Archive for '• Technique':

GPP Group Shot = Pressure That Can Make Diamonds


On the next to the last day of Gulf Photo Plus I was informed by GPP organizer, Mohamed Somji, that I had the “privilege” of shooting the group shot of all the GPP staff and photographers. I would be given 15 minutes to set up and execute the shot with 25 to 40 people.I have done countless group shots in my young career but never one that had folks like Joe McNally, Drew Gardner, David Hobby, Chase Jarvis, David Nightingale, and on and on and on. No pressure.

Last year David Hobby shot the group photo. He did it available light and had the photo posted on the web in 30 minutes. He was smart. David kept it simple. I however had could not leave “well enough” alone. I wanted to make a picture that was a tribute to some of the photographers in the photo and I wanted to keep with the OneLight theme so I decided I would get everyone in the auditorium and light them individually with one light and then comp them together in post. I have “painted with strobes” a few times in my life but never on this scale. It isn’t the most technically brilliant photograph I’ve ever made in my life but I had fun doing it. Everyone in the room had fun bustin’ my chops for taking this on. Hobby had a GRAND time playing with his wizard in his pocket while I was setting this up too. :)

How I did it = Pretty simple

• I set my camera up on a tripod so that each shot would align in the final image to be created.

• I had my studio manager, Erik, walk around the room with a Nikon SB-25 mounted on a tripod. On the SB I placed a Lightsphere that I have painted black. I call it my Darksphere. I then bunjee’d a 20º grid on the front of that. I like to have my grids placed off of the flash tube to get a cleaner circle of light.

• I exposed somewhere around 5.6 at 250th of a second to kill the ambient light in the room. I just needed the light on each person. There are 29 people in the final shot and I used 28 frames to capture them all. Chase and his wife, Kate, were lit together for one shot.

• I tried a quick multiple exposure shot on the back of the D3 to see if my idea was going to work. In this you can see Erik holding the light on the stick.


This is what each individual shot looked like…


This is what the group shot looks like without the auditorium showing through…


Here is the auditorium. I would use this image to mask parts of the ambient back into the group shot.


Once the people were together I could then bring in the image above and again, using layer masking, I painted in just enough of the ambient light to mix in with the lit shots. The final shot was 34 layers tall. 28 layers of people and 6 layers of ambient light and details like the the strobe painting on the back wall panels. Here it is again…


So…To Joe McNally – I know you eat 30 Speedlights for breakfast every morning so excuse me while I meagerly try to pull it off with one.

To David Hobby – My light rig for this shot not only has a bunjee cord on it, but it has a LightSphere that I spray painted black to keep with the DIY / Modify philosophy you preach so well.

To David Nightingale – 30+ exposures to make one final image! How do you do it so well? You can see how much of a hack I am.

To Drew Gardner – If only I had a water buffalo and 300 gallons of strawberry jam then you too would have a tribute here. :) Maybe next year I’ll shoot it on a Phase One. Oh wait! I don’t have to shoot it next year! Some other light monkey will have to do it!

To Chase Jarvis – You talk about pushing yourself. Well… I pushed myself on this one!

I could have done this or that or the other to make this shot better but I had no time to really think it through. It was a good exercise for me though. I’m glad I did it this way.

I have one more Dubai post to make this week and then we are back to regularly scheduled blogramming.

Cheers, Zack

Seamless Corporate Work ::

November 20, 2008 | • Technique Misc. Photos

corporate photography by zack arias

My good friends at Elekta called me this week to come in and shoot some images for a new service campaign they are working on. They wanted images shot on white seamless. Having been to their office a number of times I knew that there was no need to take a roll of white seamless with me and set it up. I just needed a white wall of which, they had many to choose from.

Assignment :: B&W portraits on a pure white background. Tight crops, low angles, normal angles, plenty of negative space for text and graphics. Gear Used :: Three Nikon SB-25 flashes (paid $89 for each one!), Nikon D3, Nikon 35mm f2, Pocket Wizards. Modifiers Used :: 10º grid spot for first image (cover shot) attached to flash via a bungee cord and a LightSphere that was painted black (DarkSphere), Westcott 60″ reflective umbrella for portraits.

Here is the set up for the cover shot…

For the following portraits I took the DarkSphere and grid off of the flash and put the 60″ umbrella on. Is it the most ground breaking photography you have ever seen? Of course not. As I say in the OneLight workshop though, this is the type of work I do to pay the bills. Simply understanding how to use off camera light can increase the jobs you are able to take on.

Here are some of the portraits…

corporate photography by zack arias

corporate photography by zack arias

corporate photography by zack arias

corporate photography by zack arias

Don’t forget to add to your fine art portfolio while you are out shooting. :)

corporate photography by zack arias

Cheers, Zack

Seamless & Cyc Winners!

August 20, 2008 | • Technique News

I ran a flickr contest based on my white seamless tutorial here on the blog. If you are a new reader, you can find the multi-part photography tutorial in the technique category. I had a very difficult time placing the top 3.

Actually, I had a difficult time placing third place because the first and second place winners stood out. My rule for judging this contest was the image had to pop out at thumbnail size. If it didn’t catch my attention in a small format then I wasn’t going to be interested in seeing it larger.

So, on to the winners.

:: First Place :: Floyd Palitang ::


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Floyd shot such an amazing series on these athletes that I had to show two. You can find the series here.

Floyd’s post production is just a bit too heavy handed (contrast and sharpening) for my taste (it’s subjective) but the series of images and the intensity that he captured far outweigh the amount of post production on these images. It nearly knocked them into second place but they are just so dang good and there are stories begging to be told about these images so I kept it in first. half_spacer.jpg

:: Second Place :: Dwayne Hills ::


Are you kidding me? Look at that fabric. Look at those colors. The expression. The moment. It just freaking pops up and slaps you in the face. You HAVE to look at this photo. The beauty of the simple white background is there is nothing competing with the subject here. With the simple use of the crop tool to change the composition, there are numerous ways to use this image. Love it. It almost got first place. By a hair it slid to second. half_spacer.jpg

:: Third Place :: Ryan P. ::


Simplicity rules. It just does. Such simple light. Simple background. Simple styling. Yet massively compelling. Well done. half_spacer.jpg

Honorable mention :: Man About Tao

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Honorable Mention :: Angela Lopez ::

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Honorable Mention :: Danny Ngan ::

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Well done everyone! Well done. You made my job hard! So…

First place has won a 50″ Westcott Apollo softbox or a copy of the OneLight DVD. Second place wins a 28″ Westcott Apollo softbox or a copy of the OneLight DVD. Third place has one a copy of the OneLight DVD. All three HM winners will receive a year Pro account with Flickr on me.


Cheers, Zack

White Seamless Questions :: Part 1 (Video)

June 27, 2008 | • Resources • Technique

I have now compiled the questions that have come in about the White Seamless tutorial that we have been going through here on the blog. Find parts 1 through 5 under the “technique” category to the left.

There were some questions that came through via the comments, email, and flickr about post production in PhotoShop that I discussed in part 4 of the white seamless tutorial. I done and went and got me a screen capture program to walk you through some clean up procedures, cropping, and that multiply mode change as well as showing an image shot WITHOUT the tile board and how to clean up the floor.

Please excuse the crappy audio quality and all that. I’ve now done and went and got me one of them dang ol’ audio interfaces that has more buttons than a 747 cockpit. I’m trying to figure that out now for future blog posts. I am working on all of the other questions this weekend and through next week. We are in the middle of the final editing and authoring stages of the OneLight DVD so bare with me as I get that priority off my plate first.

To view the video full screen, see it on the the blip page here. I’m not sure why it will not toggle to full screen on the embedded video above.

Cheers, Zack

PS – Tell me what you think about I like that I can upload widescreen videos and I love the user interface more than YouTube. What are your thoughts?

White Seamless Tutorial :: Target Loves Seamless…

June 2, 2008 | • Technique

Having just wrapped up the white seamless tutorial (scroll down) I just want to see if you all are starting to notice images out in the world that were shot on white.  I’ve mentioned some of the masters who rocked the white like no others but it is everywhere.  Just walk into a Target…


There’s the men’s section.  Just turn 180º to the women’s section…


Simplicity rules.  Look how easy it is to begin to comp advertising and promotional pieces together.  It isn’t rocket science.  From as far as I can tell, these images were shot with one large light source on the subject.  Again, simplicity rules. 

Scroll on down for the last part of the tutorial and some info on a contest I’m running to encourage you all to get off your blog reading arses and get out shooting!

Cheers, Zack 

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 5 :: Wrap up, Questions, & Contest!

June 1, 2008 | • Resources • Technique

This is the final part in the white seamless tutorial. If you are just joining this blog, you can find parts one through four listed here. I wanted to end this tutorial with just a few more thoughts on lighting your subject so that you have a few more tricks in the bag.

We have talked about those bi-fold doors on the side of the set to block the background (BG) lights from illuminating the subject (see part 1). You can also use those as big reflectors if you paint them white. Mine are painted white on one side and I keep the natural wood color on the other side so that they can at times be used as a background. Take a look at these two images. These were shot using only the BG lights. 


To bring light around to the front, I positioned the BG lights in such a way that they were not illuminating the subject. I pulled one of the bi-fold doors and a tall piece of foamcore around to the front of Stephanie to act as large reflectors. Those picked up the light coming off of the BG and reflected it back on to the subject. To do this well, you have to bring those reflectors in really close to your subject. They usually end up in my shot but they are an easy thing to remove. 


Still shot the image vertically as you can see so that I can maximize the size of my subject on my image sensor. I simply made a marquee selection around the reflectors, made sure my BG swatch in Photoshop was set to white, and hit the delete key. Whatever is deleted goes to your BG swatch color. Easy peesy! Why did I use one bi-fold door and one foamcore? Um, it is just what I had on hand at that moment. You can use one or the other or whatever. I just want you to be thinking about that background being a large light source that you can then grab some of that light coming off of it and reflect it somewhere else if you need to do so. 

Here is another shot using the same technique. I like the light that it produces and I like the catchlights. 


And, as always, leave a little room around an edge for alternate crops. 


But wait! There’s more! My friend I shoot weddings with, Marc Climie, built two 4’x8′ frames out of 1×2’s and covered them with ripstop nylon. They hang out in the studio and for the following shot I used one 4×8 panel on each side of the frame as main lights on the subject. I shot a light through each one. So that would be four lights. Two on the subject. Two on the background. 


I’ve also used this exact same lighting setup for larger product work… 


For the image above, nailing the ratio of exposure on the subject to the background was critical because I needed to retain some amount of density in the clear acrylic. It took some time getting that set but once it was set, I could move other displays in and out of the set and keep the same lighting and exposure. Also note that it is great shooting on white because you can shoot mulitple angles of the same thing and place them on to one photo quickly and easily. For this type of application set your camera on a tripod so that your angle and perspective to the subject remains constant. 

Speaking of product, all of this stuff I’ve been going on and on and on about lately works for just about anything… 


You can take a sheet of that tile board and put it on top of a table for small product work. I have shot hundreds of small products using this set up. As always, I fill the frame and the expand as needed. For the image above I just used the BG lights. 

I’m a big fan of grid spots and I use them a lot when shooting on white. I also include elements of my set into my photos as well… 


For the image above I used a 10 degree grid to light my brother’s face and I composed my frame to include elements of the set. If you or your client do not want these elements all you have to do is set your BG swatch color to white in Photoshop and select and delete areas or use the eraser tool to remove them. 

Again, I’m a fan of the grid. This is legendary hip hop king, 8 Ball, from Memphis… 


Well, that is pretty much it. That is just about everything I do with a roll of white seamless paper. It seems as though this has been good for many of you. Thank you for taking the time to go through it. 

I am now open to questions! Leave them as a comment here. I will also go through the other seamless posts and pull out questions I haven’t had a chance to reply to yet. I’ll let the questions come in for a week or so and then I’ll make a post with all of them together with the answers. 

Also… Let’s have some fun with this. Go out and start shooting and upload your photos to the Seamless & Cyc group I have started on Flickr. Post as many images as you would like that combine the use of a subject(s) and a white wall, a roll of white seamless, or a cyc wall. I’m going to choose a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner on August 4th, 2008. Here is what I’m going to put in the prize chest. 

1st Place – A copy of the OneLight DVD coming out soon – OR – a 50″ Westcott Apollo softbox

2nd Place – A copy of the OneLight DVD coming out soon – OR – a 28″ Westcott Apollo softbox

3rd Place – A copy of the OneLight DVD coming out soon. 

2 Honorable Mentions will receive a year pro account on Flickr. 

(Uh… Ahem… if any of you manufactures or service providers have anything you want to throw in the prize chest just let me know! ( zack @ )   

I will place an image in the Seamless & Cyc pool on August 3rd declaring the contest is over. I’m going to choose the winners. I’m the judge, jury, and executioner of this since I’m filling the prize chest out of my own pocket. :) You can enter as many photographs as you want. If I feel something has been entered and it doesn’t belong, I’ll remove it. I will announce the winners August 4th here on the blog. 

So, hit me with questions about all of this in the comments here and I’ll collect them for a week or two and reply to all of them in one post. Thanks for stopping by! Drop suggestions for other tutorials in the comments as well. This has been a lot of fun for me… and more time consuming than I thought it would be… but fun all the same! 

Cheers,  Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 4 :: Simple Changes In Post Production.


If you are just joining us, this is part four in a multi part tutorial about the many uses of white seamless as a background material. You can catch up by reading part 1, part 2, part 2b, and part 3.

For part four we are going to look at making simple changes to our photos in post production. We are going to change the composition of our photos shot on pure white or pure black. We will also look at a way to add some color back into the background on the images shot on pure white.

The first thing we are going to do is change our composition. When I’m shooting on a pure white or pure black background, I shoot 95% of those images vertically. I fill the frame with my subject as much as I can. I want to maximize the image area they take on the sensor of my camera so that I have more options for enlarging the photo later if I want. If I want a lot of negative space in the final photo, I’ll add that in Photoshop later because it is easy to create white or black space and still have a full frame of the subject. Imagine the area of your camera’s sensor for a moment with the photo above on it as it is captured…


That is a lot of dead space thrown away on your chip. You can maximize the captured resolution of your subject by filling the frame.


There are two simple ways of expanding your photo to change the composition. You can change the canvas size or you can use the crop tool. I prefer the crop tool because it lets me visualize the new composition I’m trying to create. For the example below I want to deliver the vertical full frame shot to the client and I want to deliver a horizontal shot as well. I’m going to keep them set to the same dimensions by locking in my aspect ratio then flipping the width and height numbers. See the photo below.


The crop tool options can be blank if you want so you can free form a crop. Here are the step to expanding it.

1. Make sure the photo is a locked “background” layer.

2. Set the BG color swatch to pure white.

3. Select the crop tool and pull it out over the image. It will not pull out beyond the edges of the photo. Once you hit an edge of the photo LET GO of the mouse button. Some bounding box tick marks will show up on your crop rectangle.

4. Grab one of those bounding box tick marks and begin to pull the crop out past your original image.

5. Once you have the composition you want, hit enter or return to apply the crop. Since your BG swatch is set to white it will become the color of whatever is beyond your original image after it is cropped. Its magic and stuff!




From looking at the next image, you would think I have a massive studio space.


This is how it was done.


Again, the original image was shot vertically to get the most bang for the buck out of my sensor…


We can do the same thing with images shot on a PURE black background.


Going through the same steps as above, I have now just changed the BG color swatch to black instead of white. I have also moved the light source around a bit.



I made a selection around the light then used the move tool to drag it around. With the BG swatch still set to black, it doesn’t make a “hole” in the photo when you move it.


Here again is the final frame after about 20 seconds of work in Photoshop.


That’s the simple simple stuff. Now we’ll add just one more layer to the pure white image to change it up a bit more… I sit with my clients and walk them through a series of changes. I let them know they are getting an image shot vertically but with some simple changes it can go to a larger vertical image for a concert poster or it can go to a horizontal image for a promo card or CD artwork. Here is another thing I show my clients that can change the overall look of the original image. Let’s make a square crop like we are doing CD artwork or something. Here is the original image as shot in camera.


I’ve cropped the image to a square, turned the image into an unlocked layer, and added a new layer underneath the image. I’m going to be making a radial gradient fill on the new layer UNDER the photo.


Turn the photo layer off and select the new layer you made under it. I’ve made my gradient fill and stretched it out a bit. I want a soft white under my subject.


I go back to the photo layer and select it and turn it back on. Then I change the layer blending mode to “multiply”. Anything that is pure white will drop out and the color from behind will show through.


It looks like this.


You can change the color, density, and saturation of this type of gradient fill with levels, curves, hue/saturation, etc. Here is a change up to the bottom layer with hue/saturation.


Here is the image with this change.


This isn’t the way to just drop a subject into a whole new location. You have to get into some layer masking and a few more steps to do something like that. These are just some simple steps to show you how to change things up a bit for images you want to make for your clients or promotional images you need to make for yourself. You can create the perfect amount of negative space to add logos, text, etc. If you are into textures you can then start adding those into some of these steps as well. Using the multiply mode on white backgrounds opens up new possibilities for you. Note – It doesn’t work the same on images with a black background.

For the next post, I’ll show a few lighting options you can have when shooting on pure white backgrounds. After that I’ll have a post asking for questions you may have. I’ll also be going through all the comments on this tutorial so far and answering those questions in one single post.

Then we are going to have a contest! If you are starting to shoot this stuff or have been, you can now begin adding your images to the Seamless & Cyc Flickr pool I have started. Let’s see how creative you get. I’ve filled up the pool with my visual pollution to get it started. You add the rest. I’ll have prizes for first, second, and third place. I’ll give you details on it coming up soon. Add your images that have been shot with any of the techniques we have discussed here when using a simple white background. If you are just using a white wall to start you can post those as well.

Continue Reading :: Part 5 Wrap Up, Questions, and Contest!

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 3 :: From White To Black.


If you are just joining us, this is part three in a four or five part tutorial about the many uses of white seamless as a background material.  You can catch up by reading part 1part 2, and part 2b

We’ve taken our white seamless BG and made it pure white.  The task set before us now is to get a few more visual options out of that white seamless paper or simple white wall we are shooting against. 

When I got my first studio space I had few resources to fill it up with backgrounds and stuff that studios should have.  The very first thing I bought was a roll of white seamless paper.  I had to start using it with two lights.  One on the subject and one on the background.  That’s all well and good but I needed to have the ability to get as many looks out of that one background.  These are some of the simple and effective techniques I still use to get some different looks from a single background. 

The first thing you can do is simply turn the background lights off. 


The image above is the same exact photo except for the fact that I turned the BG lights off.  I shot one with the lights on.  Then one with the lights off.  Same settings on my main light and same settings on my camera.  Your white BG is now a medium grey. 

Here is a full length shot with the tile board removed. 


I removed the tile board because it can be a bit difficult to get it to blend seamlessly when you are lighting the BG.  It can be done you just have to finesse your light and shooting angle to the point where you no longer see the edges of the tile board on the floor and maintain a consistent tone of grey while still picking up a bit of reflection under your subject.  Currently I don’t have an example of that on hand.  I’ll dig for one in the archives and post it when I wrap this tutorial up. 

If you can wrap your head around things like inverse square law and feathering your light then you can begin to make that BG any shade of grey from black to light grey. 

Inverse square law is an equation that talks about math stuff about how light falls off over distance.  I’m a photographer.  I like pictures.  I don’t like physics. Inverse square law to me is like that quote about electricity that I’ve heard before… “I don’t know how electricity works but I use it everyday.” 

If you double your distance from flash to subject, you lose 75% of the light.  To me it seems like if you double distance then you lose half of your light but some dudes and some ladies (probably more dudes than ladies though) figured out that is not the case.  You double distance from flash to subject you lose 75% of the light.  Not 50%. 

In Myth Busters type of science that means when you double distance you lose 2 stops of light.  If you double one foot that means you lost two stops of light at the two foot mark.  If you double 20 feet… you lose two stops at the 40 foot mark. 

Let me say this now though… Before any of you get on here with your Texas Instruments graphing calculators to show me where I’m wrong on this… Take it to DPReview and fight it out there with the other measurebators.  I don’t care!  Like I said, this is some Myth Busters kind of science explanations. 

With a point light source like a straight flash it looks like this… 


From f22 to f16 that is 7 inches.  From f5.6 to f4 that is 3.5 feet.  If your subject was standing where the f22 tick mark on the wall is and the white seamless BG was over there by the 5.6 tick mark then by the time you expose properly for the subject at f22 then your BG would be (16, 11, 8, 5.6) FOUR stops under exposed from your subject. 

Here’s the basics that a public school educated guy like me can understand.  If you get your subject some distance away (like 10 feet let’s say)  from the BG and your light source really close to the subject (like 1 or 2 feet away) then once you properly expose for the subject…. the light falling off toward the BG falls off to the point that your BG can be 2 or 3 stops under exposed from the subject.  The more you under expose the BG the darker it gets. 

Again… The larger your ratio of exposure is from your subject to BG the darker the BG gets.  The smaller the ratio gets, the lighter the BG.  

Huh?  What?  Yeah, I know.  It looks like this without any use of Photoshop. 


I’m going to post that same photo right after this explanation… 

For these two images I kept the subject the same distance from the BG.  He was about ten feet from the wall there.  For the image on the left the softbox was about 5 feet away from him.  Exposure on him was f2 or something.  Then I moved it in really really close.  Just outside of the frame.  Once I closed down my aperture to compensate for the light being much closer to him, the light ratio between his face and the wall was now a larger ratio thus making the BG darker. 


Still don’t get it?  Reading my explanation over again won’t help much because I think it confuses me as well so let me try to sum it up another way.  All you engineers out there are laughing your butts off at me because this stuff is elementary.  Like I said, I went to public school. 

Get your subject about 10 feet off of a wall and get your light source 7 or 8 feet away from your subject in a position that light is hitting your subject AND your background.  Make a proper exposure for the light hitting your subject and look at the white BG.  It will be a lighter shade of grey. 

Keep your subject right there and more your light in really, really close to your subject.  Like one foot away (just outside of your frame).  You have now changed the exposure so you are going to have to stop down your aperture until you have a proper exposure on your subject.  Once you have the proper exposure on your subject, that white BG will now be a darker shade of grey than image you shot before with the light 7 or 8 feet away. 

If you are reading this and don’t get it… Get off your arse and go shoot it.  You’ll see it pretty quickly. 

You can further eliminate light falling on the BG to get the BG to go darker and darker still until you just “blow it to black” as I like to say.  Or, you make dark with light.  I typically do this with feathering my light and getting my subject even further away from the background. 

When you “feather” a light you are positioning your light in such a way that it isn’t pointing directly at your subject.  Instead, it is pointing a little bit away from subject yet not pointed so far away that you are no longer lighting your subject.  You are just wanting the subject to catch the feathered edge of light coming out of your modifier.  Point that light AWAY from the BG yet still getting some on your subject. 

If you tweak your feathered light just right and have a good distance from your BG then you can take that white seamless (or just about any other color of BG) and it will become black. 

Here is a four light set.   


Two lights on the BG, one light with a grid to light his arm, one light zoomed in to light his face.  Here is what it looks like on white… 


Remember how I talked about my philosophy in all of this is I light my subject independently from my BG?  With my lights on my subject set up properly, those lights aren’t adding any exposure to my BG.  So if I turn the BG lights off and just use that tight grid and a zoomed Vivitar 285 I get this… 


I did NOT change the white background out for a black one!  I pinky promise!  I just kept that grid and that zoomed light positioned in a way that none of that light hit the BG. NOTE – I’m staying at my sync speed on my shutter speed to make sure I’m killing any and all ambient light falling on the BG. Shutter speed controls ambient light. Even though there was light in the studio when I was shooting, I was shooting at f8 at 250th of a second or there about so I wasn’t exposing any ambient light in these images with black backgrounds. 


For the image above she was about 15 to 16 feet away from the BG.  I had a big softbox pointing just in front of her.  Enough for the feathered edge to light her.  Then I had a second light add a bit of a side light for separation making sure that the side light did not hit the background. 

Grid spots are awesome.  You can use those things to keep light off of any BG you may be using like this… 


Grid spots have a small feathered edge of light.  You can point the main circle of light in front of your subject and just get their face into that feathered edge and it looks like this… 


You can grid a subject again, add a background light pointing toward your subject and get this… 


You can take a big ol’ softbox, move your subject away from the BG as much as possible (like 15 feet or so), under expose the whole thing just a bit and get this… 


Take it light grey… 


Take it darker… 


Set your BG lights to a low power setting and get them evenly positioned on the BG and match the BG exposure with the subject exposure and get a very even tone of grey through an image… 


Position your light in just the right spot where you get just a bit of separation from dark shirt or hair to a darker BG… 


Keep the light on your subject but OFF of your white BG so that the BG goes black.  Then double or triple stack some colored gels on your BG lights and set them to a fairly low power setting and you can now add color to your white BG… 


IF you let the clean white light from the subject light hit the BG when you are trying to gel it to a color, then you are going to contaminate that gelled color back there and you’ll lose the saturation of the color you are trying to achieve.  I used a grid spot in the image above to keep light just on the subject and off of the BG.  I kept him far enough away from the BG that the red light from the BG didn’t wrap around him and give me some funky color shift on the subject. 

White.  Grey.  Black.  Red.  Blue.  Whatever.  One background.  Many options. 

The next tutorial will be about what we can do with some of these images in post production.  I’ll show you things I do in 30 to 60 seconds of time that changes things up even more. After that I’ll post a few different lighting techniques for lighting your subject on the white seamless.  Then I’ll have a post where I’ll be open to questions in the comment section and I’ll cover the questions already in the comment section now. 

Then I’ve got something fun for us after that and that will conclude this tutorial!  You can expect for this to be all wrapped up this month.  My schedule is a bit hectic right now. 

Continue reading :: Part 4 :: Simple Changes In Post Production. 

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 2b :: Full Length With OneLight


I felt challenged today to see if I could shoot a full length portrait on a plain old white seamless background with a single battery powered light source. There is this thing I do with barebulb flashes that blows the background to white and I use an adjoining wall near the subject to catch light from the bare bulb to bounce back to light the subject’s face. The problem with trying to do a full length with a single light source is dealing with the light stand getting in the way. Positioning it out of the frame is a pain. You say four letter “f” words (like film) trying to keep the light stand out of the way and lighting the walls and trying to keep light from the flash off of the wall (edit – I mean subject). 

The challenge I gave myself today was to shoot without a light stand. I figured I would try placing the bare bulb flash on the ground behind my client and use those bi-fold cutter doors as reflectors to catch the light from the flash and bounce it back to the front of the subject. I taped the Sunpak 120J and Pocket Wizard with white tape to further conceal the rig in case I was in the frame. The challenge was to not have to remove anything in Photoshop.Here is the taped rig… 


Here is the result…


Not bad really. A little flare around the ankles that is giving me a color shift on the legs. I can live with that and “fix” it if needed. Better than trying to remove light stands from photos. Here’s another shot with the same lighting scenario… 


It was a slight PITA keeping separation of her light hair on the white BG. Just a hair of the “fill” slider in Lightroom helped bring the exposure of her face up. Here is wider shot showing a bit of the bi-fold doors acting as reflectors… 


I was out of time so I didn’t try the same scenario with the tile board. I’ll try that another time. 

There is another way of doing this with a single light source but you need more power than four double “A” batteries and a pretty dang large light source. I’ll shoot one of those when I get back from my week teaching OneLight’s in California. 

Speaking of that, I have to be at the airport in seven hours. I’ll be working on the next part of this seamless tutorial on the plane. 

On a side note… 

Fellow photographer and all around amazing guy, Troy Stains, stopped by today while we were shooting. I have to share this image I shot of him. He’s pimp.  This was part of our shooting for the OneLight DVD coming out this summer. 


Continue Reading :: Part 3 :: From White To Black.  

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers,  Zack

White Seamless Tutorial :: Part 2 :: Setting Lights & Exposure


UPDATE – Moved servers and lost these old images. I’ll be doing a new series on white seamless. Sorry! 

We are now going to look at setting up a simple headshot on a pure white seamless background, or, “BG” for short during this tutorial. Click here for Part 1 of this tutorial.

The philosophy I have when shooting on pure white is that I want to light the BG and the subject independently from each other. Meaning; The light on the subject isn’t making a change to the exposure on the background and the light on the background isn’t making a change to exposure on the subject. As I talked about before, those cutters on the sides of the set are key to making this happen. The next consideration is keeping the subject a fair distance away from the background as well. In this first example my subject, Thomas, is about 11 feet away from the white seamless hanging behind him. The closer he gets to the background, the more likely it is that light reflecting off of the seamless is going to add exposure to him in the final image. The further I get my subject away from the seamless, the less light coming in from the background will get to him. I’ll talk more about that specifically in a bit.

For the sake of being as technical as possible for this tutorial I have wiped the dust off of my light meter and put it back into use. I rarely, if ever, pull it out when setting up this type of set simply because I’ve done it so often and I know what I’m looking for when I chimp. If you have a flash meter already, good for you! Pull it out and put it in the incident mode. If not, I’m going to give you examples of the visual clues I am looking for when I’m shooting so I know how to adjust my lights without using a flash meter.

For this set up I have two lights on the background. One on each side. I also have barn doors on these lights in addition to using the bi-fold cutters. Since my ceiling in here is so low and those white walls are so close to the set I use the barn doors to flag light from the BG lights off of the ceiling and walls. The light on camera left is pointing just left of center of the BG. Camera right light is just right of center of the BG. I want an even spread of light across the BG so that if I were to take meter readings from the left edge to the right edge of the seamless, I would get identical readings from edge to edge. If your BG is within a quarter stop from edge to edge you’ll be fine. If your BG has more than half a stop difference from edge to edge, position your lights in such a way to even that exposure out. If you don’t have a light meter, eyeball the dang thing and go for it.

For those of you new to lighting I am only going to be talking about exposure in terms of f stops. Shutter speed controls ambient light exposure and aperture (f stop) controls flash exposure. The ambient light in this scenario means nothing to me since I’m lighting everything with flash so my shutter speed is always going to be near my sync speed of 250th of a second. If you don’t know your sync speed you’ll have to RTFM. If you don’t know what RTFM is then you’ll have to Google that and ROFL. If you are lost on ROFL… how did you even get to this web page? Colon right parenthesis.

Also, these are always shot at my lowest ISO setting so that I have the cleanest images. No need to shoot this stuff at high ISO settings especially if you have some decent power coming from your strobes. If you are doing this with hotshoe flashes there can be occasions you need to up your ISO a bit.

For the subject I have one light source. For this particular shot I’m using a Westcott 50″ Apollo softbox. The light inside of the softbox is set to 100 w/s (watt seconds). For the pure white BG it doesn’t really matter what kind of modifier you use. Like I said, I’m lighting my subject independently from the BG so I choose my modifier based on the kind of light I want on the subject. You can use straight flash, an umbrella, a grid spot, a beauty dish, etc, etc. Actually, my favorite these days is a beauty dish. I just love that thing but for this, I chose a big softbox.

From my meter I’m getting a reading on my subject of f8 from that softbox (main light). To make that white BG pop I know that I need to have the BG at least 1.5 stops hotter than the subject. My target then is to get the BG reading to be f 11.5 because my main light on the subject is f 8. I’m going to expose for the subject at f 8 once I shoot a frame. I don’t really want the BG to be any more than 1.5 stops hotter than the subject’s reading. You’ll see why in the examples below. f 8 on the subject and f 11.5 on the BG is my standard set up. You can set the ratio anyway you want it. If your main is f 2.8 then you want the reading on your BG to be f 4.5. If you get f 5.6 on your subject then you want the BG to be at f 8.5. Nerd note – If the EXIF data is still in these images and you’re reading it you’ll see I actually exposed at f 9. My meter is about 1/3 of a stop off from my camera.

Let’s look at a properly exposed image first ::


In the image above I have a nice white background, no significant amount of flare coming back into the lens, no chromatic aberration (CA) around the edges or in the hair, a good exposure on Thomas, and I’m getting just a bit of “wrap” on the shadowed side of his face.

For that “back of head” reading I took my meter and placed it at the back of his head and pointed it toward the white seamless and took a reading. This is measuring the amount of light coming back to the subject from the BG. The more light coming back, the more wrap, and possibly more flare, you are going to have on your subject. That “wrap” is seen as a highlight on the camera left side of his face. That is coming from the light reflecting off of the white seamless. Some folks HATE wrap and work to eliminate it. Some folks like to have more of it. Personally I go both ways. Country AND Western.

There are times I want it eliminated. Maybe I want a really deep shadow on the side of the subject’s face. Lighting wrapping in from the back would fill that shadow in too much. Another example of the need to eliminate the light wrapping around your subject is when you are shooting someone wearing pure white. I want to keep a very clean separation of white on white. We’ll see that coming up in a minute. Sometimes I love to have more wrap because it accentuates the subject’s facial features. Most of the time though I’m fine with just a bit of it. The wrap above is something I won’t say cuss words about and I won’t lose any sleep tonight because of it.

If you want less wrap, move your subject further away from the BG but keep the same 1.5 stop exposure ratio from subject light to BG light. If you want more wrap, move your subject closer to the BG while still maintaining the 1.5 stop exposure ratio.

For those of you without a flash meter here are some examples showing you when your BG lights are over or under exposed. These are shown with the idea of you have a good exposure from your main light on your subject. Find that exposure first by turning off your BG lights and shooting a series of images of your subject with just the main light on. Remember, we are lighting the subject independently from the BG. If you have this set up correctly then you can take a shot at the proper exposure of your subject with the BG lights off and then with them on and your subject will remain properly exposed in both images with the exception of some wrap coming in from the BG when those lights are turned on. Make sense? No? Shoot pictures with your BG lights off and find the right exposure on your subject from the main light. Then turn on your background lights and adjust the power of those up or down to get a clean white BG.

Here is an example of when your BG gets too hot and starts giving you problems.


I had set my main light on my subject and got a reading of f 8 from it. With my BG lights cranked all the way up to full power I’m now getting so much light off of that BG that it added a stop to the meter reading of my subject. I suspect that the face of my softbox was even acting as a reflector to help add to that extra stop of light coming in the front. Looking at the image above it is pretty evident that the BG lights are set too high in power. Look at all the flare coming in over his shoulder on the camera left side of the frame and look at the overall loss in contrast in the image. I talked in the previous post about some lenses work better than others. My 50mm 1.8 lens shoots images that look like this on a properly exposed set. So if you are dead sure confident that your light ratios are correct and you get that much flare and loss of contrast, try another lens.

Here is an image with the BG underexposed.


There is nothing wrong with the image above here. In fact, you may want some density in your BG from time to time and we are going to talk about that in the next part of the tutorial. BUT… we are talking about setting your BG exposure properly to get a PURE WHITE background in your image and that BG ain’t white. If that is your image and you want it white, the curse words show up in post production. If this is what you are getting then you simply need to up the power settings of your background lights.

Two additional things to look at in this under exposed BG image :: Notice the lack or wrap coming in from the BG and how much darker the shadow on the camera left side of his face is. Also notice that my lights aren’t set to give me a dead even exposure across the width of the BG there. One side is a bit hotter than the other. Each light is set exactly to the same power setting but the camera left side is a bit hotter than the camera right side. This is a visual indication that I need to change the position and/or direction of my BG lights so I’m getting even light across the BG. It isn’t that big of difference here. But it is noticeable and there are times when I want density in that BG and I want it to be perfect from edge to edge in continuous tone. Again, we’ll talk about that in the next part of the tutorial.

Once you nail your exposure and everything is set correctly, you can shoot someone wearing a black shirt on a white background and have them switch to a white shirt on a white background and shoot the same exact exposure and maintain separation.


Let’s take a look at a series of images with the lights in different states of being on or off.


See that second image in the series where there is a tad bit of light hitting the front of Thomas? That is light coming off of the BG, hitting the ceiling, and adding a slight touch of exposure to the front. If I had taller ceilings and / or my ceiling was black, I would have more of a silhouette there. I’m seriously considering painting my ceiling black but I haven’t decided if I really want to stay in the space beyond my lease. I want a cyc wall again damn it and I’m not going to build one here! Anyway……

Also notice the “all lights off”. I wasn’t shooting in pitch black but an exposure of f 9 @ 200th of a second at ISO 100 made a black frame because the studio is not that dark but not bright enough to have any ambient exposure come into the final frames I’m shooting. If I had some really hot spot lights on the BG or a bright window near my set we may see a little something in that image but not much. Once those strobes fire it would kill that kind of ambient light. So changing your shutter speed all up and down here doesn’t matter. Just set to your sync speed and adjust exposure on your camera by aperture only. You further change exposure by changing power settings on your lights…. but to reiterate. At camera level… set to your sync speed and just adjust f stops.

So that’s a basic headshot. You don’t have to have a roll of seamless for this application. Any old white or off white wall will do. Let’s look at a full length next. I’m going to cry 7 tears and say 3 or 4 cuss words as I visually take you back to my last studio with the big cyc wall. That thing was bigger than my house. Developers came in and bought the place up and I can have it again in a few years at 3 or 4 times the cost per square foot once they pimp the place out and do stupid things to it. Like… Bring it up to code and stuff and take the lead out of the water.

I pull this off in the new space pretty easy until I have a band of 4 or more in front of me and I’m restricted to the 9′ width of white. It can be done with only moderate cursing. I’ve shot a family of 7 on a 9′ seamless before. For now let’s look at just shooting a full length of one person. Here is the back of the set.


This is what the back of the set looks like. Notice that straight shadow line the bi-folds are making. I keep my subject in “the shade” of the bi-fold doors so to speak. Also note that I hang the tile board out into the BG light area just a bit. The BG lights blow that little edge out so it isn’t seen in the final image and I don’t have to go into Photoshop to remove the hair line it creates if I don’t have it hanging out in the BG light.

Here is the front of the set.


Note that without that tile board, the white floor area is grey. Getting a subject standing on white paper and shooting a full length shot so that the floor and the BG are all white is a pain in the arse. You can do it but it’s a different way of lighting that I just don’t do. Call me lazy but $20 worth of tile board makes life easy. And no… those Home Depot work lights in the back are not being used on this set. This is three lights firing. Two on the background and one on the subject.

Let’s add a subject and a big industrial fan.


I show the image above to give you another glimpse of what the floor would look like without the tile board. It would be grey right up to the shadow line the cutters are creating from the BG lights. The tile board acts like a mirror in that you are seeing a reflection of the white BG in it.

Here is an image straight out of camera with only adjustments being made to color and contrast.


Clean. Simple. Effective. Done right on set and in camera so I don’t have to cuss like a sailor in post production. Notice the good separation of the white dress on the white background. Notice the nice little wrap on the camera right side of her face. I really like the wrap here and would not have worked to eliminate it. It was just enough to have some wrap but not enough that I lost the edge separation of the dress.

That wraps up Part 2 of the tutorial. Thanks to Thomas for being my exposure subject today and thanks to ya’ll for the comments and links and all that so far! Once I finish this tutorial I’ve got something kind of cool planned for all of you.

Continue reading – Part 2b :: Full Length With OneLight

ETA – If you have questions about any of this, drop them in the comment section here on Part 5 of the tutorial. I will be following up on this tutorial with a new post answering all the questions at once.

Cheers, Zack

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