Contrast and Black and White

I love high contrast Black and White but it can be quite tricky.

I find using the Tone Curve in Lightroom the best way of controlling contrast and then tweaking it with the contrast, highlight and white point sliders. Starting things off with a nice high curve and gently tapering it off seems to give the best results.

These were the initial settings I started with on the original colour image, I then took it to Photoshop to add a gradient on the background and touch up the skin slightly, then back to Lightroom for a BW convert and Orange boost and then I added some more contrast.

Is all Studio Flash Equal

Nightdress and Fan, Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-70mm zoom at 35mm

Broncolor, Profoto, even Elinchrom, get a kicking over their prices.

Mid-priced gear like Bowen’s, Godox, or some unknown Chinese brand is the way to go for many people. For the price of a Profoto D2 studio head you can buy four of the cheaper heads.

Some of the cheaper flash is built to a high standard and many photographers are quite happy with their choices, so why do the majority of professional photographers and photography rental houses, use and rent the more expensive gear.

One of the big things that I have struggled with in the past and mentioned on my blog before is colour consistency. The higher end gear tends to have better colour consistency so not having to edit the colour temp of every image you shoot. With the more budget flash heads, the colour temperature drifts during the photo shoot.

Something not talked about much is flash sync speed. Most high end cameras will sync at 1/200 second, medium format cameras even higher. The problem is flash duration, lower cost flash can often not sync correctly at very high or very low power.

Flash Fail

In April as the studio’s reopened I had a maternity shoot. For the early shots I played it safe, shooting at f/8 flat easy lighting, lower cost flash heads at around 70%. I then started to setup something a little more challenging, shooting wide open with fast glass, getting the background to go out of focus and more dreamy. As I started to get ready I noticed I was getting the shutter appear in test pictures as can be seen above, it was only when I dropped the shutter speed of the camera down to 1/60 second or lower that it would sync correctly with the flash. This is not good if your working in a studio with bright window lights or over head lighting that can cause colour and light contamination of your shots.

Lastly radio triggers. Most triggers work on the 2.4 Ghz range. The cheaper models tend to all use the same band in this range that is free to use; the more expensive triggers will use less popular ranges and they have to pay higher licensing fees to use these bands. Some aircraft services utilise part of the 2.4 Ghz range and they pay very high fees to get exclusive use of this range. Flash companies like Broncolor and Profoto also pay very high licensing fees for exclusive use of a part of this frequency range. For every Profoto flash and trigger sold part of that cash is to buy the license for the exclusive use of the 2.4 Ghz range they use. This has to be licensed on a per country bases for every flash head. That is why the cheaper flash systems get miss-fires and you loose shots while the higher end flash seems more reliable, they have less interference.

So the question is can you afford the extra editing if your shoot is colour critical, and can you afford to have miss fires and miss shots. For a commercial photographer where time is money that question is no. For others it may not matter and there are lots of budget flash systems available to them.

Tethering in Lightroom V11

Sophie, with Nikon D800, 24-80mm f/2.8

In the studio I like to use tethering, it gives the models and if the customer or art director is present confidence as they see the results come in.

With the first few shots it is getting the lights in the right positions and the exposure right. For this recent fashion shoot with Sophie, it was a simple background and two lights with soft boxes each side. Once the lighting was right I gave the test images a good look round. The studio we were working in had Bowens lights, I had set the camera its flash sync of 1/250. Generally most high end flash gear will cope well, the mid range flash often has difficulty syncing above 1/200, and the cheaper gear often does not sync above 1/125. Most people do not worry about this any more with modern flash and cameras doing HSS, but HSS heads are still few and far between in most studios.

Sync error with black bar at bottom of frame

I soon spotted the familiar black bar of sync failure, so dropped my camera to 1/200 and the shots were clean. Once the lights are set how I like, for the first set f/8, I took a white balance reading from my target.

With the lights setup, exposure and white balance all set, I then set Lightroom to apply these consistently to all future shots.

If your seriously into tethered capture, then the camera manufactures often have their own tethering software which generally works well. The software CaptureOne is possibly the best tethering software available. These software packages are designed for tether capture and work fast and efficiently. Lightroom is several applications in one. Its a DAM (digital asset management) with its database making it easy to find photographs if you keep up with the meta data and keyboarding. The develop module which is basically a nice GUI around Adobe Camera RAW. Then the print module; Photoshop has always been very complex to print from. The print module in Lightroom with its profile support and custom presets you can setup, makes it one of the best places to print from. So Lightroom is quite a beast with lots of useful modules. It is into this tethering has also been added. It started off as a watch folder. You created a folder and set Lightroom to ‘watch’; you then used other software to get your images from the camera to this folder, once an image appeared it would be auto imported into Lightroom.

We now have real tethering in the last several versions, it has always been slow and buggy, and would drop the connection losing you a shot at least once during a shoot.

So how was the new Lightroom v11. Well its still slow, but it is useable, and I was pleased that it did not drop the connection or fail at all during the three hour shoot. So if you have Lightroom it is a option. I’ll test it some more, but it is working much better then previous versions.

As for the shoot, it went well and we got some great shots. Thanks to Sophie for her hard work and our two assistants on the day.

Photo Tip – Check image after changing Flash Power

If you change the flash power, remember to check the next few shots carefully, are you getting flash sync errors, has the colour temp changed so do you need to do a fresh white balance. Its not just getting the exposure right.

When I am using studios with cheaper flash heads I often need to check these things or lose shots.

When you can shoot tethered it does make it easier to spot if things have changed.

When on location as in the shot above of the lovely Ivory Flame, I was mixing changing daylight with flash, in this situation having a flash you know you can rely on is definitely and advantage.


Leica M10

On a bright summer morning walking down a woodland lane, shooting into the sun is not a good idea, the high contrast, risk of flare generally will not result in a good image, but sometimes, just sometimes it works.

Getting Colour Temperature – do we need to get it right?

White balance card

If you shoot jpeg then yes get it right in camera, but for us RAW shooters why should we bother?

Its easy to fix it post but come on, who wants to have to colour correct all the images you took on your last shoot, yes with Adobe Lightroom you an fix one and then replicate it across, but its just another job you have to get done.

Get it right in camera.

Once you have everything correct its then easy to work from a common starting point and colour grade to how you want it.

How card slots do you need in a camera

CF Cards were relatively physically robust, SD cards less so. Many pros and amateurs like having two card slots. Writing RAW to one and Jpg to another for backup. A few recent cameras have had a lot of flack for not having two card slots but card technology has improved a lot recently.

While CF and SD cards are prone to failure the new designed XQD and CFexpress have had no recorded failures due to hardware. Now all cards have a recommended number of read writes, and it is when you exceed these you start to get errors. Errors with these new cards are due to exceeding these recommendations.

If your camera uses one of these new types of card I would be less worried about needing two slots for safety. Some photographers who after a shoot hand a card to a third party but also need a copy for themselves then yes there are ways cases for two slots, sometimes event photographers will print out a quick jpg and sell to the client on the day so having jpegs to one card and raw to the other is handy from a work flow perspective, but for many of us one card slot is now enough.

No matter how many card slots you have I would recommend you replace your cards regularly. It is likely now age and exceeding the number writes that will get you rather a the card failing early.

Focus Stacking

Fountain Pens

When shooting still life or macro, depth of field is limited. This was shot with daylight, and a little bit of fill flash from a low power studio flash head and a shoot through umbrella.

I wanted to shoot at f/8 which would give me reasonable quality, depth of field and not have the shutter speed drop too much. But even f/8 would not give me enough depth of field. so I decided to have a go at a technique that I had read about and see a landscape photographer user on a Youtube video but never tried my self.

A technique I do use is to merge several images together to create large panoramic. The technique I chose to use this time was to create more depth of field. Its called photostacking and is automated now in Photoshop.

I took several images in succession but focused at different points in the image. After a quick edit for colour, contrast and exposure. I imported these as separate layers into Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop, the first step is to make sure they are all aligned correctly. Now I was shooting on a tripod, but sometimes even the best lens do something called ‘focus breathing’ and the field of view changes ever so slightly.

With each layer selected go, Edit , Auto-Align Layers and I chose Auto. This will then line up everything to the best of its ability.

Now you are ready to merge the layers into a single image layer taking the parts that are in focus from each layer. Its quite easy and automated.

Again with all layers selected, go to Edit and select Auto-Blend Layers.

Select Stack Image and ensure that the Seamless and Content Aware tick boxes are selected.

It will now generate a new layer based on the parts in focus. It will do a reasonable job but will not be perfect, you may have to tweak the layer masks it generates slightly. Save it and go back into Lightroom for a final edit.

NSW – Reworking Old Photographs

Candy – Art Nude: Nikon D200

Its not something I do often, but with software advances, it can sometimes be interesting to take old photographs; the original raw images, and re-edit them in the latest software.

Adobe Camera RAW

Lightroom has come a long way since I last edited this black and white set of Candy, that I took at Worksop Studio back in 2007.

Most of these were processed in an early Adobe Camera RAW. Fourteen years is a long time in software development and the improvements were considerable. It was also interesting to see how I have developed as a photographer. I feel my work now is of a considerable higher standard.

Having a mini project – Lamp Posts

Leica M10, 50mm Sumilux-M

While I shoot professionally, mainly corporate and events plus model portfolios and the odd wedding I also try to have a walk around Lincoln at least a couple of times a week.

Its a very photogenic little city.

I often have a number of projects on the go, my main ones are drinks and doors at the moment, plus people on the on the phone, but I also have a lamp post and signs project. Simple little projects like this give you a focus when you are lacking in direction.

Its an easy thing to do and can lead to some interesting future ideas and keeps your interest when you need some inspiration.