Light Shaping Tools for Professional Photographers

 

Light Shaping Tools for Professional Photographers

 

Lesson Info

Group Shot with Umbrellas

The optimum here is to do our family portrait. Let's bring our, let's get our, our girl is home from college, and we've got our family members. So, you three in the front row, come on up. You are our family. Let's take this one, John. Is that the one with the extra cord? Let's take this one to the other side of the set. Yeah there you go, you got enough. Oh I see. Then I'm gonna take this guy and we're just gonna go up with him. Kinda like, sorry kinda like that. I guess I shoulda warned you, sorry, sorry. Right now Jamie's over there going "Tony stop this, would you just..." Sorry Callan, Callan's like "Dude what are you doing?" Okay so, we need one more family member. Come on up here family member, dad, there's dad. Dad paid for the college anyway. (students laughs) So here's our college kid home, you guys in the back, you're perfect. You're sit there and be all demure, maybe fold one leg over the other one like that, get all comfortable-like, you guys all come forward and let's shif...

t everybody that way a half step. That way, a little bit you two, just a little bit that way. Everybody lean in, okay now come, yeah, you're doing it Julia, turn your shoulders in, yeah. Now you're cooking, let me see your shoulder come in, that's it now everybody get in. John hit me there. You ready? 8.2. Okay I wanna take this guy up a little bit higher. I can't do this with any other light source, and light this family nice and even across, can't do it. Oh, this is a good looking family. This family's got money. You can tell by looking at them they got money. (students laughing) 8.2 you said? 8.2. Okay, okay we're almost there. Awesome, awesome, okay on the count of three, here we go, everybody ready? On three, tighten up and lean in. One, two, three go whoo hoo! One more, one more, our college girl wasn't very happy, she doesn't wanna be a college graduate. Here we go. Eye on me, everybody lookin' here. Everybody lookin' at me. Everybody's eyes open. Aw, let's do one more because they're free. Here we go, one more. Come on, come on, come on. There we go, gotcha. Now go sit down, you knuckleheads. So how's our lighting? Glasses even look good. Right, so if we zoom in here and just start lookin' across, all we want is everybody to look good and I don't want a shadow from one person onto another person, right? The thing about group shots and certainly with a motley crew that looks like that, what you wanna do is right before you pull the trigger, everybody's said we got the lighting here, the mood is good, everybody's in a happy mood, life is good. Bam, bam, you shoot one or two, one or two. Here we go now, everybody lean in, lean, lean, bam, bam, bam and when you do it they always smile. And almost always they'll drop their chin a little bit and when people drop their chin a little bit their eyes get bigger and it's great. But you gotta talk to them and you gotta tell 'em what to do and you gotta stay high energy and you are not lookin' at your camera anymore. You are just shooting, bam, bam, bam, this is great, dad, you look great, bam, bam, bam, honey, honey come on, you just got out of school, bam, bam, bam, come on, it's not that scary out there and you're just on a roll, now you're just talkin' to your client, now you're just havin' a conversation, make sense? Any questions about this? Grab a mic. It's actually sort of more of a model posing question, but it seems like it fits in here. You know, now you've got tethered, you've got the back of the camera and so forth and it's easy to let the cameras see what you're up to as opposed to back in the old film days. Do you ever find that to be a negative or a positive? Do the models feel more comfortable seeing what they're getting, or do they get more freaked out and try to art direct you and stuff? I think it's a, it's kind of a personal taste on the part of the photographer. There are times that when you show someone the back of the camera, thank you John, what you'll see, I think Mona, I think we're good with you right now, yeah thanks, I think what happens is you hit a position where you know what clients you can get away with showing 'em somethin' and which ones aren't gonna like it, no matter what you do they're not gonna like it. High school senior girls, don't show them the back of your camera ever. High school senior girls, no matter how beautiful this is, or how much effort you went to, the girl is gonna say, "My hair looks terrible." It wasn't about your photography, she didn't like her hair that day and she didn't like that blouse that her mom wanted her to wear. And I think that sometimes that just happens and there's not a lot you can do about it. So there are times, like if you're photographing a high school senior, which there's a big market for that in this country, for those in other countries around the world, they don't shoot high school 12th graders like we do at level 12, they don't, they don't do it anywhere in the world like we do it in the U.S. When you talk about photographing seniors, they're thinking people 70 and older, they're not high school seniors, they're thinking old folks. So you have to kinda be careful when you're teachin' internationally. But I can tell you that I know that there are moms, moms always want to see what you're doin', mom's always get excited if mom's with ya, if you're photographin' kids or whatever. If there's a mom in the house, mom wants to know what's goin' on and mom's always need information, give 'em information, show 'em what's goin' on, but don't show 'em to the kid, kid'll melt down on ya. I hate this, I hate that, I hate my, I hate the bottom of those, that cuff on the bottom of my blouse, I hate that. Don't let 'em see it, let mom get excited about it. Mom, mom, come here, lemme show you somethin', watch this. Are you ready, mom? You're not gonna believe this is your girl, bam, and reveal it to mom. Mom'll (mimics woman getting emotional). Don't show it to the girl, I hate those jeans, I just hate 'em. You know, so it's a personal thing. You're gonna find, you'll find what works and what doesn't work. Any other questions from you guys? No? I noticed you had a little more of an angle, 45 on that shot, is just 'cause where they were at the time? Yeah, and I'm also tryin' to move kinda quick and not take too much time. And there wasn't so many of you that it was gonna be a problem for me, so I would've maybe moved my lights a little closer in. With a group shot like that I'm not too worried about finessing too much and trying to get too perfected of a piece of art. I need everybody's eyes open. It's funny, there's a phrase that I learned from a great friend of mine that I taught with down at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and he said, "You can have the art of photography "without the craft", sorry, "You can have the craft of photography without the art, "but you can't have the art of without the craft." You know, I mean, and a perfect example is your passport picture. The craft of photography is taking place, not a heck of a lot of art goin' on, but there is photographic processes in place. But if you see the most creative picture you've ever seen in your life, the most creative picture there's ever been, the craft of photography is still there and we're still governed by physics and optical science and the logarithmic curve of size relative to distance and doubling the lens and all those rules still apply in the artistic of all pictures. Ms. Kenna. So Tony, we had a couple of questions about the different colors of umbrellas, kinda similar with reflectors and things we were talking about earlier, but from Michael Totes Photography, "Are there guidelines for using silver, gold umbrellas, "reflectors on certain skin tones?" Also I'd seen the white umbrellas versus the silver, so, colors. So for the most part, I've done an awful lot of testing between the silver and the white. I don't use and haven't used and have never seen white, I mean, gold umbrellas, I have gold reflectors, but not umbrellas. But I know that for the smaller umbrellas, the silver is a lot more contrast-y and it is a lot more specular. If your client, whatever it is that you're photographing, or whoever you're photographing can handle the extra kit of contrast, great. If not then use the white. Either way, light's gonna spread all over the place. Now, in the case of the big shoot through that we used, the rule of thumb for that is the bigger the shoot through you can use, the better off you're gonna be and the more you're gonna like it because it's just like anything else, the bigger the source, why have a shoot through if it's gonna be a small one? Go ahead and use it, if it's a shoot through let's shoot through it and make a big ol' honkin' source and let's make a big, nice, beautiful light. But for me, as the umbrellas increase in size, like to these monsters that we're gonna use tomorrow, the silver one and the white, I don't see any difference, but I do on the smaller umbrellas, I see a difference. I can see it in my eye, you know? But the big ones I'm seeing a little bit more exposure coming off the silver, 2/3 of a stop hotter maybe, but I'm not seeing much difference in the relative contrast. The big seven-foot umbrellas, the super silver ones, you have to watch out because sometimes the light doesn't even fill the whole umbrella, you know, you need to put a diffuser on the light to fill it so your seven-foot silver umbrella may actually only be a two-foot silver umbrella because the light is so directional into it. And also, thanks John, and that also plays to, push that light, push that through the shaft, put that shaft through further. 'Cause that right there it's only lighting about a 10-inch center section out of that umbrella. Now push it all the way out, out, out, out, out, out. Now it's startin' to light the whole umbrella so you're seeing almost a zoom variation of the size of source versus the spread that you can create with it. So, yeah. You can see there most of the umbrella's dark, it just gets brighter and brighter and brighter. Now it's evenly lighting the umbrella. And the two will have a completely different contrast range. And with silver you notice that even more than the white. Just thinking back to the experiences you mentioned photographing U.N. and then also your oil company and so with the U.N. you said 18 umbrellas. Can you tell us how exactly they were positioned? And also with the oil company, going back, you said two umbrellas in the front and you had four, five lines of people. Weren't there any light fall off going there or like... Yeah, so the trick is, there's a couple things. Ms. Jamie, is it possible to roll that dry erase, that white board over here? So there's a couple of things at play and I'll draw this out for you. Great question, really great question. The thing about the U.N. picture was because of the position of the presidents, they had to be up, suspended up, the bottom row of them were five feet off the ground because we had to have these risers built that floated over the desks and chairs and everything. I'm on a scaffold 100 feet away and I'm up three levels, I'm sorry, five levels on a scaffold. Sorry, poor Callan's like, (stammers). Don't worry, I can back up. Oh yeah, way to go, John. See, you know, he's John. Let's do it like this. So the way the U.N. shoot was, if you look at it from a side view, here are the bleachers, there are rows of people kinda like this, you know. You know bleachers, let's say there were seven rows or six rows or whatever it was and then scaffold over here and photo boy Tony's up here. Here's what we figured out. Obviously we had two months to plan this shoot and we had two days inside the U.N. to light and pre-light this job. So the two months we thought through all the stuff that was gonna go wrong. First off, we knew there was gonna be a pretty deep difference from the front row to the back row which means that I can't be down here shooting into this group because my head size in the front row is gonna be this big and my head size in the back row is gonna be that big, that's an issue. So the reason for the scaffold is, you know, if this is halfway point, I had to be slightly above halfway so that my head size there and there, if you measured from my lens to those guys and measure from there to those guys, it's the same distance. So I had to do that perspective-wise to keep the head size the same. Exposure-wise, I'm so high that here is a table, a work table, and then another one stacked on top of that one and on top of that is a 13-foot light stand. So 13-foot stand at its highest output, stacked on top of two six-foot tables is what, three, six, 13, six feet plus 13 feet, so it's 20, I've got my lights are 20 feet in the air and that puts them just below me. So the lights were, here is my smiling little face up here. Ta-da! That's me up there. So the lights, no matter what we did, the lights were, right, they were below me and they were at an arc all the way around and what took us two days was we had to meter those umbrellas every place someone stood had to measure the same and it took two days of light meter readings. It was like, okay, move that one that way, just a second, (pops tongue) 16/8, gah, move it back, okay, (pops tongue) okay, 22, great, thank you, don't touch it, move over here (pops tongue) what's that one read? 11/7, okay, power that up one stop, okay, (pops tongue) 16/7 now up three more tenths, 22, okay, great. We did that in 185 positions over two days and those umbrellas are tweaked like this, they're not all flat and even and pretty and... They're tweaked every which way until we read 22 every place in this picture. People say things like, well, how did you make the exposure 'cause there are black faces in there, there are people wearin' white gowns, there are people wearin' black suits, there are white faces and dark faces, how did you get the exposure? Because the rule is you expose for the quantity of light that is present, not the tonality of the subject. I can't expose based on the tonality of my subjects. If it's a white car, it should look white. If it's a black car, it kinda oughta look black, make sense? So we used the incident meter reading and did what the meter told us to do, period, that's it. How many people were in the shot? 185 How many official? (chuckles) 184, we had one impostor. We did, we had an impostor that was in the picture, he wasn't supposed to be there and a big story came out in the New York Times a week later and it was like, oh my. And Terry, My friend from Kodak, Terry Deglau, thankful for my great friend Terry, when he got the call from the U.N. from Kofi Annan that said, "We have a problem," and he started telling him about this guy that he's not supposed to be in this picture. We had just printed 185 24 by 30 prints that were about to get framed and matted to 30 by 40s as gifts for the presidents, right? The prints were already made. Terry said, "What do you want me to do?" And Kofi Annan said, "Wait 'til tomorrow, "we're making the final decision today. "We'll call you in the morning." So Terry thought, "I'm gonna retouch the guy "and take him out." So he retouched the guy, this is early, this is so he scanned the negs, we did a quick retouch, took the guy out, and then he went back in the lab and printed another 185 prints, so now there's two stacks of prints, one with the guy in, the guy thankfully was on the top row on the far left corner so he was easy to take out and drop in the, just extend the background. So now there are two stacks waiting for the phone call to come from the U.N. and Kofi Annan calls and says, "The official ruling is in order to preserve the integrity "of the day, leave him in the shot." So we left him in the shot at which time we chose not to tell him that we had to swap nine heads to get everybody's eyes open. You can't, that's the challenge. When we got interviewed for this afterwards, CNN was like, what's the most technically challenging part of this? This is like a football team, very well-secured football team, but it's a football team. The biggest challenge is getting 370 eyes open at the same time, you can't do it. We knew we couldn't do it so we knew we were gonna have to swap heads, we just tried to minimize the head swappage. So we had to swap nine heads to make it work. It's quite a shot. After we go off air I'll show you, I'll pull it up and show you guys the behind the scenes on it. Ms. Kenna, any other questions or anything else? We need to wrap up here. Well Tony, on that note, thank you for explaining that, 'cause certainly we didn't have 18 umbrellas over on the side to bring out-- The thing about these umbrellas is this you guys, we knew, the reason we had so many, we could have gotten away with half the umbrellas, but we knew that different countries are gonna zoom in close to their presidents on their own magazine covers, we knew that was gonna happen. This thing hit the cover of more than 500 newspapers' front page and it hit the cover of over 200 news magazines worldwide. Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report, it made the cover of everything all over the world and some countries zoomed in on their president. We knew it had to be sharp, we knew there could be no shadow from face to face and we were able to pull it off. But it's umbrellas that saved us and that's what this segment was about. This shot was impossible without umbrellas. Use umbrellas, they work.

Class Description


Light is the photographer’s most powerful medium. Professional photographers know how to shape it and reflect it, divert it and redirect it. They can tame its harshness and coax it into a subtle glow, use it to dispel troublesome shadows or highlight a striking moment. 


Effectively curating light during a shoot can bridge the gap between mediocre images and truly captivating photography. All it takes to bend light to your will is knowledge of the right gear, and when to use it. Tony Corbell is a professional photographer and a master of studio lighting. Join Tony for this course, and you will learn:

  • How to use light shaping tools and their specific uses
  • How to creatively use reflectors of all kinds
  • How to use soft boxes, umbrellas, ring flashes, and other unique tools in the studio
Tony will draw on his decades of experience to teach you a full technical understanding of the gear you need to shape light to your purpose.