Visual Diary 8: Painting Light

Painting light is making a photograph at night or in darkened rooms utilizing open shutter and the addition of light in order to reveal something that otherwise would be unobservable at this time of day. 

The picture is really a photo of light because it would otherwise be dark without the addition of lights. 

I had four people on my team to try painting light together. It was our first time doing an assignment like this, and it did not turn out very well. But we all learned a lesson. 

We found an abandoned barn in Ashland, Missouri. And figured out our concept to be: A barn lays abandoned, slowly becoming consumed by the wilderness that surrounds it. Many small family run farms have been run into the ground by large corporate run farms, leaving barns like this one to rot in its place. According to The Washington Post, the number of American farms has dropped significantly, "from more than 6 million in 1935 to roughly 2 million in 2012".

I was in charge of lighting the tree, so I gelled my flash to be blue, and kept flashing during the open shutter. My teammates lighted the building with a cool silver color, and the other one lighted a white light from inside the building. Each photo would take us around five minutes, and it took us two hours totally doing this assignment. 

However, it did not turn out to be what we expected. What I learned is, when you don't have enough people, enough flashes and enough batteries, try not to light a huge building. Sometimes enough light inside would turn out to be a better photo than the limited lighting outside. 

Visual Diary 7: Color Correction

When you are shooting indoor without window or outdoor at night, but the existing light is not bright enough, you may use a gelled flash to match the existing light and create a documentary photograph. 

But how to figure out what color to gel? Use the jpeg quality setting and set the white balance to daylight, make a correctly exposed frame of the existing light with no flash added – looking at the this image on the LCD will give you a starting point but if you can’t really tell if the image has a red, orange, yellow, green, yellow-green, purplish or peachy color cast.

For example, you are in a bar shooting an event, and this is what it looks like when your white balance is at daylight:

Because of the tungsten, the image is in the orange tone. So I chose to use a dark orange gel to gel my flash. This is how the image looks like after gelling my flash and setting my white balance to tungsten:

Visual Diary 6: Multiple-flash

Multiple-flash is a skill often used for stopped-action photography (mainly sports) and portrait. My three partners and I brought two strobes to Cosmo Park and tried to shoot skateboard players on Wednesday night. We chose to shoot at night because the limited light is great for practicing multiple-flash.

But the dark situation also caused a problem: my camera does not allow me to auto-focus on my subject because the camera's eyesight is not good enough to find my subject in dark and focus on him. So there comes the first tip, which is taught by one of my partners: you can use your cell phone flash to create light, use auto-focus to focus on the cell phone, and turn on to manual focus. This method is basically asking your partner to guess your subject's position.   

Like this:

Now I have to make sure the distance between my subject's face to my camera is similar to my partner's cell phone to my camera in this photo. I decided to have one of my partners hold a stroke on my right side to light my subject's face, and another partner to hold a backlight to light my subject's hair.

It turns out to be:

I am happy with the hair motion. I also love the backlight showing his left hand. But if I would be more satisfied if I could make it sharper.

I also tried multiple-flash for the portrait. I used a strong backlight to light his hair and a key light to light his face. 

This would be the lighting set-up for my next portrait series, which is about transgender students. 


Visual Diary 5: Fill

When you are taking photos at the midday on a sunny day, the hard sunlight may create a harsh shadow on your subject, which is not what you would love to see.  For example:

The subject is ready for you to take the photo. His facial expression has the potential to make a great photo that shows his personality even though the cars and the tree in the background are distracting.

He was blowing the leaves out of the parking lot to make the lot nice and clean, so the photo has to be taken in the parking lot. But there is still a way to make the background clean: get the lower angle to make the sky the background. 

But the biggest problem in this photo is that his face is in the shadow. To avoid the awkwardness, you should use the flash on your hand to bring some light on his face.

Getting the low angle to show his face while he was bending down to blow the leaves is what I did, but I failed to show his action in this photo. I am happy with showing his face clearly, but my goal is to show action in the photo and tell a story. I hope I can accomplish that next time with a flash. 

Visual Diary 4: Bouncing Light

Bouncing light is my favorite skill to use when it comes to taking the photo with a single flash. When I am taking the photos in an indoor situation and the light sources available are not strong enough to make the subject visible, I have to make a decision about how to use my flash: shall I use bouncing light or direct light?

If there is limited space and the distance between me and the subject has to be short, I would choose to do bouncing light. For example:

 This is a small editing bay with the black walls. When I use the direct light on the subject's hand, the wall partly becomes white and it looks unnatural. But when I bounce the light to the ceiling:

The flash light illuminates her like it is an available light source that already exists in the editing bay. It looks naturally. 

Another example:

This is in a bouncer in a bar, and when I took the photo of him, I used bouncing light. I tried to use direct light at first, but the light did not ideally fall on him but hit on the back wall, which made the "EXIT" distracting. So, I bounced the flash light on the metal ceiling that's above him, and the light fell on the left side of his face, which is exactly the picture I wanted.

Even if I love to use bouncing light the best, there are some situations that I have to use direct light. For example, when there is nothing I can bounce the light on and the existing light sources are bright back lights (usually an outdoor situation). It is coming on my next blog post! 

Visual Diary 3: Balancing Light

When shooting photos of a subject near a huge window and wanting the scene both outside the window and the subject to be lit well, it usually turns out not ideally. The person would be in dark because the indoor light is not as strong as the sun.

Now you can do three things:
1. Keep the exposure to what it is now, and lit the shadow using Lightroom, Photoshop or other photo editing software when you import the photo to your computer. This method requires a decent camera that will save as many details in the shadow so it would not raise the noise when you lit up the shadow. And it also requires time to import the photo and edit it.

2. Bring up the exposure to two stops higher, lower the shutter speed (since he is not moving, it won't change the photo quality in terms of focusing) or bring up the ISO. While these three options do the same thing to the photo- make the sensor in your camera more sensitive to the light on your subject so he is clearly visible and blur out the scene outside the window. 

3. You can use a flash and act like a professional photographer:

While you need to be careful when there are more glasses around you because you get a chance of other glasses reflecting the flash, which happened to this picture. Now you can change the angle to avoid the reflection.

But what to do when you are surrounded by glasses and you could not find an angle to avoid the reflection? Bounce the light to the ceiling, which is the skill I will be talking in my next blog post. 

P.S. Balancing light could be used if you travel to Chicago during spring break. You know you will go to Willis Tower and take photos! 

Visual Diary 2: Glass Photography

The concept we chose is the rose in Beuty And The Beast. We tied the rose with fish cord rose stands and used pink background.  

In case the bottom light would be too bright and blurred the glass out, we used white cloth to cover it. 

The rose was dark without a front light, so we added a small light to lit it. We loved the shadow of the rose; however, the shadow of the glass was also on the table, so we covered half of the light to avoid front lighting the glass.



Shooting metal is about keeping the background clean and control the light reflection. While shooting glass is different because glass is not only reflecting light but is also previous to light. In terms of showing the glass' edge, keeping the background clean is not enough when the glass is transparent. 

We chose to set four light even (A+B, B+C) while the distance from each light to the subject is different. 

This image does not show the front edge of the glass as clear as the edge on the side because the back light is too strong.  We weren't able to fix it because of the limited time, but a successful glass photo should show the edge perfectly, which is what we aim to do next time. 

(P.S. plastic is combustible. 

I burned the lego house. The poor firefighter did not do anything to help. The house owner came back and found out the roof was gone. Evil Meiying decided to burn the rubber cement again but with foil on the top of the house, and she got a successful fire picture.)



Vidual Diary 1: Metal Photography

I was not surprised when my friend told me to photograph two emblems using the white table in the Futures Lab as the background. People have no idea how hard it is to photograph metal, while I either had no idea before I took the photojournalism class.

These are the photos I took today, and I am going to explain why it is hard to photograph metal and how to overcome the difficulty. 

Lighting is essential to all photography, and it is critical when the subject reflects light instead of absorbs light. There are the different light patterns on the emblems, and controling the lighting pattern is the main difficulty about metal photography.

Photographing metal requires me to have four hands, and that's why I was assigned to do it with a partner. 

We created a box for the little the lego firefighter and the emblems (so only the white background is reflected on the emblems unless we do something to it,) a light from the back of them and a key light in front of the emblems. 

At first, it turned out like this:

The left one was reflecting too much light, while the right one did not reflect enough light. So, my partner held a piece of black paper inside the box to have black pattern reflected on the left emblem, and I used my left hand to hold a gold paper to reflect some light on the right one. 

Metal photography is about being creative and express the concept with the light settings. Practicing is the key to turn the image in your mind into a photo.