From Lighting Test to Album Cover: The Tale of a Photo in the Social Media Age

As a photographer in 2018, I can’t help but think of my photos as drops in an ocean of imagery. Here are a few quick stats: There are over 60 million photos uploaded to Instagram every day (not to mention Instagram stories). Then there are the photos posted to Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook (some people still use it, right?), blogs, etc, etc. Then you have the printed image, with over 1,300 daily newspapers and 7,000 magazines currently in publication, in the U.S. alone. Then you’ve got ads, with the average person seeing more than 5,000 images a day. We
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How to Use a Projector as a Lighting Tool for Creative Portraits

In my opinion, there’s an extra layer of believability — a tangibility, if you will — to using practical effects as opposed to relying heavily on post-production. Post work is limited by the breadth (or lack thereof) of imagination, which is why I try to get as much as I can in-camera. The first time that I used a projector as a lighting tool was in a fashion story about vacation getaways I shot in 2015. I resorted to projecting exotic locales on a wall behind the model because it was February in Ohio, which meant the outdoor options available
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Shooting Beauty Photos with Jewelry Made Out of Candy

I recently collaborated with food typographer Danielle Evans. She approached me with the idea of doing a beauty shoot except the jewelry would be made out of candy that she crafted. I was intrigued and immediately began planning.

I knew that when it came to lighting I wanted something bright and colorful to match the playfulness of the jewelry, but I didn’t put much more thought into it than that (I tend to wing it).

When it comes to lighting, I find that I move through phases. Last year, for example, I was really into hard light. While I still

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You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune to Have a Great Photo Studio

photostudiofeat I have a studio. For those of you that know me — the author of the Studio Anywhere books, which focus on shooting anywhere but a studio — this statement may sound oxymoronic or even blasphemous. Nonetheless, after years of shooting in my cramped basement, I finally outgrew my space and needed a slightly larger, dedicated space to have for working with clients. After all, shooting business headshots in my suburban basement was not only inconvenient for clients, it was also a tad awkward for everyone, and at times, bordered on being unprofessional. That said, knowing how to create a studio anywhere was invaluable when I was searching for a rental space. If you are anything like me, you are awed by behind the scenes photos that show sprawling studios equipped with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear. It’s impressive. Not unlike how having a supermodel girlfriend or
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Making Gobos Out of Unusual Things for Creative Portrait Lighting

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Typically, the term “gobo” is reserved for the lens filters and patterns that are affixed to theater lights. The terms “flag” or “cucloris/cookie” are actually more accurate for what we’re going to be using in this post, which is an object placed between the light and the subject, but not attached to it. For the sake of simplicity, however, I’ll use the term “gobo” to encompass all such modifiers. So, what can you use to make a gobo? Here are some ideas. As I said, gobos can be quite literally anything that stands between your light and your subject. To block or shape light or create stylized shadows, you use an opaque gobo. Although you can use pretty much any non-transparent material, such as cardboard, foam core or poster board, cinefoil is the easiest to mold. If you aren’t familiar with it, cinefoil is essentially a slightly thicker, black aluminum
The lighting diagram. The light is roughly 3 feet from the gobo, which is roughly 3 feet from the subject, who is right against the backdrop. The close proximity creates more defined shadows.
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The raw file. Note that the shadows created on the left side (where the gobo was closer to the background) are more defined than the shadows on the right.
The Lightroom settings. Because this was a film noir-inspired shoot, I converted the file to black and white, adding grain and using the Dehaze feature to restore highlight detail.
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The final shot. Sydney is looking even more glamorous now that her black socks and the workout bench are gone.
The chain-link fence gobo. When placing your light, set it several feet from the fence and place the subject close to it.
The shadows are crisp and create a dramatic effect on the model.
The potted plant gobo. Just like the previous setup, place the light several feet away with the subject, only this time zoom in the light to 105mm to make a narrow stream of light.
The setup. Here I used a pedestal fan for a gobo, placing my flash on the motor.
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The raw file. Having a hair fan built in to my gobo made for some rad shots.
The lighting diagram. I also zoomed in the flash to 105mm to keep the light narrow and dramatic.
The Lightroom settings. Hardly any adjustments were needed because the light was already so dramatic.
The final shot. I, for one, am a fan.
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How I Shoot Pro Portraits with DIY Barn Doors

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Recently, I had a portrait shoot with the legendary poet, rapper, and actor Saul Williams. It began with a simple stroke of luck: I saw he was scheduled to perform at a local club near my house, and so I did a quick search for the name of his manager. I easily found it and e-mailed them, introducing myself and explained that I would like to take his portrait. I said that I could meet him at the venue after the sound check and would need only 15 minutes. To my excitement, they agreed. His art had made quite an impact in my life, and so I really wanted to put a lot of thought into a concept for the shoot. While revisiting his music, I had the thought that his voice, what he has to say, is a light in the darkness. This led me to the concept of
I wanted some barn doors for my flash, and when I couldn’t find any, I built my own out of black foam board and gaff tape.
Here is the resulting portrait of Saul Williams, lit perfectly with my DIY barn doors.
The set up. I propped up the flash (with barn doors attached) on a coat hook in my hostel room to create a dark, dramatic scene for a portrait.
The raw file. Although the setup was nearly identical to the setup, the light through the barn doors is much more focused and narrow here.
The lighting diagram. I wanted the wall behind the subject to go a little soft, so I shot at a slightly wider aperture of f/2.8.
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The final shot, complete with laser. Dr. Evil would be pleased.
I wanted to use this lighting effect on the band Youth Code. Because the light was so narrow, however, I needed to use two lights, one for each subject.
The final shot is punchy and epic, just like the band’s music.
The setup. In order to light the whole band, from left to right, my main light needed to be about 15 feet in front of them.
The final shot. The band is looking fresh to deaf…heaven.
This is a DIY, 24-inch snoot, complete with cookie. This extended modifier gives the light a more defined edge than the shorter one I used with the barn doors. This is because the distance from the light source to the gobo, or cookie, is greater.
The light output from the extended snoot is narrow, defined, and even.
You can get a cool effect with the barn doors even when the flash is sitting on your camera’s hot shoe, as seen in this image.
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Why I Ditch Extra Gear and Travel Light as a Photographer

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Ditching extraneous gear pays dividends when you’re traveling — and not only the ones you might expect.
Portrait of a Syrian refugee in Jordan. My minimal gear setup allows me set up and tear down quickly.
Portrait of a Syrian refugee in Jordan. My minimal gear setup allows me set up and tear down quickly.
Suppose you’re booked for a photo shoot in a foreign country. Because you’re not allowed to be in a foreign country to conduct work without a work permit, you have two options. You can get a work permit, which takes time and money, or do what I do: travel with a minimal gear kit to avoid suspicion. Not only is it easier and cheaper to do it on the sly, but travelling light (pun mildly intended) also helps you avoid checking bags. I’ve shot in Brazil, Japan, Tanzania, Jordan, and Iceland and not once needed to check a bag. By knowing the full potential of my gear, I can enter any scenario with confidence
I lit this Icelandic wedding portrait with one unmodified flashgun. By traveling with minimal gear, I am able to avoid checking bags or raising eyebrows.
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All I needed was a power source. I shot tethered to Adobe Lightroom, applying a custom preset to each image as it imported. I printed borderless 4x6-inch prints, using a Canon Selphy printer.
This is one of my (favorite) portraits from the event.
I’m not sure who got more out of the portraits—the subjects or me.
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The dramatic light gives the image a polished, studio appearance.
The Masai guard, who had never before been photographed, was fascinated by his image.
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The Great Light Hype: You Don’t Need to Drop Big Bucks for Great Photos

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“But, what about gear?” It’s a question I hear a lot. Broncolor or Profoto? Fender or Gibson? Lamborghini or Ferrari? Which toy/software/high-end piece of gear is the best so that I can do exactly what that photographer is able to do? Yes, high-end gear is nice. Both Profoto and Broncolor lights will provide you with quality light at a high output with which to light agency-represented models in couture clothing. But how often is that caliber of gear actually needed? The question should not be, “Which expensive, high-end lighting rig should I buy?” Rather, it should be “Have I yet reached the limits of what my current gear is capable of?” I’ve been asked why I opt for such a minimal or even anti-gear approach to photography, while other photographers laud gear upgrades. Well, it’s not a choice made on principle or even moral reasons; it’s one
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I wanted to know my options when it came to portable lights, so I tested the Profoto B1 against a Cactus RF60.
This is the SOOC file that was lit with the Profoto. The light is nice but the shadows are soft.
This is the SOOC file that was lit with the Cactus. Cold, crisp shadows.
This product shot was lit with two flashguns at 1/4 power, rather than studio strobes. By using a slightly higher ISO of 320, I was able to shoot at f/13, getting a sharp image.
Lit with an unmodified Cactus RF60, fired through a Cinefoil gobo
Shot for Bed Bath & Beyond. Lit with a Cactus RF60 fired into a silver umbrella with a white board for fill
Test shoot with model. Main light was a cyan-gelled Cactus on hot shoe, fired through a Neewer Round Flash soft box. Accent light to the left was a red-gelled flash, fit with DIY barn doors.
Shot for a Charles Penzone ad campaign. Cactus RF60 fired into silver umbrella from the right and unmodified accent light from the left.
Portrait of musician Chelsea Wolfe. Red-gelled Cactus RF60, modified with DIY barn doors and an unmodified cyan-gelled light on white sweep.
Portrait of band Deafheaven. Cactus RF60, modified with DIY barn doors and two unmodified lights on white sweep.
Shot for an IBM ad. Cactus to the left with various gels, fired into silver umbrella and accent light to the right, modified with DIY barn doors.
Shot for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. One, unmodified Cactus to the right.
Portrait of Buzz Osbourne from the Melvins. Unmodified Cactus behind subject, aimed toward camera.
Portrait of DJ RJD2. Main light was a umodified Cactus fired through a gobo. Also an unmodified light on white backdrop.
Test shoot with model. Main light was a red-gelled Cactus on hot shoe, fired through a Neewer Round Flash soft box. Accent light to the left was a cyan-gelled flash, fit with DIY barn doors.
Shot for Virtue Salon for NAHA hair competition. Main light was a Cactus fired into a silver umbrella. Background light was an unmodified flash bounced into a white wall in the salon.
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Hack Your Reflector By Cutting a Hole in the Middle

reflectorhole This is the cheapest yet most effective photography hack I can think of. Step one: get disc reflector. Step two: cut lens-sized hole in said reflector. Step three: profit. Seriously though, there is almost no reason to not do this hack. It’s one that I briefly showed in my “make the most of what you have” post published here last month, and in this post I’ll flesh out the idea a bit more. First of all, the reflector’s fabric is really tough which means the hole will not spread. Secondly, the reflector can still be used traditionally, even with a hole in it. 1- the hack The only issue that ever arises is if I am using the reflector to block the sun — now there is a spot of hard sunlight poking through. This problem is easily remedied: get a second reflector. But… but… what about the Omega Reflector™??? Well, since you
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The setup for a portrait
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The portrait after color correction
The portrait setup
The straight out of camera photo.
The resulting portrait after some retouching.
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The lit exposure with the hole-y reflector.
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You Don’t Need a Studio for Pro Portraits — Make the Most of What You DO Have

header My name is Nick Fancher and I am a Columbus, Ohio-based commercial and portrait photographer. I specialize in lighting — specifically with the use of small flash in unconventional locations. My goal is to show that you can often create high-quality photos without using a conventional studio… and while using minimal, affordable gear. You just need to learn to make the most out of your environment! Here are some examples of photos I’ve made, followed by behind-the-scenes photos and descriptions of the setups and locations I used: dance2 dance1 As long as you keep your light from spilling onto the ground or background, it’s fairly easy to create an all-black environment. vacay1 vaycay2 What do you do when you are shooting a vacation-themed editorial? Get a projector, some free stock photos and travel the world from the comfort of a long, dark hallway. whitewall1 whitewall2 All you need is a white wall, and pretty much every
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Shaping Hard Light from a Small Off-Camera Flash for Dramatic Portraits

I love hard light. I love the shadows it creates and the colors it brings out. I also love the convenience it affords. I work exclusively with small flash, and by using predominantly hard light in my images, I am able to travel extremely light, as I need few to zero modifiers. In the above episode (#4) of my Studio Anywhere video series, I explore several different scenarios using hard light. In the first scenario, I am using a homemade snoot that is two feet long. I also placed a “cookie” covering the opening, leaving only a narrow, horizontal opening for light to escape. The added length of the snoot allows the line of light that escapes to be especially defined, as the cookie is further away from the flash. The closer the cookie is to the flash, the softer the edges of the light will be. setup1 20151231_001 20151231_002 20151231_003 setup2 20151231_006 20151231_007 In the second
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The Art of the Portrait: My Journey to 100 Portraits in 100 Days

artofportrait As a junior in high school in 1997, when I was deciding which path I wanted to go down, fine arts or photography, things were pretty simple. Did I want to express myself with a camera or a pencil? Inspired by masters like Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle, I opted for the camera. All I wanted to do was create beautiful images for a living. By signing up for a degree in fine art photography, little did I know what lay ahead for me.
15/100. John. John is executive director of Asia’s Hope, which is a non-profit providing long-term care for the orphaned children in Cambodia, Thailand and India- specifically those at high risk of sexual exploitation. This man has seen more tragedy than I can fathom, yet faces it head-on, for the sake of those kids.

15/100. John. John is executive director of Asia’s Hope, which is a non-profit providing long-term care for the orphaned children in Cambodia, Thailand and India- specifically those at high risk of sexual exploitation. This man has seen more tragedy than I can fathom, yet faces it head-on, for the sake of those kids.

My path to disenchantment with the art world started with my first art
22/100. Ludie.
23/100. Jim.
3/100. Margot.
8/100. Isabella.
16/100. Phoenix. Phoenix is an explorer. A creator. An inventor. He’s always working on a new project or idea. Currently, in their backyard, he is mining for gold, building a motorized airplane and readying his fort for possible enemy assault. Kids gonna be president one day.
17/100. Michael.
2/100. Neil. Neil ran a blog called Help Me Poop, for several years. His poop enlightenment included info on everything from healthy eating habits to good entertainment to enjoy while on the throne. So when Neil volunteered to pose for my 100 Portraits project, I knew that there was a good chance that our conversation would lead us to the bathroom. I must say that this was the first time that I have ever placed a strobe in a toilet.
35/100. Jenny. Jenny’s bio reads “cheeseburger spirit animal”.
27/100. Jim. They say talent imitates and genius steals. The great George Lange shot Channing Tatum in almost this exact pose, years ago. I realized how similar my shot was to his after I shot B-Boy Jim Beres today. So who’s the genius- George or me? Methinks it’s Mr. Lange.
31/100. Courtney.
18/100. Evan (and Riggs) .
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