The Digital Contact Sheet :: Episode 2

I thought it would be a good idea to use Episode 2 to look at white seamless portraits. I met Ryan at my brothers 50th birthday party, where he was booked to provide the nights entertainment with his one man magic show. He's a very talented and highly entertaining performer and it's definitely worth seeking out one of his shows! I was shooting candids with the X100 and Ryan had asked if I would email him some of the photos. When I did email some photos to Ryan, I planted the seed for a portrait shoot and a couple of weeks later we got together to do this shoot. I used the Lastolite 6' x 7' HiLite background with the optional vinyl train. I shot with both umbrella and softbox that day. I use a large piece of plexiglass on the floor to give me a nice reflection under the subject, which looks great on both black or white white set-ups. I'll put some links at the end of the post to examples.

Above : This is one of the many frames that I used from this shoot, it's definitely not the best, but I wanted to choose something with a lot of negative space so that you could see how a shot can look so big, but actually be done in a small space. I really like negative space and I hate it when I hear a lot of photographers on the web giving advice like 'fill the frame'.

Above (left) : I decided to use a chair half way through the shoot, so that we could change it up a little. I started with the chair turned backwards and Ryan leaning on the back. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to use these shots, but I just needed to start somewhere and let it evolve.

Above (right) : We then re-introduced the cards (I had already shot some with a black background). Ryan started messing around with the deck, but it looked a bit stiff, due to the straight-on position of the chair. It's very easy to loose contrast with the HiLite as the lights inside the background are blowing it to pure white and coming straight into the lens.

The Lastolite HiLite : For those of you that are not familiar with the HiLite series of backgrounds - They basically come in a circular bag and pop out  to their full size (in this case 6' x 7') just like a reflector. Then, with the HiLite lying flat on the floor, you lift each corner of the front section and place one of the rods to hold the front and rear apart. Stand the HiLite up and insert one or two lights inside and close the zips.

There's a two stop rule to white seamless, where the background should be two stops brighter than the main light. I would say a stop and a half works better with the highlight, to avoid loosing contrast. I always use a light meter when shooting with the HiLite these days and would definitely recommend you do to. I like to shoot at f8 with the HiLite. I aim to get my main light at f8 and the background light at f11.5. I then add a fill light to whatever looks good (if needed). I have also used another two lights recently, on the floor, outside of the vinyl train and blowing the floor behind the subject to white.

Below (top) : I moved the chair to an angle it made for a much more interesting photo. Ryan just ran through a series of shuffles and tricks. This was before I had the 60" umbrella, so I'm using two smaller ones as a main and a fill.

Above (bottom) : I move in closer so that I'm not throwing away pixels and I'm also getting Ryan at a higher resolution. At this point I started to realize that being a magician is similar to being a writer or a musician. You spend a lot of time on your own, practicing and perfecting your craft and it's even more lonely than editing photographs on a computer. This thought obviously came from Ryan's isolated look. I knew at that point that I wanted to put him in a big white room, isolated to one corner.

Below : This is the shot I wanted to use. I  checked that the background was blowing to pure white and used a mixture of the Gradient Tool and Brush tool in Lightroom to get rid of all the things outside of the background. I then converted it to black and white. Ryan is a bit too central in this shot, but sometime you don't have the option when using such a small background.

I then moved over to Photoshop and as I knew everything was pure white, I selected the crop tool and set my background swatch to white. I then dragged the crop tool out to the full size of the photo and grabbed any of the four corners to pull the photo out to the desired amount of negative space (hold down shift to keep the aspect ratio the same), then hit enter and everything is filled with white. The result is the photo at the top of the post.

It's great to look back at photos that you shot in the past and see that you're getting better all the time. If I was shooting this now, I would work on my lights more to prevent losing so much contrast. Click here for an example of a recent shoot with great contrast.

You can see more of the Ryan Davidson shoot by clicking on these links White Background or Black Background

For more information on shooting and editing white seamless I would suggest reading Zack Arias's feature on his blog starting of course with Part 1. Better still, buy his Studio Lighting course on Creative Live. It's well worth the money and probably THE best thing to come from Creative live!

That's it for this episode of The Digital Contact Sheet. Leave me a comment if you get anything out of this or if you have any suggestions on how the feature could be better. I would also appreciate it if you could spread the word to anyone who you think would find this feature useful.