On Assignment: Working With the DIY Softbox Grid Spot

Here is the photo that I built the DIY softbox grid spot to create. The key to this photo is total control on the "white" background.

The photo was done to illustrate a story about two sisters. One had written a play about the surviving Cone sister (major historical benefactors of the Baltimore Museum of Art) and the other was playing the lead role. I wanted to connect them to the actual sisters by joining them with a historical photo.

The light setup is pretty straightforward, with a couple of curveballs.

The softbox was from camera right - and far enough away so that it was out of the frame. I needed compositional area to the right to include the background photo.

The (camera left) back/rim light was a in a normal reflector through a grid spot. I was in the studio with a softbox, so I gave my White lightning Ultra 600's their semi-annual airing out.

The digital projector for the historical photo was behind the softbox, projecting towards the center of the background.

I could have done this with SB speedlights, but I would have needed a flash bracket for the softbox, which I did not have.

Remember, I am using continuous light on the (DLP-projected) historical photo on the background, so that was the only continuous light in the darkened room. No modeling lights allowed on the flash.

The thought process is like this:

1) You have to get your main light(s) positioned and controlled such that no light will spill onto the white background. You want that tone to be absolutely black before the continuous light source adds the background photo to it. (The starting tone, if not black, will be the darkest possible tone in the background.)

2.) Check your strobe light (only) to ensure that you have no background contamination. Dial in your flash's power to give you just enough aperture to hold the background to the focus level that you need. Overdoing this will unnecessarily lengthen the exposure needed to "burn in" the continuous portion of your exposure, leading to motion-ghosting problems with your subject.

3) Now, set your camera to that aperture, and turn on the projector. Adjust your shutter speed for best background exposure.

4) Bring in your subject and turn on the modeling lights for focus. With everything adjusted and locked down on a tripod, kill the modeling lights.

5) Shoot away, and monitor your pix on the back to fix any problems.

Can this be done in Photoshop? Sure.

But I always default to doing something "in-camera" if I can. I think it is better craft.

As for the DIY softbox grid spot, cardboard and tape once again defeats the photo gear mafia. And I save a few hard-earned clams.

Next: Medical Illustrator


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Anonymous matthew said...

"Can this be done in Photoshop? Sure.

But I always default to doing something "in-camera" if I can. I think it is better craft."

I wonder what would be possible in a shot, like this one, that, when done in camera, is beyond what could be done in Photoshop?

I don't mean to sound critical about a shot that is perfectly executed and well beyond what I'm capable of, because that's really not what I mean. I can see the virtues of "better craft".

But can "better craft" produce something that isn't possible, using Photoshop, for these shots that use a projected backdrop?

September 23, 2006 4:58 PM  
Blogger David said...

Well, for starters, the hair is all going to be perfect, as far as floating on the background is concerned.

You can do that in PS, too. If you have a few hours to set and play with clipping paths at full magnification.

Then the designer comes back and says they want another frame of the ladies...

(And this ran pretty much across the page, so imperfections would have stood out like a sore thumb.)

September 23, 2006 5:13 PM  
Blogger News & Information said...

I love those Photoshop tricks :)

September 23, 2006 10:17 PM  
Blogger MartijnGizmo said...

Excellent work David, I really like your approach to solving problems!

September 24, 2006 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

an even quicker way of shooting in front of projectored images is to use two snooted strobes at fairly acute angles from camera right and left, pointing at the subject but not spilling any light onto the background.

it's not quite as good as david's grid as the light is harsher but it's quicker to set up.

jm in nz

September 26, 2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger coolboater said...

Although I've read that process whereby you adjust the aperture and shutter speed as if they are independant entities, but, in fact they both contribute to the proper exposure. One must go up when the other goes down. I have reviewed all your On Assignments and Lighting 101 and still "don't get it".
Note that your Strobist is second to none in its insight to Off Camera strobe use. I just bought 2more SB-600's (total 3) to use with my D80, with my newfound knowledge via your website. It's like, "I didn't know what I didn't know!!" Thanks so much Dave, for providing this learning tool for us. I hail from Simcoe, Ontario. Anybody close by?? mjhach@gmail.com

February 21, 2010 9:57 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

@Coolboater: I have been reading the site for almost a year now, and I also didn't get it until I got my (new, one and only) SB800 out and actually tried it.

I had a pair of Converse All-Stars hanging on the line with pegs on the tongues, and some other washing on the line next to it, so I set up the camera and flash on separate tripods, snooted the flash with cardboard, and shot a whole sequence of shutter speeds with the aperture fixed (used f8) and then a whole sequence of apertures with the shutter speed fixed (used 1/100s), from totally underexposed to completely nuked, and repeated for different flash settings 1/4 and 1/8.

I named the files with the settings used. Once you see the photos side by side you will see it as "bright as day" (oh the pun shame):

- The flash power sets the 'brightness' the subject.
- The aperture sets the whole scene (flash and ambient).
- The shutter sets the ambient exposure.

Thats why the 'standard' is:
Max sync speed (to get min flash power), guess the flash power (or use guide numbers), and then find the aperture that exposes the subject (or your hand till the subject arrives) adjust the flash power/distance if needed. Then reduce the shutter till the ambient light comes into the range you want.

Once you try and see it it's pretty obvious.

@Mr Strobist: thanks for the index - I have already read my way through to "OOO"

February 23, 2010 9:02 AM  

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