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Bring Out the Detail, The Black & White About It

Black cards were used to bring out the detail in Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough's hair.  Black cards were used to bring out the detail in Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough’s hair.

Often photographers are challenged to bring out detail in the clothing their model is wearing, especially black or white fabrics. The solution is to understand the 90-percent physics rule of light and reflection when it comes to black and white tones in digital and conventional photography.

The 90-percent rule simply means, whatever is pure white will reflect 90-percent of the light that hits it, whatever is pure black will absorb the light that hits it—the key word here is “pure,” as blacks and whites come in many shades.  Keeping this concept in mind, we can judge how fabrics and even skin tones reflect light, and since we normally expose for our subject’s skin tone, the camera exposure settings will directly impact our subject’s garments if they lean toward black (underexposed) or white (overexposed) tones.

Basically, normal human skin-tone rests closer to an 18-percent gray tone reflectance and when we expose for the skin tone, darker fabrics will photograph darker and lighter fabrics will photograph lighter when it comes to the final image if the photographer doesn’t take corrective measures. A simple corrective measure is to use V-flats.  V-flats are easily made for studio use by taking two 4- by 8-foot foam core boards and taping them together on their longest side.  The best foam core boards are the ones that come black on one side and white on the other side, thus making them reversible for more efficient use.  These gaffer-taped boards are called “V-flats” because they can be placed and adjusted to form a “V” that allows them to stand up without additional light stands or supports.  The V-flat is placed as close as to the subject as possible, but outside the camera frame.

For example, if a photographer had to photograph a bride in her white-gown, the V-flats, with the black surface facing the subject, would be placed on each side of the bride, thus the photographer would have two sets (four foam core boards total) two on each side of V-flats for the subject.  The black adds black tone into the wedding dress by reflecting at least 10-percent black onto the dress.  Some photographers will call this subtractive lighting.  California Sunbounce makes black on one side and white on the other side fabrics for their Sunbounce Pro (4- by 6-foot) frame, which makes for greater portability than a sturdy foam core board and the Sunbounces can be mounted on C-stands easily.  This is a great solution for on-location photography, especially when working on the beach where sand and water act as an additional reflector and foam core boards will deteriorate with moisture.

If a photographer has to deal with a subject, such as the groom, wearing black, especially when the background is black, then either by using a California Sunbounce Pro, white-side out, or V-flats, white-side out, the white surface would reflect light back into the black garments, thus bringing out more detail in the darker fabric.  While this technique is great for bringing out detail in your subject’s clothes, you can also use this technique when photographing dark or light colored animals, such as dogs or cats, or perhaps even a white rabbit.

This technique, though using smaller foam-core boards, is very helpful when trying to bring out detail in a subject’s hair, like the blonde hair of Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough on my first book cover, “Garage Glamour: Digital Nude and Beauty Photography Made Simple.”  Basically, small black cards were placed around her hair to form a tent of black reflectors to put detail in her much lighter hair since we exposed for her darker skin.  Another concept for using black cards is in jewelry photography.  While most photographers will use a “white tent” to illuminate their diamonds, adding small black cards close to the jewelry will help bring out the diamond facets, thought this is tricky as the photographer must still bring light around the diamond while keeping the miniature black cards out of camera frame.

The key to all these types of photography, bridals, glamour, pet or jewelry is to place your black or white cards as close to your subject as possible, but out of camera frame.  It’s all about the 90-percent rule of reflectance reminding you about what you’re photographing and that the human mind uses brain and psychology perception to help us see differently than a digital camera, as digital cameras capture detail based on physic rules that pertain to light and reflectance, thus the mind compensates while the camera does not.  Well that’s it for now, but please don’t forget our troops, their families and friends as they make the ultimate sacrifices so we can enjoy our freedoms.  God Bless!  Rolando

Found in Sports Illustrated Swimwear

Evan Williams Liquor Ad, Found in Current Sports Illustrated Swimwear

Evan Williams Liquor Ad, Found in Current Sports Illustrated Swimwear

Often I’m asked, “How did you do that?” Well sometimes the answer is simple and sometimes the answer is a bit more complex, but everyone that has ever met me at photography workshops, seminars and events knows I love to spread the gospel of photography and never hold back. Most recently, I’ve been frequently asked how the photographs of Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh were taken for the Evan Williams Liquor advertisement found in the current Sports Illustrated Swimwear edition and also in Maxim and Playboy.

Normally I like to keep my photographic lighting to a minimum, but in the case of that advertising photo, it was a bit more complicated as the art director, creative director, brand manager, account manager and others all wanted to provide their feedback—and when they are standing there watching you shoot, you have to treat them politely and work with them while reminding them that time is money and it’s a true team effort. Depressing the camera shutter is only 5-percent of the equation to deliver the results they demand in a short and allotted time period.

Behind the Scenes w/Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh

Behind the Scenes w/Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh

Basically I had less than a full-day to complete the shoot. Call (make-up and final set preparation) was at 7:00 a.m. and I was there bright-eyed and busy-tailed by 6:45 a.m., as no one got the message to me that call was moved to 7:45 a.m. because the model’s flights were delayed due to bad weather. However, the end time was still the same, end at 5 p.m., as the model had to be on an airplane back to Los Angeles that same day. Luckily for me, I’d arrived the day before to set the lights up and do some test runs so I’d only need to fine-tune for the model. I basically used the art director’s secretary as the stand-in for my light checks.

Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh gets a touch-up from the make-up artist

Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh gets a touch-up from the make-up artist

The set took nine lights, one main light for the model that was modified with a Chimera Oct57 Octabox (soft box) assembled in a 7-foot width. I added a medium Chimera Soft Strip with a Lighttools 40-degree grid as the fill from camera left. I also placed a small Chimera Soft Strip above the red window curtains fitted with ROSCO Cinefoil on the front so I could control any spill light to the front of the image.  This strip would highlight the darker curtains a tad. Behind the make-shift window, I placed a large Chimera Soft Strip with the modeling lamp at full-power and flash tube turned off, since my white-balance was at 6000K and the modeling lamp is 3200K, I knew the color of the box would mimic the warmth of an evening sun filtering through a window.

Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh modeled three dresses for the shoot.

Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh modeled three dresses for the shoot.

The other five lights were fitted with 7-inch reflectors and various grids of 10- through 30-degrees were placed on their fronts to control the light path. Two were used to accent the model on each side plus another light for her hair. Another was aimed at the small table next to the model to bring out the wood color and grain. The final light was used to help illuminate the model’s purse. Several were fitted with Cinefoil to reduce spill light and to control and shape the light so I could have it exactly where I wanted it.

Once the lighting was tweaked and placed exactly where the art director and I wanted them, we then focused on the common thread of the two images that would make the ad function, the curtain rods. If you look at the advertisement you’ll notice the curtain rods, though different in shape, connect the two photographs. The importance here was to ensure the top of the model’s head was the same distance from the curtain rods in both images and that the rods were perfectly straight horizontally. It was this requirement that made me breakout a tripod, something I rarely use as I’m more accustomed to a photojournalistic style of shooting and mostly use a monopod if I need some type of stabilization.

Ultimately the red dress was chosen for the Evan Williams Liquor ad.

Ultimately the red dress was chosen for the Evan Williams Liquor ad.

The camera I used was the Canon 5D with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM, image stabilized lens. The tripod allowed me to keep the curtain rods straight at all times, while also locking in my distance from the model so the background would be very similar in the compression created by the lens set around 90mm effective focal length. This was very important to keep uniformity through the shoot as the model would do three complete wardrobe changes plus both final images would have to match with the curtain rods.

While the original story-board sketch provided by art director was approved by the liquor company, I asked if we could add a purse and some keys as the concept of the after picture was the model going out for the evening. Obviously the before photo, taken to simulate a bathroom, was simple and only took about thirty-minutes to shoot. The after photo, plus a lunch break, various breaks for the designer to download the Lexar digital cards and check the images in the pre-made advertising templates took a bit of time too, though often I’d be shooting on another Lexar digital card while they downloaded the previous cards.

In the end, we were done by 5 p.m., though eventually we’d learn the model’s flight had been cancelled, due to weather, but we still completed the shoot on the allotted time. While I normally do my best to work with simple set-ups for lighting, this assignment called for the more Playboy feel and I was happy to have brought enough photographic lighting gear in my Lightware cases to get the job done. Thanks and I hope to see you at one of my photography workshops someday soon and to see more higher-resolution images from this shoot, please visit my pro site by LiveBooks.com at www.RolandoGomez.com.  Thanks, Rolando.

Art Director Keith Rios and the MUA prepare Monica for the shoot.

Art Director Keith Rios and the MUA prepare Monica for the shoot.

Virgin Islands-Nov 09′ (SOLD-OUT)

Date: 11/5-10/2009 (SOLD OUT)
Venue: U.S. Virgin Islands
Details: The first Virigin Islands worskhop sold-out in less than 2-weeks!  All of the VI workshops for 2008 sold-out, most sold-out a year in advance!  All of the 2008 workshops are sold-out! Here’s your chance if you missed out to book early for 2009!  Only Twelve Photographers and Six Models per workshop.  First-come, first-serve! 

This will be our 20th Virgin Islands workshop.    The dates are Nov. 5th-10th, 2009.  Fly in on Nov. 5th (Thurs.) to St. Thomas (Airport code STT) then we ferry over to a smaller island where it’s private, camp-style workshop–open to all levels of photography, from beginners to advanced–your departure day is Nov.10th (Tuesday) unless you choose to stay longer in St. Thomas on your own.

These workshops promise to be better than the best workshops ever done–this is not a foreign country, this is the U.S. Virgin Islands! No currency conversions, no foreign language, no crazy inflated value-added taxes or worries about the food and water or your camera equipment held in customs till you pay the “bribe.” Currently a U.S. passport it not required, provided you present a government issued identification card, such as a driver’s license.
 

(All images below, photographed at previous Virgin Islands’ Workshops, actual models, equipment and location featured!)

We’ve got a place that rocks! The location was featured on HGTV this year and Brad Pitt filmed parts for one of his movies on this secluded island part of the islands.  It’s not your “typical tourist hotel” trap found in other workshops–this is a private paradise 10-minutes from St. Thomas giving us great sunsets, sunrises, private infinity-pool shots with the ocean blue/green waters and golden sunsets in the background. 

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