject.

The distance from the light to the model meant that she would be evenly lit across the rim of her hair, shoulders, and back, and also that the entire bookend would be awash with light, which would reflect back to her to light her softly.

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The single strobe was shining directly onto the camera lens, which would produce more than enough flare to ruin my shots, so I hung a piece of black card, about a foot square, directly over her head on another boom arm, to throw a gobo shadow that covered the shooting hole. Now I was free to place the camera anywhere I wished within the cutout area without worrying about lens flare.

With the model in position, I placed the light meter under her chin and aimed it at the hole where my camera would be. The light reflecting from the bookend then became the main light for my shot. I knew that the light on the back of her head would overexpose whatever it hit, but I saw that as a necessary element of the shot, something that would add visual interest.

When you try this, you’ll know from the first shot that you’re seeing something unique. The wraparound bounce from the bookend acts like a huge ring light, spreading illumination evenly over the subject and lighting the background as well (anything darker than a medium gray will photograph black or almost black at the distance I’ve suggested), while the hair light, with its extreme overexposure, adds drama and contrast. Additionally the eyes carry wonderful color and large, soft, catchlights. See image 3.14.

It’s not necessary for the model to always face the camera. She’ll be evenly lit no matter which direction she faces. With a scenario like this, a dramatic head tilt will equal a dramatic image. See image 3.15.

While I really liked the two-light look I’d achieved with only one light, I felt there was still room to improve the look, maybe to even give the impression of a third light.

You can stop in to just about any large hardware store and buy a box of lightweight, one-foot-square mirrored tiles that are meant to be glued to various surfaces. I taped a 4-inch nail plate to a single mirror panel and mounted it into a clamp on the second boom arm, in place of the black gobo. The mirror would serve as a gobo to keep light off the camera and would also reflect light behind the subject, acting as a third, background light. See diagram 3C.

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I’ve set this up many times since first figuring it out and the exposure results are quite consistent, given the distances I used. The light hitting the back of the head will be about 2 stops over the metered main light, and the light from the mirror will be about 1 stop over the main light. It doesn’t matter, though. Soft but dramatic light is the goal; the only important light is that reflected from the panels. See image 3.16.

Be sure to do a custom white balance off the bookend. Foamcore yellows with age, which will affect the subject’s overall color. Of course, if it gets too old and yellow, the other light in the image will look cooler, as blue is being added in the camera to compensate for the yellow the camera sees when white balancing.

MIRRORS AS MAIN LIGHTS

You can easily change the look of this one-light scenario by removing the bookend bounce panel and using the mirror to shine light onto the subject. When the mirrored light becomes the main light, the subject will still pop out of the background, but any portion of the background not hit by the new main light will appear very dark, as minimal light will be falling upon it. You will have to play with the angles a bit to get an attractive shadow on the model’s face, and it might be a good idea to hang a larger gobo between the backlight and you, to give yourself a larger shadow to work under. See image 3.17.

Larger mirrors may also be used as fill or hair lights, although reflected light will have the same properties of the source. So, if the source is a hard light, the reflected light will be just as hard and shadowy, unless the mirror is somehow modified, perhaps with water-soluble dulling spray or diffusion material such as that made by Rosco.

Setting up a good lighting scenario takes time, thought, and pre-visualization. If I’ve been hired to produce just one look for a final image, perhaps a shot of a model in a specific composition (such as I might have to do for an advertising job), I’ll spend additional time during the shoot watching the model’s position and tweaking the lights and their ratios to the main light until the client and I are completely satisfied. However, if I’m shooting for stock, the model’s portfolio, or just to play, I’ll try to engineer potential variations into my scenario, to get as much variety out of it as possible. It’s much easier to make small changes to get a different look than it is to relight an entire set, even when using only one light.

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Proper Main Light Meter Placement

The correct position of the light meter determines the correctness of exposure. Indeed, there’s a reason why incident light meters utilize a plastic dome to see the light before it hits the meter’s sensor, and that reason is undeniably easy to understand; the shape of the dome mimics the shape of the face, and that shape reads the strength of light and shadow relative to a face and gives you a correct and proper f-stop for your camera. It makes no difference what color of skin you’re working with because a correctly metered light will be a perfectly exposed light, and any skin color will be properly represented.

So, what is the correct position of the meter’s dome? In the vast majority of circumstances, the place to hold the meter is directly under the subject’s chin and aimed at the camera. This guarantees the meter reads the three zones of light—the specular highlight, diffused highlight , and transition zone—with an equal balance. The result, if your meter is calibrated, is an exposure that’s so perfect you can go straight to proofs without tweaking Levels at all. When you’re using a calibrated light meter, the amount of time you’ll save is enormous. You will be confident enough with your metering techniques to avoid shooting RAWfiles entirely, if you wish.

Let’s back up for just a minute. RAW files are the digital equivalent of a film negative, allowing you up to 2 stops in exposure compensation. RAW files are a digital gift because in tough shooting situations they can really save your bacon. Each RAWfile is worthless by itself, however. It must be “processed” via digital software before it can be used as a JPEG, TIFF, or any other format.

As you know or can imagine, the amount of time required to process a large batch of RAW files can be enormous. Imagine a wedding photographer who shoots two or three thousand shots in RAWformat over the course of the big day. Each shot may take 3 to 4 minutes to tweak, plus the time necessary to process the files into a TIFF or JPEG format (depends on the speed of your computer). Think about the amount of time you might save if you nail the exposure, especially in JPEG format, straight out of the gate.

If you feel you must shoot RAW, set your camera to shoot large JPEG files and RAW files at the same time. When you download, separate the RAWs and JPEGs into separate folders. Look at the JPEGs first. If you find JPEGs that need to be tweaked, use the RAW files to do so. If the JPEGs are fine, trash the RAW files or just burn them to a disc. Your time savings will be huge.

Metering for correct exposure in the studio is quite easy. I’ve photographed a few test images just to show you how foolproof it can be.

Let’s begin with the light set at zero degrees to the lens axis (i.e., directly over the lens). I used a simple parabolic reflector as a modifier for this test. It’s rather contrasty, but it will demonstrate the principle nicely.

In image 2.1, you’ll see there is a full range of tones, from the bright whites of the subject’s teeth through the shadows of her hair.

The correct position of the light meter, in at least 90 percent of all situations, is directly under the chin and aimed directly at the lens. This will guarantee the meter will read all three zones and deliver an average reading that will give you a proper representation of those zones. See image 2.2.

At 22.5 degrees from center, the angle of incidence begins to change. You may have been taught in photo class that the “angle of incidence equals the angle of deflection,” and this is absolutely true. The meter angle stays the same, straight on to camera, but you begin to see some changes in the specularity of the light because it’s now aimed at different planes on the face and reflecting directly into the camera from some of them. See image 2.3.

At 45 degrees, the shadows deepen because there is no fill on the shadow side. The exposure, measured with the meter still aimed at the camera, still produced a perfect exposure when the strobe generator was adjusted to the target exposure, f/10 for this example. See image 2.4.

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At 60 degrees, which is more than most attractive portraits will tolerate, a meter reading aimed at the camera still yields a beautiful result. Shadows and highlights are properly represented, even though the image is very contrasty. See image 2.5.

So, what happens if we aim the meter at the light? At 60 degrees, what can the difference be, after all? Interestingly, the difference can be quite major.When you aim the meter at the light, you will only measure the brightest part of the light, not the average of highlights and shadows we’ve been measuring so far. With the meter aimed at the light, note the difference in shadow density and highlight brilliance between the previous examples. The inference is clear: most circumstances do not require the meter to be aimed at the light. Aiming it at the camera will produce more consistent results almost all of the time. The first image was made at the previous aperture, the second was made with the reading given by aiming the meter at the light, not at the camera, a 1/4-stop difference. See images 2.6 and 2.7.

The easiest way to add fill light to your image is to bring in a white bookend or any other kind of white fill to add light to the shadow side. I’ve never been a fan of adding another strobe as fill. I much prefer a fill card of some kind because it will not add any shadows of its own. Be advised that, even at 3 feet away from the subject, the extra light that bounces in will affect the overall exposure. In this case, introducing the bookend added 1/3 stop of light to the overall exposure, which meant I had to either take the exposure down at the source (as I would recommend) or move the main light straight back a few inches. Either approach will maintain the ratio of any other lights that may have been set. This image, metered with the dome aimed at the camera, is a perfect example of how bounce fill can open up the shadows without looking like a second source of light. See image 2.8.

Metering a profile is different in that it’s one of the few times you’ll need to aim the meter at the light rather than the camera. This assumes that the light is coming from in front of the profile (and from the side,

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relative to the camera). When the light is coming from any direction less than the 60 degrees we previously discussed you can meter, with confidence, with the dome facing the camera.

When the light is coming from 90 degrees to the side, if we were to meter with the dome aimed at the camera, the amount of shadow would throw off the accuracy of the reading, causing a poor exposure. See images 2.9 and 2.10.

Once you’re satisfied with the reading and f-stop, set and meter any other lights you wish to use. I reintroduced the white bookend and added a hair light, powered to the same f-stop as the main light. A small piece of black foamcore, mounted on an accessory arm, created a flag that blocked off part of the light striking the background. The result (image 2.11) is a visually interesting and lovely image. This is a perfect technique for many portrait applications, from beauty and glamour to graduation portraiture.

The Gear and The Look

Throughout this book, I’ll show you examples of many different types of light and light modifiers. Umbrellas, softboxes, reflectors, and even sheets of white board, any and all can be used to create stunning images of beautiful women. The key is how they are used, alone or together, with similar or dissimilar modifiers.

You may find a technique (I hope you find many) that you really like but are reluctant to try because you don’t have the same style or size modifier that I used. Don’t be. The principles are the same although the look may be slightly different. If you follow the diagrams I’ve included but modify them as necessary for your gear, you’ll still get stunning images.

When seeking to purchase any modifier, consider the size of the product versus the size of your studio. If you were to buy a 4×6-foot softbox, would you have room to use it to its full advantage or would it extend too far into your shooting space? Do you have the space and the height to accommodate 4×8-foot bookends, or would you be better off cutting them down a bit? Would collapsible reflectors be better?

You will be working with your gear for years. Think it through, and buy only what you need.

SOFTBOXES

Softboxes
Softboxes IMAGE 1.1.

Softboxes (image 1.1) are the mainstay of my studio, and I use them more than any other modifier. Certain styles of softbox work better for some applications than others, but they can be considered, essentially, interchangeable, as long as you understand their properties and limitations.

Large. My large softboxes are 4×6 feet and take up quite a bit of real estate in the studio. Still, they produce great light.When placed close to the model, the light is soft with open shadows. Because it’s so large, you can move it quite far from the model before you see evidence of the contrast and specularity you’d see with a smaller source.

On average, the distance from the main light to the model is 6 feet for a head-and-shoulders portrait. For purposes of comparison, all the following samples will show the main light and modifier at that distance, and without any additional fill. You’ll be able to see the differences between the effects created by the various modifiers quite easily. Please bear in mind, though, that shadows and specularity will increase when the light is moved farther away and will decrease when the distance is diminished. Here, I’ve placed my model closer than usual to the background—about 3 feet away—so you can see what the shadow looks like. See image 1.2.

Medium.Medium softboxes (mine are 3×4 feet) are the most valuable modifiers in my arsenal. I use them for everything from portraits to product, and I rely upon them more often than any other modifier. They are extremely valuable for location portraiture as well, whether it’s a glamour shoot or business portrait, indoors or out. See image 1.3.

Small. Small softboxes are available in many sizes, from the extra-small 15×18-inch version to 2×3-foot unit. I think you’ll find these most useful for background or hair lights, or to add underfill highlights, but they do make effective main lights. You can see from my sample that, at 6 feet, contrast and specularity are more evident with the 2×3-foot unit than with the previously described sizes. However, should you move a box like this in quite a bit closer to the subject, you’ll find that the main light it throws is very dramatic: soft, with open shadows, but with rapid falloff. See image 1.4.

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Strip Lights. Strip lights (long, narrow softboxes engineered to produce an even output of light across their length) are a somewhat specialized accessory. I have several 1×6-foot strip lights that I use frequently as accents, sidelights, background lights, or hair lights. They are not cheap and require a special speed ring that not all strobe manufacturers make, but they produce a light that’s both beautiful and hard to define. Profoto (my brand of choice) is one of the few making a 1×6-foot box. Should you decide to purchase them, and you don’t use Profoto equipment, please make sure your strobe’s manufacturer makes a speed ring that will accommodate them.

They can be used as a main light, with a different look from any other softbox. See image 1.5.

Quality softboxes have an additional layer of diffusion— an internal layer of nylon called a “baffle” that diffuses the light even more before it reaches the front of the box and exits.When buying softboxes, be sure to check that the corners are heavily reinforced to withstand the constant pressure from the rods that connect the box to the speed ring.

UMBRELLAS

Most umbrellas spread light by acting as a reflector. The light itself is aimed away from the model and beamed into a reflective fabric shell.

White is the most common umbrella fabric. Silver provides a slightly “snappier” look with a bit more brightness. A silver umbrella will, almost always, impart a slightly different color to the scene, necessitating a custom white balance but potentially skewing the color of all other lights. Gold reflective umbrellas are available, but they significantly warm the color of the light. Consequently, you may not want to use one for everyday images. This sample was shot with a white umbrella. See images 1.6 and 1.7.

The other common umbrella style is called “shootthrough.” When using this style of umbrella, the light is actually aimed at the subject, passing through the translucent fabric of the umbrella and onto the subject. While it functions much like a softbox, the light the shoot-through umbrella emits is not as soft as that from a softbox because there’s only one layer of diffusion. Most softboxes, at least the quality boxes, have a second, interior layer of diffusion. See images 1.8 and 1.9.

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ABOVE—IMAGE 1.9.

BARETUBED STROBE

Working without a modifier on the strobe can produce terrific results, from simulated sunlight to simply saturated color with deep shadows. As you go through the book, you’ll see a number of ways to create great looks with bare-tubed strobe(s).

I’ve found the best position for the tube, with most gear, is in the 11 o’clock position. It avoids any reflection from the (usually) chrome casing at the base of the tube and produces a cleaner shadow. See images 1.10 and 1.11.

REFLECTORS

Basic Parabolics. Basic parabolic reflectors are usually included with the purchase of a strobe head. Most are 6 or 7 inches in diameter and designed to throw a hard light evenly over the subject. These are not generally recommended for portraiture (there are exceptions, of course) but are used along with umbrellas or as fill or bounce light. See images 1.12 and 1.13.

Grids. Very cool little toys, grids are honeycomblike devices, about 3/8 of an inch thick, that reforms light that passes through them to a straight line, expanding it in a specified amount from its center. Depending on the manufacturer, sets of grids for parabolic reflectors may be purchased individually or in sets, in a range from 5 to 40 degrees (grids for beauty bowls are not as numerous). The specified degree means that, when a parabolic is fitted with, say, a 20 degree grid, the light will expand from the center of the reflector at 20 degrees.

Grids can be used to create spotlight-like effects, as controlled hair or accent lights, or to skim across a surface. One of the great features of grids is that they can throw bright accents from behind a subject yet keep light from striking the lens, which could produce flare.

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Many grids will fit into many manufacturer’s parabolics. They are sort of a one-size-fits-all modifier. Some manufacturers make a parabolic specifically to hold grids. See images 1.14 and 1.15.

Beauty Bowls. Beauty bowls (also called beauty dishes) are large reflectors that have a baffle in front of the strobe head that reflects direct light back to the sides of the dish. The result is a direct but softer light than one would get with a basic parabolic. Beauty bowls are usually at least 18 inches in diameter, though some can be purchased that are 24 inches or larger. They are pricey, as are their accessory grids, but they are more than worth it for the quality of light they produce. Some manufacturers’ beauty bowls allow the center diffuser to be removed for a more contrasty light source.

I use beauty bowls in a number of ways but find them especially valuable as hair lights when used with a grid. This image was made with the grid from the predetermined distance of 6 feet. See images 1.16 and 1.17.

Panels and Collapsible Reflectors. As you will see, I use a number of reflectors in my work. My favorites are bookends—two pieces of 4×8-foot foamcore taped together along a common spine. You’ll see many examples of how I work with these, especially my favorite and my own invention, the bookend bounce, in chapter 3. See image 1.18.

I also use a number of Lastolite’s collapsible reflectors. Usually meant for bouncing light when working outdoors, I’ve found these wonderful gadgets extremely useful for studio work. See image 1.19.

A word of caution: Always custom white balance whenever you change a modifier on the main light. Clients will put up with (probably not even notice) minor color variations on hair or background lights but will shy away from off-color main lights. They may not know why they don’t like the shots, but they will know there’s something wrong.

IMAGE 1.18.

IMAGE 1.19.

IMAGE 1.20

ACCESSORY ARMS

I’ve found accessory arms, essentially short poles that clamp over light stands, to be invaluable tools in the studio. I have a number of these, under the Avenger label, that do a great job for me. Some are engineered with clamps for reflectors, some are just rods to which I can attach reflectors, flags, or whatever. Two of them together, raised to the same height and pointed to each other, can support a roll of background paper or a cloth background. Depending on the weight of what is being attached, a sandbag or counterweight may be necessary to keep the stand from falling over. See image 1.20.

Astute readers will realize that I’ve written about some of this equipment before. I apologize if I am repeating myself, but it’s necessary information for new readers. Believe me, this little chapter is only an informational introduction to a beautiful, compelling, and artistic lighting adventure.

Nikon D7000, Active D-Lighting

Your camera provides a function that can automatically make your pictures look better: Active D-Lighting. It works this way: The camera evaluates the tones in your image and then underexposes for the highlight areas while lightening any areas that it believes are too dark or lacking in contrast (Figures 11.12 and 11.13). Active D-Lighting is automatically applied to images that are shot in any of the automatic scene modes except for High Key, Low Key, and Silhouette.

Without Active D-Lighting
Figure 11.12 Without Active D-Lighting, the shadows are very dark and lack contrast.
With D-Lighting set to Normal you will see shadows become lighter
Figure 11.13 With D-Lighting set to Normal you will see shadows become lighter. Notice how we can see more detail in the vendor’s face and within the booth.

You can choose from six levels: Off, Low (L), Normal (N), High (H), Extra High (H*), and Auto (A). You will need to evaluate the strength of the effect on your images and change it accordingly. I typically leave it set to Normal so that I have brighter, more detailed shadow areas in my photographs while still maintaining good exposure in my skies. You should know that Active D-Lighting can only be adjusted when using one of the professional modes. Also, you will want to turn it off if you are using flash exposure compensation since it will work against you when you alter the flash strength.

Setting up Active D-Lighting

Setting up Active D-Lighting

  1. Press the Info button twice to activate the cursor in the information screen, then navigate to the Active D-Lighting setting by using the Multi-selector (A).
  2. Press the OK button and then move the Multi-selector up or down to select the level of Active D-Lighting that you desire (B).
  3. Press the OK button to lock in your changes and resume shooting.

The Active D-Lighting setting can also be changed in the Shooting menu.

 

 

Nikon D7000, Macro Photography

Put simply, macro photography is close-up photography. Depending on the lens or lenses that you got with your camera, you may have the perfect tool for macro work. Some lenses are designed to shoot in a macro mode, but you don’t have to feel left out if you don’t have one of those. Check the spec sheet that came with your lens to see what its minimum focusing distance is.

If you have a zoom, you should work with the lens at its longest focal length. Also, work with a tripod because handholding will make focusing difficult. The easiest way to make sure that your focus is precisely where you want it to be is to use manual focus mode.

Since I am recommending a tripod for your macro work, I will also recommend using A (Aperture Priority) mode so that you can achieve differing levels of depth of field. Long lenses at close range can make for very shallow depth of field, so you will need to work with apertures that are probably much smaller than you would normally use. If you are shooting outside, try shading the subject from direct sunlight by using some sort of diffusion material, such as a white sheet or a diffusion panel. By diffusing the light, you will see much greater detail because you will have a lower contrast ratio (softer shadows), and detail is often what macro photography is all about (Figure 11.11).

good macro shot is all about details
Figure 11.11 A good macro shot is all about details. I want you to meet my very own lady slipper orchid, which I’ve been nursing along for more than two years since her last bloom. Using a low ISO and high f-stop allowed me to capture the great details of the bloom.

Nikon D7000, Bracketing Exposures

So what if you are doing everything right in terms of metering and mode selection, yet your images still sometimes come out too light or too dark? There is a technique called bracketing that will help you find the best exposure value for your scene by taking a normal exposure as well as one that is over- and underexposed. Having these differing exposure values will most often present you with one frame that just looks better than the others. If I am in a tricky situation when I have to get the exposure right, such as an outdoor wedding, then I’ll use bracketing. I’ll start by spacing my exposures apart by one to two stops and taking three images: one normal exposure, one underexposure, and one overexposure. (Figure 11.7).

control panel shows you just how much bracketing
Figure 11.7 The control panel shows you just how much bracketing is being applied on an over/under scale in the upper right corner of the screen. The number and letter to the left tells you how many frames you’re shooting; here, it’s three frames, shown as 3F.

As you are viewing the control panel and holding the exposure button, you can decide how much variation you want between bracketed exposures. You can choose from one-third of a stop all the way to two full stops of exposure difference between each bracketed exposure. If I am in a particularly difficult setting, I will typically bracket in two-stop increments to help zero in on that perfect exposure, and then just delete the ones that didn’t make the grade (Figures 11.8–11.10). Remember, your lighting will dictate how many stops you want between exposures.

Two stops of exposure below normal
Figure 11.8 Two stops of exposure below normal, creating a much darker image.
Normal exposure
Figure 11.9 Normal exposure, as indicated by the camera meter.
Two stops of exposure above normal
Figure 11.10 Two stops of exposure above normal, creating a much lighter image.

Setting auto-exposure bracketing

Setting auto-exposure bracketing

  1. You can quickly set your bracketing by holding the BKT button (on the front of your camera directly below the flash button) while rotating the Command dial to 3F (three exposures).
  2. Next, continue holding your BKT button down while rotating your Sub-command dial to the 2.0 setting (two stops between each exposure). For more information on bracketing, please review pages 109–110 of your manual.
  3. If you are in Single Frame shooting mode, you will have to press the shutter three times, one for each exposure. If you are in continuous shooting mode, you will press and hold the shutter button and the camera will take all three exposures with one press of the button.

When I am out shooting in the RAW file format, I typically shoot with my camera set to an exposure compensation of –1/3 stop to protect my highlights. If I am dealing with a subject that has a lot of different tonal ranges from bright to dark, I will often bracket by one stop over and under my already compensated exposure. That means I will have exposures of –1 1/3, –1/3, and +2/3.

Another thing to remember is that auto exposure bracketing will use the current mode for making exposure changes. This means that if you are in Aperture Priority mode, the camera will make adjustments to your shutter speed. Likewise, if you are in Shutter Priority, the changes will be made to your aperture value. This is important to keep in mind since it could affect certain aspects of your image such as depth of field or camera shake. You also need to know that AE bracketing will remain in effect until you set it back to zero, even if you turn the camera off and then on again.

Nikon D7000, Avoiding Lens Flare

Lens flare is one of the problems you will encounter when shooting in bright sunlight. Lens flare will show itself as bright circles on the image (Figure 11.6). Often you will see multiple circles in a line leading from a very bright light source such as the sun.

The flare is a result of the sun bouncing off the multiple pieces of optical glass in the lens and then being reflected back onto the sensor. You can avoid the problem using one of these methods:

  • Try to shoot with the sun coming from over your shoulder, not in front of you or in your scene.
  • Use a lens shade to block the unwanted light from striking the lens. You don’t have to have the sun in your viewfinder for lens flare to be an issue. All the sunlight has to do is strike the front glass of the lens to make flare happen.
  • If you don’t have a lens shade (hood), try using your hand or some other element to block the light.
the sun without it as well
Figure 11.6 I shoot a lot of images with sunbursts, and one of the problems I deal with is flare spots. The spots are visible as small circles of light coming down from the sun. While some like this look on occasion, you will want to know how to shoot in the sun without it as well.

Nikon D7000, Manual Mode

Probably one of the most advanced, and yet most basic, skills to master is shooting in Manual mode. With the power and utility of most of the automatic modes, Manual mode almost never sees the light of day. I have to admit that I don’t use it very often, but there are times when no other mode will do. One of the situations that works well with Manual is studio work with external flashes. I know that when I work with studio lights, my exposure will not change, so I use Manual to eliminate any automatic changes that might happen from shooting in Program, Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority mode.

This image (Figure 11.4) was taken in my home studio using a simple portable shooting table and two external flashes. One flash was used underneath the transparent table and the other flash was used with a small soft box. Manual mode allowed me to avoid changes in my setup.

Since I knew the light was a constant, it allowed me to take the time to make adjustments manually to expose the image exactly how I wanted it. Manual mode gives you ultimate creative control.

I used manual mode
Figure 11.4 These tulips provided a nice subject for a studio still life. In order to expose the flowers correctly and get the look I wanted, I used manual mode.

Bulb photography

If you want to work with long shutter speeds that don’t quite fit into one of the selectable shutter speeds, you can choose Bulb. This setting is only available in Manual mode, and its sole purpose is to open the shutter at your command and then close it again when you decide to. I can think of several scenarios where this would come in handy: shooting fireworks, shooting lightning, capturing the movement of the stars at night, and any other very long exposure.

If you are photographing fireworks, you could certainly use one of the longer shutter speeds available in Shutter Priority mode, since they are available for exposure times up to 30 seconds. That is fine, but sometimes you don’t need 30 seconds’ worth of exposure and sometimes you need more.

If you open the shutter and then see a great burst of fireworks, you might decide that that is all you want for that particular frame, so you click the button to end the exposure. Set the camera to 30 seconds and you might get too many bursts, but if you shorten it to 10 seconds you might not get the one you want (Figure 11.5).

image I had in mind
Figure 11.5 It took me several attempts to get this exposure right, but using my Bulb setting allowed me to capture the image I had in mind.

To select the Bulb setting, simply place your camera in Manual mode, press the shutter release halfway to activate metering, and then rotate the Command dial to the left until the shutter speed displays Bulb on the control panel.

When you’re using the Bulb setting, the shutter will only stay open while you are holding down the shutter button. You should also be using a sturdy tripod or shooting surface to eliminate any self-induced vibration while using the Bulb setting. Pressing the shutter button down opens the shutter, and releasing it closes the shutter.

I want to point out that using your finger on the shutter button for a bulb exposure will definitely increase the chances of getting some camera shake in your images. To get the most benefit from Bulb, I suggest using a remote cord such as the Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Switch or the Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote.