Shooting in the studio is always a joy because it's so laid back. With no constraints and ultimate control over lighting and the set, there simply aren't many of the practical limitations to creativity that are realities for most shoots. Recent I photographed one of my oldest subjects, my good friend Erik, in his studio-converted apartment in Connecticut. During the edit, both Erik and I were feeling the high-contrast black and white look, as it fit well with the very two-dimensional minimalist set we had created. Playing with shapes and lines, I think we were able to create some interesting and unique portraiture. Take a look.
Grids (also known as honeycomb grids or egg crate grids) are an extremely useful lighting tool for photographers who know how to use them. The problem is they can be expensive. I recently bought a cheap $50 softbox for a speedlight that I sometimes use both in and out of the studio, and I was looking into purchasing a grid for it. Unfortunately the model of softbox didn't have any grids designed to fit it, and even grids for similar size softboxes are as much or more than the price of the softbox itself. Not wanting to double the investment in a cheap softbox that I might end up throwing away in a year or two anyways, I decided to make myself one DIY-style. The total budget came in around $5. Here's how I did it.
A grid is used to block the angular light coming from the face of a lighting modifier while allowing only near-perpendicular (and therefore highly directional) light to pass through. This is useful when trying to control the spill from a light source. Without any kind of spill control or recessed front to the softbox, the light will spill all the way up to 90 degrees from the face of the front panel. For smaller light sources modifiers like snoots or barndoors can control this spill, but for softboxes this isn't an option. While you could add a flag or cutter to block unwanted light, this would require using another C-stand and grip arm in addition to the flag itself, which is a lot of gear to bring. And in some cases the light may be too close to the subject that a flag might show up in the frame. Enter the grid. One example might be if you're tying to top-light a subject who is standing a few feet away from a backdrop. You could boom a softbox overhead to give him a large wrapping light source, but the light would fall onto the backdrop — perhaps unwelcomely. Adding a grid to the overhead softbox would allow you to direct the light onto the subject while keeping your backdrop free from light spill.
The materials for this project are pretty simple:
- 2 sheets of heavyweight posterboard (not foamcore or cardboard) — 97¢ each at Walmart
- 1 roll of 1" industrial strength adhesive velcro — $6 or $7, but you only use half of it
- Black gaffer tape — you should already have this if you're a photographer
- Utility or pocket knife
- Straight edge with ruler markings
The concept was simply to make something like those interlocking storage dividers where the slits fit into each other at the intersections. If done right the whole thing would fold diagonally and lay flat. The first step was to do a little math and figure out how many strips I needed and how thick to make them. My softbox is supposed to be 24x24 inches, but the actual face of the softbox is around 21 inches square. You should make sure to measure the actual dimension instead of trusting what it's supposed to be or your grid might not fit when you're done. I figured that with the two sheets of poster board I could make my strips 2" deep spaced 1.5" apart and have enough for the 32 strips measuring 2" wide and 21" long. Remember to add two strips to each end as "caps" to enclose the whole thing and make sure the ends of the strips aren't just dangling free.
I used my straight edge to mark off the strips as well as the locations of the 1.5" spaced intersections, as marking them after they're cut would have been way too tedius. You end up with large grid pattern. Then it's time to get cutting. I laid down some newspaper so I didn't cut through to the tablecloth and used my leatherman to cut the strips. I figured it would be faster that way than scissors.
After all of the strips were cut I began to make the notches for the intersections. While a single cut will work, with the thick posterboard it's a tight fit when the grid is extended. If you want to make it a little more flexible I'd advise cutting out a small 1mm groove of paper at each slit to make it easier to open and close. Remember the cuts don't have to be exact, they only have to be slightly past half way into each strip. Also remember to leave four strips without notches as these will be the end pieces.
After all of the notches are cut, start assembling everything. It should come together fairly easily, but the further you go the stiffer the structure will become. Once you're done you should have something that looks pretty much like a grid. Then tape the loose ends of the strips to the end pieces using the black gaffer tape to keep them from getting bent up as well as to provide a place to put the velcro for attaching the grid to the softbox.
When you put the velcro on, it doesn't need to attach to all four sides. In fact, it might make it more difficult to attach if you do try to velcro all four sides if your grid doesn't have an absolute perfect fit. I just used a small piece of velcro on each corner of the opposite sides of the grid (top and bottom). I stick the other side of the velcro to the inside of the softbox at the corresponding positions, and now you can attach your grid.
And there you have it. If you were careful with your measurements and cutting you should be able to collapse the whole thing into a nice little strip that is easy to take with you to your shoot. Happy shooting with your new DIY softbox grid.
If you have any questions on the process, feel free to ask!
Yesterday I had the pleasure to collaborate with an awesome team to create a series of editorial fashion images. Despite not being meticulously planned, all of the elements of the shoot came together and we were able to pull off some portfolio-worthy images that I'm really proud of. Keep reading to find out how it all came together.
First off, this project was a collaboration between myself, hair and makeup artist Dana Means-Wheeler, and model Mika Collins. I've been wanting to do a shoot with Mika for a while now — we even had a test planned out a few weeks ago but scheduling conflicts caused it to fall through. When I first contacted Montana-based modeling agency Rocky Mountain Entertainment Agency (RMEA) and requested a few models to work with for test shoots, they put me in touch with Mika. Although most of her portfolio is quite different from my style of photography, I knew that she'd make a great subject.
Hair and makeup were provided by Dana Means-Wheeler, owner of Shear Art Salon located in Missoula. I first met Dana at a meeting with RMEA during their modeling training workshop in Missoula, and after seeing my work she's been excited about a collaboration ever since. She offered to provide hair and makeup, and even offered to let us shoot in her salon in order to save on the cost of renting a studio. While the space wasn't ideal as as studio space due to fairly low ceilings, it was good to have a challenging space to work in, as I think I need to develop more skill working in tight spaces.
The model, Mika, was in charge of providing her own wardrobe for the shoot, and I simply asked her to bring as much as she could so I'd have options to choose from on the day-of. Luckily she pulled through and showed up with a ton of options from which I was able to choose my favorite looks that I thought matched the mood of my lighting, backdrop, and Dana's hair. When I saw what we were working with in terms of wardrobe, I gave Dana the direction for hair and makeup: up and loose. She followed through with her own interpretation on that, and did an amazing job with Mika.
Having recently painted my latest addition to my canvas backdrop collection, it was too tempting not to put it to the test in a full-blown photoshoot. While Dana and Mika were busy with hair and makeup, I got to work setting up lights and the backdrop.
We shot for a little over three hours with a variety of wardrobe changes, but only minor lighting changes — all on the same backdrop. While I typically love shooting a large variety of different looks in a single shoot, I think an area that I could improve on is creating a set of different images with a cohesive look and feel. This is essential for multi-page editorial pieces where a variety of shots are necessary, but all of the images need to have a continuous look so the story doesn't look like a random collection of images. With this shoot, by sticking with similar lighting and the same backdrop I was able to achieve a cohesive look throughout the whole shoot, and kept a consistent editing style in post-production.
All said and done, this shoot was a blast and I enjoyed working with a fun team to create some images. Mika was gorgeous, super cooperative, and a natural in front of the camera. Dana did a fantastic job with hair and makeup, and we were able to put together a decent wardrobe from what was available. I hope you like the images.
And speaking of post-production, enjoy a quick time-lapse video of the retouching process for one of the images.
And now, some behind the scenes images:
For twenty-somethings like me who's grandparents aren't always going to be around, getting to spend time with them means a lot. I've been fortunate to get to spend time and develop relationship with my grandparents recently, for which I'm really appreciative. But as awesome as getting to spend time with your grandparents is, another perk about being around old people is that they're amazing to photograph. While mine in particular can't seem to understand why I always am pointing my camera at them, a worn and weathered face makes a far more interesting portrait subject than your every-day photo subject.
I recently painted a new canvas backdrop. Ok, well it's not really new — I actually painted the back side of one of my existing canvases, which you can see how I painted here. The process was as fun as always, and I think I got some really cool results out of this one. Every new one I paint I get to experiment and learn new ways to achieve the textures I want. Plus, I ended up with some pretty cool looking hands from the paint.
With my new backdrop completed I figured I should give it a test to see how it photographs. And who better than my grandma? I talked her into standing long enough for a quick (and by quick I mean 2 minutes tops) photoshoot while I snapped a few frames with the camera in one hand, holding a white bounce card in my spare hand. This was mainly achievable because I shot on my little Fujifilm X100T, which practically fits in the palm of my hand. I did get a few frames out on my black and white film camera too, but I'll have to wait a few weeks to see how those turned out.
Although it was a brief shoot, I've got to say, I like how the photos turned out. Both my new canvas and my old grandma photographed beautifully.
Testing is how you improve as a photographer. Constantly trying new lighting techniques or ideas lets you see what works and what doesn't. It lets you perfect your lighting skills and proficiency on set, so when you have a paying client, everything is guaranteed to go smoothly. It's one of the few times you can show up to a shoot with absolutely no concept, no plans, and just try to make something work. Doing impromptu test shoots is like a blank canvas — you show up, see what you can get, and learn from it. You learn to problem solve and make something out of nothing. The freedom is liberating.
This recent shoot with my good friend Jessica was a test shoot that provided a personal challenge. I had traveled back to Moscow to see friends for the weekend, and was staying at Jessica's place. We have a few free hours in the morning before going on a hike that afternoon, so we decided we'd throw together a last minute photoshoot. We didn't have any models, a studio space, or any plan to speak of. We tried to find some friends who were willing to sit for the camera, but didn't have any last minute luck. Without models, we decided that we'd just photograph each other — neither of whom had showered or prepared in any way to be photographed that morning.
We drove around and found a sheltered area out of the slight breeze and set up a nice little studio outdoors. We experimented with mixing natural light with a pop of studio strobes outdoors, primarily shot against my small hand-painted canvas backdrop that I had in the back of my car. I also experimented with letting go of the strobes entirely and shooting just natural light and using black cutters to knock down light and create shadow and depth to the portrait.
In the short session we captured some interesting images, some of which I think work really well in black and white. With just a few hours one morning, going from no plan at all to a final image felt like a productive use of time and allowed for a little flexing of my creative muscles. Here's to something a little different.
And a bonus photo... A picture of a creepy old house somewhere on the Palouse, photographed during my weekend in Moscow.