Sunday, March 29, 2015

Extreme Clamshell Lighting For Subjects With Glasses

This selfie was an experiment in working with subjects who wear glasses. My goal for this shot was to avoid the spot-on glare on my glasses while getting some catchlights (little glare spots) in my eyes. I've done this before using a silver reflector, but I wanted to see if a small speedlight, namely my newly acquired SB-30, could somehow be used to help in the effort.

My secondary goal was to get an out of focus background. The use of a Sigma 20mm F 1.8 lens helped. This combination might come in handy when making a portrait in quarters with as much visible background as possible.

Clamshell Lighting
Clamshell Lighting: Clamshell Lighting is the use of two large and soft light sources. Typically, a large softbox (key light) is directed from above the lens axis, and a second, less powerful one (fill light) directed from below. In my adaptation of the technique, an on-camera speedlight would be the key light and a second speedlight on the floor as the fill. The illustration at the left is a typical Clamshell Lighing setup. Click here for the photo source.

The on-camera SB-28 speedlight's small head allowed me to slip on an improvised snoot made from a spaghetti box.  The snoot would prevent any direct light from hitting my face while directing a puddle of light onto the wall just above, and to right, of the subject. The relatively wide aperture (F 2.5) allowed me to run my speedlights at 1/4 to 1/8 power, giving me some very fast recycle times.

Floor Fill: I started by setting the SB-30 to "slave" mode and placing the unit in a large Tupperware container. The down side is  the speedlight delivers a full pop of power when used as a slave. Here you see that the flash in the Tupperware, pointing upward. Unless I found a way to decrease the output, its brightness would be "off the charts" so far as proper fill exposure was concerned.

The SB-30's manual output could have been reduced if I attached a slave trigger to the hotshoe. I didn't have one at the time, so I tried to cut the power by using sheets of paper to form a translucent "lid" for my little box of light. Sure as shootin', light from the SB-30 blasted right through the paper. Next, I looked for something opaque that could also serve as a reflector. I reasoned that if I bounced the light off of the floor, it would give me a larger catchlight and lower its intensity at the same time.

I went to the kitchen and found an aluminum pie plate. Used as a reflector, it would allow the light to bounce off the underside and onto the floor, then back up into my face. The left photo was lit with a single, on-camera flash bounced from the facing wall.

I turned the slaved SB-30 on, replaced the pie plate cover, and made another shot. You can see that the effect was massive. The photo on the right shows the hardwood floor severely overexposed, even though the aperture was identical to the shot on the left. It looked like the floor fill-light problem might be solved.

Getting my main (or key light) to appear from overhead was easier to address. I wanted the light as far from the lens axis as possible to minimize any flash glare on my glasses. This was solved by turning the speedlight head 135 degrees to the left, and elevating the beam to 60 degrees from the horizontal. I concentrated the beam angle by zooming the flash to an 80 degree angle and adding that improvised spaghetti-box snoot. 

In this cheesy but dramatic reenactment, you can see that the light "splash" is located high above my head, and to my left. I'm standing about a foot away from the wall behind me, which further reduces the size of the flash hot-spot. Notice my fancy improvised snoot. Incidentally, the shot is actually my reflection in a mirror. And yes, I did reverse the image to be more representative of how the actual photo was taken.

1/200, F 2.5, Sigma 20mm 1.8 lens on a Nikon D70.
Now that I had my key and my fill lights, I made my shot. I added a background light in the back room (down arrow), but the result was very uneven. Also, you can see the effects of the existing incandescent lighting fixture (left arrow).

The single take-away from this technique is the near absence of glare from my glasses. Check the image at the top of the page, and you'll see the catch lights created by the flash on the floor. It was made larger by the floor-bounce technique.

So here you have Tom Jung, the most photographed photographer in the Bay Area. Hair by Jeanette Kanzawa. Glasses by Hugo Boss. Polo Shirt by Izod.