Workshop report: 28 Sep Making Light in Kuala Lumpur

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Our model for the day, Aliza Kim. Nikon D800E, 85/1.8 G

Although unfortunately Kristian Dowling couldn’t co-present in the end due to food poisoning, the show must go on, and it did: an intimate and dedicated class of participants joined me for a different look at making light in the studio. We started with a deconstruction and minor reprogramming of preconceptions: the use of a studio is about total control for all aspects of the image, not just lighting; why compromise when you are in a repeatable, 100% controllable environment?

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A simple one-light portrait. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

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And setup shot for the above: only the 4×6″ softbox was in play.

The morning was spent examining firstly the basics of the principles of composition, color theory and psychology, the importance of perfect color and how to achieve it, and finally, deconstructing lighting under several increasingly complex scenarios – one light, two lights, reflectors, multiple lights, balancing with ambient…I’m proud to say that the students did an increasingly good job of figuring out what the light setups used were, even if I did throw them a few curve balls :) (There’s a reason why this post comes at the end of the last week’s focus on lighting articles!)

After lunch, we moved on to replicating most of these setups, starting simple with one large softbox…

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…a variety of poses, practice with timing, framing and anticipating where to leave space when the model moved…

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…including setups involving two lights:

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…harsh contrast…

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…strong backlight (that’s the 4×6 softbox serving as backdrop in the left edge of the frame)…

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…the addition of beauty dishes to balance out the background to provide a clean white look with flattering light bleed around the edges of limbs and torso…

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Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar

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Setup shot

…some occasional theatrical emoting from the coach…

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…and the use of a single-beauty light from a more oblique angle to create interesting silhouettes:

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One more costume change later, and I demonstrated the versatility of speedlights for location work and ease of creating completely different effects by mixing diffuse and harsh light. Here, we used a three-light setup to create a very edgy, moody, feel; later on adding a cinematic and emotional element by varying the color tone of the final shot, or omitting it completely. The speedlights were set to manual output, triggered and controlled via iTTL for the Nikon shooters, and switched over to SU4 slave mode for the Canon shooters (and lone Sony RX100, the B-roll camera of yours truly.)

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Flash cunningly triggered by the built-in on a Sony RX100, shot in manual mode

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Sony RX100

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Nikon D800E

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Nikon D800E

We finished up the day with a quick Photoshop postprocessing demonstration to clean up a few files for print by the studio’s resident print master, Wesley Wong of Giclee Art – thus completing the imaging chain, and showing just how much further you can take your images when you’re in control of all of the elements. Even at 13×19″, the RX100 images were virtually indistinguishable from the D800E – we would have to go even further, probably to 25×40″ or so, before a significant difference would be discernable. Score one for the argument for sufficiency! I’m pleased to report that everybody had a great time and learned a lot (or at least were polite enough not to say otherwise :) – in the words of one participant, “I think my head just exploded.”

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Our group and model.

I’d like to conclude with a quick note on equipment: we were using Profoto Pro heads, a D4 pack, one beauty dish with and without 25deg grid, 4×6′ and 1×4′ softboxes, three Nikon SB900s, umbrellas and a whole array of clamps and stands for lighting; the model images in this post were shot by me (except for the one ‘Charlie’s Angels’ shot where noted) using a Nikon D800E, Nikon AFS 85/1.8 G, Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 and 2/100 Makro-Planars. B-roll, documentary, and one of the model images was shot using a Sony RX100, except of course the images of me which were shot by the students as the camera made its rounds to be fondled…

I’d like to say a big thank you to the participants, and Shriro-Malaysia/ Profoto for the use of the studio and lighting equipment. Stay tuned for more upcoming workshops!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Everything is very open with a precise description of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your site is very useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  2. What a great day! Between the inspiring morning session studying Ming’s jaw-dropping photos and an amazing afternoon shoot with the gorgeous (and funny) Aliza, what Ming didn’t mention was the mouth-watering Malaysian Beef noodles lunch he took us to across the street at the road-side stall!

    I’ve been reading this blog for months, but I didn’t realized how much more I could learn in person until I took his recent workshops. For example, I’d have missed out on the important training where he raised both arms (see pic #13) waving them vigorously while shouting “Light on, light off” to perfect my shooting methods.

    Ok, just kidding about the above. On a serious note, the man is a machine! He got in way before everyone else (I know because I arrived an hour early). Then he spent the whole day teaching, instructing, demoing, shooting, working with model, showing his equipment, while tirelessly and patiently answering every questions the workshop participants had, not to mention the 2-hour impromptu print demo/admiration session after the workshop.

    Great value, great company, great images. I would take his workshops again. Highly recommended.

  3. Awesome. That looked like a really fun workshop. And the model Aliza Kim is gorgeous!

    Ming, in the studio with big lights, do you ever use a flash meter? Or do you just chimp with the LCD and adjust as you go?

    • Thanks Don. It’s mostly experience. One test shot and an adjustment and then you know where you are. With the speedlights I normally use, either I go TTL or if I’m shooting manual, I’ve done it enough times that I know roughly how much power I need…a bit like having your own built-in lightmeter :)

  4. Mitch Urasoko says:

    Great workshop! Looks like you guys had a lot of fun. The shots you took with the lighting setup really helped. I just wish you’d come here in the Philippines and do some workshop as well :)

  5. Andrew Yaw says:

    Excellent workshop! Great teachings from honing the basics of photography to managing light in a controlled environment followed by hands on guidance while shooting the model for the day. The day ended with a bonus. The shared knowledge of the art of printing which is a totally different ball game. Went home feeling overwhelmed with awesome knowledge and information. Thank you Ming for sharing so much of your knowledge to all of us! Can’t wait for the next workshop! ;)

    Cheers.

  6. The picture Nr. 11 (Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 mm Macro Planar) is incredible…
    The 10 new pics in my blog… children outside… I have to shoot them alone (Olympus E-Pl 1) without any light assistence (Reflectors at home, no wife with me)…damned!

    • Thanks!

      Use your windows and wait til the sun comes down a bit, then shoot them with the light hitting obliquely. Late afternoon or late-morning window light is fantastic for this kind of thing.

  7. Another excellent post! And the way you photograph the actual setup makes things much easier to understand than just typing which equipment is involved in a certain photograph. As for the equipment itself, you forgot to mention those lovely white and chrome chairs, they’re from Ikea aren’t they? I have one too, they’re great for these sort of events.

    • Thanks. I didn’t have setup shots of any of the earlier stuff – wasn’t writing then, and far more concerned with getting the shot complete – so you’ll have to make do with the descriptions. Now I shoot b-roll when I’m on assignment…

  8. compulady says:

    Sounds great, sign me up! I like the part about the Rx100 prints being indistinguishable from the D800E.

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