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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Colour grading – Natural light effect

This is a 4 step process to achieve a natural light, colour grading effect on your images.

  1. Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Take the saturation down. Not too much unless you’re looking for a really dramatic effect (which is fine for some studio portraits but not for a “natural” look). About -15 to -20 is a good range.
  2. Curves. We’re going to colour the image using the individual red, green & blue curves. Being subtle is the key here. Maybe bring out the red in the highlights & slight ‘S’ curves in the green & blue but it can vary according to ones individual opinion.
  3. Levels. On the blue channel draw in the triangular markers slightly to bring back some blue in the shadows & reduce it in the highlights to bring back some warmth.
  4. Colour fill layer. Add a new solid colour fill layer & choose a gold colour (eg. d0a702). Change the blend mode to “hard light” & bring the opacity down to about 8%.

As ever, the final step is to sharpen the image using whatever sharpening method you prefer (unsharp mask, adjust sharpness, high pass filter etc.) The above image displays the before & after photographs.

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

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

 

Panoramic photographs

Taking the photographs.

A tripod is essential here as you want to keep the horizon in the final image level. Ensure the tripod head is level using a hotshoe spirit level or maybe your tripod already has one built in? Also, mount the camera in portrait format to maximise the resolution of the final image.

Take a test shot of an average part of the scene ie. not the darkest or lightest, with your polariser off if you normally have one on. If, after checking the histogram, the exposure looks OK switch to manual mode & dial in these settings. In addition, change the WB to “daylight”.

Ensuring you have an aperture providing sufficient DoF to leave everything in focus (f/8 – f/11 is often fine) hold your hand in front of the lens pointing in the direction you’re going to shoot. This will usually be left as for most people it’s easier to shoot left to right. Begin taking pictures with a 30-40% overlap (this enables the software to stitch them together easier later on). After the last image, take another with your hand in front of the lens but pointing right this time. Now you’ll have a clear sequence of images to link together when you get home.

Stitching the images together.

In Photoshop Elements 12 open all the files in ACR. “Select All” so that any adjustments you make apply to all the images. Now save them as jpegs & place them in a folder somewhere easy to find. Go to Enhance>Photomerge Panorama in the photo editor, leave as “Auto” or try a different style as you please & browse to locate the files you’ve just edited. Highlight them all & click “OK”. Elements will now do its thing (which may take a while depending on how many images you took in the first place). Once complete, you’ll probably get a message asking you to clean the edges. Either click “Yes” for the computer to fill in the blank areas or, “No” to crop the stitched image yourself. If you went for the computer option you may find you need to tidy up the corners. If this is the case, use the lasso tool to ring the bits that look wrong & then “Ctrl + Alt” to grab a section of the picture & bring it down ontop of the area to be fixed. “Esc” to get rid of the Lasso.

Finally, the new stitched image will be huge so Layers>Flatten image before saving.

NB. If you’re using the latest version of Lightroom or Photoshop CC you can stitch directly from ACR. Click the filmstrip & select “Merge to Panorama”, choose your style & click “Merge”.

Smoke trails

A smoke trail portrait

After reading an article by Caroline Schmidt in January 2016’s edition of “Digital SLR Photography” magazine I was keen to attempt this technique. It’s fairly simple to do & although it can be somewhat hit or miss during the photography stage, the editing side is very easy.

Set up. Ensuring you have a black background (a cloth or as I used, sheets of black cardboard) place the incense stick & tray at least two to three feet in front. With your camera on a tripod, shoot in RAW, in Manual mode with ISO 200, shutter speed of one second & aperture f/8 to start with. If you find the smoke drifts towards the camera you may need to adjust the aperture to keep it all in focus. Place the flash gun behind & slightly lower than the incense stick. Make sure none of the flash illuminates the backdrop or hits the lens. With the room lights on, use single-shot AF to focus on the tip of the incense stick before switching to manual focus to prevent the camera from hunting. Now recompose the shot so the incense stick is out of the frame. Turn off the room lights & shoot away.

Editing. Open the image in Adobe Camera Raw & increase the “Clarity” slider to draw out the detail. Next increase the “Highlights” & “Whites” sliders before decreasing the “Blacks” & “Shadows” sliders until you’re happy with the contrast. Don’t worry if the image turns blue due to the ‘clipping warning function’ as there is no detail in the black backdrop anyway. To colour, create a new layer (Layer>New), set the blend mode to Color & use the brush tool to paint the smoke trail in your chosen colour. Adjust the Opacity of the layer to obtain the desired effect. You can add additional layers with different opacities if you wish.