Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gels: Turn Your Kitchen into a Portrait Studio! ...and a little DIY....

The amazingly beautiful Cristy

Even more Cristy

Honl Gel System and a super easy DIY Speedstrap:

I'd never used gels before a few days ago! There are still so many things that are new that I have yet to get to. Slowly...step by step I'm getting to as much as I can.

I got a really great Honl gel pack for Christmas. Honl products, as you'll notice on their website, work on a special system that revolves around a velcro speedstrap. My girlfriend was generous enough to get me the gel pack, but didn't think to pick up the speedstrap that works with it - and why would she¿? (I never told her anything about a speedstrap...).
My DIY Speedstrap for Honl products - click the picture to see it larger

The gels have two strips of velcro on two edges, which is a great solution to what looks to be an age old problem. There are other solutions such as this or even this, but honestly...I'm quite happy with the Honl system. In the end I was kind of glad she didn't get the speedstrap. It's only $11.99 (more in Canada, of course), but's a piece of velcro.
My DIY Speedstrap on my Canon 580 EX

While doing my (very last minute) Christmas running around I passed a fabric store and thought I'd just take a look. 35 cents later I walked out with my speedstrap - I just needed to put it together! I can sew by the way...just not very well. I take very good care of my things - still, that strap is bulletproof and super solidly sewn together. I went over it about 20 times - just be sure to leave a little extra at the end as a tab so you can unfasten it easily when you're using it. Take a look at the picture directly above and you'll see what I mean.
My DIY Speedstrap in action with Honl Gels
And for anyone who's interested in the "product photography" light setup, there are a couple more pictures below.

I used two speedlights on either side - I only have one softbox though, so I used an umbrella on the other side. To photograph the speedstrap in action on the speedlight though, I only had one more light left (since I couldn't use the one in the picture). Luckily Cristy just bought herself a pair of boots, which came in a nice white box.

f/8, 1/250sec, ISO 100 - Speedlight through softbox 90° right at 1/4 power, speedlight through umbrella 90° right at 1/4 power
The lid is on one side and the box itself is on the other - they make great reflectors to bounce the light in every direction. With the remote shutter release in one hand, I held the softbox directly over the speedlight and gel setup, which I think worked out rather well! Oh! and the back and bottom parts are just two pieces of foam core taped together that came with a couple of prints in the mail to keep them straight - don't throw that stuff away!

f/8, 1/250sec, ISO 100 - Speedlight through softbox held directly above to get the shots above
That's it for product photography for now - let's move to the gels in action.

Converting your Kitchen into a Studio:

Our kitchen (complete with
"Cat Conundrum" paintings
on the left by Cristy!)
There isn't a white wall in the house and the kitchen is no exception.

The first thing I wanted to try was getting the walls white, and with one bare speedlight 3 or 4 feet from the wall zoomed out directly behind our model, that was no problem - even at 1/4 power.

The two black and white photographs at the beginning of this post are, of course, part of the same experiment. My Westcott softbox was set up almost 90° camera right slanted down with a white reflector camera left facing up from below for fill.

I had actually planned on using a zoom, but my 50mm f/1.4 was already mounted and turned out to be a great focal length even in my small kitchen. It's also good because it's nice 'n sharp!

One thing I noticed, that makes sense, is that once the gel goes on to colour the background, if the wall (or whatever background) is too overexposed, the colours don't show as well. If and when that happens, it seems easy enough to power down the speedlight a little to expose for the coloured wall.

Light fall-off was could have been a problem. When the light falls off, the colour also falls off and isn't as consistent. I didn't find it to be problematic - you can see what I mean here with the blue and with the red backgrounds. I chose to see that as a point of interest and background texture. Just one more thing to study more and get under control for the sake of intention and consistency.

And finally - one small piece of advice: watch for the model snatching the camera out of your hands and turning it back at you or else you wind up with something like this:
This is what can happen when the model grabs the camera away from you

An interesting resource I've been checking out lately for portraiture is with Mark Wallace. There's a whole series of video tutorials to take you through various lighting setups, ratios, metering, etc. Worth checking out.

So...what kind of portraits do you do and how do YOU go about it all?


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