I went to Worcester, this past Saturday, to meet with Ashley for a photoshoot idea she had contacted me about. Not gonna lie, it was a cold day.
Massachusetts is under a COVID-19 stay-at-home advisory between 10pm-5am for most people, so the timing was a little challenging. We scheduled the shoot early enough to have day light available to set up equipment and have plenty of time available for photography, and late enough that we would not be fighting with bright sunlight or waiting too long for darkness to happen, in case we had some flow toys to incorporate.
Ashley did bring an LED light-whip; however, conditions were not conducive to effective long exposure photography.
In order to simulate darker conditions, I decided to work with lower ISO, a shutter speed around 1/200″ and f-stops between 4.0 and 5.6, while using a speedlight for keylighting. Also, taking into account some fan-art of Shego using a greenish outline to her hair against black backgrounds, I used the mobility and hands-free operation of the RTMS2000 with a second speedlight with a green gel to provide hair lighting. You can see the full effect of those settings in the photo gallery below.
Once we got started, the shoot went surprisingly quickly and we were able to maintain strict distance and shooting protocols with COVID-19 in mind. There were a couple of occasions where I had to lower my mask due to my camera’s eyepiece fogging up a little, but it was a temporary measure as needed. By the time we packed up, what felt like three to four hours of photography ended up being about two hours and I was able to maintain consistency across images due to simulating darkness through in-camera settings.
Cosplay photography is something I don’t do all that often, but I am glad for the opportunity to exercise some creative muscles after a fairly sizable drought, due to the every worsening COVID-19 pandemic, here in the United States. As always, I am happy to be around people who take precautions seriously, and are willing to take the extra little steps necessary to watch out for each other.
Thank you to Ashley and the RTMS2000, without whom this photoshoot could not have happened!
Halloween Photoshoot With a Demon and a Witch at Burrage Pond
This past Saturday, I met with some friends at Burrage Pond in Hanson, MA for some much needed photoshoot therapy together. It was the first time I picked up my camera since this past February, so I was a little nervous. Because COVID-19 rates are climbing again in the United States, I was considerably nervous. I have asthma and it places me into a higher risk group for serious complications because of SARS-CoV-2.
While organizing the shoot, it was important to be sure everyone present was on the same page in terms of what to expect, and that included outlining some procedures for everyone’s health and safety. I required a COVID-19 test to be taken two days prior to the shoot and if it was not possible due to timing, then strict social-distancing measures would be necessary. Thankfully, everyone involved understood and took precautions very seriously.
The day of the shoot itself went smoothly. The group of us walked into Burrage Pond in the late afternoon so we had plenty of light to work with, and so we had options on how to light and caught up with mutual banter and friendly roasting while I set up my lighting kit. It’d been so long that I was having momentary brain-farts, like “so how many batteries do I need for this flash again?..” Ugh.
We set up along a wooded pathway, isolated from everyone else, and very private. Perfect place for a photographer and his assistant to lure set up a shoot with two gorgeous models. The area included a large boulder off the walking path that was another perfect spot to use for the shoot.
The set up was a simple three point lighting kit. 1 speedlight and umbrella for the keylight, two gelled speedlights for the background and accent lighting, one red, one bluish-purple, all on basic manual radio-triggers. At the boulder, lighting was even simpler. The red and blue lights were set up for the background and accent lighting again while the key light was a handheld LED video light mounted on a voice-activated, remote-controlled, semi-autonomous, all-terrain capable mobile light-stand (my assistant).
The sun was setting, and shooting at night isn’t an issue more than trying to put away gear in pitch black darkness would be, so rather than shoot from the afternoon until around 9pm, it was better to call it a day around 7pm instead.
It was good to get back into a creative head-space again, after 8 months of self-isolating due to COVID-19. It was even better, more importantly, to be among people who were willing to be responsible for each other’s health and safety and who, clearly, value each other’s friendship. This pandemic has revealed a lot about people, who can be trusted, who is responsible, and who is worth making an effort for. I’m looking forward to another creative session with good friends soon!
My friend Dani scheduled a boudoir photography session before Valentine’s Day at her apartment near Boston, MA.
Boudoir photography and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand, in my experience, for three reasons:
Couples like boudoir photography as a way to gift intimate photos to each other that are well above and beyond the typical smartphone centered photos they often engage in as play together.
Boudoir photography is perfect for single people like to indulge in self-empowerment and giving their confidence a little extra pampering.
For other people, a boudoir photography session is a powerful way to push back a little against a trite consumer holiday, for themselves, or as means to help purge emotions tied to a former partner.
I’ve shot boudoir sessions for all three purposes and my personal opinions are irrelevant outside of how we can utilize those feelings to guide the shoot, and what their feelings are coming in to a session, and how they feel when the session is over and photos are delivered.
My clients all have their reasons, and I don’t judge.
BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Swap the hot-shoe trigger for an on-camera speedlight flagged with a black-foamie thing and you can easily leave your entire portrait light set up, while still getting flattering directional light in a different room. Swap the on-camera speedlight back to the trigger to change gears in seconds. You have everything is dialed in anyway, right?
As part of the pre-shoot discussion stage, we talked about what boudoir photography is all about and how the word “boudoir” itself comes from the French verb “to sulk or pout,” (bouder), or the adjective for “sulking,” (boudeur). It is literally, a room to sulk in or withdraw to, where one can fully exist and feel safe away from the world. We decided to use her apartment, and her bedroom, surrounded by things that mattered and felt she comfortable with (and that included her kitty, Noah). Backdrops would be created with her own tapestries and her own bedding, music she enjoyed played on her own speakers, and so on. Lighting was quick, portable, and mostly unobtrusive (small, gelled, remote-triggered, manual speedlights on thin lightstands, with minimal modifiers), and no camera tripod. We could easily move from one room to another as needed and everything was dialed in.
It also made sense to start off very slowly. Simple and basic headshots where we could laugh and have some comfortable prattle in order to keep spirits up.
Also helpful during a boudoir shoot, or any photoshoot really, is to have the full resources available of the RTMS2000 Photo Assistant. The RTMS2000 is a voice-activated, fully-articulated, remote-controlled, semiautonomous, firmware-upgradable Light-Stand and Model-Wrangler with Audio Bending Technology, Advanced Volume Control Slider (3 Algorithm Selected Presets: 0, 10, and 11), optional Flame Thrower Attachments, and Xtreme Integrated Sass Valve (there is an open support ticket for Sass Valve which is currently stuck wide open). So far, using the RTMS2000 has helped me to keep models well wrangled, light-stands aimed, hair slicked, papers organized, releases signed, music bumping (affiliate link), cattle-stampeded, 4th walls broken, and deserts combed.
I highly recommend one, once the testing phase is completed.
These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration (FDA). RTMS2000s are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. *
Finally, and most importantly, boudoir photography images are intended for the personal enjoyment of the model and the people they choose to share or gift them to. It’s very different from, say, producing commercial images for a client with the model serving as one of many props. It’s an opportunity to help someone feel confident and better about themselves through a photography session designed entirely around their comfort. The photographer helps to set the stage as works closely with the model to enables them to indulge in a little bit of fantasy and role-play.
It is in this light that I hope these images from our boudoir session, and the process to take them, fulfill their intended purpose for Dani. I am flattered to have been chosen to take them, happy to produce them, and am looking forward to future photo sessions with a good friend.
How to Use Manual Speedlights to Light a Headshot Portrait
I was hired by my friend Hanna to produce some photography for her massage therapy business in Brookline, MA. We tossed some ideas around for looks, and mutually decided that it would be best and most time-efficient to begin with a somewhat conservative headshot look, suitable for any corporate profile, before getting a little playful and creative with the photography.
I hadn’t seen the inside of her studio before, outside of a couple of smartphone photos that she sent that helped give an idea of color, so I was not certain where exactly we would set up for portraits. Even though her studio space was relatively small, it turned out that her office had a large enough blank wall that I could use as a backdrop for portraits fairly easily.
I didn’t have a light meter with me, so I opted to use my camera’s histogram as a quick and dirty light meter. To the right are the lightest pixels, to the left are the darkest pixels. I also set up a manual flash on a stand and reflected umbrella to camera right (about 45 degrees from where Hanna would stand) and at about a 30-40 degree angle downwards as the key light. I marked a spot on the floor to act as a visual reference I could use to help guide Hanna where to stand, well away from the wall. Distance and angle of light would prevent any shadows from showing up on the wall in the portrait background.
This first shot shows the straight image off the camera and histogram based on the initial settings I chose. It gives an idea of the wall, and the kind of ambient lighting that was present.
The next shot shows what happened after I turned on the flash — my initial estimate was fairly mid to low strength, at 1/16th power. Of course, everything is over exposed: note the wall pushed to clipping white (the extreme right of the histogram shows it) while the black jacket is grey-ish (the left of the histogram confirms no black tones/shadows. It does not reach to the edge). At the settings chosen, I wanted to keep the aperture at f5.6, as it’s sharp for portraits on my chosen lens. If I increased the shutter speed, the ambient light would get dimmer but not subject exposure. The way light was hitting, there was zero ambient light registering — it was all wall/jacket subject exposure.
In the next shots, take note of the difference the black leather jacket and in the corresponding histogram. The blacks and shadows creep further and further to the left. Drop the ISO more, to 400, and the jacket is mostly black with the histogram nearly fully extended to the left.
At this point, I brought Hanna over to stand at the spot I designated, while I took a test shot or two at F5.6, 1/125th, ISO400, and flash at 1/16th power. Shadows and midtones are good (left and center segments of the histogram) and given the wall color (not white), there isn’t much white to expose for. There is the white thermostat to the left on the wall but it would’t be lit to white anyway, otherwise I’d blow out Hanna. Almost dead on, I’d say. Exposure can be pushed to the right as needed. Noise won’t become a huge factor in the shadows, since Hanna’s shirt has plenty of texture and Canon RAW files can withstand a lot of noise reduction before getting horrid detail loss.
One niggling factor that bothered me was the contrast between the lit side and the shadow side on her face. It was too dark, for me, and for the use I had in mind for her headshots, so I asked the RTMS2000 to hold a make-shift reflector to camera left in order to try and pop some light back towards the shadow side of Hanna’s face. Some difference, but not enough, so I set up a second flash with a shoot-through umbrella to the my 7 o’clock position behind me. Though it would be farther, and therefore a little dimmer, even at the same power setting as the key-flash at 1/16th, I wanted to still have a gentle transition between shadow and light across Hanna’s face, so I reduced the second flash to 1/32nd instead. A quick explanation, demonstration, directing, and tweaking of Hanna’s pose lead to the final shot. Some quick sprinkling of pixie dust in Lightroom, and she has a simple, conservative, headshot for use.
Noting that we still had some time to experiment a little, I incorporated a 3rd flash to about camera 10 o’clock, on a flash stand about waist height and pointing up towards her shoulders, with an impromptu snoot (a Rogue Flashbender worked perfectly!), but with a blue gel. I wanted the splash of color to rake her arms and back as a rim-light. I also bumped the shutter to 1/250th of a second, the maximum sync speed for my camera and flash. I wanted to lower exposure a tad for the background and bring more color out from the gels. By the next shot, I had decided to not use the Flashbender in favor of unmodified light with a relatively wide throw, and after adding a red gel, the third and final shot.
There you have it, a headshot portrait photography session, on location at a small studio space, lit quickly and efficiently with a bare minimum of equipment, and making use of what is available in the environment. Realistically, this was overkill if I were creating photos for the newspaper. It could easily have been done with just a single off-camera flash and umbrella. Even simpler, I could have used on-camera flash set to eTTL modified with a black foamy thing and been done with it.
Instead, I used the extra time and assistance available to craft images that provided plenty of opportunity to experiment, relax, and bring out Hanna’s personality at a pace that was quick enough to keep from losing her interest and participation and efficiently enough that I wasn’t wearing myself out in the process.
By the way, if you’re in the Boston area and are looking for an excellent massage therapist, Hanna is wonderful!
Hanna Shansky, LMT 1318 Beacon St, Suite #10 Brookline, MA 02446 (508) 395-4226
Fire Performer Photography at Fractalfest: Reflections
STEPHENTOWN, NY – For anyone who knows me, my favorite subject to photograph is fire, and the way people interact with fire. Fractaltribe provided me a unique environment to grow with my fire photography from the first Fractalfest I attended, back in 2015. This year, Fractalfest, provided another unique opportunity for me to indulge a little in more fire photography. This year included portraits of everyday people beneath an art display demonstrating fire as a fluid, or performance artists dancing with fire as part of a story. Standard disclaimer’s apply: fire can hurt or kill you, please treat all fire with respect, do not try this at home, leave fire to the professionals, danger, danger, danger, danger, danger, don’t be stupid, never play with fire, only you can prevent forest fires, seriously, do not attempt, etc, etc!..
Boudoir Photography In a Small New York City Apartment
I was asked by a friend in NYC to arrange a boudoir photography session with her, as a present for her boyfriend, back in 2012. I prefer on-location photography rather than using a studio because I like to work with what is present in an already familiar environment — it’s normally where people feel the most comfortable. Sometimes, I am not always able to scout out the location, prior to a shoot so I am often times presented with multiple challenges immediately.
For this particular location, the challenges were a very limited time window, a very small apartment / bedroom to shoot in, walls that were not a neutral color, and a very shy subject. Given the constraints, I opted to keep the photography composition close and tight and used a black blanket for the backdrop on the bed. After arranging the Speedlites around the bed, and making sure I didn’t knock any over as she lay down for different angles.
For her comfort, it was important to keep talking with her and showing her some shots as we progressed to keep her involved in the shoot. Thankfully, as shy as she was, she took direction very well, and the occasional distraction of viewing photos as they were taken helped her relax enough to let her natural sensuality come out.
Boudoir Photography Tip – It’s the worst thing in the world to just mechanically photograph while giving very little to no feedback to your client during the shoot. Keep the conversation flowing to keep the atmosphere lighthearted. It will make a very visible difference to your boudoir photography.
Overall, I am pleased with the results. Boudoir photography is completely focused on the model, and making her (or him!) feel comfortable in her own skin — it’s pampering the model and helping them to feel their most beautiful and then capturing those moments of beauty.
Portrait photography session with a hungry baby, on-location with Angil
I set up a mini studio for a portrait photography session at Angil’s home in New Jersey: Two flashes, two umbrellas, and a black backdrop for a photoshoot with a part time model, dancer, artist, and an always full-time mommy.
Somewhere, in the middle of shooting, her newborn baby got hungry. We agreed that there was no point in stopping and breaking the flow of shooting, so we continued with shooting, and incorporated him into some beautiful portraits with his mama.
Breast feeding is no big deal and shouldn’t ever be seen as a big deal.
Baby’s gotta eat, yo…
Photo Gallery of Angil’s Portrait Photography Session