Lego Stormtrooper patrol on Hoth

I first thought of the idea for this photo over two years ago but you know how it goes. Other images take precedence (especially ones that don’t require as much time to set up!), you temporarily forget about it, life in general etc.  However, I found myself at a loose end one evening last week & I thought “Hey! Let’s give it a go!”

I began by taping 6 sheets of white, A4 paper together & placing them on a table. This was to create a basic white base (if you had a larger piece of paper or white foam board then obviously this would work just as well). At the back I stood two pieces of black, A4 card on their end to help create a dark backdrop (the cereal boxes were just a handy aid seeing as I was in the kitchen!) I arranged the stormtroopers on the base & stuck each of them down with a tiny piece of blu tack to prevent them from falling over mid shot. A quick scout on the internet had brought up baking powder as the most popular material to use as snow in this type of scaled down imaged. As you can see from below, you don’t need to cover the entire base. Keep checking the live view on your camera to see any bare sections that require attention. For future reference, this was two 170g packets of baking powder. A useful tip when applying the baking powder is to roughly sprinkle it into hills & shapes first, then sieve some additional powder over the top to create a fine top layer which looks more realistic.

Stormtrooopers on Hoth set up.
Set up for Stormtrooper patrol on Hoth image.

For the planet/moon (“That’s no moon!”) I took a piece of kitchen foil & loosely crumpled it into a ball before carefully unfolding it & wrapping it around a small, plastic, side plate. As I knew the top of the planet wasn’t going to be in shot I merely held it with one hand while shining a small, LED pocket torch at it with the other. This was the only light source used (the room being completely dark) although I also had a white reflector just below the camera to bounce some of the light back onto the front of the mini figures. As for camera settings, the camera was in Aperture Priority mode in order for me to choose the depth of field I wanted & the resulting exposure was 1.3 seconds. It goes without saying the camera was on a tripod. I also set the shutter release to a 10 second delay seeing as both hands were occupied operating the torch & holding the moon.

Post production was fairly brief. A slight white balance adjustment to create a cooler look. A hue/saturation tweak to the blue channel and a brightness & contrast adjustment. Finally a little sharpening to finish it all off.

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Early attempt at ICM

There are lots of things I’m not sure about with this ICM (intentional camera movement) image. For instance, I’m not sure I panned quickly enough when taking it. I’m not sure taking it handheld as opposed to using a tripod is the correct technique to follow. I’m not even sure I like the effect when I’ve viewed similar photographs taken by professionals! But it’s always good to experiment with new techniques & try different photographic styles.

Settings: f/25, 0.30 sec, ISO 100, 30mm focal length

Christmas with a Lensbaby

Snow White ornament, Lensbaby, bokeh, Christmas

I have always been a fan of the selective focus images created by a Lensbaby. However, even the cheaper Edge model is a little out of my price range for what is essentially a creative lens & not one I would necessarily use everyday. I purchased the Spark a year ago but have found it somewhat awkward to operate & certainly tricky to achieve consistent results. Consequently, I recently bought a second hand Composer (it’s the model with the interchangeable, magnetic aperture rings) & have been experimenting with it ever since.

Now I realise you can achieve the effect generated by these lenses through Photoshop or other similar post production software & believe me, I’m not one of those photographers who obsesses about getting everything right “in camera”. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to composition I put a lot of thought into getting it right before I press the shutter but once I download the results, I’d only be fooling myself if I said they didn’t benefit from a little curves adjustment, hue/saturation layer tweaking & a touch of sharpening before being finished. However, there is something much more creative & certainly enjoyable watching the focus point change on the back of the camera before pressing the shutter as opposed to doing it later.

The festive photograph above seemed to lend itself well to a Lensbaby. Focusing on Snow’s face while having Father Christmas blurred yet still distinguishable in the background seemed to add to the festive spirit.

Painting bananas

Painted banana, selective colour, fun, fruit, monochrome

Apparently, according to various internet sources I’ve read, selective colour images are one of the most hated photo editing techniques known to man. They’re tacky. They’re a cliche. They’re amateurish & not something “real” photographers would stoop to. Who cares! Rules are made to be broken & although I know posting this is probably going to polarize both my readers, people’s opinions are just that, opinions. So why not give it a go yourself?

This was a very simple shot to set up. However, I did give a little thought to the types of fruit I was going to include in the bowl. Knowing the majority of the image would be in black & white I wanted to include some texture, hence the avocado & kiwi. Even the citrus fruits were placed on top with the smoother skinned apples at the bottom.

1 beer bottle, 5 flash positions

Golden Sheep Ale, beer, Black Sheep brewery

There are numerous tutorials on the internet explaining how to photograph bottles of beer, wine, vodka (insert tipple of your choice). However, they all consist of multiple light set-ups, many of which would be very expensive to replicate in your own home. I decided to see if I could recreate a similar image using a single Yongnuo speedlight. Here is how I did it.

Because I was going to have to re-position the speedlight several times during the shoot I locked the camera onto a tripod. I was attempting this in my lounge, mid-afternoon so I dialed in settings similar to those used to create low key images (ie. shutter speed 1/200 & aperture f/16 to give a completely black image). After focusing on the bottle I switched to manual to stop the camera hunting between images. I also had the 10 second shutter delay function active as I didn’t have my remote switch handy.

I placed the speedlight as follows:

  1. Directly behind the bottle (power 1/128). This would give the glow inside.
  2. Facing down onto the bottle with the pop down diffuser on the flash.
  3. From the side & slightly behind the bottle (power 1/32), still diffused. This would highlight the edges (see below). Repeat for the other side.
  4. In front of the bottle, angled 45 degrees downwards (1/2 power), diffused. This is to illuminate the label.

Side lit beer bottle

Once I had my images it was simply a case of uploading them to Photoshop Elements, dragging each one in turn onto one another, checking their alignment (very important just in case the camera had moved slightly), adding a layer mask Alt + Add Layer Mask & revealing the parts of that image I required using a soft edged brush.

 

Daytime low key photographs

My previous attempts at low key images had either been taken on a darkened theatre stage or, long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. Both situations providing an almost pitch black environment making it relatively easy for me to create the desired lighting effect. This time I was shooting around 1 o’clock on a bright summer’s day & so I needed to re-think my methods.

I selected ISO 100 & set the shutter speed to 1/200 which is my maximum flash sync speed. With the speedlight turned off (mounted on a stand & firing through a white flash umbrella), I took a shot with aperture f/11. However, the resulting image wasn’t completely black. I couldn’t increase my shutter speed to make the image darker because I was already at my maximum sync speed, so I would have to reduce the aperture size (f/16 did the trick). Now I could take shots knowing the only thing illuminating the object, in this case a cymbal, was the light from my flash.

Once I had the the image loaded onto my computer the only things to do were a black & white conversion, apply minimal sharpening & that was it. Well, that was going to be it but as I continued to play around with the image I discovered I really liked this pin hole camera style effect achieved by adding a vignette.

Headshot Lighting

Flat.

  • light aimed directly at the subject (in front of)
  • have the light source just above the camera

Butterfly

  • light directly in front & above
  • try placing a reflector horizontally on the subject’s lap to make shadows less harsh (silver or white side up)

Rembrandt

  • light above & angled down
  • it should leave one side of the face almost in shadow except for a triangular shape of light on the cheekbone
  • use this lighting for dramatic shots

Split

  • subject is lit from the side
  • resulting in only half the face being lit with the other half in shadow
  • this technique is used more for athletes etc. as it’s good at showing off ab muscles for example

 

Wind turbine flower

Wind turbine flower, moorland, energy

Scout Moor wind farm located just outside Rochdale in Lancashire, is the second largest onshore wind farm in England. Love them or loathe them, these wind turbines dominate the horizon in the surrounding areas. It was while walking around here recently, I decided to see if I could create something a little more aesthetically pleasing out of them & this is the result.

This image is the combination of six separate photographs taken using “continuous shooting” mode. Once they’re uploaded onto the computer open them all in ACR & click “select all” so that any alterations you make apply to every photo. Now open them in Elements & start combining them. To do this select the Move tool, hold down “Shift” & click the image you want to move dragging it onto the background image. This should create a new layer. Quickly check the alignment of this new layer by clicking its eye icon to hide & reveal it. If any movement has occured, reduce its opacity & use the Move tool to re-align it. With the opacity back to 100% (& the new layer selected) hold down Alt & click the Add Layer Mask icon. This adds a ‘hide all’ layer mask so you can only see the background image. Now select the Brush tool & with a soft edged brush (ensuring the foreground colour is white) paint the additional turbine blades in. Repeat these stages for each photo in the set until you have the completed image.

New beginnings

Having recently purchased my first DSLR camera I’ve been exploring the almost endless possibilities this fun, new piece of equipment provides. It’s definitely become a very creative, engaging hobby. However, due to the general constraints of family life (or, me not committing to photographing everyday you could say!) after a few months of trying various hints & tips from magazine articles, photography websites, You Tube etc. I found I was forgetting some of the earlier stuff I’d learnt. I was then left trying to remember which source I’d used to do obtain the information required.

So I’ve decided to start a blog, mainly for my own benefit, to use as a source of reference where I can jot down any useful pieces of information gained & have then all in one place.
As I mentioned, I’m an absolute beginner at this so a lot of the posts may be too simplistic for all you hardened photographers out there. But if by following my journey you gleam something you previously didn’t know or, you just want to have a laugh at my elementary mistakes, then I hope you come back to read more.