Tag Archives: soft light

Know how to use a gobo? You have probably used them…

A gobo can be used to fit on off-camera flash units

• A gobo can be used to fit on off-camera flash units •

A simple idea – but so useful!

A gobo is used to block or shape light – normally using black screens of some sort. They’re commonly used in the movie industry, and more recently photography. Find out all about them here…

Of light and shadow

It sounds like a grand and mysterious name. In fact the term gobo is a rather straight forward. Here is what the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Gobo - Oxford English Dictionary | External link - opens new tab/page says…

gobo, (noun); gobos (plural)
Etymology: Unknown. Originally from the U.S.
1930 – Gobo, portable wall covered with sound-absorbing material.
1936 – A ‘gobo’ is a small black screen used to deflect light.
1970 – A gobo is anything that goes between, e.g., the light and the set.
OED (online) Seen 08/08/2013  External link - opens new tab/page

So, this wonderful little word seems to have been a compound word from “go between”. Hmmm! I would like to see some proof of that. The side entry in the OED says in red “This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1972)”. Seems a long time without full qualification.

What is the Gobo really about? Manipulation of light and shadow. Our more technical definition in the Photographic Glossary (gobo) goes into more depth about how it is used in five broad ways in modern photography…

  • To block light or create shapes or patterns of light and shadow together.
  • A mask with a shape cut out of it fixed to the light and used to project a light shape (eg. a logo).
  • Cards/screens to create shaped shadow or deeper shadow in a scene.
  • A jury rigged light modifier on a light to shape or direct the light.
  • A mask placed in the light beam which shapes the light/shadow in the scene.
  • A light modifier allowing some light through and casts a specific shadow or diffusion shape

It is interesting that both the Hollywood studios and the OED use the term to manipulate and absorb sound. Of course in photography sound is less important. You can see however, that gobos are used to shape light and shadow in various ways.

How do gobos affect you?

If you have ever held your hand, a hat or a piece of card up to shade your lens to prevent flare or lens reflection you have used a ‘flag‘. Originally a gobo was the term used for protective devices to keep a lens out of incidental light. Now days the more specialist term, flag, is used for shield or blocking of light especially when it relates to the protection against lens flare. Understandable the two terms are easily mixed up. A flag seems to be used mainly for blocking light out. A gobo more for manipulating light, especially where that involves creating shadows.

Today I was photographing a white van in very bright overhead light. I keep a black blanket in my equipment for this type of situation. My assistant held up the blanket behind me to create a broad shadow across the corner of the van I was photographing to cut out the strong sun light. This is one form of gobo. It was not cutting out the light completely. I was reducing the very bright sunshine to an area of pure white so I could more easily pick out the details.

In a studio you might use a a black screen to intensify the darks in one area of a scene. It is a mood enhancer in this situation.

On another day I was working on business portraits. The office was a bright, but grey colour. We used plants on a trellis with a light behind it to create a shadow-pattern of leaves and diamond shapes onto the wall giving added interest to the background, breaking up the grey. This is a gobo too – being used to enhance the light/shadow ambiance.

More after this…

A solid light of the same colour and intensity across a still life is boring. Use cards or diffusion surfaces to vary the light and create slight shadows or graduate the light. One side of the still life use a black card to darken and block light. On the other side use white card to intensify and diffuse it.

A gobo is often used to shield the camera from light too, but it is not a flag. In A quick shoot using water? Tips to get you started… from yesterdays post a gobo could have been placed in front of a flash unit on the table. This would prevent the light getting directly back to the camera lens, but still project the light onto the back wall. A two in one gobo.

There is one further really fun use of gobos that is growing in photography. The recent growth of interest in light painting has renewed the interest in projecting shapes onto surfaces to be photographed. A black card with a logo or shape cut out of it can be placed directly in front of a light source. The light shining through the shape projects it onto a far surface. Then, in the dark, light painters can photograph the projection. Light painting is the intrepid art of photographing deliberately manipulated bright lights in the dark. It’s great fun!

What have we learned

A gobo is a term that describes the manipulation of the light shadow relationship. We use a range of blocking and masking techniques to manipulate the light and the gobos are the instruments of that manipulation. A flag on the other hand is a pure blocker of light.

Have fun thinking this one over. It is a useful concept and one that has infinite uses for mood, variation of shadow and creating settings.

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Do you understand the play of light on faces?

Video

Video

Understanding light involves seeing it on your subject…

That understanding comes from seeing light in different environments. Next time you are outside look at the light and shadow on the faces of people around you. Look for light/shadow relationships and look out for light playing on the face – how it moves around as the face moves in the light.

The play of light on faces is interesting, but often ugly

When you study faces and light together you will see that there are some pretty ugly shapes and shadows created by light on the face. We are programmed to follow edges, lines and contrasts with our eyes. Oddly, we see these on faces all the time but tend to ignore them.

Normally we ignore the ugliness of bad light because we have no control over light on other peoples faces. And, our familiarity with the face turns off our attention to light. It allows us to forget that faces can be pretty ugly in bad light or a bad position relative to the light.

Somehow, when we translate a scene to a 2 dimensional picture, these shapes, contrasts and lines created by light on the face become more obvious than in real life. They seem to take on an ugliness that we normally do not see.

‘Picture-awareness’, what we see on pictures but not in real life, happens in a lot of things. With faces it is pretty important. For photographers doing portraits it can make or break a picture. Becoming familiar with the concept is important if you want your portraits to succeed.

How to use natural light and fill flash Portrait tutorial

In the video Tony Northrup shows how light and shadow can be changed to your advantage easily and simply.

Tony Northrup  External link - opens new tab/page

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Seven easy tips to improve your group photography

• Boys Group •

• Boys Group •
The humble group photograph can be much improved by a few simple steps.

Simple steps lead to great shots…

With groups you must go a little further than with straight portraits. Getting people coordinated, a range of different settings, beating the dreaded ‘blinks’, great sharpness… Check these out, go the extra mile.

Planning

When doing group shots a few ideas up front helps. Some simple ideas about cohesion, commonality and framing can make your shots more compelling. Clear ideas about how you want this particular group arranged will enable you to get them quickly into place. Groups, by their nature become impatient quickly. Preparation moves things along keeps people on the ball. Have your location scouted and know where you are going to place your group. Have a good, simple background ready. Make sure you have adequate light to work with. Location is everything.

Settings

Remember, groups require a wide view and you need some depth too. Set your aperture too large and you risk the back row being out of the zone of sharpness. Most groups are best photographed at f8 or even better f11. To get the sharpness work with your shutter speed up reasonably high. 1/125th minimum – better 200ths of a second. Go higher if you don’t need flash.

Bigger groups always have a certain amount of movement. Higher shutter speeds help to freeze the action. The problem is, high shutter speed and small aperture leave you needing flash or extra lighting. There is always a trade-off. To compensate you may need to raise your ISO.

Sharp shooting

Shooting at high speed will help freeze the action. It will not steady your hand. If shooting a big group, especially for formal shots, it’s best to use other sharpening techniques. Consider these sharpness…

  • Using a tripod
  • Use mirror lock-up function
  • Image stabilisation off (not needed on tripods – it creates vibration)
  • Auto-focus off on a tripod after the group is focused (it creates vibration)
  • Operate with a remote shutter button or use the on-camera timer

A tripod saves time. You can arrange the group and smooth the shot through. If you have more than one group, your camera is always set up when it is on a tripod. It helps smooth the flow.

Light and shade

Overall light in the scene is important, so is the shade. When taking pictures of groups you are taking a wide angle view. The group is often spread out. It’s easy to miss that one or two of the group are in the shade. Or, with a camera mounted flash, the shadows from the flash fall harshly onto the people behind. Trees, buildings, other people, towers, street lights – any number of objects can cast unexpected shadows which are difficult to notice. Flash casts shadows you don’t see until you open the picture on a computer later. Look carefully at your group. Arrange them to be in clear, consistent light. Make sure any lights or flash you are using treats all the members of the group evenly and fairly.

Clothing

So often with groups you have no control over clothing. If the event is formal the clothes often have a stiff and upright feel. People don’t relax so well in this situation so you will have to set the scene and pose them accordingly. It is not easy, especially with family conventions or a preset plan. Where possible let them arrange themselves with your help. People will be most comfortable next to the people they like and know.

When a group is coming together informally the clothes may be wildly variable in character. What matters when working with a candid group is the fun arrangement of the group. Try to get the group to look dynamic and together. This will offset a strong clothing variation.

The prize giving

• The prize giving •
If the group feels comfortable and you work with them they’ll help make a great picture.

Organisation

Groups, especially close up, look odd if the faces are at different distances from the camera. They are close enough to us to look fine. However, the lens plays tricks on our eyes. If they are out of line – at different distances, but close together – they will appear to have different head sizes. Try to make people in each line of a group stand evenly down the line.

Sometimes the classic, short in front taller to the back works fine. Other times it is better to actually mix up short and tall – especially with different generations. It is much more natural for grandchildren to be arranged with grandparents than stuck on the end of the line because they are small. Putting children between adults also provides an opportunity to have a shorter person behind so as to break up a line up – to make it less formally arranged.

Close family groups, and friends, often look good leaning together, or heads together. It is very intimate to touch heads.

The dreaded ‘blinkies’ strike every group shot if you are not careful. The bigger the group the more likely that someone will blink. Overcome it with a little group control. Ready to shoot? Tell them you are going to help stop them blinking in the shot. Tell every one to shut their eyes. Count to two, tell everyone to open. Count to two. Press the shutter. Everyone will have open eyes. Explain it first so they know what is coming. It will make sure they all have eyes open long enough for you to get the shot.

So, with all these different ways of organising the group make sure that what you have is comfortable, natural – never forced.

Posing

Organising the group is about positioning and location. Posing is about personal stance and comfort. You, as the photographer, need to direct the group. But on the other hand you have to work with the people you have before you. Try to make it fun. Get them to relate to one another. If you have time, especially with candids or informal group, get them to experiment. Handshakes, greetings, hugs, arms around each other, standing in groups – the idea is to make ‘that’ group look good. Another group might not look good with the same poses. You should work with them, discuss ideas with them, respect their thoughts. They probably know each other better than you know them and will make the best suggestions. It is your job as a director to pick up on the most effective shots from their ideas. Consider what you know about them, consider their ideas for their poses – then work together to make the shot just right.

Getting the right feeling…

Working with groups is more than just lining them up. You have to consider the time, place, light, shade, the settings and the technique. But the best shots still come from the group itself. If the members of the group are comfortable, having fun and feel natural about their poses they will make sure you get a good shot. Work with them, help them make your picture work.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

A simple lighting technique with lovely light

The mobile phone light... soft and effective.

The mobile phone light… soft and effective.

Table-top photography works with soft light.

When you are doing still life shots you want soft, gentle light. Exposures can be longer so you can create lovely gentle shadow graduations. Your mobile phone provides an excellent light source for this. Here is how it is done.

White source image

The basic technique is to put a bright white image onto your mobile screen. When you display it on the mobile screen the illumination produces a white light. This is a wonderful, quite localised soft light for your shot. The steps in detail are…

  • Open your favourite image editor
  • Create a new image (approx size 800 pixels by 600 pixels)
  • Paint it brilliant (pure) white
  • If you are on your computer save the image then upload it to your phone
  • If you are on your mobile phone save the image to a known folder
  • When you want to use the light, display the image on screen

The white image on screen produces enough illumination to create the light you want for your table top image.

Other ways to use your mobile as a light source

Of course many mobiles are also capable cameras in their own right. So here are two other ways to use them:

Photographic light: Lots of mobiles have a “flashlight” app. This will allow you to use the camera flash as a photographic light onto your still life scene. Many on-camera (pop-up flash) flash units are very strong and have a harsh light. The flash on a mobile is often much softer and sometimes is coloured to be a similar colour to daylight (approx 5500 Kelvin). This ‘daylight balance’ is a great light and worth using if you have it. Prop your phone up with the flashlight app activated and start shooting.

Coloured light source: Traditionally coloured light is produced using colour gels. However, some apps on mobile phones can create both a white light or a range of other coloured lights. One such app for example is: Tiny flashlight + LED. This is an app. for Android phones, but there are other apps. for different operating systems. If you cannot find a suitable app. you can produce a colour image like the white one above. Store that on your phone and open the image when you want that colour light.

Versatile

While the light from the screen of your phone might not be very strong, for a long exposure that is not too important. The light is wonderful and soft. As it comes from a wide source it creates lovely wrap-around shadows. These are just great for still life. Other features of phones can help with the lighting for your photography too. So, have a look at your mobile in a new light – see what you think.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Three rules of lighting… simple, but effective

• Three Rules of Lighting •

• Three Rules of Lighting •

The simple explanations are the best.

Here at Photokonnexion we try hard to provide simple explanations for the things we all want to learn about our favourite subject. If you think anything is too complicated let us know on our Contact Us page or leave a comment below the article.

Well, here is a video in the spirit of simple explanations. I really do not need to explain before you see it… just watch and enjoy.

More after this…

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Three Rules of Lighting for Photography

“We talk about the three important rules regarding the behaviour of light. As photographers we can use these rules to achieve the type of lighting we want, including the look of soft light.” – Ed Verosky
© Ed Verosky 2012  External link - opens new tab/page

For more background on lighting

Don’t forget to check out our Light and Lighting resource pages and especially the links on Hard Light and Soft Light. These are essential to the understanding of light.

All our resources can be found in the menu at the top of the page.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Can you write? Of course you can!
Write for Photokonnexion...

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The simple secrets behind good food photography

Food for Her World Vietnam magazine.

Food for Her World Vietnam magazine.
Food styling by Dang Phuong
Photography by Mads

Food for the World Vietnam magazine. Photography by Mads • on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

We all love good looking food…

Food photography? So, what makes it look really good? I love to cook and make tasty food. But, great cooks also have a skill with presentation. It is the presentation which really makes great food shots too.

Food photography seems to be centred on three things – good looking food composition; great light and picking the right focus/centre of interest. Duh! Wait a minute, isn’t that pretty much photography summed up all over? OK, I jest. There are some specific ideas and techniques involved. Good food photography seems to require a particular approach.

Here are some introductory points for good food photography. You should look to achieve…

  • Experience with small-sized and table-top compositions.
  • A working knowledge of lighting at the table-top scale.
  • Simple natural light from one source (window).
  • Able to use reflectors/black cards to shape the light.
  • Simple centre of interest in the shot.
  • Carefully chosen depth of field.
  • Very simple, but rich backgrounds.

And with the food itself…

  • Natural and where possible bright colours.
  • The colour mix should work together.
  • Avoid odd clashes of colour.
  • The food combinations should be simple and few.
  • Focus on the main interest.
  • Avoid highlight bokeh spots where possible.
  • Try to emphasis the texture of the food (lighting).
  • Use simple but eye catching cutlery and plates.
  • Avoid cluttering the shot with too much food.
  • Give the food a big/deep background.

More after this…

Book recommendation:

Food Photography:
From Snapshots to Great Shots

Simple advice on lighting including great diagrams. The pictures include camera settings. Excellent advice on setting up a table-top studio which was also inexpensive to do. Lots of tricks and techniques like the pros use. Great presentation ideas.

 

Food Photography Tips – Video

In this video we look a range of ways to look at and shoot food. It is a great introduction to food photography basics. The video uses graphic images for a broad introduction to the art of angles, framing and creating drool inducing food photos.


Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training courses in digital photography.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Can you write? Of course you can!
Write for Photokonnexion...

We would love to have your articles or tips posted on our site.
Find out more…
Write for Photokonnexion.

Ten simple ideas to help your portraiture improve

Video

Video

Straight forward portraiture advice is difficult to come by…

In the video we have some great ideas that help you to map out a great Portraiture session. This is straight advice aimed at getting you to a good quality completed portrait as directly as possible.

I have to add that the book advertised in the video is also a great book. It is packed with some excellent ideas and written in a simple and easy-to-read way. If you are interested in following up on the book I can highly recommend it. My copy is pretty dog-eared these days!

 

Portrait and Candid Photography: Photo Workshop This is a great book packed with lots of hints, tips and ideas like the ones below. A really worthwhile read.

 

Ten points at the core of good portraiture

In the video Erin Manning highlights the importance of the following ten points…

  1. Don’t fix your subject in the middle of the frame. Instead, think about the rule of thirds – a more dynamic outcome.
  2. Poses and “cheesy” words to force a smile are false and make the photo look strained.
  3. Make your clothes simple and un-distracting. Forget patterns and fussy details. Simple solid colours help the subject to stand out, not the clothes.
  4. Avoid straight on shots with a big flash. The open pupil in the eye will cause light to reflect back to the camera and show bright red eyes… You don’t want your subject to look like red-eyed monsters. Use red-eye reduction settings if your camera has them.
  5. Vary your poses, angles and heights. The more angles you get the more you are telling a story about your subject. Get them in many different ways.
  6. Use flash to help reduce harsh shadows. The sharp sunlight of the middle of the day is very unflattering. The use of fill-in flash softens the shadows bringing out the subjects character.
  7. Look for great quality of light. Remember that hard light (harsh edges and strong contrasts) is very unflattering. Shoot in the later afternoon or early morning to get soft light with better colours. Use shade to reduce hard light if you are forced to work in bright mid-day light.
  8. Don’t stand too close and use a wide angle lens. This exaggerates the nose. Stand away and zoom in. This reduces nose size and is much more flattering. (Great advice).
  9. Pay attention to the background. If it is too busy make sure there is nothing distracting. Check to make sure the background has not created odd effects like poles sticking out of heads and flowers in ears!
  10. Make sure you have enough battery capacity and memory card space to cover the whole session. You don’t want to lose any shots when you are in full swing.
Erin Manning’s Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Great Portraits


Erin Manning

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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