Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tip of the day: Don't sweat the details

Lindsay. H3DII-31/HC-80mm. 1/180th f/2.8 ISO200 with circular polarizer.

After I posted the above image of LIndsay, someone asked me whether or not this image couldn't have been improved with a longer lens hood or a flag to cut down on the flare.

I responded with the following: "I think it comes down to personal preference... there is no right or wrong answer ;) And yes, if you decide you don't like the flare, a larger hood could cut down on the flare. Or a flag :)"

Sometimes we get hung up on the technical details. Let me use my lightmeter to take a reading of ambient light then bust out my calculator to figure out the correct lighting ratios. While I'm at it, let me use my protractor to measure 45ยบ to make sure my main light is at the right angle. Then I'm going to get my white card to make sure I have perfect white balance, better yet, let me use my handy dandy ColorChecker Passport to make sure ALL my colors are right. Then I'm going to use my Hoodman Loupe to view the back of my camera so I can review the histogram and make sure I have absolutely no blown darks or any blown highlights. Then I'm going to use the inverse-squared law to figure out how much power I need for the change in distance of my main light... crap, does the Sun move closer to the Earth as it sets? It rotates on an ellipse right? Shit, I'm going to need another formula for that...


You use your light meter. You pop the strobe 3-5 times to dial in the exposure (if you're lucky). You're walking back and forth if you're doing this yourself and if not you've still gotta communicate with the model or assistant on holding the lightmeter properly etc. Meanwhile, I've popped 3 frames from my camera and dialed in the proper power as well... except I haven't moved an inch and I've done this in a fraction of the amount of time it took you to use run around with your lightmeter.



Admittedly, I get away with a lot of things that I wouldn't otherwise be able to get away with if I didn't do my own retouching. I balance exposure sometimes in Photoshop. Sometimes I blow highlights. Sometimes I lose darks. Sometimes I get flaring because I was too lazy to pull out a flag. Sometimes I need more background paper than I actually have. But you can spend forever and a day on the details and when you're finally ready to shoot your model will be asleep from waiting.

On the topic of "admittedly",
admittedly, I sacrifice certain things in the name of "flow". I sacrifice precision all the time for flow because without flow a technically perfect picture would be just that... a technically perfect picture. But it would be a completely useless picture. As a result, I've learned to talk and adjust and make little changes here and there, often never exact but always effective and hopefully seamlessly so I don't interrupt the flow. Need to change the angle of the light? Kick the lightstand a little in the right direction and keep shooting. Seriously, I do this all the time.

Of course on more elaborate setups that require more attention to detail, making changes without disrupting flow is nearly impossible. Even if you have an assistant for each light, you'll still need to direct them in effecting those changes.

Of course, I say these things now even though I was once a stickler for the details too. It comes with practice and experience. The more experience you have the more fluid your own processes become, including whatever decision-making is required to effect change. Sometimes it becomes so second-nature that is difficult to verbalize and explain.

Going back to the issue of the flare, I have many shots from the same set with and without flare. I personally like the flared results better because it fits the feel of the set. Again, that's an opinion. There's no right answer. You could shoot this totally without flare and retouch it for greater tonal range and a full histogram. It would look different and to me it would look weird but it boils down to personal preference. The point is though, don't sweat the details. Remember your objective, the look and feel of the set, then do your best to create the proper environment to allow such magic to occur.


  1. Exactly! I absolutely love random output created from random input. It seems for me to add a bit f chaos to an otherwise sterile shot. One could say, if we all followed the same exact rules, all of our output would be nearly identical.. eew :)