Archives for posts with tag: lighting

So I’m just fresh off a photoshoot that got a little…dark, both occasionally in subjects and consistently in lighting. Sure, it’s great to be out in nature, photographing birds soaring around in the sunlight, but sometimes you’ve just gotta go inside, close the curtains, and enjoy the shadows. I decided this time to experiment with candlelight, which was fun, and yielded some interesting results. I also did some playing around with low-level artificial lighting for some nude studies, which also worked out extremely well given the blazingly pale physique of my talented model, Joe Filippone, which pops against the flat black backdrop. The lighting was provided either by several (unscented) pillar candles or by a single compact-fluorescent bulb using a white umbrella reflector. All photos were taken with my D7000, using a tripod and a remote (the remote was vital to minimizing vibration in Very Long Exposure shots–some exceeding 0.5, though most averaging around 0.033). Flash was generally suppressed, although sometimes it makes a nice stark lighting effect (see below).

The shoot involved three basic segments: The first involved a steampunked-out Israeli civilian gas mask; the second was a series of classic nude studies; and the third was a fairly creepy take on the god Pan, using horns, furry leggings (which pretty much disappeared in the low light) and bodypaint. The results are below; I’m pretty pleased with them, and with the low-light aesthetic in general. More samples are available on my website, EButterfield Photography (“implied nudes” are in the “Models and Conceptual” gallery; the other kind are locked away behind a password in the “NSFW” gallery, but I’ll probably tell you the password if you’re interested, and ask nicely.

Nude male sitting cross-legged; black and white photo.

Exposure: 0.167 sec (1/6); Aperture: f/2.8; Focal Length: 44 mm;
ISO Speed: 1600
Exposure Bias 0 EV
Flash Off, Did not fire




Horned god Pan with flute and candles

Exposure: 0.033 sec (1/30); Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length : 30 mm; ISO Speed: 1600
Exposure Bias:0 EV; Flash Off, Did not fire


Person in a gas mask reaching toward viewer

Exposure: 0.5; Aperture: f/2.8;
Focal Length : 55 mm; ISO Speed: 1600
Exposure Bias: 0 EV; Flash Off, Did not fire

Model in a gas mask

Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60); Aperture: f/2.8;
Focal Length: 22 mm; ISO Speed: 800;
Exposure Bias: 0 EV; Flash Auto, Fired


I have become obsessed with snails.

As obsessions go, that one’s fairly harmless, but still a bit on the odd side. I added two Golden Mystery Snails (also known as Apple Snails, and in any case the most common petstore snails available in the US) to the small aquarium I’d set up in my kitchen. It currently contains the aforementioned snails, along with three goldfish who were transplanted from an outdoor water feature on my balcony due to some upcoming construction. There are also a number of small brown pest snails that came along for the ride with the plants.

Anyway, so I added the snails, which are between about an inch and an inch and a half long (the female is larger). We selected the two we did because they seemed most active in the pet shop–to the extent that snails can be called “active,” I suppose. As it turns out, their activity was mostly related to pretty incessant mating behavior. And it’s not just recreational: the female deposited two egg clusters on the side of the aquarium just above the water line, each about an inch and a half long. Typical Apple Snail clusters contain between 70 and 200 eggs; but I suspect the goldfish who share the aquarium will assist in preventing a population explosion in the snail community, the circle of life being what it is.

All of this does, in fact, have to do with photography. I’m experiencing a lull in human models, and the demands of my day job are preventing a lot of excursions into the photogenic desert, but the photographic void in my life has been utterly filled with watching the snails, and photographing their goings-on.

To photograph events in the relatively small world of a ten-gallon aquarium, involving even smaller critters, I’ve been playing around with a 105mm 1:2.8 Sigma DG Macro lens, and various manual and pre-set settings on the Nikon D90 (auto and close-up presets, for instance, as well as manual and auto-focus on the lens). I’ve been using and not using a tripod, and using the camera flash, a Nikon Speedlight SB-700 flash attachment, and ambient fluorescent light in the kitchen where the aquarium lives. The some of the results, seen here, are pretty successful, particularly considering that the two of snails were taken through glass and water:

close-up of Apple SnailApple Snails mating

Snail egg cluster

What’s been most interesting about this foray into macro photography is how phenomenally interesting the little world is. The geometry of the egg cluster, for instance, was unexpected and surprisingly (at least in my view) beautiful. All the intricate flowing parts of the snails, the gracefulness of their movements and, well let’s be honest, their voracious sexual appetite, was not really aligned with what I thought of as snail-ness.

It’s been good to pause and look closely at a world that has no idea that I’m here.  That thought gets me all philosophical about the nature of being, and the limits of human understanding even as we sit around thinking we pretty much know it all. There’s a quote attributed to the Buddha, which I love: “Our theories of the eternal are as valuable as are those which a chick which has not broken its way through its shell might form of the outside world.” We think we know everything there is to know at any particular point in time, but subsequent centuries generally demonstrate that we were foolish in our presumptuousness, woefully ignorant in our misunderstandings of science and the world. In the past, the most shining, brilliant minds knew the inarguable truth that the world was flat, that the sun, planets, and fixed stars revolved around in in a series of nested crystaline spheres, or that the world was spontaneously created in six days.

In my aquarium, the snails go about their (photogenic) interests blissfully unaware that they’re in my kitchen, that I’m taking pictures of them, that those pictures are being posted on a website and viewed by (one or two) people all over the world. As history has demonstrated, as the Buddha has said in other ways, as we somehow know, we’re living in our own little aquarium (albeit one whose limits are defined by the Hubble on one end and CERN on the other). We may be equally unclear about what’s going on right around us, and will no doubt be utterly shocked and amazed at the silliness of what we “knew” as we slowly peel away layers of misconception and ignorance, working toward an ultimate understanding that always lies a little beyond our glassy wall. 

Well that was a digression, and I apologize. But one thing’s utterly clear: Snails are cool. 

(A Note to my diligent reader: The following post includes some mention, with the utmost tact and propriety, of the photographing of unclothed individuals. Those who might find such goings-on alarming should probably go read something else.)

Let me start by saying I have some experience with photographing nudes. In my storied past I have worked with four nude models. All were men, and all were delighted to take of their clothes and prance about, as many men, as a general rule, are. Three were photographed in ambient light, either the sun streaming through two-storey windows or whatever happened to be cast by local floorlamps. The results were generally good, and nothing that couldn’t be fixed with patience and a delicate hand in Photoshop.

However last week I acquired a home studio set. It was, let me hasten to say, not expensive. As a rank amateur, a hopeful beginner, a pro-to-be, I was not comfortable shelling out the hard-earned in vast quantities for top-of-the-line equipment. But what I found, however, turned out to work just fine.

Lighting equipmentThe folks at ePhotoInc, via Amazon, provided me with the following, for less than $150, shown here set up in my den:

1 complete background support stand 10ftwide, 8ft high
2 x 7ft light stand
1 x backlight stand
2 x 105w bulb
1 x 45w bulb
3 x light holder
2 x 33″ umbrellas
1x 6×9 black, 1 x 6×9 white muslin background
1x carrying case for all that stuff

This was pretty much perfect for my purposes, and I spent several days tormenting Gimli the cat, my partner, Durrell, and assorted objets-d’art as I toyed about with different arrangements of lights and muslins and camera settings. I shoot a Nikon D-90, with a Nikon DX 18-105mm lens (although I’ve been known to use a Sigma 28-70mm too). I rapidly discovered that the lazy Auto setting I had been defaulting to was no long appropriate, and learned all about adjusting white levels to accommodate fluorescent lighting (yeah, yeah, I know, but the den’s small and heat’s an issue when the doors are closed to prevent Gimli from wandering all over the model lying on the floor…more on that in a moment).

Seasoned professional photographers, or those with a lick of sense, will be shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at me (and I will take their pictures and post ’em on the Web if they don’t quit it), but I think I’ve done some lovely work in the past with little or no formal training.

Oh but the lights are amazing. Suddenly objects that had been flat and dull-looking (neither Gimli nor Durrell falls into this category of course), when lit from varying angles, took on a richness of color, and depth of shadow, and a level of interestingness heretofore unbeknownst. (I’m really really sorry about how that sentence ended. Unnecessary multisyllabicism sort of creeped up on me when I wasn’t really paying attention.)

So here we go, I thought to myself. Promptly an ad was posted on Craigslist (the “Services” part, not the “Strangers Come Over And Fool Around With Me” part, thank you), and pretty promptly responses came back. I believe I discussed this in a previous blog. Some were, predictably, I suppose, not entirely genuine. Others, though, had promise. I sent inquirers to my gallery on the Web, and a few came back still interested. Two have been dealt with to date; two more are still on the calendar.

You can, if you feel like it, look at the results of this shoot on my PhotoShelter site in the password-protected gallery merely by dropping me an e asking for  the password-du-jour.  Some less scary samples can be seen in the Portraits gallery.

The piece I’m probably most pleased with is entitled “Tied” (detail shown to the left) and in it I had my model lie in a fetal position on the black-muslin-ed floor bound loosely with a selection of some of my nicer and more vividly-colored silk ties (I have some lovely ties, and have used them as props in previous work as well, but never quite like this). The result is a lovely mix of flesh-on-black punctuated by strips of bright jewel tones. The lights had a lot to do with the depth and richness of the photo (“Duh,” say those who know about such things), as did the model’s comfortableness in his own skin, and willingness to lie around on my floor wrapped up in neckwear.

So this blog is apparently generally concerned with me learning stuff at my advanced age that most semi-serious photographers already knew, so what did I learn? I’ve learned that I’ve just started learning about lighting, and I’ve learned about various new and surprising features of my camera. I’ve learned the value of a tripod, and also the value of a stepstool for looming over someone lying on the floor.  I’ve learned that fluorescent lights will in fact heat up a small room when the doors are closed. I’ve learned that I’m pretty comfortable working with models, clothed and otherwise, and that the difference between the two, once I’m fussing with lights and focus and angle and stuff, is surprisingly minimal. I’ve learned about the importance of making a model feel comfortable and unsurprised;  this is made easier when the model is pretty much already comfortable, and just needs reassurance that he’s not in the presence of a crazed serial killer which, in this case, he was not. Just a slightly enthusiastic new photographer with a thing for accessorizing.

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