Karl Shreeves: Blog http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Karl Shreeves karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Sun, 04 Jun 2017 20:44:00 GMT Sun, 04 Jun 2017 20:44:00 GMT http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/img/s1/v6/u708944300-o308768544-50.jpg Karl Shreeves: Blog http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog 90 120 My Head Assistant http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/2/my-head-assistant  

 

Here's how I keep from wasting your time -- my friend Headly stands in for all the lighting and setup. Check out this blog post to learn more.

A few years ago, I wrote Praise for Photo Assistants, lauding the accomplishments of Niccole, Dawn, Aaron and others who make a shoot go better -- smoother, faster and generally more efficient. Working solo's often the only option, but I avoid it when possible. So, you'll appreciate that I've brought another assistant onto my team. This is he, and his name is Headly. It only took him one shoot to earn his place as my head assistant.

 

Headly came on board at the suggestion of noted portrait and lighting master  Tony Corbell in one of his YouTube presentations, even though in practice, Headly doesn't actually do much. He never whispers cool ideas to me, and so far, he refuses to set up gear. His people skills are a mixed bag: he's a great listener, but he doesn't say much. And, if a client wants coffee or a soft drink, forget asking Headly -- he won't budge.

 

But, that's also what makes Headly my head assistant.  He's the perfect stand-in for lighting. He stays exactly where I put him, and nothing distracts him from the position I need to get the hairlight just right or whatever. He may not set stuff up, fetch or talk, but he frees the rest of the team from stand-in duty, never complaining, even when he has to stand like a statue for hours. Apart from actual shoots, I can always count on Headly to be available when I want to try out new kit or lighting ideas. And, it's no accident that I chose him over other prospective assistants of his type for his gray skin –- again recommended by Corbell. Gray, as opposed to a normal skin color, lets me objectively assess the tonal values I'm getting as I light.

 

Best of all, if Headly wants a raise, I just adjust his lightstand higher.

 

Okay, by now you get the point, so enough tongue-in-cheek and I'll quit while I'm ahead. Well, while he's a head.

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Tony Corbell head shots imaging photography portraits studio http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/2/my-head-assistant Sat, 04 Feb 2017 19:01:09 GMT
Run With It http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/12/run-with-it "How the heck am I going to portrait Lad?" I kept asking myself. The question had been nagging me and the day before our session, I was no closer to an answer than when I got the assignment several weeks earlier. The director of special projects for REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), Lad had earned the Reaching Out Award, one of scuba diving's highest awards, for his work in teaching people how to combat the lionfish in the Caribbean (the lionfish is an invasive species predator wreaking environmental havoc on Caribbean coral reefs). It turns out the lionfish, while difficult to handle due to its very painful stinging spines, can be food if you know how to take it safely (I've had it -- it's actually quite good). REEF's instruction teaches divers to do this, allowing them to take lionfish to help the environment and have a fresh fish meal at the same time. The portrait would be part of recognizing Lad for this important initiative.

 

Hopefully you agree the finished image tells the story, but as I said, I was beating my head against a wall trying to come up with an idea. As it happened, though, the day before I was photographing Leslie Leaney's portrait for his Reaching Out Award (there are two annually). Founder of the Historical Diving Society (hence the award), Leslie is a warm, charming man with a quick sense of humor. We were on the way to make his portrait and I mentioned we were doing Lad's the next day.

 

"Ha, you should shoot him holding a lionfish with chopsticks," Leslie teased. He meant it as a joke, but it stopped me in my tracks.

 

"Hey, that could work!" I said. I shared the suggestion with Dawn Azua, the award ceremony director. She thought it workable and in the middle of everything else, came up with chopsticks and a model lionfish overnight.

 

As you can see, it did. At the award ceremony, Lad  thanked Leslie for the idea (I'd shared the story with him when we shot) and complimented the work, so apparently he liked it.

 

The lesson is that sometimes someone gets an idea that on the surface, you wouldn't take seriously -- unless you stop to look at it. So, don't dismiss silly, wacky or crazy proposals until you've weighed their merit with a serious eye.

 

BTW, thanks Leslie, for the idea, and thanks, Lad, for not being afraid to run with it.

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) DEMA Historical Diving Society Lad Akins Lesley Leaney REEF Reaching Out Award diving imaging lighting photography portraits scuba http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/12/run-with-it Sun, 11 Dec 2016 19:09:30 GMT
What Really Matters . . . Is Possible http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/what-really-matters-is-possible

Huge, world-wide problems loom over us. They're intimidating and daunting, sometimes seeming insurmountable. Sometimes people wonder whether it's worth even trying to take them on.  The answer is "yes," every time, even though some issues remain with us year after year, generation after generation: war, poverty, slavery, human trafficking. But given enough time and effort backed by conviction and faith, God empowers us to topple these global giants.

 

A few years ago I wrote this blog post about the world's orphan problem, and in it, I shared statistics that if about one in nine families adopted one child globally, we could close every orphanage, showing that this should be a solvable problem. We shouldn't need any orphanages. It's not that orphanages are bad -- they are way better than parentless children on the street or worse, in the hands of human trafficking -- but they aren't good. Children raised in orphanages typically have developmental delays and emotional problems that follow them through life, and it's worse in economically depressed countries. In fact, it is thought by many that poverty is the primary force driving the need for orphanages rather than the existence of suitable family homes. Regardless of why we still have orphanages, though, there's no debate that where children should be is with a family.

 

Rwanda is the first country putting this to the test, which is remarkable considering that the nation has widespread (but improving) poverty and is still recovering from its 1994 genocide uprising. Yet, backed by the UN, donors like UNICEF, and international Christian leadership, in 2012 the Rwandan government set out to place every institutionalized orphan in a foster or adoptive home. And, it's working. In 2012, the nation had more than 30 orphanages; today it has three. This has happened through subsidizing, awareness, an effort to locate families and international adoption. When (not if) Rwanda closes these three, it will be the first country to do so -- proving that we can put the age of orphanages behind us.  If Rwanda can do it, I see no excuse for more economically advantaged nations not to.

 

To be fair, the movement in Rwanda hasn't been without problems or critics. Nothing humans do is perfect; there are mistakes to learn from and challenges to surmount. Nor can anyone break away from the status quo without someone lobbing tomatoes. But, Rwanda has stepped out in strength and in faith to do something that ought to be done, and it is doing it.

 

Adoption changes lives, and hopefully, you can see this in this shot of my wife and daughter. You get more than you give by adopting. If you're thinking of growing your family, please seriously consider adoption. And, if you  wonder whether adopting a child really makes a difference against this global giant of a problem, please consider this:

 

David took down Goliath with one stone.

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Rwanda care orphan orphans photography portraits http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/what-really-matters-is-possible Sun, 25 Sep 2016 17:19:17 GMT
Altitude Attitude http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/altitude-attitude

One challenge in professional imaging is making your shots look like they're supposed to look. You can say "well, duh," (and indeed you should), but sometimes there's more to this than meets the eye -- and camera. What sometimes gets lost is that it's not where you shoot, but how it looks that counts.

 

A studio makes this simple, but you can only do so much there, so for much of my work involving diving, we go on location to popular scuba destinations. But, what if the shot needs a setting that we can't get to due to time, budget and/or logistics? Hollywood solves this dilemma routinely (they didn't shoot The Martian on Mars), but Hollywood budgets are a smidgen larger than those I get to work with.

 

Last spring, we had to shoot altitude diving, which by definition takes place 300 metres/1000 feet or higher above sea level, typically in mountain settings. We faced two dilemmas: One, the last time we did this, we went to altitude dive sites, but most of the images looked no different from sea level. Two, California was coming out a cold winter with lots of snow (finally!), meaning all the altitude sites reachable within our schedule and budget were frozen over. It appeared we were up the proverbial creek, until we borrowed a page from The Martian. Could we find a place that looked like altitude diving that would work?

 

Disregarding elevation, we searched for a lake surrounded by the snow-capped mountains and pristine shorelines one associates with altitude diving -- and ding! Whiskeytown Lake.  I doubt I'd have stumbled onto it 15 years ago, before iOS Maps, Google and You Tube, but that was then and this is now. We had what we needed. Our producer contacted the National Park Service for shooting permits (they were awesome, BTW), and we hit the road for Redding, California (close to the lake). We scouted sites for half a day, shot for two, and got some wonderful images, including this one (also made the cover of The Undersea Journal).

 

So, by adjusting our attitude about altitude, we came home happy campers with not just what we needed, but what we wanted, on schedule and on budget.

 

 

 

 

PS: For any purists who want to argue that altitude diving imagery should only be created at altitude, at about 365 metres/1200 feet above sea level,  Whiskeytown Lake is technically an altitude dive. Oh, and BTW, Wadi Rum, Jordon, where they shot The Martian, is not technically part of Mars.

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Whiskeytown Lake altitude altitude diving imaging photography portraits scuba underwater underwater photography http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/altitude-attitude Tue, 26 Jul 2016 13:40:06 GMT
Light Meters Are Stupid – And Invaluable http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/light-meters-are-stupid-and-invaluable  

From the same shoot, shot high key. The high key look is wonderful, but almost requires a lot of processing to look just right. BTW, any camera would say this image is overexposed. O

 

We were shooting late into the evening and I just missed golden hour for still imagery because of the time we needed for video. But, with the warm sun still splashed on Catalina Island in the background, we got the shot I wanted by lighting the freediver with a strobe matched in color and exposure.

I have a special admiration for American farmers and ranchers. They work very hard. They feed America. They feed the world. This series of contemporary portraits features Kevin, a Tulelake, California farmer. The two-story-tall dome behind him is a shed used to store potatoes after harvest. Check out this blog post for more. If you watch me work, one thing you'll notice is that I use a hand-held light meter.  This has been part of how I shoot going back decades, and for a good reason -- excellent images require proper lighting, and proper exposure that balances that lighting. (Yes, you can do a lot in Photoshop. Adjustments are normal, but fixing poor lighting and ratios after the fact as SOP marks an amateur; pros only do it when circumstances force our hand.)

After years of using light meters, here's what I've learned:

1. Light meters are stupid. They have absolutely no idea what the correct exposure is.

2. Light meters in the camera are even stupider and have even less idea what the correct exposure is.

3. But, I hate working without them.

 

When I was shooting all three of these images, the correct exposure was very different from what my light meter said. Based on it, the first image is over exposed (high key), the second is under exposed (light supplemented) and the third is over in some places and under in others (back lit with fully blocked foreground shadows).

 

Actually, all three are correctly exposed. Correct exposure is not an objective value. It is an artistic value based on what you're trying to accomplish in the image. So why use a light meter? Because used correctly, a light meter gives you something useful: the exposure that yields neutral gray in a given light. Unless I can't for some reason, I measure the light falling on the subject (incident metering) rather than bouncing off (reflected metering) because colors and tones alter reflected light (meters in cameras always read reflected light, btw), making it harder to determine the objective, neutral gray value. It's my job to decide what tonal value I want the final image to show, not the meter's. The meter gets me there faster by giving me a known start point. Once I know the tonal values in a setting, I set my camera (on manual) to the exposure I decide is correct, and I'm usually there with only a couple test shots and adjustments.

 

Yes, I know your iPhone gives you good exposures. Camera designers have gotten really good at creating light meter systems that give snapshooters  good automated results in average situations most of the time. But, even with advances in the technology, these systems still struggle in many lighting conditions that, ironically, are some of the best conditions for dramatic shots. Many strong shooters use auto exposure, but no serious photographer blindly trusts automation without paying attention to what it's doing and overriding it when appropriate.

 

So, of course light meters are stupid. They have no brain and they have no heart. But, they're fabulous tools that your brain and heart can use when you shoot.

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Sekonic exposure high key images imaging light meter metering meters photography portraits http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/light-meters-are-stupid-and-invaluable Sun, 27 Mar 2016 18:38:55 GMT
Photoing Freedivers http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/photoing-freedivers This shot of champion freediver Liz Parkinson has found its way into the PADI Freediver course materials, plus has been used in promotional materials and other places. It was also used for this magazine cover.

Want to model underwater? Cool, let's do a shoot where you have to hold your breath (no scuba), then swim to 50 feet (with perfect freediving form), without rushing (because I need time to compose and shoot), then leisurely return to the surface like you do it every day.

 

Doesn't sound easy, does it? That's why it was a joy shooting champion freediver Liz Parkinson, who does do this every day — well, practically every day. If you know anything about modern freediving, no, 50 feet isn't that deep for a moderately  experienced freediver. Admittedly, for Liz, it's a milk run  . . . uh, well, it would have been, except I had her to do it again and again. And again. And one more time. Make it two, but we need to go 20 feet deeper. . .

 

To her credit, Liz freedived dozens of times over a week for stills and video last August, with near perfect technique for every skill we needed to image, staying exactly in the light we needed her in. She made it look easy, without one complaint. When she wasn't diving for camera, she was coordinating the other models, paying attention to safety issues, wrangling sharks  . . . well, it's a long list.

 

This frame is a popular favorite — and hey, we made the cover. So, thanks, Liz — and everyone else who modeled on that shoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Liz Parkinson Undersea Journal apnea bottom plate freedivers freediving imaging photography underwater underwater photography http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/photoing-freedivers Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:51:17 GMT
Sometimes It Takes Light to Make Night http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/1/sometimes-it-takes-light-to-make-night  

See this blog for more details about this image. Yes, this is a cliché image of Christmas caroler figurines. I like it, but I didn't set out to make a quasi-trite Christmas picture. That was just a by-product.

 

It started when I decided to check out some of my lighting kit, with the goal of using multiple strobes for a single shot with complex lighting.  I had no idea what I would shoot, but I wanted to use only speedlights (at least a half dozen), and leave my studio monolights boxed for the duration. This is backwards from a "real" shoot, where the image dictates the hardware. In this case, I wanted to see how my hardware integrates, and to give myself a puzzle that sharpens my lighting skills.

 

So, what to shoot? Stumped. But, my wife had set up this figurine scene for the holidays and suggested I shoot it. Problem solved.

 

On to the task: Researching with Google yielded about a billion images of Christmas caroler figurines grouped in flat light on mantles, but not the idealized image of carolers at night on Christmas Eve I envisioned. My wife had built the scene with snow, Christmas trees, howling dog and the obligatory Tiny Tim quote, but I'd have do the rest with lighting. In the middle of the day. In a well lit room.  The easier way would have been to wait until nightfall, but with the whole point being to challenge myself and use lots of lighting gear, I decided to do it the harder way: use light to create dark, or more specifically, to create a night Christmas look.

 

Without going into all the technical (leave me a message with your email address if you want the nitty-gritty), to light for night during the day, you need to use so much strobe power that you drown out the existing light. I started with multiple strobes to create the overall lighting on the figurines, but concentrated and feathered so the area around them fell into darkness. Then, I placed, aimed and gelled (colored) more until, eight speedlights later (Joe McNally would be proud), the scene looked somewhat like you might see on a fantasy nocturnal Yuletide stroll, or a least in a Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Voilá, night created by light.

 

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Christmas carolers Christmas figurines Rosco Tiny Tim figurines imaging lighting photography strobes strobist http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/1/sometimes-it-takes-light-to-make-night Sun, 03 Jan 2016 02:39:32 GMT
When All You Have Is a Hammer, You Treat Everything Like a Nail http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/10/when-all-you-have-is-a-hammer-you-treat-everything-like-a-nail  

"When all you have is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail." You don't have to be an auto technician to know that it's easier to fix an engine if you've got more tools than just a steel mallet. This is why good mechanics always want a large tool assortment. They don't expect to use them all on one repair, but  until they get under the hood, they don't know which they'll use. After figuring out the problem, they fix it with the right tools.

 

This is as  true in photography as in the garage, though for some reason, it's not as obvious to laypeople. Or even a lot of photographers.

 

Sometimes people remark about all the gear I bring on many of my shoots. Like the auto mechanic, I don't expect to use everything, but I want to have the right tools. Most relate to lighting because lighting makes-or-breaks the shot, yet varies more than anything else. I always plan about what I think I'll need, but sometimes clients ask for images that weren't planned ahead. Sometimes there's a cool moment I don't want to pass up. Sometimes – often – the light isn't what I expected, or it changes. Or, more commonly, all of these happen. But, no problem, because I have what I need to get the desired shots.

 

Often, like when I travel, I can't take my whole "toolbox." But, with good planning, what I can take covers me 99% of the time. When the remaining 1% hits, I don't waste time fussing that my Lastolite 8-in-1, or whatever, that I left in California would be perfect. I focus on what I have, apply some creativity and solve the problem without resorting to the nail treatment. As noted photographer Joe McNally said, "The most important piece of equipment in your bag is your attitude." (But, even Joe packs the lighting tools – he even helps invent them.)

 

This is why it amazes me when some photographers practically boast about how little equipment they have, the most common claim being that "I'm a 'natural light' photographer." Really? Would you get your car fixed by someone who says, "I'm a 10mm wrench mechanic."?  Or, "I'm a hammer mechanic."? Let's be fair – some types of photography like nature, landscape and sports – appropriately don't use much lighting equipment. But, in my experience, many of the shooters who claim to be "natural light photographers" actually don't know how to light and use lighting tools. As a result, sometimes they use "natural light" when it's not what the shot calls for.  All they have is a hammer, so ironically, they don't nail it but do screw it up (aren't metaphors fun?).

 

To be clear, I'm not dissing natural light. It's not always appropriate to have a ton of gear on a shoot, and even when I do, sometimes the only tools I need are the camera and the lens, and the lighting stuff stays boxed. And also to be clear, it's not about using gear. It's about getting the shot you want.

 

Look at the shot above. Depending upon the situation, I could have set it up using natural light, strobes, reflectors or a mix for the main light. Ditto for the fill and hair. Falloff to the left could come from open space or negative fill. Considering I have all of these tools at my disposal, which, you may ask, did I use?

 

It doesn't matter. I got the shot I wanted.

 

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Joe McNally Lastolite imaging joe mcnally lastolite lighting natural light photography photographers photography tools http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/10/when-all-you-have-is-a-hammer-you-treat-everything-like-a-nail Sun, 18 Oct 2015 01:50:10 GMT
The Magic Moment: When Opportunity Meets Preparedness http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/6/the-magic-moment-when-opportunity-meets-preparedness  

 

 

 

No, I did not Photoshop the fish into this image. There are some shots that rely on a bit of luck, and this is one of them. But, I've noticed that skilled shooters are "lucky" a lot more often than less skilled shooters. So, maybe there's more to it than luck.

 

The model, Linda, and I were shooting on the Kittiwake wreck in Grand Cayman. To get the shot I wanted, Linda swam a path we established along the deck, with me shooting. For this kind of shot, it's most effective to have the model in motion, timing each capture based on body position, location and the light (not "machinegunning" – that's what amateurs do). We were just starting a second pass when I saw the fish swimming into the shot out of the corner of my eye (no small feat wearing a dive mask, BTW). I knew I would have exactly one shot to take advantage of this magic moment, and that's where discipline comes in. Don't rush, wait for it . . . . . click.

 

We finished the sequence, but I knew I already had the shot. A moment earlier or a moment later would have missed. If I'd just mindlessly banged off frames as fast as I could hoping I'd get it, I'd have almost certainly have had two dozen images with the magic moment falling between two of them (something I've learned the hard way). Even when shooting multiple images to get "the one," you don't mindlessly click them off by the dozens; you time each based on what's happening in the viewfinder. Today we capture more frames than we did with film, but shooting so many that you can sequence them into a movie, in most circumstances, points to a lack of skill.

 

The harder part in capturing magic moments, I think, is trusting that they will come. But, they will, especially if you grow them. When I was less experienced, I was a hunter trying to track down each shot and make a kill. I tried to force these moments because I had to deliver and was afraid to come home empty-handed. Today, I'm a farmer: I set the stage, set the light, and plant  "seeds" with my subjects, then wait for them to grow, harvesting the magic moments that I "luck" into. I shoot fewer images than I used to, yet end up with more, better keepers.

 

So, while the fish swimming into the shot was pure luck, the image wasn't pure luck because we'd set the stage, set the light and planned the shot even without them. When the opportunity came, I was prepared.

 

Magic.

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) CCRs Grand Cayman Kittiwake black and white diving imaging modeling photography rebreathers scuba underwater underwater photography http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/6/the-magic-moment-when-opportunity-meets-preparedness Fri, 05 Jun 2015 21:34:42 GMT
Don't Confuse Image Style with Photographer Style http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/dont-confuse-image-style-with-photographer-style  

In photography, "style" tends to be a mushy, confusing term that can take people down the wrong path: Shooters try to be something they're not when asked to shoot "this style." Likewise, clients looking at images may pass over a photographer who might have been exactly what they're looking for because the portfolio shots or previous works "aren't the style we want."

 

"Style" actually means two things in photography (maybe more, but we'll say two for this point): the image's style and the photographer's style.

 

Image style refers to common technique: environment, lighting, angle, perspective, etc. It's not precise, but most people would agree that the first two of these three shots have the same (or at least similar) image style, and third does not:

Abe Rodrigues drummer Portrait or lifestyle? You can argue it's both; great smile from PADI scuba instructor Popeye -- completely genuine and not posed.

Image style is a general look that applies regardless of who took the shot, where, etc. For example, the first two images reflect Rembrandt lighting, and this technique imparts an image look (style) that many photographers have used for decades. The third shot has an entirely different look; it has a different image style.

 

Photographer style is entirely different. It is that something that unifies all the works of an artist, regardless of image style. Take, for example, the works of the highly-acclaimed Annie Leibovitz. She shoots art, fashion, portrait and advertising in a myriad of image styles, yet her work is almost unmistakeable. There's something about her style that cuts across image style; it's what makes her images unique – something you will only get from her. Consider Gregory Heisler, and George Hurrell, both masters of the portrait. You'll find many different image styles in both of their works, yet there's something unmistakeable: a Heisler is a Heisler, and a Hurrell is a Hurrell. The same is true in classic art – a Monet is a Monet and a Picasso a Picasso.

 

Image style must change to fit the subject, or you're not doing your job as an image maker. Look at the shots below: I shoot a lot of training/scuba lifestyle images; the style I use for those is nothing like what I use for studio fashion or a portrait. And, those differ from the image style for, say, composited artistic work. Even within a genre, image style must change to fit the subject and to meet what the client needs. Shooting high fashion in a studio demands a very different approach from shooting casual fashion in the field. So, you use different tools for each of these needs. You shoot at a different pace with different lighting. You interact differently with subjects and models. You think differently because you must approach each differently.

 

Most of the images from this shoot were somber-dramatic, but this smile totally works. Kristen has an Audry Hepburn quality here that I love, and it makes you feel how a room lights up when she smiles. Often, the most important skill you have in photographic arts is knowing when to shoot. This interaction just happened, but I was camera-ready as it unfolded, then processed it accordingly. Sometimes props inspire an idea. This one grew out of how the banners looked, and reminded me of the Highway to Heaven show from the the late 1980s. Here is the behind the scenes shot.

But, across all these differences, the photographer's style doesn't change; it's the fingerprint that makes a Hurrell a Hurrell or a Leibovitz a Leibovitz. Photographer style may evolve, but one can't eliminate it or hide it. If you know my work, all six of these images are clearly my work, despite very different locations (studio, field), equipment (full studio light, run-and-gun reflectors & speedlights) and interactions (serious and methodical, quick & fun).

 

If you're a photographer or photographic artist, it helps to master many image styles, but your style is what makes your work singular and unique. You can't force your style into a mold, but you can help it evolve and grow by studying your craft and by shooting a lot, of course. But, don't try to shoot like Heisler or Hurrell. You can't; you just come across as a counterfeit. Learn from the masters, but shoot like you.

 

If you're a client who wants a particular look or feel for an image or series, don't let image style blind you to the photographer's style. That is, don't assume that because a shooter is great at a particular image style that that is the only image style the person is good at. Or, that that person can't shoot other image styles (that may be the case, but don't assume it without checking). Look at the photographer's style – the ineffable something that unites very different works from the same artist. If it works, chances are it works across many image styles. If it doesn't work for you, then you probably won't like it any better with different lighting.

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Heisler Hurrell Leibovitz art image style imaging lighting photographers photography portraits style http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/dont-confuse-image-style-with-photographer-style Sun, 15 Feb 2015 08:45:00 GMT
How They Ended Up On the South End of North-Flying Reindeer http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/1/how-they-ended-up-on-the-south-end-of-north-flying-reindeer  

We shot this Christmas card in the studio with this setup, then composited it against a night sky and a sleigh for a take on what happens when your family tries to hitch a ride with Santa -- and just barely makes it. Made a great Christmas card!

Sometimes fun shots come together magically. Fittingly, this family Christmas card is one of those.

 

It started a couple weeks before the shoot with the idea that we'd do something with everyone base-jumping in parachute gear. This sounded awesome, with everyone falling at the camera (i.e., me while I shoot) and landing in foam. But, a few flaws. For one, it wasn't all that Christmassy. Second, we were having trouble getting base-jumping gear. Wayne and Karen Brown of the Ocean Adventure had generously offered to let us borrow their sky diving kit, but they were out of town and wouldn't be home in time. Then there was the small detail whether I would actually be able to get out of the way fast enough –– not just once, but the dozens of times it would take to get good images of everyone falling at me.

 

So, plan B was to go to an indoor skydiving facility. Flaws here were cost, plus we weren't sure we'd get permission to do the shots (we never got as far as asking though). Again, not very Christmassy. And, while I was blown away with the idea, there was a good chance I'd be blown away by the idea.  So that got nixed.

 

Plan C was to go back to Plan A, but more Christmassy with everyone falling toward camera from out of Santa's sleigh, so no parachute kit needed, though I have it on good authority that Santa is a skydiver (which may have something to do with the reliability of reindeer-based aircraft propulsion.) So, this was the plan going into the shoot, even though we still had the can-I-get-out-of-the-way thing nagging us (well, it was nagging me).

 

That morning, I got up early knowing I'd need to be setting up the studio two hours ahead of the scheduled shoot time. Over coffee, I mentioned the concept to my wife, which led to some jokes about the Pixar animations, Prep and Landing (my daughter loves them). Prep and Landing shows us that Santa's sleigh launches and lands much like FA-18 Hornets coming and going from the Nimitz, and this led to jokes about what would happen if you tried to sneak aboard Santa's sleigh at launch and timed it just a hair late . . . .

 

Hey, that's it!

 

I called Ted (the dad). He liked it, too: funnier, more Christmassy, better chance of working, and added bonus, his family didn't have to change out of their pajamas. I zipped to the studio, did this set up, they arrived, we shot and a few hours in Photoshop later, everything came together like magic –- a way better creation than anything we'd imagined any time in the previous two weeks.

 

I guess there is a Santa Claus.

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Christmas Christmas card Nimitz Photoshop Prep and Landing Santa The Ocean Adventure composite compositing imaging photography sleigh http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/1/how-they-ended-up-on-the-south-end-of-north-flying-reindeer Sun, 11 Jan 2015 01:16:30 GMT
Shoeless Abe http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/12/shoeless-abe Abe Rodrigues drummer

Professional photography, at its core, is a continuous problem-solving exercise. Every shoot differs, providing something you didn't expect. That cool-and-collect attitude you see from a seasoned pro doesn't come from having seen it all. It comes from knowing that whatever comes up, you'll be able to solve it because you always have.

Commissioned to shoot portraits of Soultone-sponsored drummer Abe Rodrigues of The Droppers, the challenge was that he performs barefoot.  Ever heard of the baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson? He got his nickname following a single game in which his feet were so blistered that he went to bat and ran the bases in his socks. But, shoeless isn't a one-off for Abe's sessions; it's how he usually plays. Problem is, drums hide the drummer's feet, so how do I shoot that?

When he's not playing, of course. Like most good images, it started with getting the lighting dialed in so that we could let the moments happen without worrying about that. After several different shots drumming and not, Abe took a breather and leaned back, much as you see him here. Yes! But not quite there yet. We went through a few variations, and he nailed it. (Plus some others -- check them out here.)

And that's the other cool thing about shooting performance artists -- they're not afraid to commit to the shot, and they know how to play to camera. It's been my privilege to shoot some talented  artists over the years (magician Scott Tokar, actor/singer Thomas R. Cummings, various bands, etc.) and it's always a joy.  Given the chance, I rarely turn down a chance to shoot performance artists, but I'd especially love to shoot Gwen StefaniAilee, or G-Dragon, if you happen to have any connections. <g>

 

Note: Given we're in the Christmas season, I initially thought I'd call this The Little Drummer Boy. But, Abe's not that little, nor a boy . . . .

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Ailee G-Dragon Gwen Stefani Scott Tokar Shoeless Joe Soultone The Droppers The Little Drummer Boy Thomas R. Cummings bands drummers drums imaging lighting musicians photography portraits http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/12/shoeless-abe Fri, 26 Dec 2014 01:01:35 GMT
Feeding the World http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/11/feeding-the-world That's a mound of potatoes Kevin's standing on. Go here for more details.

Meet Kevin. He has a lot to do with the Thanksgiving meal most of us Americans will enjoy in two days. He's a Tulelake, California, farmer  standing on the mashed potatoes we'll heap onto our plates next to the turkey. That's a two-story stack of potatoes – just one farm's output of one of its crops. You're seeing the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, only about two percent of us in the US are farmers, but it takes 15 percent of us -- 21 million people -- to process, pack and ship what they turn out. Thanks to what they do, we only have to spend about 10 percent of our disposable income on food, yet incredibly, a third of America's agricultural output gets exported. Last year, the US exported more than 30 billion metric tons in wheat alone. We raise nearly half of the world's soybeans and corn. All-in-all, every America farmer feeds 140 to 155 people (sources vary on this estimate) around the world. Fifty years ago, it was about 26. Yes, we import a lot of food, too, but we export more than we bring in.

American farmers work long days (actually, they work long hours – their "days" often start and end in the dark), with an average estimated return of only about 12 to 16 cents on the dollar. That's about half the return they had 30 years ago, by the way, without adjusting for inflation. And, it takes a lot of dollars to farm today. Take for examples, which start, with the required attachments, at $100,000 but can cost twice that. American farmers produce more than ever before, and will likely have to do even more over the next 15 years as global populations rise. Even with growing demand and lower returns, though, our farmers are increasing their sustainability and green practices. Most farms conserve large wildlife areas, plant trees and other plants and increasingly implement sophisticated agricultural practices so that they need less water, fertilizer etc. per acre than a few decades ago. Farms are the main developers of alternative energies, and the primary users of some forms.

It's not an easy life, but thank God they do it.

Next time we sit down to dinner – especially at Thanksgiving – and say grace, perhaps we could add a word of blessing and thanks for Kevin, his family and all the other farm families who literally feed the rest of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) AFBF American Bureau Deere Farm Federation John Tulelake agriculture farmers farming farms imaging photography portraits potatoes shed tractors http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/11/feeding-the-world Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:59:48 GMT
What Really Matters http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/9/what-really-matters

 

This shot of my daughter's worth a million to me, but not because it's a nice photo. Certainly people relate to it, and they've given me kind words about her gleeful expression, or how  it takes them back to when Daddy pushing you on a swing was one of life's greatest joys. Her delight's genuine, and you can see it. But, while it's great to create a good image, there are many things that are more important.

 

What makes this image special is that in it, we see changed lives – my daughter's, my wife's and mine. Since there are other pictures of her and of me on this site, you may realize that we adopted her. I can't imagine what it's like for anyone to grow up without loving parents, but it makes me wonder whether she would have had moments like these. On the other hand, I now know what my wife and I would have missed; thinking what might not have been makes me weep.

 

Too many children grow up without families; there are about 153 million orphans in the world who have lost one or both parents  (and one is too many). But, considering there are about 1.4 billion families (households) if only about 1 in 9 adopted one child, we could close every orphanage. Not every household can do so, but others would (and do) adopt two or more. And, of the 153 million, many still have a parent and a viable family. My point is that this should be a solvable problem.

 

To be direct, what about you? If you're thinking about enlarging your family, give it some serious thought. For those who may feel the same way, I wasn't sure I wanted to adopt. If I'm honest, I was basically dragged into it. But my fears, concerns, worries and hesitation vanished the instant I held my little girl for the first time, and now I thank God that He didn't let me off the hook on this one. When you become an adoptive parent, you give a lot, but you get a lot more than you give. For every smile we've put on our little girl's face, she's put a hundred on ours. I think it's one of God's ways of teaching us what's really important.

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) adoption emotions imaging modeling orphanages orphans photography playgrounds portraits swings http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/9/what-really-matters Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:20:38 GMT
Twenty Thousand Dollars Under the Sea http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/8/twenty-thousand-dollars-under-the-sea NEEMO 18NEEMO 18Photographed with a Hassy H3D, I captured this shot of Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide at the end of one of his simulated EVAs (space walks) during the NEEMO 18 mission at the FIU Aquarius habitat.

 

Background: In my November 2012 blog post, I wrote that the Aquarius undersea habitat -- the ocean equivalent of the International Space Station -- was about to close due to lack of funding. With it, the NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operations (NEEMO) programs were in peril, potentially ending more than a decade of researching human spaceflight under the sea. Fortunately, as shown in an update, at the last minute Florida International University took up the reins of funding and managing this imporant national resource.

 

After nearly coming to an end in 2012, two years later the NEEMO project has come back strong, with two missions, NEEMOs 18 and 19, in 2014. At this writing, NEEMO 18 just concluded (very successfully), with NEEMO 19 about three weeks away. Having been a contractor with the NEEMO project since its inception in 2001, over the years I've "worn many hats," including, at times, photographer. On NEEMO 18 shooting wasn't my primary role (I was primarily a support diver); that duty fell to accomplished imager Mark Widick (check out his amazing space shuttle launch shots!), who was sporting a Hasselblad H3D in an underwater housing.

 

If you're not a photographer, you may not know that Hasselblad is considered the highest quality professional camera available. Hasselblad makes each with a unique combination of mass production and hand crafting, with a large sensor and the world's finest lenses. Its current top end model (the H5D-60) is a 60 megapixel camera (about twice the resolution of the current highest DSLR sensor at 36 megapixels), which continues a 50+ year trend. During that span, Hasselblad has been the tool of choice in the fashion industry and other high-end imaging, including being the camera that went to the moon. No one argues that Hasselblad is the best of the best for high end, commercial imaging.

 

But, it's a high-ticket item -- an order of magnitude more costly than the finest Nikon and Canon DSLRs (you want the best, you have to invest), so while I shot Hasselblad a lot during the film era, until NEEMO 18 I'd never had a chance to shoot the new digitals. They were out of reach for me financially. Mark could see the longing (i.e., envy, lust, jealousy) on my face and, being a kind and merciful person, graciously handed his Hassy to me during two dives in which I was, at least officially, just his dive buddy. While I can hardly say I shot it enough to get to know it well, I immediately fell in love -- you have to shoot to understand it, but just feels right. With it, I captured several images I like, including this one of NEEMO 18 mission commander astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. For this shot, I was under the Aquarius habitat (it's on a frame about 20 feet off the bottom) at the end of a simulated EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity, a.k.a. "space walk") as he was securing his life support umbilical. He turned from his task for just a beat and looked my way, giving a shot that connects you with him.

 

After one of our many dives during the mission, someone helped Mark by taking his camera system from him as he came out of the water. "Careful with that," I cautioned, "That's $20,000 under the sea."  I wish I created this little play on words, but actually pioneer underwater photographer Jerry Greenberg did. He published an image with that title in the early 1960s, showing all the equipment he used as an early pro underwater photographer -- multiple underwater camera systems, scuba gear, several scuba cylinders -- even a boat -- all of which the caption said came to a bit more than $20K.

 

That says something about inflation over the last 60+ years, to be sure, but even so, I don't think he had a Hassy. He'd have loved it if he did.

 

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Akihiko Hoshide Aquarius FIU Florida International University Hasselblad Jerry Greenberg Mark Widick NASA NEEMO NEEMO 18 diving imaging photography scuba underwater underwater photography http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/8/twenty-thousand-dollars-under-the-sea Sun, 17 Aug 2014 22:52:01 GMT
Finding Your Muse http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/7/finding-your-muse  

 

 

 

 

 

Some images come together much easier than they should. I'd thought of this shot several days before the shoot and expected to spend a lot of time getting the lighting tweaked. As it happened, it fell into place easily. This was my favorite of several; actor/model Charlie Seibold.

Every artist needs inspiration. What we create comes from a vision within us (albeit, often augmented and improved by the team who we work with as it comes forth), but something needs to inspire that vision. It may another artist's work, a phrase, a random thought, a dream -- but it has to be something. Or, someone, a muse –- an inspiring model, actor or collaborator or who pulls new, fresh creative visions out of us. It's magical and wonderful when you find yourself in a muse-artist relationship.

 

The muse-artist relationship is not monogamous, and it can be momentary or enduring. Fashion/portrait photographer Richard Avedon was a muse-magnet extraordinaire and illustrates this. Some of his most famous images feature Brook Shields, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Dovima, Stephanie Seymour, Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Hepburn, to name only a few. Avedon photographed most of these a few times at most, yet his work exhibits the inspiration he drew from them. Hepburn, however, modeled for him many times over both their careers; together they created many of the images we think of when we think of Audrey Hepburn. The Avedon-Hepburn tie has become almost the stereotype for muse-artist relationships.

 

You can't decide to be someone's muse, and you can't decide someone will be your's. It's also not romantic. While it can be, that's not it.  In my experience, there's a sense akin to falling in love, but it's at most an illusory crush that fades when we stop shooting. Then we're back to being friends/acquaintances. I can't explain what makes someone your muse, but you know it when it happens.

 

During a shoot last week, I found a muse, actor Charlie Seibold, and this is one shot that, at least in my eyes, shows it. We were shooting on a dive boat, and this shot through a splashed window was a magic setup in which everything came together way easier than it should. She gave me several looks that work, but I love her expression in this frame. It says she's strong, confident and at peace (which is probably why she's also a skilled free diver).

 

Will she be a my muse again? It doesn't always work that way. But, sometimes it does. We'll see.

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Audrey Hepburn Charlie Seibold Marilyn Monroe Richard Avedon imaging muse photography portraits http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/7/finding-your-muse Thu, 03 Jul 2014 17:42:39 GMT
A Voice for the Masses http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/5/a-voice-for-the-masses Steampunk PortraitSteampunk PortraitThis contemporary family portrait composites four images: the background, and three of the subjects lit to match.

Whether you're a photographer, photographic artist or just have some photos that fit into a story you want to share, Adobe has a new free app to check out: Adobe Voice.  It's an app that lets you easily create a short video about a problem, principle, proposition or just a story. It uses your photos as well as free logos and photos within the Adobe Creative Cloud, and walks you through the process, all within your iPad. It is easy, and effective -- just don't get long winded. It's for quick messages with a real point.  Think of it as doing for story telling what PowerPoint did for formal presentations.

 

Here is my first published  Adobe Voice video. It's a short piece -- less than three minutes -- about a remarkable family in China who helps orphans. None of the images in it are mine, but watch closely and you'll see the connection with the image above. It took me maybe 30 minutes to put together -- the program does all the work. Pick a theme, layout and music, and do it all in your iPad.

My guess is that you'll see lots more from lots of people using Adobe Voice very soon. There are lots of fun things you'll do with photos (maybe some that I create for you) and/or that Adobe has in its cloud.

 

Hopefully, though, Adobe Voice will be something we can use for more than fun, business or cool ideas. I hope it gives a new voice to people who've not been heard enough. Like a voice for families who leave the comforts of home so they can help children.

 

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who helped out. The family's back in the United States and, after staying in southern California for a few months, is settling in in the north-eastern U.S.

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Adobe Adobe Voice imaging orphan care orphans photography portraits videos http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/5/a-voice-for-the-masses Fri, 09 May 2014 21:50:16 GMT
Reviving the Golden Age http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/3/reviving-the-golden-age  

 

 

 

 

Model: Michelle Kummer
Make Up: Karrissa Lorrine

Sorry for such a long interval between posts. We just moved and as you may expect, that has kept me really tied up.

 

Some of my favorite looks are from the late 1930s to late 1950s era in Hollywood. This was the period when photographers including George Hurrell, William Walling Jr., E.R. Richee and C.S. Bull created many of the iconic movie star images that today we recognize at a glance. Photography evolved over this 20 year period, so that there are some notable differences between images created early and those created late in this span, but most images from this era share several characteristics. First, they are almost all in black and white. Second, they have very shallow focus range. Third, they used hard light -- that is, lights that create shadows with a relatively hard, distinct edge as opposed to a wide, gradual edge. Although these resulted from technical limitations, the style became so distinct that it continued longer after technology had moved on and the limitations no longer applied. George Hurrell continued to shoot using largely the same equipment and techniques until right before he passed in 1992.

For this image, we created a then-is-now look using modern equipment. I modified the lights to replicate the hard look, and in Photoshop, converted to black and white. The image had a wide focus depth, but I recreated the narrow look of the period in Photoshop as well (which takes more work than it may appear). The makeup artist imitated the period while keeping a modern feel, and a candlestick phone added a touch that takes us back (even though it is more of a 1930s thing than '40s).

I've used this look for portraits as well as fashion. Recently, I used it for a subject being recognized for bringing the movie industry to his area many times (away from Hollywood, on location), making this classic look fitting. It's a fun, rewarding imaging style for both me and the subject.

 

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) George Hurrell Hollywood golden era Kummer black and white fashion golden era photography portraits http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/3/reviving-the-golden-age Tue, 25 Mar 2014 15:33:39 GMT
Wish We Were There http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/1/wish-we-were-there Winter WonderlandWinter WonderlandMy boss wanted a different kind of Christmas card, so this is what we came up with. It is composite -- two shots of the family in the studio, and the background image from iStock. They were at greater risk of heat exhaustion than frost bite! Ah, what could be more cheery than standing in a blizzard on the side of mountain? What Yuletide joy.

For this image for the client's Christmas card, one option was to fly to the Yukon and hang out in a cabin on the side of mountain until the weather turned nasty. For various reasons – not the least of which included my distinct dislike for temperatures below 65ºF – that was out of the question. The only real choice was to create it in the studio and computer. We shot the family in two sessions, lit so it would composite over an image selected by the client, and purchased from iStock. I've been asked how we made the wind look so real.

 

Okay, here's the trade secret: To make wind look real, use (ready for this?) . . . WIND. We had a powerful shop fan and blasted the talent with it.

 

The result, instant familysicle. The look we wanted wasn't "wish you were here." It was "be glad you're not here," and I think we accomplished it.

 

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Christmas picture Karl Shreeves blizzard composite funny photography storm winter http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/1/wish-we-were-there Mon, 13 Jan 2014 18:21:19 GMT
Counting Lights http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/12/counting-lights How can you lose shooting a beautiful young lady with the wind in her hair? Studio shoot for ScubaEarth.com.

Check out this shot for a behind the scenes look.

 

Pop quiz: How many lights did we use to create this image of ScubaEarth.com fashion wear?

Two?

Try again.

 

Three?

More.

 

Four?

Getting warm

 

Five?

Not quite.

 

The answer is six lights.

If you're not familiar with studio fashion imaging, you may be surprised that such a simple shot (it should look simple) takes so many lights. It's not a matter of brightness, but a matter of shape. When we're imaging, we use lights as chisels that carve the illusion of three dimensions from a two dimensional photo. Each light does a different job in what you hear called "lighting," but which is actually just as much shadowing.  Here's a behind the scenes shot:

 

 

A quick adjustment while shooting some Scubaearth.com fashion items.

Looking at this, there are six, but only five are visible. First, hidden by the model (and my PA Niccole in this shot) is a strobe head you can't see, but if you shoot, you should be able to tell it's there because it illuminates the backdrop. Then, there is a strobe shooting through the umbrella on frame left, another strobe head with the beauty dish (light with big round reflector at top of frame), and a strobe hair light that you can see just behind the beauty dish. That's four. The last two lights are the big silver reflector below the model angled up at her, and the V-flat on frame right.

 

At this point, some may be screaming that reflectors are reflectors, not lights. Without getting into an argument with Webster, no, from a photographic point of view, reflectors are lights just as much as strobes are. Whether it is a strobe, reflector, a wall, ceiling, someone in a white dress or whatever, photographically, anything that sends enough light towards the subject to be visible in the captured image must be treated as a light that is subject to all the principles of lighting (inverse square law, family of angles, hardness proportional to two-dimensional relative size, etc.)

 

Failure to think in these terms commonly cause problems lighting and learning to light. Photographers sometimes decide that something is or is not a light based on whether it emits photons instead of whether it changes the light falling on, and reflecting from, the subject. Or, they only consider something a light if they placed it to light the subject. Either is a mistake because it neglects the fact that light is light, even if it's a stray reflection off a broken Coke bottle 20 feet out of frame, and therefore affects the shot. A professional photographer or photographic artist doesn't neglect this because you can't get reliable results any other way.

 

If you hear someone say "I didn't use any lights for this shot," it's only true if the person then shows you a black rectangle. Otherwise, the person either doesn't understand, photographically speaking, what a light is, or the person doesn't know how to count.

 

 

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karl.shreeves@gmail.com (Karl Shreeves) Photography fashion photography imaging lighting lights photographic art photography reflectors scubaearth studio http://karlshreeves.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/12/counting-lights Thu, 05 Dec 2013 20:38:34 GMT