Quick and easy light in a very small space.

Added 12/09/2012: Background dropped out. No color corrections other than lightening Lauren, overall. I'm not sure what background the designer will finally use on the web but taking the blue out totally changes my perception of flesh tone, etc.

I often end up shooting quick portraits in tight places. For most of my career I carried around heavy monolights or pack and head flash systems for even the simplest of shoots because that's how we did it. Six or seven years ago we started doing smaller shoots in smaller places with portable, battery powered camera strobes but even that is more complicated than it needs to be. You've got to have flash triggers and a modeling light to be able to really see what you are doing.

Today I needed to go back to a company I'd worked with last month to photograph the last few people for their website. These were folks whose schedules precluded them from being at the first shoot. I'm using this garish, blue background because we'll be dropping out the background altogether and putting a solid color in behind the person, so we just needed some color to separate the subject from the background.

This is a one light set up. I have a 60 inch softlighter umbrella set up over to the right hand side of the frame. I was originally going to use a flash to do this shoot and I brought a Fotodiox 312 AS LED panel along to use in the dimly lit room we were put in as modeling light or set light. I stuck it on the light stand with the umbrella for some extra illumination while I was setting up. But when I looked at the quality of the light from the panel, bouncing off the umbrella, I decided to forego the flash altogether and use the light as I had it set up.

I filled the light from the LED panel and umbrella with a white reflector just out of the frame on the opposite side from the light. Two technical things make this work for me. One is that I brought along a tripod. That let me go as low as I wanted to in order to get a good exposure without any camera movement. The second technical thing, which I'm concentrating on more these days, is making a custom white balance.  Once my one light was set up and positioned I pulled my white diffuser into the frame and made a custom white balance measurement directly from the white fabric. The camera set a value of 4300K temperature and +2 M (which is a very, very small adjustment away from neutral to compensate for the very, very slight shift to green caused by the LED light profile). I did not use any sort of color correction filter on the light or the camera.

I used a custom white balance because I am becoming more aware that changing WB in raw has the effect of subsequently changing the exposure of the image file. If I had the perfect exposure with the wrong WB I would then have to compromise exposure and fiddle more with the basic parameters of the image to get back to neutral. The proof is in the tasting of the pudding. The file above has no color correction or exposure correction applied, and it is a jpeg.  To my eye the file is just a little bit "cold" but I think when I drop out the blue my perception of the skin tones will change.

That the scene was lit by a $149, battery powered LED panel still fascinates me. Everything is a trade off but this set up is one I'm happy to take. Every piece of gear I used was hand carried in one trip from the car.

I used a pop up background on a single, centered stand. The reflector was on a small stand with a clamp. I shot with my Sony Nex 6 set to Jpeg fine/large. The creative style was set to "portrait." ISO 800. Exposure setting f2.8 at 1/30th. I photographed six people with this set up this afternoon and the batteries in the LED panel, after over 150 exposures, still showed 75% full. And remember, I could shoot as fast as I wanted to without concern for recycle times because the LED panel kicks out continuous light. 

I used Sony's 50mm 1.8 OSS lens and since I was on a really good tripod I turned off the image stabilization. I think the lens is great. It's sharp enough but has a nice look to the out-of-focus area of the background. After looking at the files I decided I needed to order just one more panel from Fotodiox so that's on the way.

Below is how I have the LED panel set on the umbrella. 

Had I been using the a99 I might have shot at ISO 1600 or even 3200 and used a higher shutter speed. Not that it would have mattered much. It's so much easier to focus and see in a darker space when you add a good continuous light as opposed to trying to do it all with small flashes. The LED panels are perfect for applications like this. And they've become much more color neutral even within just the last year.

Thanks to Lauren at the Spa for graciously allowing me to use her image in the blog.


Dave Jenkins said...

Good information that I can use. I've been looking for a way to stop carrying my monolights to business portrait sessions. I could use small flashes, but don't want to work without modeling lights.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Looks pretty perfect to me. Thanks for the explanation.

Chris Malcolm said...

I don't do professional portraits, or even amateur ones of this quality. But I do agree with your enthusiasm for LED panels. For a few years I've been carrying a powerful LED torch in my gear bag just to give a bit of shadow fill or a hair rim light. I have a gizmo which lets me attach it to tripod. It's just so much quicker to set up than a flash. But not a good enough colour or spread for a main light.

So now I also carry around a small LED panel which gives a good white light, and is powerful enough to be a useful main light source for head portraits, flowers, small portable still items, pages in libraries and bookshops, etc..

Anders C. Madsen said...

"A little cold" at 4300K?

I know that taking the WB from the white in the eyes may not always be the best option, but I went ahead and tried it anyway. I used her left eye and Capture One was pretty adamant about a color temperature around 6300 K with a tint of -17, which on my monitor and to my eye gave some very pleasing skin tones.

Is it me (and C1) or is there a fundamental difference between how C1 and ACR handles white balance?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Anders, I wasn't referencing the correction in ACR to get white balance. I was referencing reading the actual WB figures as set by the camera, in the camera's LCD, as a reult of the custom white balance by the camera. It showed that the actual light was 4300 with +2 on the camera. That's what the Nex 6 was using as the correction point. A tint of minus 17 seem as though it would add in a lot of green... The balance may have ended up a bit bluer since the diffuser I was using as a WB target was removed and put to the side where it probably allowed some additional blue contamination. Lesson in this is not to change the position of a reflector after you've white balanced. I should have used something else to white balance on and left the reflector in place...

Anders C. Madsen said...

Argh - my mistake, I should have read the part about the WB temperature a bit more carefully. :)

It is absolutely shocking how much the perception of the image colors have changed after you removed the background. I tried the WB settings that seemed OK for the image with the blue background (6300K, -17 tint) in Capture One with the neutral background, and now the skintones are definitely warmer and much greener to my eye, even though I know that it is only a matter of perception.

Kirk Tuck said...

I think color perception is so misunderstood. Most people think they are very accurate but we are much better at side by side comparisons than stand alone evaluations. It's like 90% of the population secretly thinks they are smarter than average.... It's tricky. That's why it's good to measure.

Anonymous said...

Ahh color. Joseph Albers, Johannes Itten. Pretty much sez it all. At the very least, required reading as a starting point for pursuing an understanding.

Ryan said...

Looks pretty good, I know it tight space it isn't easy to get light in.