Archive for the 'commercial photography' Category

White Backgrounds For Commercial Photography

July 21, 2010

Of all places, we’ve found this brief yet interesting article on how to meter for seamless white backgrounds on the recycling blog Beautiful Rubbish. If any subjects are wearing or holding anything white, this is a great place to pick up a few tips on how to do it right, particularly before your wardrobe stylist winds up weeping.

In five simple-to-follow paragraphs, this article explains how to avoid panic when facing a big white cyc. Just a sample of this on-the-money article:

A good photographer should be able to picture any color of clothing with any background or light conditions. If you book a photo shoot and your photographer tells you not to wear white because it is hard to snap I recommend you look for a new cameraman. All that statement shows is a dearth of knowledge about photography lighting.

Bravo, Beautiful Rubbish!

Sean Armenta’s Ornaments of Women

June 22, 2010

A famous quote attributed to Martin Luther reads like this: “The hair is the richest ornament of women.” This 500-year-old quote is something Sean Armenta intrinsically knows and understands. Although capable of a wide variety of fashion portraiture, it’s the exotic hair and makeup sessions where Armenta truly shines. Paul Mitchell, the North American Hairstyling Awards, and a host of hair salon magazines have all benefitted from Armenta’s expertise at capturing complex hairstyles, from the elaborate to the outrageous.

©Sean Armenta

Born in Vancouver, B.C., Armenta was raised in Los Angeles and Orange County of Southern California. Now living in Santa Ana, he became interested in photography during his childhood, when his mother was constantly taking pictures of him. “I have albums upon albums of childhood photos my mom took of me,” he says. “Looking back, she was a really great portrait photographer. She taught me all the basics of camera operation and the fundamentals of exposure and depth of field. I learned off her Nikon F2 and basically shot that into the ground.”

While Armenta worked to build his own portfolio, he assisted a variety of professional shooters, including commercial, portrait, and fashion and beauty photographers. First exposed to fashion photography in the 1990s, Armenta’s immaculate, elegant style was originally influenced by giants such as Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, and Peter Lindbergh, who then ruled the industry.

©Sean Armenta

“I love their clean, classic style, and their work to this day is absolutely timeless,” Armenta says. This timeless quality is something he strives for in his own work. “I definitely have an appreciation for a classic and simple aesthetic that’s iconic in nature. We rarely see a purity in photographs today that was definitive of their work. As far as more contemporary photographers I am inspired by Sarah Silver, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Javier Vallhonrat, Eugenio Recuenco, and Solve Sundsbo.”

Armenta uses some very interesting lighting effects in his portraits of models. Reflections from a mirror ball, or edge lights with colored gels quickly come to mind from the range of images he’s known for. When asked how he deals with these different intensities of light, he’s very straightforward. “Iʼm not a very technical or mathematical person,” he declares. “I light organically and visually. Having an amazing tool such as the Sekonic L-358 at my disposal has given me the advantage I need to merge the technical aspect of lighting with the creative and visual aspect of it. Being able to precisely measure light throughout the entire frame is key when using multiple lighting sources and achieving challenging effects.”

©Sean Armenta

When Armenta was building his portfolio early in his career, he worked with Tania Russell, a well-known makeup artist in Los Angeles. Experimenting with a new makeup style, it called for a closeup. His results caused Russell to comment he had an aptitude for beauty photography. “I’ve been passionate about shooting beauty ever since,” he says. “I attribute my love for beauty photography to her.”

The Allure series on his site features some truly artistic makeup work, using models faces’ as if they were blank canvases. The photographic challenges these different colors and textures produce can be formidable. “Different cosmetic products will have different reflective properties,” Armenta explains. “A dewy foundation on skin will have a different reflectance to makeup that has more of a metallic finish. Pre-visualization and proper conceptualization of lighting is so important. Choosing the right lighting modifiers, lighting position, and careful metering are all essential parts of dealing with these challenges.”

©Sean Armenta

Along with incredible makeup, elaborate hairstyles is an area Armenta excels at capturing with his cameras. He often works with two talented Paul Mitchell hairstylists, Noogie Thai and Lucie Doughty. Most of the work they’ve done together has been nominated for various categories in the North American Hairstyling Awards. Canadian Hairdresser International, Modern Salon, Studio, Vibra and other hair magazines have featured shots Armenta has captured of their work. “It’s definitely a challenge lighting different hairstyles, different types of hair textures, and different hair colors and finishes,” he states. “Trying to get the hair to move the way you want and photograph the way you intended also poses its own issues. When you provide a collaborative environment and get everyone involved in the creative process, it becomes much easier to overcome obstacles.”

©Sean Armenta

Armenta has no preference regarding shooting in studios or on location. “Each offers their own challenges,” he says. “I shoot according to what the situation calls for.” He cites living in Southern California and its weather as definitely making things easier for location work. Aside from the lack of precipitation and benefits of temperature, the lack of humidity helps with controlling hair, particularly the more elaborate sculptures hairstylists create.

©Sean Armenta

Some spring cleaning once brought about one of Armenta’s most unique shoots. I asked him about the fashion series with natural textures and abstracts projected onto a seamless white background. “I was cleaning out the studio one day, and I came upon a box of old transparencies I had shot several years ago,” Armenta recalls. “At that time, there was a fashion photography trend of projecting images over the model and using that as the key light. I wanted to try something different and actually light the model and the background separately. I used an old 35mm slide projector to project the transparencies onto my studio cyc, then I used a 22” beauty dish with a grid to light the model while keeping the strobe off the background. In addition, I gelled two umbrellas on either side of the model to provide some colored rim lighting, but I did not have those heads fire. Instead, I simply used their 250 watt modeling lights in order to introduce motion blur as the model moved around on set. To arrive at my exposure, I first determined what my continuous lighting was reading at, for both the projected background image and the gelled umbrellas, taking into account that I wanted to drag my shutter to produce motion blur. I believe I decided on 1/8th of a second for my shutter speed at 400 ISO. After that, it was a matter of adjusting the output of the beauty dish to match the f/4 aperture that the continuous lighting produced at that shutter speed and ISO. Not only was I trying to introduce motion blur, but I also wanted to shoot at a shallower depth of field in order to blur the projected image behind the model. The images were shot on a Canon 5D with a Canon 50mm f/1.4 tethered into Capture One.”

©Sean Armenta

Armenta credits his mother with teaching him how to use in-camera meters, but has taught himself handheld incident light meter reading. “When I bought my first set of strobes, I also bought a very basic light meter,” he recalls. “When I progressed and graduated to a Speedotron lighting system, I wanted to be able to trigger the strobes wirelessly. The best option for that is using a PocketWizard system, and of course, Sekonic offers the RT-32 Radio Transmitter Module for the L-358, so I also upgraded my light meter with that and I still use the same meter today.”

The L-358 Armenta uses has been in his gear bag for six years. “That in itself is a testament of its build quality,” he says. “It’s held up to studio use, the beach, the desert, and travel. The technology used in Sekonic meters helped me immensely in producing the quality of lighting I strive for in my work. I’m looking at upgrading to perhaps a Sekonic L-758DR. I’m also looking to purchase the Sekonic C-500R color meter in the near future to help make it easier experimenting more with mixed lighting scenarios.”

©Sean Armenta

With his six-year-old purchase, Armenta feels his Sekonic investment has paid off. “I canʼt sing enough praises when it comes to my L-358, especially in difficult shooting situations,” he explains. “Just being able to trigger my lighting from far away is amazing to me. I try to go out to Joshua Tree National Park at least once a year for a location shoot, and that’s where the L-358 really pays off—when we are trying to balance ambient light with strobes. I can position my lighting exactly where I want to nail down my exposures easily and accurately, regardless of what the environment throws at me. When youʼre high up on a huge boulder and the power pack is out of reach, you donʼt have to have someone fire the pack for you to get a reading. The L-358 also shines when it comes to determining lighting ratios when using multiple lighting sources. Sekonic meters make you more efficient and precise. This translates into less time spent adjusting lighting in the shooting stage and also less time and money spent in post production having to fix lighting issues.”

©Sean Armenta

Although primarily known for his unique beauty photography, Armenta is game for almost any subject matter. Celebrity and music are two areas he cites which he’d eventually like to try his hand at. “I love photography, period,” he emphatically says. “Even though I focus on beauty and fashion, if anything outside that realm should come across my table and interest me, I would definitely shoot it. While beauty is my focus, I love shooting fashion and lifestyle.”

©Sean Armenta

In the future, Armenta is interested in larger beauty advertising campaigns for larger clients such as major cosmetics manufacturers. He’s nothing but bullish on his goals. “I want to be the next big name in photography—the next Steven Meisel or Mario Testino,” he says. With work this strong so early in his career, there’s no reason why this can’t happen. Until then, we’ll be satsified with his continued beautiful portraits of the richest ornaments for women.

Sean Armenta Photography
Sean Armenta blog
Sean Armenta on Twitter
Sean Armenta on Facebook
Sean Armenta on Flickr
Sean Armenta’s Workshop

Written by Ron Egatz

Peter “Hopper” Stone: Action, No Drama

May 3, 2010

Shooting everything from underwater wildlife to Somalia’s famine victims, Peter “Hopper” Stone is best known for the still photography he does on major motion picture sets. How he became a shooter for the big studios is a tale he describes as “a long and winding road” from his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.

With his mother and older brother involved in photography when he was a child, eventually Stone started making enough noise until rewarded with his own Minolta A5. A scholarship for a year in Rome gave him time to pursue learning the photojournalism ropes, after which he moved to Helsinki for five years. Then, it was on to Mexico City for almost three years, where he covered the North American Free Trade Agreement story.

©Peter Hopper Stone

At the start of his career, Stone was in his twenties and witnessed “the tail end of the golden age of photojournalism,” as he calls it. The news industry witnessed the fall of Eastern Europe, the U.S. invasion of Panama, the fall of the Soviet Union, the First Gulf War, the crisis in Somalia, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, all in fairly short order. The expense of sending journalists to remote locations became prohibitive, and editors realized freelancers were heading to war zones on their own dime. Freelancers were abundant. “All they had to do was wait for the film to come across their desks,” Stone explains. “That was the decline of that kind of editorial business. You had to risk your life and some magazine would pay you for three days, plus local expenses. Now that’s over.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

During that time, Stone covered some of the cruelest and ugliest aspects of human behavior. He went to Somalia during a newspaper’s freelance-freeze because no staffers would agree go there. Stone makes clear the reason he went was not the adrenaline rush of getting shot at or navigating a road with land mines. “That’s not exciting. No one in their right mind wants to be excited by someone shooting at them. These locations are insanely interesting. You learn a lot both about the human condition, and about yourself,” he says. “You come away thinking what’s important and not important about you. It helps put things in perspective. 36 hours after leaving Somalia, I was back in Helsinki listening to my friends talk about their lives and problems they were having with the economy during that recession. I came away glad these were the problems we had, as opposed to the problems I had just come from. Shooting in a dangerous place like Somalia really helped me understand the world.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

In 1991 he joined Black Star, working internationally and for local press in Finland, where he worked as a newspaper photographer. In Mexico City as a Black Star stringer, he also did corporate work. “By 1996, I saw the future,” he says. “I had to argue for two days with a newspaper over a $25 expense. I didn’t want to hit middle age doing that. I found myself sitting in a movie theater and watching a film. As the credits rolled by, I saw the words ‘still photographer,” and I literally pointed at the screen and said, ‘I want that job.'”

Stone took three classes at what is now called Maine Media Workshops, where he studied Unit Still Photography with Kerry Hayes, who became his mentor. When the course was over, he bought a sound blimp and moved to Los Angeles. Eventually working his way into the coveted world behind the scenes of major film production, Stone discovered there were things he liked and didn’t like about working on different types of films. Action and comedy were quickly identified as his preferred assignments.

Peter Hopper Stone for the film Daredevil, © 20th Century Fox.

In short order, Stone came up with his own analysis of the work he did for his new movie studio clients. “I call it diet photojournalism,” he says. “Your job is to lay low, stay out of the way, not affect events, and capture the story.” The difference between working in Hollywood and his previous photojournalism is “they don’t shoot live ammunition at you, and no one’s going to attack you or beat you up. The worst thing that can happen to you is some actor or director will yell at you and ruin your day.”

Particularly within the genre of action films, Stone enjoys to work as second unit photographer, and did so on the first Spiderman film. “Second unit is where all the cool stuff happens,” he says. “All the stunts, all the explosions, all the big stuff. I was hooked. It’s a logistical challenge. They’re working on making this huge movie, and the still photographer is just supposed to get their shot. They might be shooting it with eight or ten cameras. You can’t be in the way. Sometimes you can’t even ask questions. If it’s a big explosion, they’re doing it just once.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

On comedy films, the operative word is “fun.” Stone likes working with the actors on those films. Equally at home working on dramas, which he finds slightly more demanding. Stone doesn’t like encroaching on delicate scenes as they play out. “When there’s a crying scene or a heavy dramatic moment, the last place I want to be is in that room. They don’t want me there, and savvy photo editors will tell you not to bother.”

Stone has become an expert at the psychological negotiations necessary for moving in and out of a film set, navigating explosive directors, moody actors, and crew attempting to assert their small spheres of influence. “You need to find out who you play well with,” he says, laughing. “You work hard to get the shots which have been requested, but you don’t want to be pushy. There’s a lot of moving to different locations in order to avoid personality conflicts. Everyone’s there to make a movie, and there’s tremendous financial pressure to get everything done on time. I’ve become very good at making myself unobtrusive.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

Recently, Stone has been branching out with cinematography. He’s using HDSLR’s and working on expanding his reel with shorts, spots, and promos. After attending last year’s Collision Conference in Los Angeles, which centered on the merging of stills and motion, he saw the industry changes already taking place. “It’s coming whether we like it or not,” he says. “Between the Red One and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, this is what’s happening now. Still photographers have to adapt.”

Awash in camera bodies, a Nikon shooter for fifteen years, Stone is currently shooting the Canon 1D Mark IV. “I’m one of the very fortunate few who got his hands on one of them in January,” he says. He brings a wide range of lenses and a sound blimp to jobs on movie sets. Although he doesn’t use them on movie jobs, he owns and shoots a Mamiya RZ and a Mamiya 7.

“I’ve got a Sekonic L-758DR,” says Stone. “When used with the target, it’s a magic, bullet-proof light meter. I always knew the back of your camera is not the greatest reference, including the histogram. It’s horrible. I’ve got three profiles for the three main cameras I use. They can be off by as much as half of a stop. That’s why I rely on the 758. There’s no more guesswork. I tell cinematographers about this device all the time.”

Peter Hopper Stone photo for the film Daredevil, © 20th Century Fox.

Stone uses PocketWizards on-set often. When large stunts or pyrotechnics are being performed, he often uses them on multiple remote cameras to get as much coverage as possible.

Stone’s moniker — the one most people know him by — was given to him on the set of Three Seasons, the first American film shot in Vietnam after relations with that country began to normalize after the war. “I showed up on the set with long red hair,” recalls Stone, laughing. “I had a scarf around my head, a couple of earrings, and five cameras around my neck. People said, ‘You look like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now!’ There were already three people named Peter on the crew. I never liked my own name, and I was hoping a better name would come around. I kept it.”

Three Seasons poster based on photography by Peter Hopper Stone, ©October Films.

Although the desire to travel to exotic locations and shoot stories still has a certain amount of interest for Stone, he understands and accepts the reality of the market for photos. “The unfortunate truth is when the majority of producers are looking through a photographer’s work to decide if they will hire you for a film, they’d rather see a mediocre photo of Tom Hanks on a filmset than a great photo of a real person they don’t know taken in the real world,” Stone explains. When he was once showing his book to get a job on an action film, the producer came across a journalism photo. “What movie was that from?” the producer asked. Stone replied, “that wasn’t a movie. That was the war in Yugoslavia.” The producer shrugged his shoulders and turned the page. “I guess it wasn’t action-filled enough for him,” Stone says between laughs.

Peter Hopper Stone Photography

Written by Ron Egatz

Yung-Jing Hsu: Products and People

January 27, 2010

Clean lines. Well-lit products. Effective use of depth of field. Rich, but not overblown saturation. These are some of the initial impressions taken from the work of Yung-Jing Hsu. In 1995, Yung-Jing Hsu graduated from Tamkang University in Tam-Sui with a degree in Mass Communications. In his second and third years there, he studied commercial photography and photojournalism. He currently lives and shoots in Taipei, Taiwan.

©Yung-Jing Hsu

When asked about his product photography, Hsu says it’s more difficult than when he takes portraits. “I have to use all my concentration when taking pictures of products because they never ‘talk’ to me,” he says. “I can communicate with models, but you can’t do that with products.” Eager to make products look as good as they possibly can, he sees the challenge of shooting inanimate objects which are straightforward photographic assignments, yet have an absence of rapport with this particular shooter.

©Yung-Jing Hsu

As a full-time professional photographer, Hsu’s main clients are newspapers and magazines. Previously, he shot exclusively for the Taiwanese newspaper Apple Daily.

Often working in a deliberate methodology, Hsu typically composes and arranges the elements of his photographs before shooting. There is not much shooting from the hip at a Hsu photoshoot. His main camera body is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. His post work sometimes includes color correction or saturation enhancement in Photoshop.

©Yung-Jing Hsu

“I’m using a Sekonic L-758DR meter right now,” says Hsu. “It’s the most powerful and convenient tool for light measurement.” When asked how the L-758DR helps his photography, Hsu says, “the multifunctional control of measurement helps me in all situations. The sensitivity and correct readings let me control the light perfectly. The large display panel gives me all the info I need, and it’s really easy to read.”

©Yung-Jing Hsu

“I use Broncolor when taking pictures in studio,” Hsu continues, “and Comet for a backup system. I use different lighting control equipment for different subjects. In product photography, I prefer lightform panels with standard reflectors. Sometimes I add a honeycomb. In beauty photography, I prefer a beauty dish with a lightform panel or softbox. In fashion or portrait photography, lighting depends on what the editors want, or which atmosphere is suitable. Sometimes it’s just bare florescent tubes.”

©Yung-Jing Hsu

“I use a sync-cord to connect with lighting gear and L-758DR. The incident-light measurement for exposure value and every independent lighting control. Using reflective light (spot-meter) measurement for lighting condition inside the scene. Eventually, I will buy a PocketWizard for wireless flash triggering to improve my work efficiency.”

In the short term, Hsu is looking to take on some projects that will expand his ability to handle different subject matter. In the long term, he hopes to “combine photojournalism and commercial photography in order to have my own photography style,” he says.

Hsu Yung-Jing on Flickr

Hsu Yung-Jing on Facebook

Written by Ron Egatz