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09/15/2006 10:38:53 AM · #1
I do a lot of "large group" photo-shoots (conventions, etc.) Most of my shots are stage shots. Oftentimes, the client would like me to take a few portrait shots of various people. Last time, I purchased a 10x24 muslin backdrop and a Gary Fong Lightsphere II. This combo worked pretty well for most shots - the Lightsphere does a pretty good job of providing adequate light. I stuck the gear in the back of the auditorium and took shots on request.

BUT...

This arrangement brought up a few questions in my head:

1. The muslin backdrop has a large number of wrinkles. Having never used one before, I only realized after the fact that they show up pretty well in a lot of photos. I fixed the few problematic photos with a simple color mask and a lens blur (Photoshop), but this is time consuming. What is the best distance to have the subjects stand from the backdrop so it appears as a nice colorful blur? Or do people iron these huge monsters?

2. If the subject stands farther away from the backdrop, then I'm guessing some additional lighting will be needed so it doesn't show up as a dark blob. What kind of lighting is recommended? Softbox? Other? If you have a type of lighting you think would work well in this scenario, could you also tell me what make/model you recommend? And shooting tips, if it's not too much to ask ;-)

Message edited by author 2006-09-15 10:40:02.
09/15/2006 10:46:59 AM · #2
Here is a gem of a link:

The Strobist.

Have you ever heard of an iron? That's what they use to press clothes. It can flatten anything from paper to cloth - providing you use it on the right setting.

Message edited by author 2006-09-15 10:47:12.
09/15/2006 10:52:37 AM · #3
Quick response. Thank you, I'll take a look at that link.

Yes, I've heard of irons! I'm just balking at the idea of ironing a 10x24 foot piece of cloth. The space requirements for doing this are... well... wow!

Anyway, I wanted to post a before and after example shot that describes the "wrinkle" problem:

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/37234/thumb/396205.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/37234/thumb/396205.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' Before editing, you can see the wrinkles in the muslin.

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/37234/thumb/396206.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/37234/thumb/396206.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' This is what it looks like after a Photoshop color-mask/lens-blur. This is what I'd like to achieve out of the camera. Shopping it is too much work!
09/15/2006 10:54:27 AM · #4
Bring your model out farther from the background and use a shallower DOF

I think I read somewhere that 10feet from the bk is recommended

Message edited by author 2006-09-15 10:56:08.
09/15/2006 11:08:35 AM · #5
Sorry I can't give you any numbers, but I will tell you a few things that I know.

#1 Background DOF

This is going to depend on your focal length and obviously aperture, but also how far away you are - which is related to how much of your subject you have in frame. Shooting the 30D, I found that with the 50mm doing head and shoulders, at f/3.5, the BG was not really that out of focus around 15 feet back such that it would distort the BG if there were really bad wrinkles... However, it is very subjective. Here are some examples, almost exclusively shot with the same settings:

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363954.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363954.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' I was about 10 feet away
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363959.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363959.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' Same idea, but I was probably 20 feet away. The backdrop is probably another 10 feet or so behind them. note the wrinkles.
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363951.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363951.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' I was a bit closer, maybe 10 feet away, with the BG about 15 feet away
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363966.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363966.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' I was about 20 feet away and the BG was only about 10 feet behind him. Notice how much detail is still visible in the BG.

Those are some head and shoulders type framed shots. Getting closer now:
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363953.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363953.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' I was about 12 feet away and he was about 15 feet from the backdrop.
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363960.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363960.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' About the same.

Now check out the results using a longer lens, namely my 80-200 f/2.8. I also shot these around the same aperture of f/3.2. Damn that's a sweet peice of glass. Kicks the crap out of the 50mm for sharpness at f/2.8 at all focal lengths. So much for prime lenses... :)

Woops, looks like I've only uploaded the one example with that lens (didn't take a lot seeing as I had to be too far from the stage... sorry)

' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363956.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_portfolio/28710/thumb/363956.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' As you can see, the DOF is pretty decent. You have a 70-200, so I would recommend using that one as it gets you a bit farther out... The 50mm presumably CAN work though.

So on to lighting:

Backdrops are often lit. Many shooters like to use an external flash in wireless mode sitting on the ground. A popular combo is the 580EX with the 430EX. I'm currently only passively doing research on the Sigma 500DG super, but I would imagine that the Super plus a non-super with the Sigmas would also provide a nice bit of lighting.

For foreground lighting, there are so many ways to do this, it's not funny. So much depends on how you get your equipment around and how much money/space you have available... rental agencies can help a lot with this, but then you can't spend much time learning the equipment beforehand if you need this.

If you wanted to get fancy, some guys also put directionalizers on their flashes, but I would guess that this is not likely to be useful for this particular setting.

Just set the flash on the ground and point it up. You will need to do a bit of pre-testing if you don't have a light meter.

Perhaps someone with more experience can comment on how to set up multiple flashes.

If you don't have that, you could try a diffuser of some sort with a halogen work light on the floor, but be prepared to get nasty with color temperatures in post processing. Might not be an issue as it's just going to affect the coloring of your backdrop.

The idea is usually to create an interesting and complementary area of light behind the subject, so you will also be somewhat restricted as to the angles you can work from unless you move your background light.

PS. Remember to pick up a flash centering rig if you want to shoot in portrait orientation. Note that it WILL flatten the lighting in many cases, but it can eliminate some shadows and help a LOT with using the flash only as a tool to balance light.

Hope some of my yammering is helpful.

Oh, another thing you can try considering if you have space is a steam iron of some sort. You could probably get most of the wrinkles out of your muslin on site and I've seen people use them without a flat surface, just in the air. I would imagine that some of the wrinkles would occur in storage and transit. I don't know that for sure though.

Message edited by author 2006-09-15 11:14:00.
09/15/2006 12:00:33 PM · #6
This is why I love DPChallenge. Great comments. Learning a lot, here. Just need to figure out the how-to part of setting up my 580EX to slave another one (not purchased yet). Oh, and maybe one of those cordless irons, hehe.
09/15/2006 12:05:37 PM · #7
Originally posted by aboutimage:

Oh, and maybe one of those cordless irons, hehe.


I've been told that steamers work better than irons, but I haven't gotten around to trying it yet.
09/15/2006 12:19:29 PM · #8
How about a trouser press? Better still, go to your local dry cleaners... and barter. I guess you will need a cardboard or other roll around which to roll the flattened muslin.

You might be able to get away with buying a cheaper unit - cheaper than the 580ex - and then invest in the st-e2 infrared trigger for the off camera 580ex.
09/16/2006 12:48:38 AM · #9
A LOT of guys use the 580EX +430EX combo. The secondary flash doesn't need to be quite as complex. Of course there are guys out there with dual 580's...

A 580EX is usually a bit better bang for the buck than a controller. It's only a little bit more money and it can be used as commander only.

Generally for lighting backgrounds, a less sophisticated flash is sufficient. E-TTL II apparently works through the wireless system.
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