Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Studio Photography

Why go into the studio?
Photo studios offer a service to their clients. People wishing to document their family, children or any special moment with portraits, may go to a photo studio. At a photo studio, a professional photographer will document you visually on film or with digital media. Clients are then shown the results, and allowed to purchase prints and novelty items of the images.
Photo studios are usually divided into several spaces. The photo studio may contain a lobby, where clients may gather prior to their photo shoot, or wait for their appointment. An office area where the business end of the photography business is conducted will also be at a photo studio. This may also be the area where you place your portrait orders and pay for your services. Finally, there is the studio. This is where the photographer will actually conduct your portrait session. The studio will be outfitted with backdrops, lighting equipment and props.
There are many benefits of going to a portrait studio, rather than being photographed outside. Being photographed indoors in a photo studio is a controlled environment. Clients don't have to deal with bugs, other people walking into their scene, inclement weather or distractions such as loud trucks on a nearby road. Clients at a photo studio have access to restrooms, dressing rooms and sometimes refreshments.
Photo studios now offer digital photo sessions, complete with photo previews on a computer screen. Many photo studios offer manipulation to the digital images. They can change the backgrounds, edit out unwanted objects in the pictures or even remove blemishes.
Photo studios are available to get professional portraits to document people, events and special moments. Many people go to a photo studio near the holidays to update family portraits to use for holiday greeting cards. Other popular times to visit a photo studio include wedding, anniversaries, engagements, the birth of a new baby or to document growing children. Preserving memories with a visual record is important to documenting family history.
There are several types of photo studios. Some are located in homes. Larger businesses house their photo studios in a commercial location.

Why Studio Photography ?

Soft light, hard light, hair light, background. Everything is under your control. If you are a tremendously creative person who knows how to use studio equipment, you'll get wonderful results

Rent or buy?
Most big cities have good rental studios that come complete with lights, backgrounds, and often assistants. Having your own studio, especially at home, is great for spontaneous work and also because you can rent some of the equipments available at CameraRental.

The Lights
Decide what format camera you'll be using. Bigger cameras require smaller apertures to get adequate depth of field and hence more light. Decide how big your subjects are going to be. Head-and-shoulders portraits require much less light than automobiles.

If you have any windows in your studio, you might be able to use the sunlight coming in. The color temperature of sunlight varies from about 2000K at sunrise to 4300K in the early morning to 5800K at high noon in midsummer. [Note: the sun streaming into a window is different from what you get if you take your subject out into the open. "Daylight" is a combination of sunlight (around 5500K) and skylight (approx 9500K), averaging to around 6500K in the summer. Clouds or shade push the color temperature much bluer, up towards 9000K, though an overall overcast is usually 6000K.]

Hot Lights
Once you know how much light you need, decide whether to go hot or cold. "Hot lights" are tungsten or Metal Halide Iodide (HMI) lights that burn continuously. The big advantages of hot lights are

you can always see what you're going to get, even if you mix with ambient light. You don't need Polaroid tests, fancy meters, and a good imagination.
you can use hot lights with movie, video, and scanning digital cameras

Cold Lights
"Cold lights" are electronic flashes, much more powerful than the ones on your camera but basically the same idea. Studio strobes come in two flavors: monolights and powerpack/head systems. The business end of both is the same, a flash tube surrounding an incandescent bulb. The incandescent bulb, usually around 100 watts, is the "modeling light," used by the photographer to judge lighting effects and ratios. These aren't very effective if the ambient light in the studio, e.g., from windows, is high. In the old days, most photographers would burn a few Polaroids to make sure that the lights are properly set. In the digital era, the easiest way to preview is with a digital camera directly connected to a computer, with each new exposure displayed on a big LCD monitor.

A monolight has a wall outlet on one end, a flash tube on the other, and a big block of capacitors in between. These are nice for location work because you don't have have a lot of cables running around. Using several monolights together isn't as much of a problem as you'd think because (1) good monolights have a 4 or 5 f-stop output adjustment control, and (2) most monolights have a built-in slave so that when one fires, they will all fire.

In a powerpack/head system, you have one big heavy capacitor-filled power pack and a bunch of relatively lightweight heads connected by high-voltage cables to the powerpack. You can adjust the lighting power among the heads and also the overall light output. These are the most flexible and most commonly used studio flash systems. Flash power is specified in watt-seconds (joules), somewhat confusingly abbreviated as "w/s".

Light Control
Whatever lighting system you get, make sure that it is reasonably popular. Otherwise, you won't be able to get any accessories to fit. You need to be able to control whether the light is hard or soft. Hard light is generated by a small and/or far-away light and results in strong shadows. Examples of hard lights are the sun (not small but quite far away) and bare bulbs. Soft light is generated by a large diffuse light and results in shadow-free images because there are many paths from the light source to the object. Examples of soft light are an overcast sky, a north-facing window close to the subject, a bulb reflected off an umbrella placed close to the subject.

Another dimension to control is diffuse/specular. A diffuse source contains light on many different angles whereas specular light is organized in parallel rays. Specular light doesn't bounce around the studio filling in shadows and lowering contrast, spilling onto the background, etc.

Old-time photographers relied on silver umbrellas to get a somewhat softer light source. With white translucent umbrellas, you can use them like a silver umbrella and bounce off them (losing about 1/2 the light, which will go through and away from your subject) or push the light through them, which results in slightly harder light with the same 1-stop loss. However you use an umbrella, you'll generally get a diffuse light source.

The modern religion is the softbox, a reflector-lined cavity covered with a white diffusion fabric. The best of these, allow you to remove the front fabric to get a "sort of hard" light, to place or remove an interior baffle to get a "slightly less soft" light, and to warm up the color of the light with a gold reflector. Because softboxes surround the light head, you lose much less light than you would using white umbrellas. Note: the M&M image at the upper right was done with a softbox.

Snoots sit over a light head and turn it into a very small light source. These are usually used for hair lights. You can stick a small honeycomb grid over the snoot to tighten up the cone of light thrown by the snoot and also make the light more specular.

Barn Doors are black metal flaps that sit around a strobe head and keep the light from going where you don't want it to go. This is Hollywood technology from the 1920's. If you really want to control the angle of the light cone thrown by your head, you should probably get a zoom head or a bunch of grids.

Reflectors are really too general purpose to be called "studio equipment" but they are essential studio items and, if cleverly used, can eliminate the need for additional strobe heads. A favorite of mine is the Litepanel, which is a huge sheet of gold/silver reflector, white diffusion fabric, or black light absorber in a plastic frame. Another essential item is the disk reflector which stores compactly but springs open to a large round reflector with a steel frame. I usually buy them white on one side, gold on the other.

The most important word in studio light control is "gobo". Hardly anyone knows what it means, but you can't beat the mysterious sound. It actually is short for "go between" and refers to anything that you stick in between the light and the subject to cast a shadow, diffuse the light, or whatever.

Flash Triggering
With hot lights, there is no need to worry about triggering the lights; they're on all the time. With strobes, the camera has to tell the strobes when to fire. This is traditionally done with a sync cord. Sync cords come in many lengths and are available coiled or uncoiled. The one thing in common that they all share is that someone will trip over one and probably pull something expensive down onto the floor. It is much better to use a wireless trigger of some kind. I have had good luck with the Wein infrared trigger system, which consists of a small on-camera hotshoe-connected flash with a filter over the front that only passes IR light. The other half of the kit plugs into your strobe powerpack and waits for the IR pulse from the on-camera unit, then triggers the flash.

Flash Metering
Only a handful of cameras, e.g., certain Rolleis and Contaxes, have been manufactured with the capability of metering flash exposure with a through-the-lens in-camera meter. The standard practice of studio photographers is to use a handheld flash meter, a device that measures ambient light, light ratios, and calculates how many pops of a lower-powered studio strobe system you'll need to shoot at f/64 with your view camera. Even in the digital world where instant previews are available at no cost, a handheld meter is useful for determining whether or not the image is too contrasty to print easily.

Almost everyone uses a flash meter in incident mode. You start by connecting the meter to the strobes via a sync cord or a wireless trigger. You put a white diffusion dome over the meter and hold the meter in front of the subject's face, with the dome pointing back at the camera. You push a button on the meter, which triggers the flash. The meter then reports the appropriate f-stop to use. This gives you a reading that is independent of the subject's reflectance. In other words, if the subject is white the meter doesn't get fooled into thinking that it is a brighter light; if the subject is black, the meter doesn't recommend opening up two more f-stops until the subject is rendered as though it were 18% gray.

The Background
The basic professional background is seamless paper. This comes in rolls 53", 107", and 140" wide. The 53" size is too confining for photographing people, leading to stiff poses and nasty little slipups where a corner of the frame is not covered by the background. On the other hand, the 140" size is not necessary most of the time, which is why it is only available in a handful of colors. The 107" width is about 9 feet and that's a good size for most people. A roll costs about $150 and a good starter set would be white, "studio gray", and black. Colored seamless, or as we refer to it here in Cambridge, "seamless of color", tends to give pictures a Sears portrait studio look.

For location work, Background-in-a-Bag system is kind of nice. These are big sheets of what looks like crushed velvet that you duct tape up against a wall. They fit into a included gym-bag.

Muslin is another standard studio background. If you want some color in a portrait background, muslin will look a lot better than colored seamless.

Camera Support
Obvious Answer #1 to the question of camera support is "Why do we need one? We're using a lightweight single-lens reflex camera and the strobes will freeze any camera shake?" Obvious Answer #2 is "Use a tripod."

Why use camera support? With hot lights, for maximum sharpness you need to ensure that the camera doesn't move during the exposure. With larger heavier cameras, a camera support will allow you to concentrate on composition rather than muscle fatigue. If you're attempting to be creative, a camera support enables discipline around camera position.

A tripod seems like the obvious way to support a camera, but there are much better options in the studio. A tripod is inconvenient. Since using the center column to adjust height reduces stability, you have to adjust all three legs to raise or lower the camera. You can't usually get really low or really high or really hanging out over your subject with a tripod because the legs get in the way.

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