23, Calbro Court, Tuam Rd, Galway

It’s not often that you have a photographer in Studio behind the camera, but on World Photography day, I had just that. Food and Fashion Photographer Julia Dunin paid me a visit, and we loads of fun shooting and playing. For the first look, I put Julia inside a Lastolite HiLight with one light in the back modified with a 7″ reflector on an Elinchrom BRX500. Shot as with most of my current work on the Fuji X-T10.

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The rest of the shoot in studio was shot against my Bespoke canvas background, bar a set against a wallpaper background.

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For added colour, I used a speed light with a MagMod gel bounced into a Lastolite reflector (from my Triflector set) to create purple fill.

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At the end we nipped into the corridor and I shot through venetian blinds to create a cool shadow effect.

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All in all it was a great day and I know Julia is delighted with the photos!

Basic color theory shows that combining red, green and blue lights together gives white light. This also holds true for their complimentary colours, cyan, magenta and yellow. Nick Fancher has an excellent guest post over on the Scott Kelby blog on how a photo by Sølve Sundsbø inspired him to use multiple flash to create a multi shadow effect. Thinking about how colours mix led him to start using gels to create really funky shadow colours. Using 3 flashes, with 3 different gels is the key. The gels are of course the cyan, magenta and yellow we mentioned earlier. Where the 3 overlap, the light is white, but elsewhere, it’s the combination of the different gels, or in areas of shadow, the colour of the gel that’s filling in that area.
That’s the thing about using gels, they really work best in areas of shadow. Because the lights mix, they can wash other colours out, so any gel that lights into a shadow area will be at it’s purest.

For my afternoon of play with Emer from Roza Model agency, I set up my 3 Godox flashes, 2 V850’s and 1 V860c. I triggered them all via the FT-16s trigger, which allows you to set the power remotely, as well as trigger the flash. Using MagMod gels and holders, I placed the flashes at roughly 6 inch intervals, powered to 1/64 power initially.

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As the shoot was for fun and experimentation, I travelled light and used my Fuji X-Pro1 to shoot with. I started without the gels first to get the following shot:

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I also tried using a Canon T-SE90mm Tilt Shift lens on an EOS-Fuji X adaptor for a few shots. I used the tilt to angle the plane of focus, creating a much shallower depth of field. I also rotated the lens on the mount so it wasn’t on a vertical or horizontal plane. Here’s one of those shots.

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For the last set, I went with the gels and spent time moving the flashes around, and swapping the gel positions to get different looks. Here’s some shots from the final set.

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It was great fun and I’ll definitely revisit this for an editorial.

If you follow my website blog over at http://seanmcfoto.com/blog, you’ll know I’m building up a portfolio of composite work. Obviously I make no claim at mastery yet, but I’m happy with the quality of the work. That said, I’m still working away at it. Here’s a recent shot, and I’ll talk through the making of.

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The first part of this to be shot was the background. I did a recent trip in Galway city centre to shoot loads of lanes and alleys, but with the light fading, and street lights coming on. The actual time window in which to get these is quite short, so I’m pleased to have 10 different lanes from that evening. Not all are useable, but I really only need one.

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I did a fair bit of cloning out of cigarette butts, and that was most of the work done on the background.

I had model Madame Bink in studio a few days later, with the intention of shooting for composite. You can see my studio setup below.

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I shot on a ‘Storm Grey’ background from Creativity Backgrounds. It’s probably slightly darker than I want, but still works fine. For the key light, I’m using a 44cm silver Elinchrom Beauty Dish on a BX400. I’m using the translucent deflector, rather than the more standard silver. I just like the look! For rimlights, I’m using 2 Portaflash 336’s with barndoors (because I never sold them on, no other reason). Sometimes I need to add black wrap (cinefoil) to these to flag even more. You’ll also notice, I’ve got 2 black sheets of aeroboard against the wall. This is to stop spill off the white walls to aid in better light control.

For post processing, I began with the Quick Selection tool on Madame Bink in Photoshop CS5. I then used Refine Edge to get a better selection. I cleaned up the resulting mask using a number of different tricks, including brushing in Overlay mode and normal brushing. Using the Move tool, I dragged the layer with the mask to the tab for my background image. Holding the shift key, I released it to drop it in the centre of the background. The image is too large, so I used Free Transform and click the link icon on the H and W sections and entered 60%.

The shadows were added by using a Drop Shadow layer style. I then used the Layer>Layer Style>Create Layer command to put this shadow on a new layer. I duplicated it twice, and used Distort and opacity to create 3 shadows that mimic’d the original lighting. The final look comes from processing the photo in onOne Software‘s Phototools.

If you really want to learn lighting, you really need to start with one light. Learn how all your modifiers work with one light. To the point that you can imagine what that light is doing on a subject you’ve never shot. Learn how to light both the background and the subject with one light. Learn how to control the balance between them. Then add a second light and go through the process again. And so on. When you get to know your lights, it becomes easy to imagine how a setup will work in advance.


I pictured this image in advance, long before I actually shot it. For my key light, I used the Elinchrom Mini Deep Octa on a BX400 set at half power, metered to give f8.0 on the face. It’s a little off being parallel to the ground, rather than being face on. I actually used only the inner diffuser on this, as I wanted to retain some contrast in the light. The Mini Deep Octa can be used a number of ways, making it a really versatile softbox. First is the standard setup with both the inner and other diffusion layers. Next you can use, just the inner diffusion for a soft look, but retaining contrast. Alternatively you could just use the outer diffusion, which is less contrasty, but still with a slight hotspot. Being brave, you could go without any diffuser, making a larger relflector. Not as efficient as a Maxispot or a Maxilite, but still very useful. Finally you can use the translucent deflector to give a beauty dish look, or any of the available deflectors, like gold, silver, or frosted. I think you get the picture about how useful it is!

My next light in the setup is the background light. It’s another BX400, with a standard grid and reflector, set to visual taste. As it happens, it’s also set to 4.0 (i.e. Half Power). I didn’t meter this. The gird keeps the light tight, and allows a lighter circle in the middle, which graduates out to the natural grey of the paper roll (the texture was added in post). These 2 lights are actually more than enough to work with. You can do excellent portraits, headshots and fashion work with just them. Still I wanted more for this particular shoot.

The next two lights are older Portaflash 336VM’s that I started shooting with many years ago. I used these with barndoors and cinefoil (also called Black Wrap) to flag the bare heads from both the camera and the background. I literally wanted a sliver of light to hit each side from behind. I would like to do this with 2 striplights, but I don’t currently have a matched pair! These are 100 W/s lights, equivalent to 3.0 on the BX 400s, and are set to full power, again by visual taste. I often heard it said that bare lights from behind appear much brighter, because they are specular reflections on the skin. I find this to be true in practice. The ‘Kickers’ or rimlights serve to peel the subject off the background. It’s a more athletic look, but I’m a fan it here. Another thing I like about the 336’s is that they’re a slightly different colour to the BX400’s and that mix helps give a unique look to the images.

Here’s the lighting diagram for it.
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As part of building up work for magazine submission, I recently pulled together a team to start shooting editorials. Click the photo to be taken to the gallery of final images. As it was our first time together, I’m pleased with the results for a number of reasons. First that it was a large team contributing, and that I had people dealing with different aspects of the shoot, taking pressure of me. I’m used to working tight and small. In fact, I’m even starting to do hair, to add to my makeup skills for when budgets are tight and we still need to pull something off. I’d like to thank my team:

Model: Lily Robbenn
Wardrobe/Hair Styling: Byron B. Yeates
Makeup: Aisling Kelly
Assistant: Saibh Egan

John McGrath also did a BTS video which I’ll link to when he’s finished.

A simple headshot of Anita De Bauch. Done as a retouching exercise more than anything else. I’d forgotten just how much material I shoot with her. And how much of it is usable. Almost every pose is a great shot, it’s just a matter of choosing the ones you want.

During the tour with Mark Cleghorn, we had a day off on the Saturday, when we went to Wales vs South Africa. On the Sunday we made our way to Twickenham for the seminar on Monday. We didn’t leave until late afternoon, so that gave me time to fit in a shoot with Becky Dee. I used some of the material from the shoot in the remaining seminars. Here’s a selection of images from the shoot. It was interesting, because Becky normally only does Glamour and I don’t usually shoot Glamour. Mark’s reaction to the bedroom set stuff was one word: ‘Overlit’. Oh well. Live and learn. Mark does have a preference for harder light, and while I often shoot like that, I didn’t this time.

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More after the jump. Continue reading ›

I had a shoot in the house last week with Alex from Catwalk. Alex is always fun to work with, and this shoot was no exception. While not in the shots here, it gave me a chance to mess with my new camera bracket in portrait mode for Terry Richardson style shots (as in normal shots, not what he might get up to with first time models), which she quite liked.. Good fun.

With the beautiful weather today, Nicola called over to let me do some fun test shots with the Elinchrom Maxispot. It’s a large, efficient reflector that allows me to overcome the Sun, to give a day for night look using my Elinchrom Ranger Quadras.

After a quick test on the green, I noticed something rather unusual down by the train tracks: a burnt out car. We used this as a background before moving down to the tracks. My aim here wasn’t producing portfolio images, but rather getting used to new equipment. It would be a sad and sorry state of affairs to be working and not be familiar with ones tools. As I’ve recently invested in new modifiers (some of which I’ve already posted about), testing is an absolute necessity.


Here the Maxispot is lighting both Nic and the car. Given that the Quadra is only 400 w/s and it’s not at full power here, it’s doing a fantastic job with coverage from about 8-10 feet away. The Sun is coming from camera left, behind Nic. You can see this acting as the hair light in this shot.


We moved onto the railway gates from there. Again the Sun is from the rear, this time the right. While reflectors are a hard light source, I think this has a softer transition, with reasonable fill in.


The final setup with this light was at the bikeshed. Being in shade I was able to drop both the aperture on the camera, and the power from the pack, almost to lowest power in fact.

I did do one other test that day, but it wasn’t Quadra based, it was with the ‘O-Flash’, a modifier in the Ray-Flash vein. It doesn’t have a full circle, to allow ETTL to work. I test this, but to be honest, I prefer working it in Manual mode and working with a fixed distance. I have to say that, while ringflash is not a flattering light, I really missed the top shadow from this more than anything else.


I don’t shoot this as an award winner, it’s really just taken to examine the shadow pattern. The left and right shadows are immediately visible, but there’s none on top, which is a little disappointing. But as this device is only €30, it’s hard to complain. It’s reasonable sturdy bar the clear plastic front, which is a little flimsy. I’d like to try this with 2 rear grids and see how it does.

Considering we shot for only a little over an hour and got 4 locations (even though I’ve only shown 3 here), it was still a productive shoot from a test point of view. I’ve a much better understanding of these tools, and have utter confidence using them again in the future in a commercial situation.

I dragged Quays colleague John Mullen out today for some quick tests shots with a mix of new and old gear. I’ve done a few shoots with the small reflectors and the 18cm reflector and easily overpowered the sun using my Ranger Quadras, but I was interested in seeing how I fared out with a beauty dish. I had also intended trying the Maxispot, but forgot to pack it in the unexpected rush to pink John up (I lost track of time!).

So here’s the silver Minisoft 44 on the Quadra (with El Adaptor) at full power (6.0). Exposure is 1/200, Continue reading ›