Exotic Tulips in a Vase Still Life Photo

Exotic Tulips in a Vase

Exotic Tulips in a Vase

I wanted to shoot a still life photo of these exotic tulips that was outside of my comfort zone. This might not look like a terribly difficult image, but it took about 1.5 hours from start to finish to capture.

Firstly, it was at night, so there was no natural lighting to use in this photo. Natural light is so great because it’s so well diffused and it’s easy to see where any shadows might fall. When shooting any reflective surface, natural light is the best there is, but the sun was asleep for the day and I was left to use man-made light.

Secondly, I decided to use 3 flash units for this photo. It didn’t necessarily need all 3 flashes, but I wanted to push my comfort zone and challenge myself with this image. The most difficult part was making sure that there weren’t hard flash reflections on the vase. I wanted the viewer to be able to see the water and the bubbles inside.

Thirdly, I wanted to tint the photo somewhat blue, so I used flash gels. I had to experiment to see which gels to use and where not to use gels. It was time consuming to say the least. I used a combination of softening filters and studio umbrellas to soften up the harsh flashes. The main white flash was bounced off of the white ceiling.

I went with a white background to show the jagged edge on the tulip petals. I didn’t want the background to be totally blown out either, but I wanted it light and showing a gradient down to the bottom of the photo. I was going to use a fourth flash behind the stand, but Jake, my dog, kept walking around the studio and I was convinced he’d knock the flowers onto the floor, thus destroying a floor-mounted flash unit.

Blown-out high-key fashion photography with Emilia Clark in the March 2013 issue of GQ Magazine

 

High key portrait

A proper high-key portrait

When you’re in a dark environment and want to take a photo of someone, you typically use a flash. Most people don’t think about how the flash on their camera makes their subject look, they just want the photo to be lit and not dark. Most of the time, the result is much like this. Harsh and blown out. The intense light from your camera’s flash is generally unflattering and is considered usable only for snapshots.

Photographing someone with intense light is perfectly acceptable. I took the portrait to the left using two different strobes and a white background. The use of multiple strobes made the shadow behind the model soft and I used a diffuser to make the light on her face more soft.

I must confess though that I’ve seen a trend toward the use of harsh, directional light in many highly respected, professional publications. As an avid reader of GQ, I regularly see photos of beautiful women and men that look like they could have been lit by someone that has very, or no, experience in using strobes.

 

Looks like it was taken with a point-and-shoot camera

Take this photo spread for example. The photographer, Maciek Kobielski, has been hired to photograph a 2-page spread of the lovely Ms. Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame. The set looks like it is beautiful, with a gorgeous and exotic bed made of some type of wood that is no doubt out of my price range and sheets that are probably softer than any I’ve ever slept on. Emilia is dressed to kill in a stunning black lace-up corset and matching panties. Her dark hair and seductive makeup probably took hours to craft by the best makeup and hair artists in the business. Everything is in place for a stunning, dramatic photo shoot. The photographer looks at the set, then looks at the gorgeous Ms. Clarke and begins to craft his shoot. I’m sure Maciek has an arsenal of lighting products that would make most photographers green with envy. But he decides that rather than spend all day crafting a 4-light photo shoot with a tasteful combination of grid lights, gels, reflectors, and soft boxes, he decided to grab one huge, blinding strobe, position it directly over top of Emilia’s lovely body, and blast away with no thought being given to this single light’s unflattering effects.

Glare off of her cheek and forehead

Look at the glaring reflection off of her cheek and forehead. Most women that I know try very hard not to have shiny skin like this, but this photographer seems to have tried specifically to achieve this look. Even her hands are shiny with how intense this light is. Also, under her arms, hands, etc are very hard and dark shadows. Its like she has a black outline underneath of her body as if she were a line drawing that someone colored in. You can see every wrinkle in her corset and see that the two fabrics don’t match exactly.

Hard shadows under her hands and arms

Now, there are a few positives to this blown-out look. Her eyes are simply amazing. I’m sure that there was some digital help to make them so white and perfect, but the intense light makes a great catch light in the upper part of her eyes. Her skin also looks flawless, but who knows how much of that is thanks to Photoshop.

I don’t know if photographers are trying to recreate the look of a red carpet photo, where most photos are shot using speedlights and look blown out, or if they simply don’t care about beautifully sculpted shadow that highlight the curves and shape of their subjects. Granted, this blown-out lighting looks rock star. I can see Stephen Tyler being photographed for Rolling Stone back in the 80’s with this kind of lighting, but I just can’t see how a professional like Maciek Kobielski can walk away from this photo shoot and think he did his best work here.

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