Veronica & The Micro-Workshop

Home Page   Oregon-Nudes   Non-Nudes   About Us   FAQs   Contact_Us   Links   Submit A Bug Report   Make A Donation   Out Takes

Page created  April 17, 2013
Sitting date:  December 1, 2012


  • Winter months in the Pacific Northwest can be cold & dark.
  • I am always looking for ways to nurture the local photographic arts community.

 Personally, the old, dark months don't bother me -- I do nearly all of my work inside, my house has several great settings, I can crank up the heat (for the model's comfort), and I am happy to use my studio strobes.  I noticed, however, that many of the local photographers shut down during the old months.  So, my brainstorm -- why not invite a small number of photographers over, and I can show them how to use the studio strobes?  

Three photographers expressed interest.  We decided to invite a model.  So, we got together to learn how to use the strobes.  These images were made during our afternoon "micro-workshop". 




Veronica is taking the local scene by storm.  She's quite beautiful, and as you will soon see, she has a fantastic figure.

She's also a perfect choice for our little "micro-workshop" -- she's patient (because we photographers were chatting about boring technical stuff all the time).

But I do notice one thing:  My normal "process" is to set up the lighting first, making fine tuning adjustments during the first few exposures, but then, with the camera on a tripod, I turn my attention 100% onto the model.  This time, was different:

  • I'd set up the lights,
  • I'd explain why I was setting up the lights the way I was,
  • I'd do my fine tuning,
  • I'd make a few exposures, showing the photographers the impact of subtle changes to the model's posing,
  • But I'd basically chat with the photographers, not the model.

As such, I detect a tiny little lack in the engagement of the model's expression.  I hasten to say that this was, in no way, Veronica's fault -- she was & is terrific, but I just wasn't paying a lot of attention to her, and with so much going on around her, it was difficult for her to narrow her focus.

In any case, we went through several different lighting setups.  I'd take a few exposures, and then turn the set over to one of the other photographers.  There was never enough time to "hit the stride", but there was plenty of time to understand the lighting.

Below is a mini-exercise -- same lighting, but different breast exposed.



We start with one of my favorite lighting setups -- The main light is the big honkin' soft box, which is 4 feet wide & 6 feet tall, lifted a few feet off the ground & pointed down slightly.  The soft box is actually quite close to Veronica, and somewhat to the side.  It provides nice gradient shadows -- look at her breast in the image on the left above.  In addition, the small (1 foot and 1.5 feet) soft box is high and semi-behind Veronica, providing the light on her left side, especially on the left side of her face.  This soft light also looks nice on the draping of the cloth of her robe.  Finally, there is a light that is just devoted to lighting the backdrop.  Lots of people neglect putting light on the background, but I find that if I balance the tonality along the edge of the model in contrast with the tonality of the background.  I think it's important to pay attention to that detail. 



I demonstrate that little changes in the positioning of the lights can make subtle but significant changes to the image.  Here, all I've done is move the big honkin' soft box closer to the camera position -- you can see this by the fact that the left side of Veronica's face is getting more light.

Also note the subtle positioning of Veronica's head -- her face is pointed somewhere to the left of the camera position, but her eyes are turned towards the camera lens.  I find that working in smaller spaces, these subtle decisions can have a big impact.

I like this picture -- let's see some artistic effects (below).

Back in the film days, Ansel Adams equated the negative to a music score and the print to the performance of that score.  In these digital times, the RAW digital image is the equivalent to the film negative, and the "processed" (i.e. photo-edited) image is the equivalent to the print.





Once again, the lighting has changed.

I got to admit that I often get requests for lighting diagrams and/or descriptions, and I don't often provide them.  That's because I have a habit of deconstructing lighting, and I think it's an important skill for studio photographers to hone.  Here some of the things that I look for.

  • I look at the position & "hardness" / "softness" of the shadows; in particular, it is important to see the direction of the shadows.
  • I see if I can identify different light sources.
  • If I can look at the model's eyes, the highlight in her eyes often provides the best clues.

So, I can immediately see that the lighting in this image is different from the previous ones.  I can see...

  • The shadows, while still soft, are not as soft as they were in the previous pictures,
  • The shadow of Veronica's nose is not as big as previously.

So, I believe that I have swapped the big honkin' soft box for a smaller soft box, because the shadows are a bit harder.  Judging by the shadow of Veronica's nose, it is clear to me that the soft box is only slightly higher than Veronica's head.  Judging by the larger shadows under Veronica's breast and under her left hand, it is clear to me that the main light soft box is fairly close to Veronica.

The position of the secondary light can be determined by a couple of factors -- it is lighting Veronica's jaw line all the way to the point of her chin, but the light doesn't fully light her left cheek.

I encourage all photographers to learn to deconstruct the lighting of images, especially the good ones that are lit by artificial light. 



Okay -- from one lighting setup to the next, I'm only making small changes.  Can you tell what's changed?  We'll use it as an exercise in deconstructing the lighting of an image -- compare it to the images above.

Veronica is standing -- that's one thing.  But the change in the lighting has resulted in a darker background.  Look closer:  there is a circular glow to the light behind Veronica.  Before, I had a light on a small, 7 inch reflector, that was flooding the background & providing so much light.  I've moved that light, and I've put a tight grid on it.  It is on a pole behind Veronica, positioned so that the light is about as high as the middle of Veronica's back. -- it is pointed directly at the background.  

Again, we are moving through different lighting setups, giving each photographer a turn at snapping off a half-dozen exposures in turn.




This was a pose requested by one of the attending photographers -- he was familiar with Veronica & wanted a pose of her lying on her back, emphasizing her ribs.  This is my first attempt.  Again, "deconstructing" the lighting, I see that I'm still using a medium sized soft box (judging by the shadows on the gentle creases in the backdrop).  I can tell that the light is fairly close to Veronica, just off to the left of the camera position -- I can tell this because the light on her neck falls off quickly before it reaches her thigh.  Judging by the shadow on her right breast, I can tell that the light is fairly low -- barely above the level of her right knee.  There is a secondary light that also is close to Veronica, off the right side of the image -- it lights her calf brightly but the light falls off quite a bit before it reaches the underside of her breast.  I don't believe that there is any light devoted to the backdrop. 




Two images, each with pretty much the same pose, but the light is significantly different.  The image above is using the same lighting as the previous image (described above).  I've made a couple of changes to produce the lighting below.  Can you figure these changes out?

Well, I've replaced the medium soft box with a simple small reflector -- you can tell by the harsher shadow on Veronica's lovely breast.  This light is still close to Veronica -- you can tell because the light is much brighter on Veronica's shoulder than it is on her thigh.  Finally, the light is positioned slightly differently to keep much off the backdrop -- the backgrouind is much darker in the image below. 




Yes, even with these "micro-workshop" images, I like the abstraction of these artistic effects.  Here's the paint brush effect, using the biggest possible paint brush size. 


Interlude:  How big should your studio be?

Short Answer:  A studio can easily be too small, but it can never be too big.  Your aesthetics will always be limited by the size & shape of your studio.

Detailed Answer:   In the previous images, I've noted that the main light falls off quickly -- the light on Veronica's shoulders is much brighter than the light that reaches her thighs.  That indicates that the light is close to the model.  If you ask me, I'll say that I meant to do that, but the truth of the matter is that I really didn't have that much choice -- though my living room is of a good size, it just isn't wide enough for me to back the light further away from the model.

So, some rough thoughts on studio size:  Consider the image that contains the most space you would want in your image.  For example, consider wanting to photograph a standing model from head to toe.  I recently worked with a model who was six feet tall (with very long arms).  If she chose a pose where she stretched her arms abover her head, she's be taking up 7.5 or more vertical feet (plus you've got to add some space for positioning.  This implies a few things to me:

  • Ideally, the ceiling needs to be at least a couple of feet above the highest part of the subject.  Thus, one would need ceilings at least 9.5 feet high (which by no coincidence is how high my ceilings are).  That way, you might be able to position lights on a boom arm, above the model.  More space above would be nice, so that you are not forced to position lights too close to your model.
  • Consider how wide your studio should be -- if that six feet tall model lied down, the resulting image could be seven or eight or more feet wide.  Now consider -- sometimes you want to / need to position the main lights to the left or right outside the image boundaries.  Thus, add three or four feet on either side of the seven or eight feet captured by the image, and you need a space that is fifteen or sixteen feet wide.
  • Consider the space behind the model.  Sometimes, it's okay to ask the model to stand up against the back wall, but I often like the model to stand two or three feet in front of that wall -- that allows me to position backdrops & lights to illuminate the backdrop.
  • Consider the space between the model & the camera.  A rule of thumb, if you are using a "normal" lens, if your subject is going to be six feet tall, you need about six feet between the camera & the model.  If the model raises her hands above her head, you'd need maybe 7.5 feet.  Then, you need a few feet hehind the camera, for you and for any lights you want to position near the camera axis.  
  • Thus, you need a room that's at least fifteen feet deep.

That width...  That's a minimum.  Consider my big honkin' soft box -- it's surface is 4' by 6', and it's almost four feet deep.  You can put the soft box on a light stand, but that only works if you position the face of the soft box perpendicular to the floor to simulate window light.  However, in order to get the "master painter" light, I like to tilt the face of the soft box down, simulating a skylight, not a window light.  But with a soft box that big, you can't tilt it down because the light stand itself gets in the way.  So, you have to put the big soft box on a short boom arm.  So that whole shebang (soft box, light stand, and boom box) can take up a 6' x 6' area of the floor.  In addition, that arrangement of the soft box on a boom arm on a tall light stand -- that's top heavy, too -- you need to save a bit of floor space around that arrangement to avoid brushing against it & knocking the light stand over.  So, those width measurements -- consider your technique & your lighting equipment when you figure out the necessary width of your studio space.

Of course, if your image space is smaller, you can get by with a smaller shooting space.  If you want to expand your image space, you'll need to expand your shooting space.  And I would consider these guidelines to be minimum comfortable measures.  You can probably get by with less space, but that might become to feel cramped.

You can play tricks, too.  Instead of using a "normal" lens, you can use wide angle lenses, but these distort and often look unflattering to faces.  If you use mild telephoto lenses (favored for portraits), you'd either have to cut down on the image space (by doing head & shoulders shots), or you would need a space that is deeper in the camera axis direction.


It is strange to me -- we are moving from lighting setup to lighting setup, often for no reason but to demonstrate different setups.  

Again, I encourage web site visitors to try to "deconstruct" the lighting -- how was this lit?

Okay, here's how it's lit:

  • The main light is a strobe head with a small reflector, positioned directly above Veronica, pointing down.  See the sharp shadows along her jaw?  That, and the shadows on her torso, is you clue for positioning and modifiers.
  • There is another strobe head, with a small reflector, directly behind Veronica.  It has a grid in it -- you can tell that there's a grid on it because the light is tightly focused & not spread out.  This background light is important to provide tonal separation between Veronica's figure & the backdrop.  Without that light, you wouldn't see the line defining the right side of Veronica's torso.


Same lighting, different pose.  I didn't quite get this setup right -- I think I should have lowered the camera perspective closer to the floor.  At the very least, that would have minimized the visual confusion of all the stuff on the floor.

This lighting, when well done, can be fantastic.  There are some common pitfalls:

  • If the model looked directly at the camera, there would be a big lot of shadows across her face.  The effect could be positively ghoulish.

  • On some models, this kind of very harsh, very directional light can highly any impurities on the model's skin. (Fortunately, Veronica's skin is perfect, so you can't see a single flaw).

  • Even on models with perfect figures, this light could make her look unshapely.

But, in the right circumstances, it can be lovely light.

So, let's play with a couple artistic effect.  Right now, I've ratcheted up the parameters to maximize the abstruactions.









For our next variation, I decided to take down the painted canvas backdrop & use the faux painted wall of my living room as a background.  The point I wanted to illustrate is tonal separation -- to me, it's very important that the subject matter stand out in some way from the backdrop.  (I dislike those dark images that are typically lit with only one light -- sure, the lit part of the model is clearly seen, but the shadow side disappears against a black background).  Here, there are only two lights -- the main light illuminating Veronica from in front of her, and a second light that provides the hot spot on the back wall.  That lit back wall -- you can see Veronica's curves, even though she's in shadow.










I think it's very beneficial getting to know your local photographers & models, yet many of the photographers I meet online resist this.  One such benefit is this micro-workshop.  I've got to admit that I've learned a lot, even though I was the one supposedly doing the teaching.



There are no Out Takes from this session. 


(Remember -- feedback is always appreciated) 

All images (c) 2013 Looknsee Photography

There are no Out Takes from this session.