studio

Do You Make Lighting Diagrams? You Should.

I am not going to pretend like I am in-tune enough with the physics of light to draw up lighting diagrams BEFORE a shoot. However, with almost every single image I create I draw a lighting diagram, usually after the fact. It's one of the most important things you can do as a photographer who works with off camera flash. 

The process of lighting a shoot is fluid for me. It generally begins with a concept and a rough idea of how it will be lit. This is almost always just a jumping off point. The quality of light may not be how I imagined it, or there might be other factors influencing the light in a way that I didn't think of. So I adapt to the result that I am getting and make adjustments until I get what I want. 

Once I have an image that works with what my initial vision was, I take a few minutes to sketch a light diagram. 

A page out of one of my books of lighting diagrams and notes from projects past. 


I consider this a very important part of my process. It helps me analyze what worked, and frankly helps me remember how a shoot progressed. I often include notes about how the shoot went, where my light power levels were, what the sun position was (even if it didn't figure into my image). I also sometimes include stuff that should be included in the EXIF data, such as lens, camera body, etc. I do this because sometimes meta data gets stripped, or other bad things can happen and it takes only a second to write it down. 

I think most importantly I do it because I like having a visual record of my work (aside from the actual images) that has some technical behind the scenes information, and also I find it therapeutic to write them in a notebook. Like with a pen. Low-tech to be sure, but oh so satisfying. 

This is a practice that I recommend to any photographers, amateur or otherwise, who aren't in the habit of doing it. My notebook of choice is the Field Notes Brand 48 page Graph Paper Memo Book. I don't try to hide that I am obsessed with this brand. Mainly because they're wonderful, but also because they are small, so they fit in any bag. They are durable, and I adore the design sensibility and philosophy behind the brand. 

Field Notes. The best memo books around. 

So do you make lighting diagrams? If you don't, I think you should. It will help your creativity, critical thinking and possibly be a source of inspiration for future work. 

Relevant Links

Field Notes Brand - The best memo books around

Strobox - A really interesting online diagram/photo sharing tool for photographers

Also read This Article on taking notes


Photo Studio Challenge - Round 1

As some readers of this blog may know, I am a full time staff photographer in a product studio for Nordstrom. I work with several other very talented photographers and stylists who all love their jobs. We decided collectively to start a bi-weekly photo challenge, we could be creative and share with each other some work outside of product photography. Every two weeks we will identify a theme, shoot an image or series of images, and then get together and share our images and process. 

Our first round theme was "Street Photography" which we defined as a natural candid moment, shot without posing or any interference from the photographer. Here are the submissions:

 

Karen Utley - www.karenutley.com


Bonnie Warrington - www.bonniewarrington.com


Jenni Wilson - www.jenniwilson.com


Kimmy Ann Snow


Daniel T Jester 

BTS Tuesday - The Dancer

I recently reposted an old image of mine on Instagram and got a few questions about how I set up the lighting. Going through my old images, I don't have any good BTS shots of the lighting set up, so I thought I'd do it the old fashioned way and draw out a diagram and do this little write up. I figure this might be pretty fun to do regularly with images old and new, so BTS Tuesday is now a thing on my blog. Yay!

The Set Up

The lighting set up for my photograph "The Dancer"

My family is very blessed to have an incredibly talented group of family and friends whom have often become the subjects of photo projects, one such person is the truly gifted Victoria Souder. She is a dancer and studio owner in Moreno Valley, CA and this was our first attempt at collaborating together. I was doing a mini portrait project where I was photographing people I knew doing what they loved. 

We were to shoot together at her studio after class, which I knew would be challenging because, as some dance studios are laid out, the entire west wall was a mirror that ran the length of the room. Judicious use of flags would be the key here. 

I knew I wanted my final product to be low-key with dramatic rim light and heavy shadow, and that Victoria would be mid-motion. I set up my only two studio lights at the time (two Calumet Genesis 200's) directly to the left and the right of Victoria, with only the standard reflector, we were going with hard, focused light. I set up my flags to keep stray light off my lens and had to double them up to also block reflections in that mirror wall. We snapped a few shots and they were ok, but missing something. 

An outtake from my first shoot with Victoria Souder

Victoria did some amazing things, but I wanted to add a little flare (Zing!) to the shots. I wanted them to feel less heavy and more like a presentation of immense talent, but with that low-key look. It was time to break out my trusty LumoPro flashes. 

I added both of my LumoPro LP160 manual flashes to the rear of Victoria, to be shown in frame light stage lights. These lights would also even out the rim lighting I was getting from the Genesis mono lights. The result: "The Dancer"

"The Dancer" Model: Victoria Souder 

This image was also featured in the book Strobox Vol. 2, the yearly highlight of the best images on strobox.com. You can purchase a copy here: http://strobox.com/book/vol2. This is a really cool book with a lot of great images, all of which include lighting diagrams and information on how they were shot. Check it out and support the site!

The Smoking Gun - Neon Noir Still Life Tribute

Another evening at home with nothing but ideas, this still life was shot as a tribute to the "neon noir" crime thrillers of the 1980's

Tech Details

Set: In studio, black sheet as backdrop

Lights: Canon 580exII from top left with red gel, LumoPro LP160 with blue gel from below, both gridded with Rogue speedlight grids

Other Notes: I used matches which create lots of smoke when extinguished to get the smoke effect. This image is straight out of camera, no post processing whatsoever.