Tag Archives: Lighting

Coffee Bean Still Life

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For this week’s assignment I decided to photograph some inanimate objects and do a still life. My boyfriend’s love for me is comparable to his love of coffee. A large portion of his coffee consumption he actually roasts at home. So we had these beautiful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans hanging around that had this amber brown shade coffee3to them and some still had the sheen of oil from being roasted only two days prior.

I really wanted to play around with using light to shoot from underneath which I did in the image to the right. I actually took the glass from my coffee table and and lined the underside with a white sheet to use as a consistent base but doubles as a diffuser and set my speedlite to aim straight up. I also had a second speedlite set up to light up the beans from the top. I really liked the detail it brought out with really defining the shape of the individual beans while also keeping a lot of the shadows on that center cut of the bean.

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I decided to use a mirror as a base for a couple of the other images. I really liked the reflection of the coffee beans in the images and the extra bit of depth it added.

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Boudoir, brackets, and a bearded dragon

Last week I did a boudoir shoot and I was really excited to give my new stands for my speedlites a try during an assignment.But while setting up for the shoot I had issues with the hot shoe attachments for the stands. More on that below. 🙂

Regardless of the stand malfunction, the photoshoot was a blast.

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She was doing the shoot as a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday in April and for this shot she wanted to feature a Fossil watch her boyfriend had given her as a gift.

Once I found out that she had a bearded dragon as a pet, I thought it would be neat to get some shots of her with Bane, whom she had named after the DC Comics supervillain.

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The thing I love most about doing these shoots is that they are different every time. Boudoir is unique to each person and each person has varying levels of comfort with how they express their sexuality. It’s an immensely fulfilling experience to do a boudoir shoot with a woman who may not be fully comfortable with their body-image, but who do it anyway.

To see that person blossom throughout the shoot and become more confident and aware of how beautiful they are, and for my photos to play a role in that is truly an honor.

The equipment

I’d purchased the Neewer kit which included two stands with brackets for mounting the speedlight hot shoe, two translucent white umbrellas, two black/silver umbrellas, and a nice carrying case for the set. All for less than $50- totally within my student budget.

Upon receiving the product I set up both stands with my Altura speedlites and it worked perfectly. The stands and screws are mostly made of plastic and seemed like they’d be flimsy, so I made a mental note to just be careful. I disassembled everything and packed up my case for the assignment.

I did the shoot at my client’s apartment and I was excited to finally have a lighting setup that was efficient while also quick to put up and break down.

I was in the middle of attaching my speedlite to one of the stands when the screw that tightens the clamp which holds the speedlite popped off. That’s no big deal, you just screw it back in…unless it continuously just keeps popping out at you.

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Hot shoe attachment clamp for speedlite. The screw on the left is turned to tighten or loosen the clamp to fit hot shoe attachment for the speedlite. 

Upon investigation after the shoot I found the screw was in perfect condition but the insert for where the screw goes, wasn’t even threaded it was just a circular, plastic hole.

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Side view of speedlite hot shoe attachment with screw clamp off. The hole in the middle is where the screw goes in to either tighten or loosen the attachment that holds the speedlite. 

I probably spent almost 10 minutes messing around which this attachment, which dropped my speedlite THREE TIMES, before I gave up and just used the speedlite without the stand. I didn’t drop a huge amount of money on my speedlites, but if they hadn’t fallen onto carpet my speedlites likely would have broken.

Catching up

New semester started and it’s just as busy as the last! Since I last posted I have been working on starting a few project for video that I’ll be posting intermittently over the next few months.

I’ve also been shooting boudoir shoots lately which I’ve really come to enjoy. Most recently I photographed my friend Kendra who wanted to do photos for her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day and it gave me an opportunity to try out some new equipment. Out of respect for Kendra’s privacy I’ll only post some PG shots.

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For school we were working with Canon Speedlites, really nice but easily $400+ a piece for the newer versions, or around $150 used if you’re lucky. I really wanted to invest in some of my own so I could shoot whenever I wanted and not worry about getting the equipment back to the school on time, but financially I couldn’t justify $150 for each speedlite at the time.

A while back I ordered an Altura Photo Speedlight for about $35. It kind of just sat in my spare bedroom that doubles as a make shift studio. I had a hard time getting it to fire not hooked up to my camera and I didn’t want to rely on it out in the field.

A little over a month ago I stumbled upon an Ebay posting for a set of five Pocket Wizards (the Plus ii) that was going for $130 at the time which is a total steal. I started price comparing and I ended up finding the Pocket Wizard PlusX for $55-60 used via Amazon, so I bought five. B&H sells a set of 2 for $145 brand new. I’m really happy with the PlusX, they have 10 different channels compared to the four channels on the Pocket Wizard ii and it also is compatible with other Pocket Wizards if you need to mix and match. What I also love and appreciate about the Pocket Wizard PlusX is that there is a battery life indicator. It has green, yellow, and red lights. It’ll flash green until the battery is below 50% then it’ll flash yellow until the battery life is below 25%, then it will flash red. I really appreciate this because then I don’t have to trouble shoot and spend time figuring out what isn’t working, I can just change the batteries and continue. Really love that addition.

The boudoir shoot with Kendra was the first opportunity I had to test the Altura Speedlite in the field and I was so happy with the product that I ended up buying a second unit for the next time I shoot. Compared to the Canon Speedlite series it doesn’t have the light up display that easily lets you see the screen in the dark and it also doesn’t adjust for distance with the flash, but it does allow to adjust flash output power and for $35 I will physically move the speedlite to save myself the money.

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Loving dog mom Kendra, poses with Charlie after the boudoir shoot. One of the things Kendra and I have been chatting about was getting some photos with Charlie so this was a great opportunity. Charlie was so curious and wanted to know what was going on, but he behaved very well and just lay down beside the bed, only jumping up while Kendra was changing outfits. Boudoir photos aside, this was one of my favorite photos from our session, with these two together.

Photo Illustrations

For our photo illustration assignment we had to shoot two different ideas. I originally struggled to think of ideas but then I struggled to think of ideas that I could do that wouldn’t cost money to go out and buy items that I wanted to use as props in the photo.

I knew I wanted to do something with food. I’m a server and I came up with the idea to photograph how silly I find it when sometimes customers cut corners saying that they’re eating healthy because they ordered a diet soda or get angry when we don’t have low fat ranch dressing- and then order an all fried meal. The most difficult part of this assignment was really just my boyfriend getting to the first round of donuts before I had a chance to photograph them. That, and now I’m finding bits of bacon all over the carpet.

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“Cheating on your diet” A maple bacon blueberry filled donut wrapped in lettuce is still a donut, even if there is lettuce. Don’t cut corners, if you’re going to cheat on your diet then cheat. Web MD recommends not cutting out unhealthy foods entirely because it will lead to fixation and then splurging. This image was lit from the front left and another light to support and fill in the shadows coming from the right.

The inspiration for my second assignment was from an article I stumbled upon while scrolling through my homepage on Facebook. The article talked about this television show in Morocco that did a makeup tutorial for women to hide signs of domestic abuse. That really resonated with me about abuse being normalized and almost brushed under the rug and I wanted to do my assignment that showed the pressure women feel to keep quiet about abuse.

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“Concealing the abuse” Merissa Faye models cosmetic makeup and makeup imitating what a punch may look like. Models Taylor Kring and Kendra Peabody mimic the “shh” gesture to the pressure women feel to keep quiet. Faye, Kring, and Peabody were each lit with two lights with snoots to directionalize lights on the faces and give the fade to black effect.

Class Photo Illustration

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Our class split into two groups to compete against the other for who had the best idea and execution of the illustration. And though my team lost it has what I believe a strong message of dating, then and now and how drastically it has changed over the years due to technology and social media.

Still Life Stress

img_2419Marshmallows melt in a peppermint hot chocolate.

The hardest part about this assignment was figuring out what I wanted to do. There is such a wide array of options to do for still life and I tried multiple ideas from shaving cream and a razor, making my boyfriend model in his blue jeans, and trying to shoot coffee, but all of those things just weren’t clicking for me at the time. So I decided to go to Target to get a little inspiration.

Target was currently in the process of getting the Christmas decor out and I wandered around looking at everything, still in the mindset I was going to do something coffee related. Maybe a french press, throw around a couple whole beans, and a big beautiful cup of steaming hot coffee. But a good chunk of my mugs have chips in them so I knew I needed a new one. And as I was walking around Target I kept seeing candy canes,  peppermint, and chocolate everything. And then I couldn’t get this image of a beautiful cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane sticking out of it piled high with marshmallows in front of the open fire. Well, I don’t have an open fire but I ran with it anyway.

Originally I loved the idea of doing an aerial shot and shooting the image from above. I’d assembled this sort of Christmas-y cheese tray with nuts and the sort but once I started shooting the cheese and crackers didn’t really seem to fit, so I just looked for other angles. Below is my awful scribbles trying to depict what I had envisioned in my head of what the shot could look like prior to actually shooting.

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I had two strobes for this assignment, my main light coming from above and left of my subject and another from behind right. In the final image I noticed you don’t see as much of my backlight considering I actually had a pourer for milk directly right of the mug, so it blocked out a lot of that light. Still I’m happy with the result because I rather like the shadows caused by the candy cane and towers of marshmallows.

“Painting with light” or “let’s try it again, but this way”

All I can say is that I am so grateful this assignment is done. I had a blast shooting and I am so very, very thankful for every hand that volunteered to help me out.

I shot both of my assignments outside and was relying on some good weather. I was not so lucky and nearly had to reschedule multiple times, due to rain and a random blizzard, but we made it work with special thanks to extra hands and also umbrellas and duct tape! This assignment had so many moving parts and learning how to perfect the photo by trial and error. I wouldn’t say it’s my strongest skill, but I made it out alive.

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For my first shoot I thought it would be neat to photograph something with light trails from a car which led me to the idea of shooting a hit and run scene. I had my boyfriend drive his car with his headlights off while I shot my friend laying on the ground (and it had rained that day and was still slightly raining, she really is a trooper) and I shot her at full power on the flash, then had her stand up and shot her with flash on lower power and with a blue filter, then had her exit the frame. To expedite the process I had bought a bunch of duct tape and tape the filter over the flash so that I wouldn’t drop the filter and lose it in the dark and also to ensure that it covered it completely.

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The duct tape also came in handy because it started raining just a touch during the shoot and we duct taped umbrellas over the equipment to protect it so we could continue shooting. I wanted to shoot wide but I was afraid of light coming in from the side tampering with the photo and since Amanda’s ghost figure was standing up, so to accommodate for that I would have to zoom the photo too far out, losing some of the impact of the image. I decided to shoot vertically and as tight possible, but the issue we ran into with that was Amanda was having a hard time finding the right spot in the frame to stand. Eventually we solved this by finding some random piece of paper and putting it on the ground so she would know where to stand, and the paper wouldn’t be seen in the image because her full physical body would block it.

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The idea for my second assignment was sparked by an example I saw that depicted what appeared to be either a Dragon Ball Z or Harry Potter battle. I loved the idea of doing Harry Potter and after brainstorming with a friend thought it would be neat to recreate that moment in the Goblet of Fire where the ghosts of Harry’s family come out of the wand during his first duel with Voldemort. We decided we were going to do a practice shoot so we could get a feel for what needed to be done and how to solve potential issues. I was clicking the shutter to start the exposure, running to flash her with the strobe then do the lighting at the end of the wand then lighting the characters and it was just so much. The practice shoot helped me get a system down and plan accordingly for things like needing a more effective flashlight. The one I was using had three settings so you couldn’t turn it off immediately and it ruined a lot of images because of it. The second shoot went a lot more smoothly and we were done in less than an hour.

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In class the week before Halloween we did a group project during the class. My team came up with the idea of Bloody Mary so we came armed with an assortment of lighting devices, camera equipment, and a fog machine. The most difficult parts of that shoot was honestly getting the timing down, making sure no one ended up in the shot, and the fog machine which would just quit randomly, but added a really nice touch to the photo. We had set up shop in the women’s bathroom in Wightman Hall on Central Michigan University’s campus, and since we have a late class we didn’t really have much of an issue redirecting anyone in need of a bathroom. We also didn’t need to have a super long exposure because we had enough hands which meant we were able to take more shots in the time we had available and get “the” shot.

EAT IT-Sickening Fashion Assignment

I’ve been itching to shoot this assignment since I saw it on the syllabus at the start of class weeks ago. This shoot was especially important to me because I don’t believe that the only people capable of achieving high fashion are shirtless dudes showing their eight pack or thin women with unbelievably long legs and this gave me the opportunity to capture that.

This assignment was two part. One had to be shot in the studio and the other had to have location lighting. I wanted to photograph roller derby fashion and people in the drag community. I decided to shoot my queens in the studio where I had more flexibility to play around with lighting and photograph the derby women at the arena where they practice because the track would only add to the context of the photo.

Studio drag shoot:

Zach (aka Lacey Grace)

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Zachary Bach, whose stage name is Lacey Grace, poses in drag in the studio on Wednesday, Oct. 12 on Central Michigan University’s campus.

Zach was seriously a trooper. He is a friend on my roommate’s and he came to our apartment at 8 a.m so Casey could do his makeup. We were trying to shoot at 10 in the studio because he had to work at 1 p.m. We got to the studio a little bit early so we had time to set up and maximize on time to shoot. All we ran into were issues. I had two lights set up like so:

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Simple, easy, and ready to go. Hooked up my sync cord and hot shoe: wouldn’t fire. I’m standing there swearing like a sailor fumbling around trying to make sure everything had a tight connection, hooked up the cord to my other camera to eliminate the possibility that it’s an issue with my camera, and it still didn’t fire. I looked at Zach as he was getting his heels on and just told him he might as well keep them off and save his feet because it could be a while.

An hour later I had eliminated an issue with my camera, tried every hot shoe with every sync cord, and thought geez it must be the hot shoe. So I walk my booty down to the office and talk to the ladies who had opened the studio for me an hour prior and asked if there was a possibility that I could borrow a hot shoe from the second studio to see if all three of the ones in ours were malfunctioning. They then directed me to a professor that was able to get one for me on the promise of my life if I did not return it (which I did), and it still didn’t work. I was very aggravated and grumbling a lot of curses toward the equipment and was getting ready to pack my stuff up and find some other way to photograph Zach with the time we had left when I had a thought. I unhooked the sync cord from my primary light with my softbox and tried another monolight. Clicked my shutter: flash goes off. Sync port malfunction.

Praise the sun, we have a winner. But the light wasn’t where I wanted it so I had to swap around my equipment and I added another light to the left of my softbox setup. The lamp on the malfunctioning monolight still worked so I moved that to be my backlight, then I quickly took the light where the flash would fire and made that my primary light to my right, then I added another light to my left where the flash would still fire via slave, but dialed down the intensity. I just wanted it to lightly touch my model when it fired.

Eventually I had my final setup:

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Then we got to work. img_1461Lacey Grace performs in the studio in Wightman at Central Michigan University on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Zachary Bach, 22, is from Grand Blanc, Michigan and is pursuing a degree in accounting and will be graduating in December. “I knew I wanted to do drag a couple years ago after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and realizing how fun it looked,” Bach said. “I have always been a performer and I’ve done a lot of theater so I knew that drag was definitely in my wheelhouse.”

Neither of the queens I photographed had any professional quality photos of themselves in drag so they were just as excited to shoot this assignment as I was. We started off shooting full body and doing some still shots, then I asked him if he would perform a song so I could get some photos of Lacey Grace “in action” if you will.

Other than equipment malfunctions I think one of the most challenging things about this assignment was learning how to fix makeup in photoshop. Basically I’ve had nearly zero experience in that regard and in the original images Lacey Grace had incredibly heavy foundation down around her eyebrows so I went in and fixed them in nearly every image. Time consuming, but it was a welcome challenge. Below are the before and after shots. On the left is the original image that has no editing, on the right is after editing. Spot healing brush in photoshop was a huge help.

img_1627Lacey Grace poses with her makeup brush in the studio. “For me, drag is just another form of expressing myself,” Bach said. “It helps me break away from the shy persona that I sometimes give off when I’m not in drag.”

Neal (aka Lavender Hazze)

My second drag queen was Neal. I photographed Zach and Neal back to back and it worked out perfectly. Unlike Zach, Neal is very new to the drag community, but not new to loving it.

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Neal Primm, 21, also known as Lavender Hazze, poses in the studio Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Central Michigan University. “I knew I wanted to become a drag queen was in high school,” Primm said. “It was after I saw my first performance by a drag queen that opened up many doors to so many ideas.” Neal is currently studying at Mid Michigan Community College working towards a visual ads degree with full focus on ultimately becoming a photographer.

I spent so much of my time photographing these queens while standing on a chair. This little 5’2″ frame of mine was not conducive to photographing already tall men, dressed up as women, and in heels on top of it. The original photos I took minus the chair look like a toddler took them…while sitting down.

We played lots of music in the studio throughout and Neal really shined while I photographed the still photos and I was really impressed by the originality Neal showed as Hazze. Generally when you think of drag queen you picture essentially a beauty pagent queen but there are so many different types and to be able to photograph that and essentially represent it was truly a blessing. That’s not to say that Lavender Hazze isn’t beautiful, because she is. She just has her own style and I love that.

Neal also walked into the studio and pulled out these fake ass looking flowers out of his bag telling me about how excited he was to use them in the photos. I love when models do this because they not only got excited and brainstormed what they wanted to do but it gives me an even bigger opportunity to really represent them by using their ideas. For a moment I thought to myself, what the hell am I going to do with these ugly looking flowers, then I thought fuck it, it’s going to be awesome. And it was.

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Lavender Hazze poses with flowers in the studio at Central Michigan University. “There’s so much creativity and art behind drag if you put your mind to it, and that is something that captivates me,” Primm said. “This is my opportunity to show people that you can do anything you put your heart into.”

Neal was also super excited about tearing those photos apart, but initially we’d either throw the flowers out of frame, or he’d be smiling in the photo which would seem to contradict the tearing of the flowers. One of the most memorable experiences in the beginning of our time together he said laughingly, “You know, I feel like since I am getting my photo taken that I should be smiling.” And you could see that nervous energy, but I just told him something to the effect that he should just do what he feels comfortable doing and if that’s smiling, then to do it, but if not don’t worry about smiling.

img_1788Lavender Hazze tears apart flowers in the studio. “You’ve gotta ignore the negativity the world is throwing at you and just do whatever it is you want! For me, I’m blooming. No more holding back,” Primm said.

When my roommate saw this image she said something that I believe was incredibly profound and correlates to the drag community and how people view it. “It’s almost as if the flowers represent femininity and destroying them is destroying the social confines of who and what can be feminine.” -Casey Crick

Central Michigan Mayhem

Cassi (aka Battle Scarred Beauty) and Kate (aka Sly Vixen)

So photographing the women on the Central Michigan Mayhem team was a lot of fun. It wasn’t my first experience with them as I had photographed their annual event Zombies vs. Vampires bout last year, an event I will also be covering this year on Saturday, Oct. 29. I planned to get to the arena after their practice but got there early in case they finished practice early. The down side of that I hadn’t realized, was that the ladies would be tuckered out after practice and almost all of them felt like a hot and sweaty mess and weren’t really up for being photographed. Two rockstars got their gear back on for me and went in front of the camera so I could get some shots for my assignment.

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Cassi Weatherby, known by her derby name Battle Scarred Beauty, shows of her derby fashion after the Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Northside Hansen Arena (formerly known as Spinning Wheels Arena) in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Weatherby, 25, from Sumner, Michigan, originally started doing roller derby almost five years ago just before two deployments with the National Guard.

The arena looked a lot different from what I remembered the last time I was there. Along the top of the walls near the ceiling there were a lot of reflective surfaces which were incredibly distracting in the images and lots of things in the background I tried my best to avoid, like the glowing red of the exit sign, benches, etc. Since I didn’t want to take up a lot of the women’s time, I kind of just shrugged and accepted the fact that it was part of the environment and make it work. Really looking forward to working with these ladies again in a few weeks.

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Weatherby goofs around with fellow Mayhem skater Kate Hewitt, also known as Sly Vixen. Hewitt, 32, from Alma, Michigan, has been a skater with Central Michigan Mayhem for almost five years. “Roller derby tricks me into exercising, but it’s more than that,” Hewitt said. “It’s a kind of therapy that helps me on bad days realize that I don’t have to be the skinniest, perfect person. It helps me realize that I am strong; I am brave; and that is beautiful. I also have a fantastic group of people that I consider part of my family. Roller derby is about empowering women, love, and respect and that’s what it means to me.”

The location lighting setup I used to photograph the ladies was really basic, just two strobes. Since I was coming after practice I wanted to use a setup that would be effective but quick to put up and tear down so they didn’t have to wait on me.

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