Homemade Studio Lighting V2.0

2 weeks ago, I made a post about the do-it-yourself (diy) studio lighting that I did to keep me busy, but also to help me learn more about how to use artificial lighting in a home studio setting.

I posted some results from those shots on the subsequent post as well as on Instagram and Facebook. For the better part of those 2 weeks, the fact that the straws were multi-coloured seemed to have very little if any effect to the final versions of the shots…

Until …

I did one shot perpendicular with a glass that I had big expectations for. It looked fairly good on the camera. It was the one shot I was expecting the most from and was going to be the centrepiece to that day’s shoot. Until I saw it on the computer screen. The colours of the straws were reflecting off of the glass and were – with my editing skillset – an impossibility to eliminate with my photo editing software.

Back to the Drawing Board

I had thought at first, “Well, let’s not do that type of shot again.” As a person trying to improve to the point of landing product photography clients, this type of thinking will not cut it. Having to sacrifice quality because I didn’t want to make a new one is a horrible idea.

Out to the stores. Store after store, coloured straws, coloured straws. No one even sold all white straws. But as luck would have it, a last ditch “Hey let’s take a look here, it can’t hurt to try,” unveiled a jackpot. Not only did they have packages of straws that were of one colour, that colour was black!

It also provided the chance to select different sized bowls for the reflection dishes.

Knowledge is Power

My wife was more than generous in helping with not only the cutting of the straws, which took the most amount of time the first go of it. She also strung them on the tape to make the honeycombs for the bowls.

I had bought many more packages of straws this time because I also wanted to make one for my makeshift strip box. Knowing what I could do with the strip box and the parchment paper as a diffuser, I wanted even more control over that light.

My wife had finished the one for the bowl. I had thought that if I was to attach another bowl and cut a small circle at the bottom and join them top to top, I could make a type of snoot. So she made a smaller honeycomb for the (UFO) snoot.

Another change I made to this version was the back of the bowls. On version 1, my mindset was to try to use items that were in my recycling bin as much as I could. This included a thick grey plastic bag that had been used as a postal envelope to cover the back of the white plastic bowls to eliminate light leaks. I thought that the double layer was a bit of an over-kill so I used only one layer. But on the bowl that would be the front of the snoot, I used the black electrical tape that I used to put the straws together into a honeycomb. After shooting, I realized that the black tape blocked out the light, like I wanted, but it was also doing a MUCH better job than the reflecting dish on the back end. So I took off the plastic and taped it, too.

The Test

After testing out the 3 new lighting choices that my wife and I had made, I can say that 1) version 1 helped out a lot in my understanding of what I need, and 2) version 2 is working better than I could have imagined.

The next step is to start finding different things to photograph. The plants, water, and smoke are great starting points. I think they make for great practice. I think they are also great as exercises from which to build a solid base of fundamentals to expand into more complicated stagings. Stay tuned.

How To…

If you’d like to see how these were done head over to the original issue for the steps to do it yourself. The strip box ended up being a little different. If you’re interested in the steps to the strip box honeycomb, leave a note in the comment section and we’ll post an update!

Stay safe and have fun!

Finding Those Instagrammable Spots

WARNING: This is not one of those kind of posts…

Instagram, in the beginning, was a curious thing. (When I say “in the beginning” I mean before its purchase by Facebook.) It was one of those things where, it was, to me, “Hey I can take photos with my phone and add these little presets to them.” Nothing more, nothing less. I really didn’t see the point of it all. After all, I was a landscape photographer and I preferred my camera and having no digital filters.

Then everything changed. A photographer by the name of Nick Laham was shooting portraits for the New York Yankees during spring training. He set up in the bathroom, apparently as there wasn’t much space anywhere else. After he finished his “pro” work he pulled out his phone and grabbed shots of the players using the Instagram app.

The photos went viral. Well as viral as they could in 2012. About a month later, Facebook bought Instagram.

Now deals of this kind of magnitude and dollar figure take time, so who knows how long the negotiations were. But one could easily get the idea that the popularity of these shots was the stepping stone to what Instagram has become.

It’s blown up to degrees that I don’t necessarily agree with. The idea of the “influencer” makes be cringe every time I have to see, hear, type, or say the word. With that being said, it is the world that we’ve made and everything that comes with it.

One of the side effects of Instagram is having to make almost everything photogenic (aka Instagrammable). Restaurants used to ban customers who were taking photos of their plates before eating in part because it was annoying the other customers as people would stand on their chairs to get the overhead angle. Some of those same restaurants have now changed their interiors, uniforms, and even chefs who have more artistic presentations to encourage the practice of photographing the meals.

Some restaurants here in Korea are now offering freebies for anyone who snaps a photo and shares it on Instagram, Facebook, Kakao Story, etc. with a list of hashtags. I got a free drink for these two. It also gave me the chance to test out the closed beta test of the new Photoshop Camera app that will be coming soon. (My favourite has actually been the food mode.)

This practice has spilt over into the landscape and travel photography field as well. Tourist locations are setting up Instagram-like frames for people to use as frames for their feeds. Bloggers and magazines alike are posting more and more “The Most Instagrammable Spots (Locations) in (enter city name here)

I get it. People want to be loved. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment. But what level of accomplishment is one actually getting from this? After all, hundreds if not thousands of people are literally lining up to take the exact same “Instagram” shot.

Case-in-point:

This was about 33% of the line-up waiting to take a picture with or in the “Instagram” frame. I didn’t even think about trying to get the whole line in one shot, I didn’t have a wide enough lens nor the software to stitch a panorama together.

From a strictly selfish standpoint, I love them. They herd all of the tourists and influencer-wanna-bes who don’t give a rat’s behind about the history or geography of a place, let alone respecting it enough not to vandalize or damage property because they think it would be a better photo into one place. So it opens up the rest of the area for me to search for other angles that haven’t been photographed yet or as much.

But photography should be about art and creativity. The “Photo Zone” or “Kodak Spot” was bad enough, but these things are sucking creativity out of people. It’s not just these spots, either. It’s Instagram as a whole. The person behind the Instagram account “Insta_repeat” is a genius. One of the things that I find amusing is how some people get so angry in the comments. Clearly (stealing a line from Digital Underground) “the image and the style” is similar if not exact, and there are thousands of them. Do a Google search for “Starfield Library COEX Seoul” or even better, do an Instagram search for “Starfield Library“. How many of the escalator in front of the rounded corner shots can you count? Right? Every time I see a new post with this or some online “magazine” with this shot I want to scream.

It’s a big place. Get around and look. The COEX account actually left me a comment.

But if you really, really, really, must have that escalator with the rounded corner, you can mix that up, too:

Or without the reading man:

The point is there is so much more going on in that space than the escalator. No one can reach the books higher than the 4th or 5th row from the floor anyway, that huge wall is all decoration… sorry.

How people expect to stand out by doing the same thing that many other people are doing blows my mind. It’s one thing to study and research a location before you go, but looking up what is “Instagrammable” and then going to do the same shot, it’s a hard “no” from me. Listing 5 to 10 places that you should go to for that “Instagrammable” shot will never come from me, and I hope that others at least cool down on it.

Everyone has different likes and experiences. What was good for me, may not be your cup-of-tea and vice-versa. But if you like a frame that I’ve published, I’ll be more than happy to tell you where it is or how to get there if you ask me. I’ve given out exact GPS co-ordinates to some of my favourite spots. But I’m not going to make a list, the searching for and finding it on your own is part of the adventure that makes photography so much fun and rewarding.

But hey, my main Instagram account is under 350 followers, I’m probably not one to be giving Instagram advice … but it does lead nicely into the next issue …

So What’s Your Point?

The Age of IG and the Smartphone

I recently attended the annual full moon fire festival.

The short version of the event is during the evening of the first full moon of the lunar calendar – believed to be the brightest moon of the year – large bonfires are made.

People write their hopes and prayers and tie them to the sheaf that will be set ablaze. The branches, wood, and sheaf that are strung together is called the “moon house”. It is really only 1 part of many rituals that are carried out throughout the day of, the night, and the morning after.

The “Moon House”

This year’s festival felt different. It started with how they were interacting with the “moon’s house” before the ceremony. The time when it is on display and when you are able to write your piece and attach it to the house for burning later in the evening. In the past, most people would huddle around it, and there would be a large crowd. This year, people kept their distance… why? So they could get the whole house in the frame of their smartphone camera.

Cellphones in a row.

I was looking for a specific shot when it came to the lighting of the house, but as luck would have it, my sightline wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, especially considering where I had set up my tripod an hour before the lighting.

So I backed it all the way up, got the whole crowd in with the fire and the moon. I was surprisingly happy with myself for making that decision. I got a few shots, not as many as I had hoped as I kept knocking on my tripod. But one that I did get I thought was nice. The thing that I noticed was that after it was lit, a good majority, maybe 70-80% of the people had cleared out within the next 5-10 minutes. Hoping to beat the traffic rush. The fire part of the ceremony was the highlight, the climax, the event everyone came to see. In the past people would wait until it burnt itself out or until the fire department (on standby) would put it out about an hour later. Not this year…

Fast forward to the next day when I got it on the large screen of the computer, and bam! It hit me right away… it looked like almost everyone had their phones up taking pictures of it! They showed up, they took their picture of it with their phone, and left.

Look at all the phone screens!

It seems to have gone from taking photos of an enjoyable time, to not being able to enjoy the time because people are thinking and worrying too much about how to make some wonderful IG post, to not even caring about the time at all, and just grabbing a photo, almost as to prove to someone that they were there. I didn’t even mention the woman who spent the entire ceremony that involved traditional dancers watching a soap opera on her phone.

Yes, you were there, but did you experience what you came to photograph? The emotional experience that once led people to make a photograph used to show in the photograph…

Next issue: Finding Those Instagrammable Spots

Stay tuned!