Reflecting on first corporate photoshoot

Highstreet team

In my previous post on this topic I discussed the preparation of my first corporate photoshoot. Now, a couple of days after the photoshoot, I want to reflect on it.

When I arrived we discussed again the pictures they had in mind. Right after that the team had a discussion about the status of a new product. I took some pictures to capture the atmosphere: commitment, involvement, teamwork.

Later we took a small tour outside in the park to decide about the group picture and the picture of the owners. We decided to take the group picture on a metal bridge in the park (28-300mm lens). So, it would be the group, some bushes, and the bridge, expressing a man-made industrial product in a natural environment. 

For the owners of Highstreet Mobile, we decided to shoot them in front of red bricks of an old building (their company is located in this building), standing informally on a slope with a handrail, expressing “joyful climbing to the top through innovation”.

Back in the office I set up the three lighting stands and decided about the location in the office to take the head-shoulders pictures (70-200mm lens). In the background you could see the office as it is, expressing an informal setup of the office of a startup.

Photographer in action

Looking  back, for me there were two main challenges:

  • Lightening of office First, the team members often used blinds to avoid outside light on their computer screens, so I had to use flashes to get high quality pictures. Second,  the ceiling was low which made it difficult to use it as reflector; you could see the white spots of the flashes in the pictures (14-35mm lens). I was not able to get enough diffuse light in the whole area where the group was sitting. I have not found a solution for that.
  • Getting the right atmosphere The atmosphere I encountered was one of serious commitment to their new products and one of team effort to address challenges. My pictures express that. The question is whether these pictures help in recruiting new people. I have learnt from this photoshoot that my style of photography, especially for a group of people, comes closer to capturing the atmosphere and not of creating one. 

I also enjoyed the postprocessing to further improve the high quality pictures that came out of my camera (D800). It took a bit more effort than usual, because there was a feedback loop to select the right pictures and to crop them for the intended usage.

On the whole, I can say that it was quite a challenge for me, and I enjoyed it. Especially, the interaction with the youngsters that never experienced a photoshoot before. 

Preparing for first corporate photoshoot at Highstreet Mobile

Already some years ago my oldest son together with his business partner started a software company. They are a SaaS company and their product focuses on fashion brands. Fashion brands will get a mobile shopping app that works both on iOS and Android. They focus heavily on making the consumer experience great. The shopping app is fully branded, integrated with existing e-commerce systems and it gets better all the time. Their initial focus was on the iPad, however, now the apps also work for the iPhone and for Android devices. The company is called Highstreet Mobile, and is located in Utrecht.

A month ago he asked me whether I could do a photoshoot for his company: team members, the office etc. I am quite honoured to do this, at the same time it will be the first time that I will do this type of photoshoot, so it is also a challenge. First, the three of us (my son, his business partner, and I) had a telco to make sure what kind of pictures were required. Basically it comes down to: head-shoulder pictures of each team member, a group picture (likely to be taken outside in a nearby park), pictures of group activities, and pictures of the office environment. Themes that characterise the company are: innovative, informal, and passion.

Based on this I decided that I needed three flashes for the head-shoulder pictures: one from the left, one from the right and one from the top (using a snoot). In the past I bought three PocketWizard FlexTT5, one was used as transmitter on the camera, and the other two for two flashes (receivers). Now I needed three receivers, so I decided to buy a second-hand PocketWizard MiniTT1, which is a transmitter, to put on my camera. I also had a look at a good tutorial about the Zone Controller PocketWizard AC3 to make sure I knew how everything worked. Another advantage of having three flashes, and having full controle over them, is the easy way of lightening the office.

So, besides the flashes and the PocketWizards I need two umbrellas, one snoot, and three light stands with brackets. Furthermore, I had to make sure that all the batteries were fully charged. Besides the general-purpose lens 28-300mm I will take the 70-200mm for the head-shoulder pictures, and the 16-35mm for the office pictures. I will also take the battery grip. It makes taking the portrait pictures (vertical) easier. 

The day before I went to Foto Konijnenberg to clean the sensor and to buy the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L. In the evening I went through my checklist and packed everything.

Fully packed

[to be continued]

Radio Triggers

In the past, for a studio setup, we used cables to somehow connect the camera to the various flashes. Furthermore, we had to set the power of each flash individually, by hand. Nowadays, all major camera manufactories have a wireless system to connect the camera to the speedlights of the same manufacturer.
For example, when using a Nikon camera and Nikon speedlights it is relatively easy to get a correctly exposed picture by using AWL (Advanced Wireless Lighting).
The idea is that the pop-up flash of the camera gives a number of small pre-flashes to tell the speedlights to give an orchestrated pre-flash. In this cycle the camera measures and calculates, using Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering, what the strength of the final flash of the various speedlights should be. This is all done just before the mirror goes up, so before the actual picture is taken. It goes so fast that we do not even notice that the pop-up flash flashes several times.
This means that with my D800 I can manage two groups of speedlights, A and B. For simple portrait photography this is fine. I have been using this for the last couple of years with some great pictures.
However, there are also some drawbacks: it only works when there is line-of-sight between the camera and all the speedlights, it is difficult to add a studio flash, and in some cases three groups (for example: main, background, and kicker for the hair of the model) are required.
So, recently I bought:

IMG_1186
The Flex TT5 is both a transmitter and a receiver. So, one goes on top of the camera and per speedlight or flash another one is needed. The advantage is that line-of-sight is not important anymore and it can handle 3 groups (A, B, and C).
IMG_1188With the AC3 it is possible to control the strength of flashes of the speedlights in the various groups (max 3 groups).
IMG_1187For my studio flash, an old Linkstar FS-200D, it is only possible to control whether it will flash or not. As you can see, the Flex TT5 is connected to the studio flash with a cable. The strength of the flash has to be set manually on the studio flash itself.
The Sekonic L-478DR allows me to trigger each group of speedlights separately (without using the camera) and get a per group and a total reading for shutter speed and aperture. It also shows how much each group contributes to the total light. It is really impressive.
In a future blog I will come back to how the equipment works in practice.
 

Lighting: moods

In the series Understanding lighting: from physics to moods, I will now discuss the relationship between lighting and moods. In the previous blogs I discussed several techniques to get a specific kind of lighting. In this blog I am going in the direction of art.

Beautiful brunette putting gloss on her lips
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We all know that when we tell our subject that we are going to take a picture, we get automatically a pose with a nice smile. Most of the time all emotions are gone. Therefore, I prefer to take pictures when people are not aware of the camera to tell a story. Then, they express their genuine emotions (reportage photography).
In a studio setting this is quite a challenge. So, I first talk to my models to make them relax. I am in a lucky position that I knew my models before I started with portrait photography. So, there is enough to talk about. I quite often use props, like an iPhone or an iPad. It helps them to focus on what they would normally do with e.g. an iPad and not to pose.
Two types of lightening are high key and low key. A high-key picture is bright, has hardly any contrast, and lacks shadows; it expresses happiness and joy. A low-key picture, on the other hand, is dark, has many black areas, and has a lot of contrast; it expresses drama, tension, or mysteriousness.
A high-key picture is made by overexposing the background and having main and fill lights with a high exposure. Make sure not to overexpose. A low-key picture is made with a dark background and main light that acts like a kicker light (only lighting a specific area of the subject). Furthermore, the settings of the camera should be close to underexposure.
Beautiful latin girl with curly hair
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

My experience with lighting is mainly in the area between high and low key, actually a bit closer to high. In the near future I am going to experiment with the two extremes.
There are many type of moods, which require a different lighting. By experimenting you will find out what the right combination of posture, light, color (look at this overview for the relationship between color and emotions), and angle for the different moods is.
This ends the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. It was inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest. Please, enjoy!
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Lighting: studio lighting setup – several lights

4-light setup
4-light setup

In the previous blog in the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods, we discussed studio lighting using only one light (the main light). The essence of lighting is to play with light and shadow. The same is of course true if we use more than one light.
Using one bare light produces harsh shadows. This can be overcome by making the light bigger by using an umbrella or a softbox. However, this does not change the darkness of the shadows, it only softens the edges.
To get rid of the darkness of the shadows we need an additional light source. This might be another light, or it might also be a reflector. Note, in a sense a reflector is another source of light, however, a reflector does not produce more light than the light source of the incoming light. So, we cannot fully control it.
Besides the main light there are the following additional lights:

  • Fill light These are used to lighten up the shadows. Do not make them too strong otherwise the shadows completely disappear, making the picture flat.
  • Background light To create more depth we need to separate the subject from the background. This is done by placing a light behind the subject directed towards the background. If the backdrop is white it is better to use a color, if it is black a white light can be used.
  • Rim light To highlight the subject we use a rim light. It is placed behind the subject directed towards the subject. It gives a halo effect around the head and shoulders.
  • Hair light Sometimes it is nice to highlight a specific spot of the hair. This is done by placing a small, focussed light at a high position directed towards the hair.
  • Kickers They are very similar as hair light, however, they are directed towards a specific part of the subject.

The picture at the top shows a 4-light step bringing most of the above together. One main light on the left, a fill light on the right, a rim light in the rear, and a hair light on the far right. I again used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork.

Main light, reflector, and background light (blue)
Main light (left), reflector (right), and background light (rear, blue)

My own experience with a studio lighting setup until now is limited to a main light and several fills, lights and reflectors. In the near future I hope to experiment with the full setup.
This series of blogs on understanding lighting is inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest.
In the next blog we will discuss the right lighting setup for specific moods.
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Lighting: studio lighting setup – one light

Self-Portrait, 1658
Self-Portrait, 1658

In the previous blog in the series on  Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods the physics of light was discussed, now the focus is on the various lighting setups for portrait photography. Again, inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest and many blogs and tutorials I try to focus on the essence. Here is one link to an explanation I really liked, it is simple and clear: several basic lighting patterns by Darlene Hildebrandt.
The essence in my opinion is to get the right balance between light and shadows for what we have in mind. See these drawings of Palle Schmidt to understand the interplay between light and shadows.
Let me start with one light and vary the position relative to the person. Note below I used a bare light (so no soft box), this explains the harsh shadows. This gives the following lighting patterns (I used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork so simulate the various patterns) :

  • frontal lighting This is the situation where the flash is in or on the camera and the person is facing the camera. The result is a picture with no shadows in the face. It looks flat. Most snapshots are like this.frontal
  • butterfly lighting If we lift the light up a small shadow appears under the nose and sometimes also under the cheeks. butterfly
  • split lighting If I now move the light to the side of the person (90 degrees), the result is a split face: one side lighted and the other one dark.split
  • Rembrandt lighting If I move the light back to 45 degrees off the camera and up a bit, we get something called Rembrandt lighting (see the self-portrait of Rembrandt). Typical is the light triangle on the cheek on the other side of the light. The sides of the triangle are: the eyebrow, the shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek. It can be smaller or larger depending on the position of the light.Rembrandt
  • loop lighting If I place the light a little closer to the the camera (30 degrees), the triangle opens up, this means that the shadow of the nose does not touch the shadow of the cheek anymore.loop

For all of these lighting patterns (except the frontal one) I can use broad and short lighting. Broad lighting means that the visible ear is lighted and short lighting is that the visible ear is in the shade.
Here is a nice YouTube video by Ed Verosky that explains the various lighting patterns with one light.
In the next blog I will continue the studio lighting setup with several lights and reflectors.

Lighting: physics of light

Rainbow
Rainbow

Inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua I would like to discuss the fundamentals of lighting in the series Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. Lighting deals with light, subject, and viewer. We discuss all three of them.
Essential characteristics of light (sources) are:

  • Brightness It makes quite a difference if we have to take a picture with only the moon shining instead of the sun. In general, the more light the better the quality of the pictures is. It is much easier to deal with too much light (almost closed Aperture and a very fast Shutter Speed), than too little light (the quality decreases substantially in the high ISO range). Also, light loses its brightness if it travels a long distant (look at the sky when it is dark, all of these starts are more powerful than our sun, however, we only see a tiny twinkle of each of them).
  • Color Normal light consists of light with different wave lengths. We see that when the sun shines during the rain: the rainbow. With the right mix of these colors it looks white. If this white light reflex on a red wall it reflects only red light. The way we see light is an interpretation of our brains of what we see. For example, we know that snow is white; although in a picture it may look gray we “see” it as white. A camera is not always able to do this intelligent interpretation of light. So, sometimes we have to help it by setting the White Balance to the right color temperature.
  • Size of the source On sunny days with a blue sky the shadows are harsh. On cloudy days there are hardly any shadows. In the first case we have a very small light source and in the latter a very large one, resulting in, respectively, direct and diffuse light.

Reflections on a subject play an important role in photography, because in a sense they create new light sources with their own characteristics. For example, a reflection on a non-glossy subject like a matte wall causes a diffuse reflection (reduction in brightness). As mentioned above, if light reflects on a red subject, it reflects only red light and absorbs all other colors (change of color). Also, if the light reflects on a (small) mirror-like subject, it creates a (tiny) light source producing harsh shadows; this is called direct reflection (change of size of light source).
The viewer is of course our camera. When we shoot outdoors and when we are not happy with the position of the light source, the sun, the only remedy is to change the position of the camera. In a studio, however, we have the additional possibility to change the position of the light source(s). Also, we can use soft boxes instead of waiting for the clouds. Furthermore, we can use reflectors, “producing” warm of cold light, to light the subject from different angles.
So, now that we know more about light, the next step is lighting setups. This is the topic of the next blog.

Lighting: a prelude

Brunette with long hair making phone call
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As we all know, understanding lighting is at the core of photography. You might object, although we all drive a car, this does not necessarily mean that we fully understand how a car operates and that we know what perfect driving is.
The same is of course true for photography, cameras, even in smartphones, get better every day, however, this does not mean that our pictures improve as well. Look for yourself on the internet to see how many mediocre pictures there are.
I am not saying that my own pictures are a lot better, however, I have the drive to better understand what makes pictures stand out. There are many books, websites, and tutorials on YouTube on specific aspects of photography. To be honest, too many, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the good and the mediocre.
In the upcoming blogs I will take you along my search for understanding lighting: from physics to moods. Just to give you a little prelude.
The books by Joe McNally (Hot Shoe Diaries and Sketching Light) inspired me to take the speedlight off the camera and to shoot in Manual Mode. This was quite a step for me, however, his enthusiasm made this step easy for me.
Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua was advised to me by a professional photographer who did a photoshoot of me (in my role as research manager). It is not as easy to read as most of the books on photography, however, everytime I have a question about lighting, the answer turns out to be there.
After having seen a lot of books, websites etc on a studio lighting setups, I was wondering what the impact of the various lighting setups is on the mood of the pictures and whether certain setups work better with one person than with the other. Currently I am reading Sculpting with Light by Earnest; I am very enthusiastic about this book because it tells me for which type of face to use which lighting setup.
In the upcoming blogs I will share with you my learning steps. Last weeks a couple of my studio pictures have been sold on Dreamstime. At the top of this blog you see one of them. It is a full body, high key picture taken with a couple of speedlights, a softbox and a white backdrop. I am proud of it, however, I want to futher improve it. Here are some more of my portrait pictures of which most are on Dreamstime. Enjoy.
Upcoming blogs:

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