Light Painting a Dancer in Stockbridge: Juan

About a year ago, I had plans to do a light painting session in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, with singer/songwriter Anna McLuckie. Unfortunately  we had to switch to an indoor location due to very poor weather. In a way it was a blessing because the pictures turned out great (you can see them here). But it was also a shame because I really liked the location we had picked for the shoot, McKenzie bridge.

Light painting of dancer framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Framing within a frame is a favourite composition tools of mine. I couldn’t resist framing my model with one of the arches of McKenzie bridge.

Interestingly, dancer  Juan Barton had expressed interest in my personal light painting project and in Stockbridge as a potential location for the shoot. McKenzie bridge immediately came to my mind and we quickly agreed on the location.

Light painting of male dancer wearing a suit and framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

I really liked the metal gate and I wanted to reveal it by putting my subject on the right side of the frame.

Because of my previous attempt at shooting there, I already had a number of ideas for photographs, so we got started right away. I really liked this arch and the metal gate, not only for the elements of design they presented but also for the light painting possibilities. We did three poses before moving on to the next set up.

Light painting of male dancer wearing a suit and framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

The first two poses above would not signal to you than Juan is actually a dancer. So for the last pose with this set up, I asked Juan to assume a more dancer-like stance.

I always ask my subjects to bring a variety of clothes, but typically leave the precise wardrobe choice up to them, although I do stress that I like colourful outfits.  When Juan mentioned he had brought a set of hot pants and a red boa, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect!

Light painting of dancer wearing jeans hot pants and a red boa at McKenzie bridge, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

It was a good thing the location was relatively secluded, as we would have likely drawn a lot of attention given Juan’s outfit and the rather chilly weather.

Since the shoot took place in November, I had to do these last two light paintings quite fast as to not end up with a frozen dancer!

Light painting of dancer wearing jeans hot pants and a red boa at McKenzie bridge, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

I prefer the first pic of this series, but Juan chose this one as his Facebook banner!

Interior Photography with Skela Studio

If you are an interior designer, it is very important to showcase your work in the best possible way. Visitors to your website will get their first impression of your designer skills from the images you show them.

When showcasing a room, for example, it is also important to tell a story with the photographs, and  to convey the atmosphere of the place. I’ve been collaborating for a while with Aleksandra of Skela Studio interior design, and on this particular day we decided to shoot her bedroom.

Interior photograph of backlit bedroom with tray on bed

The establishing shot, showing as much of the bedroom as possible

To borrow a term from the movies, the first photograph above is the “establishing shot”, namely it gives an overview of the location, or room. I love backlit pictures, i.e when the light source is the window in the photograph. Those are rather difficult technically (try it yourself), because the range of light and dark is much greater than what the camera can capture. It is thus essential to take a number of photos with different camera settings and combine them in post-production. On this occasion, I also “light painted” the curtains as they were too dark in the original image.

Close-up of interior design. Bed with tray.

This composition seemed the natural one in the sequence of photographs.

After the establishing shot, I needed to showcase the important details in the interior design. The bed and tray were an obvious choice.

Close-up of interior design. Bed with tray. Vertical composition

As one of my photographic heroes Bryan Peterson says “What is the best time to take a vertical picture? Right after you take the horizontal”. It gives you options for different types of layouts.

I chose to take a horizontal photograph as well as a vertical one, to give more choice to a photo editor wishing to showcase Skela Studio’s work. The vertical composition could be used as a magazine cover, for example.

Interior design, reflection of bed and tray in mirror with perfume bottle.

It is really important to “work your subject”, and try many different compositions. You never know what you may get. I really like this photo.

Finally, I noticed the mirror in the room and being a big fan of reflections, I knew there was a great photo opportunity there. It took a little rearranging of the items to give me the composition I wanted. This may be my favourite photograph of the set.

Vision Training: Fork Art

I greatly valued my education when I was a scientist, and always looked to learn new skills. That hasn’t changed now that I am a photographer.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool

I took a picture of a fork on a black piece of plexiglass (hence the reflection) and then started playing with the Photoshop Gradient Map tool.

A while back, I took an online class “Stretching your frame of mind”, taught by Joe Baraban, and this course left a lasting impression on me. The instructor, who is a top photographer with an impressive list of clients and awards,  told us about the principles of design. He also stressed the fact that he had the great advantage of having studied art instead of photography.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool

Another version of the fork photo using different colours in the Photoshop Gradient Map tool.

So when the opportunity to take a graphic design class on Coursera presented itself, I immediately signed up. The first week of the class was an introduction to image making, and we were asked to create at least ten images of an ordinary household object.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool and the addition of a texture  filter from the Photoshop filter gallery

In this version, I changed the colours of the Gradient Map again and also added a texture using the Photoshop filter gallery. When combining these two tools, the possibilities are nearly endless.

I chose a fork for the assignment, because I really like the lines and shapes of that object. Visually, I find forks more interesting than knives and spoons. And I didn’t want to chose too large an object, because that would have made finding a suitable background more difficult.

Fork and reflection edited using the Photoshop Gradient Map tool and the addition of a texture  filter from the Photoshop filter gallery

Another version using the Gradient Map and the texture filter. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop!

Initially, I thought I’d need about three compositions of my fork on a background in order to generate the ten different versions required for this assignment. But when I started playing around in Photoshop, I quickly generated ten variants using only the composition above. I’m only showing you my favourites.

Black and white picture of the fork on a black pice of plexiglass

It is easy to overcomplicate things, when playing around in Photoshop, by stacking many effects. It is useful at some point to step back and try a new simple version. Like a black and white one for example.

It is also fun to play with the various Duotones, Tritones and Quadtones that come with Photoshop. There are many good tutorials on this subject online. The photograph below uses one of the default Photoshop Duotones.

Fork on black reflective background edited with a Photoshop Duotone

I used a different composition to play with the various Duotones available in Photoshop. Here again, there are many, many possibilities available to you if you are willing to experiment.

To conclude, I strongly suggest you try this exercise with a household object of your choosing. It opened my eyes to many new possibilities for image making.

Fork on black reflective background edited with a Photoshop Duotone and a texture filter from the Photoshop filter gallery

One can of course combine effects and add a texture filter to the Duotone photograph. Here is an example using the craquelure filter from the Photoshop filter gallery,

 

 

 

Light Painting a Dancer: Kenna

In Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is the street connecting Edinburgh castle to the Palace of Holyrood, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. Photographically speaking, the Royal Mile and the areas surrounding it offer great opportunities.

light painting of model with brick columns, with blue background

Lines, shapes and texture. Some of the elements of design I look for. Adding colour with creative use of white balance (tungsten) to add colour contrast with Kenna’s purple top.

Kenna and I walked about quite a bit to scout the areas around the Royal Mile. Then I spotted a set of columns near St Giles Cathedral. Lines, shapes and textures aplenty, so I knew there was a photograph there. Because of Kenna’s purple top, I decided to use the tungsten white balance to give the stones a definite blue cast, to provide good colour contrast.

Light painting of model in front of St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

The entrance of St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is another location replete with photo opportunities.

We didn’t have to move far for the next set up. The stairs to the entrance of St Giles Cathedral is a location I spotted way back then as I was taking an online photography course.

Light painting of model in front of St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

The vertical composition better showcases (in my opinion) the lines and shapes of the background.

As Bryan Peterson, a photographer I really admire, is fond of saying: “What is the best time to take a vertical photograph? Right after you take the horizontal”.

Light painting of model in a close by  the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I really like the urban feel of this building, with the pipes and textured walls.

One of the great lessons I learned from top class photographer is to “work your subject”. Usually, I have some limited time at a given location with my subject, and I therefore like to revisit locations I have used before. That give me the opportunity to work my subject some more. Since I learn new things in between visits, that gives me the opportunity to improve upon the photographs previously taken at that location.

Light painting of model in a close by  the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I prefer this shot over the previous because of i) the pose and ii) the sign over the door is better “light painted”

I had used the building in the above photograph in a shoot with another dancer, Jennifer. I wanted to try a different composition and new poses with Kenna. The picture above is my second favourite photo from the shoot. My favourite picture from the day is the first picture in this post.

Light Painting an Interior

While surfing the web, I came across an amazing real estate photographer based in Los Angeles, Mike Kelley.

His style has evolved a bit, but at the time I came across his work, he was using a form of light painting to create stunning pictures of interiors and architecture photographs.

colourful living room light painted with speedlights

I used a speedlhgt to give some accents of light in this colourful interior for a more pleasing look.

As a scientist, I value intellectual curiosity very much. As soon as I saw Mike stunning work, I wanted to try my hand at light painting interiors. I’m fortunate to know a good  interior designer, and I offered her free photos if she could give me access to one of the locations she designed.

colourful living room light painted with speedlights

It was not possible to capture all the elements of the room with just one shot, so I took another photograph from a slightly different angle to showcase the fireplace.

I had about one hour to set up and light paint a living room with my speed lights. I really do like the look of the light painted interiors and definitely plan to gain more experience with this kind of photography.

Light Painting a Dancer in Leith: Lucy

Leith is a district to the north of Edinburgh, and the area is replete with photographic opportunities. In particular, the surroundings of the port of Leith, the largest deep water port in Scotland, provide a number of good locations for photo shoots.

Light painting of dancer, standing, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

We started with a simple pose. I had to move in and around the bridge to light paint her face and then her body and the background.

I had noticed ‘the blue bridge in Leith’ a while back, but hadn’t had an opportunity to shoot there until I met Lucy, a dancer who happens to live nearby. I like the colour (blue is my favourite colour), lines, shapes and textures of this location. I’m sure I’ll go back for other shoots.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I try, as much as possible, to shoot both vertical and horizontal photographs. I asked Lucy to give me an interesting pose I could frame horizontally.

I had asked Lucy to wear colourful clothes, and I was delighted to see her outfit. And in hindsight, her hair colour provides a nice contrast with the blue background.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I was worried that in the previous photo, Lucy’s left hand would be a bit too prominent in the frame and that the camera hadn’t properly focussed on her face. So we did another light painting with this set up and a slightly different pose.

Dancers are very comfortable with their body, so I let Lucy try a number of poses. Apart from the first photo above, it was clear to me I would not have gotten the same type of photographs with a model rather than a dancer.

Light painting of dancer, standing and bending backwards, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I like to start the light painting session with poses I know the dancer can hold for some time without moving. Once I have a couple of shots ‘in the bag’, I like to try more demanding poses. Lucy did an incredible job standing still during the whole shoot.

Finally, on our way to the bridge we noticed the bronze statue and I knew there was a photograph there. As we walked back we made a quick stop for one last picture.

Light painting a dancer in Leith, Edinburgh next to a statue.

In this photograph, I used the ambient light for the background and only light painted Lucy, the statue and the bench.

Light Painting a Dancer on Calton Hill: Amy

Calton Hill is one of most popular locations in Edinburgh, because it offers a spectacular view of Princes street and the castle. It is where Amy wanted to get photographed and I was delighted to try out Calton Hill for light painting.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

Calton Hill offers a great view of the city of Edinburgh that I used as a backdrop.

One of the things I hadn’t anticipated is that some areas are closed to the public at night. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, for safety reasons. The problem was that I had a number of shots in mind that were now off limits.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

The big rocks provided a great combination of shapes and textures (elements of design), and I immediately knew I could use these as an interesting foreground.

While on some level it was annoying, I like to be thrown a challenge or two when shooting my personal projects. It is good to practice improvising because that is something that can happen on a job. And the more experience I have overcoming the hurdles the real world throws at me, the better prepared I am when it really counts.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

Another location with lines, shapes and texture to use as a background. We tried some different poses, but this is my favourite.

The picture below is one I had I mind before the shoot and was the last set up for the night.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh with the Balmoral Hotel as background.

The Balmoral Hotel is one of the landmark buildings on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to compress the perspective and effectively use the building as a background.

Light Painting a Musician: Finlay Hetherington

I got to know Finlay though a mutual acquaintance and I was delighted he was interested in taking part in my light painting project.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

A very simple background can be made interesting by light painting. We both immediately noticed and liked the word ‘love’ on that part of the wall.

Urban settings can work very well for light painting, and I’m always on the lookout for new locations. Typically, I want as many elements of design as possible, i.e lines, shapes, textures and colours in my backgrounds.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

I like to try a number of variations for each backdrop.

A dancer introduced me to the the graffiti wall and the old building seen in the first three pictures. We never collaborated on a light painting project, but I always kept these locations in mind.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet in an urban location

This location was challenging to light paint because of the street lights nearby that forced me to use a faster shutter speed than I would have liked.

It was pretty chilly on the night of these light paintings, and Finlay’s trumpet was freezing cold and thus really hard to hold while standing still. But after some time warming up in the car, Finlay still had some energy for a final setup. So we headed out looking for a location near the sea. The lighthouse in Newhaven would have provided a great backdrop, but unfortunately, it was too late by then and the sky was just too dark. But I knew of a location nearby with lines, shapes and colours (mostly red) that could work just fine. The photograph below is the last light painting we did on the day, after which Finlay and I were just too cold to carry on.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet sitting on a flight of stairs in an urban location

Lines and shapes abound in this location. I only needed to paint my subject and the stairs because I used the ambient light for the background.

Light Painting Trees

In my light paintings of musicians and dancers, the scene to light paint is relatively small. I can easily go through the scene a number of times to make sure I haven’t forgotten to light paint any part of it. And a moderately powerful LED light is good enough to do the job. Note that I never light paint the whole scene in one go, but only one part at a time and put together all of the shots in Photoshop.

I really want to hone my technique and push myself to do more and more challenging light paintings.

The bigger the scene to light paint, the harder it gets. One of the main difficulties in light painting a large scene is to remember which part of the scene one has already light painted. It thus pays to develop a systematic approach.

For the scene below, not only did I used a more powerful light than in my people light paintings, but I had to figure out which path I would take in order to light paint the whole scene.

Light painting of trees

There is a wooded area pretty close to where I live. I had noticed these trees a while back, and I immediately knew I wanted to light paint them.

iPhone Photography: Portobello Beach

There is a saying, attributed to Louis XVIII, that punctuality is the politeness of kings. I take being on time very seriously and because  I’m usually afraid to be late for an appointment, I’m often early.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

I decided to include a little bit of the beach and Firth of Forth in my composition, reserving the largest part of the frame for the sky, because it was the most interesting element.

I used to rue the time I wasted waiting for the meeting or appointment because I was ahead of schedule. Not anymore. Now that I’ve learned to use the camera that is always with me, in my iPhone, I spend the time waiting for my appointment honing my iPhone photography skills.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

Same composition and texture as in the first photograph, but with a different set of birds from the DistressedFX app.

On that day, I had a meeting in Portobello, and not surprisingly I was early. The light was good so I decided to stroll down to the beach to take some iPhone photographs.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

This time, I left the originals colours more or less untouched and tried a different DistressedFX texture for a more somber mood.

I do like to add textures to my photographs, and one of my favourite apps is DistressedFX. With this app, not only can you easily overlay a wide variety of textures on your photographs, but you can also add a flock of birds.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

Now for a different composition, excluding the sand beach from the picture.

I really recommend the DistressedFX app, but  I do  offer you this word of caution: it is very addictive!

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

Yet a different flock of birds for this last picture.