Studio Workshop #4

More photographing than being photographed this week.

This week I was mainly behind the camera, posing the subjects or metering and adjusting lights in the studio to do group portraits, I worked with Veronica and Paris, whilst Meg, Chan and Liberty did their photos.

Man Reading

I set up the lights and brown backdrop for Liberty and Paris’ photo but then we went into the small studio and did Paris’ photo in front of a blue backdrop with a small green gel covered floor light

The first shot for Paris’ Man Reading (1922) by Eduard Von Gebhardt consisted of sitting Paris on a stool in front of a reflector with a honeycomb and a material scrim over it to soften the light a little.

Man Reading (1922) by Eduard Von Gebhardt

With the Pentax 645Z Medium Format camera set to f/16 we metered on Dan’s nose for 16 stops of light and it was metering as 11.9 which is a tiny bit off 16, considering the full stops; 5.6- 8 – 11 – 16 – 22.

Now with light on the model’s nose at 16 stops we needed to add a floor level flash head that would illuminate the blue paper roll backdrop, along with a Green gel on the holder in front of the lamp. This put on the bottom left of the backdrop point up and to the right of the background paper (when viewed from the camera).

We metered this background light and it appeared to be very high powered until Dan reminded us that the light from the Key would be contributing to the reading as well as the background light.. He suggested that we stand between the meter and the key light to obtain a reading from the green coloured light only.

Note the reversed light and dark background, also too bright.

We measured this light and found it to be too bright still behind the subject so wound it down a couple of stops until it was on f/8, we tried a shot and then realised that it was still too bright but also on the wrong side of the background. The original painting had darker and lighter sides of the background so we switched the floor lamp to the right side of the backdrop. Metering on this background showed us it needed to be on 4 stops to provide a light suitable for the background.

With this set, Veronica sat on the stool whilst Paris and I checked everything else out and we dropped the paper roll a little to move a tear on the bottom of the paper, further out of the bottom of the shot. Then it was time for Paris to don the jacket she had and take the seat with her book. It took a while to get the pose somewhere near to the painting and getting the book in the correct orientation and the hand were the most challenging parts, also the tilt of the head was a pain in the neck, literally.

The final photo came out well we thought and the green light in the background as it was close to the paper provided some  texture which almost made it painterly in the end result. 

unedited straight out of camera, final shot.

However, when I was just viewing the images for this entry to my journal I noticed in Lightroom that the aperture of the camera had crept from f/16 to f/22 over a number of images. I have no idea how this happened but when Dan helped me afterwards he pointed out that the aperture can be changed on the small thumb-wheel so maybe I or someone else had accidentally moved it during the process of taking and reviewing images in the shoot.

f/22 ? Why?

Obviously the change in aperture would make the image darker if the lights remained  constant at f/16 and f/4, this is slightly visible in the final sequence of images but doesn’t prevent the final image being usable. The fact that the aperture was f/22 might also mean that the image is softer than it could be due to diffraction but this isn’t immediately obvious, it’s only one stop away from our original target so I think we were lucky. I’ll be 100% sure to check aperture constantly from hereon in.

Vincent’s Pencil

Time now to work with Veronica on her interpretation of a painting of Vincent Van Gogh painted in 1886 by John Peter Russell where a realistic portrait of the red-headed artist holding a pencil

Vincent Van Gogh painted in 1886 by John Peter Russell

The background of the original painting is very dark and the black scoop was selected to host the image, the lighting setup looked a little like a butterfly but the Wikipedia page explains how the original is almost a Rembrandt style, despite these two conflicting ideas we thought the light was even across Van Gogh’s face so went with a butterfly, placing a large soft-box above and to the left of the camera to give the shadow on the nose and under the brow. Veronica wears glasses and the shadow of the her glasses could be seen on her cheek so it appears to be pretty accurate.

With the lighting position set up we metered and found it to be 16.9 on her nose which was almost f/22 so we wound the flash down until it was metering at f/16. The background was also measured and came out at f/8 so we were happy with the contrast ratio.

The first test shot on the camera was taken and was really underexposed, that’s when Dan noticed the aperture was changed to f/27 (see note on the previous setup) so we altered it to f/16 and this worked like a charm, as it should with correctly set up lighting.

After the second picture we thought that there was a little lack of detail on the black coat and it wasn’t separating from the background enough so Dan brought in a polystyrene board to reflect some light onto the black material and the black hair.

The separation of the background was then much better and after much posing of Veronica into a similar pose shown in Russell’s painting moving the pencil up and down, leaning forward and backward and staring at the camera with a look of suspicion we came away with an image that she was happy with.

unedited, straight from camera.

Young, Sick and On The Rum

Last up for the day was Meg with her recreation/interpretation of Caravaggio’s “Young Sick Bacchus” from c.1593 a self-portrait painting of the artist showing signs of being ill but containing multiple elements such as still life, portraiture and painting figures from antiquity.

Caravaggio’s “Young Sick Bacchus” from c.1593

Meg would be replacing the luxurious fruit seen in the painting, the grapes and peaches with a modern day indulgence, Alcohol and a sandwich wrap.

Before she changed into her white toga garment we set the lighting. Dan suggested that the table and chair used be further from the background so we had the subject and camera on the outside edge of the scoop, Dan got a suitable chair for Meg to perch on and a table with a concrete slab on to take the place of the stone table seen in the painting.

We did a lighting check and set the key light to provide an f/16 butterfly lighting effect to the above right of the camera. We measured at the backdrop too and the reading was sufficiently low enough at f/4 to provide a big contrast ratio so Dan sat in the chair for a test shot. It came out well but Dan wanted to get Meg a lower chair to make it fit the original more accurately.

Test shot for lighting

Once the adjustable chair was in place and set Meg sat for a test shot and when checked and happy she went to get changed and place her little bottles of Rum on the table in place of the fruit. We got her to pose in a similar position as the subject of the painting and after some changing of head direction for the tilt and eye gaze, and then some movement of her wrist and hand holding the sandwich wrap to sit in a more accurate pose we were ready.

Meg in the pose to check lighting and position.

One shot was fired off and Meg took a look at the shot and was immediately happy with the image, if a little self-critical of her appearance which is not necessary at all. The image is missing a couple of details such as the ribbon belt and the knee/leg in the bottom of the picture but Meg was not too keen on recreating it in this much detail. It may be that the reasons behind not including these details are known to her and I’m not going to worry too much about it. It was Meg’s design so I’m happy to try and help her achieve it.

Unedited, straight out of camera, final shot.

All of the images from today’s sessions will need cropping and some adjustments but I’m happy with most of the work we completed today. Next week I plan to redo my Sir Joshua Reynolds image as it’s a little blurry with the help of the team and also try another image recreating a painting by Stephen Conroy of Jonathan Miller. I talked with Dan and Euripides about this and they were happy to try and help me come up with some plans on how to execute the shot.. We’ll see after next week’s workshop I guess.

The edited photos will appear in a separate post in the near future alongside the original painting and the image straight from the camera. Keep your eyes open for that post!!

Valuable Lessons From Today’s Workshops.

  • Check Aperture/ISO/Shutter for every shot in case settings change.
  • Using gels to change colour of a background.
  • Keep control of your camera and equipment.
  • What a “Scrim ” is and the effect it has on lights.
  • We’re all terribly self-critical when we needn’t be.

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