Q&A Antonio Beverly: Light Direction, Freezing Motion and Duotones

Lots of good discussion in the comments and on Twitter about the Antonio Beverly shoot from earlier this week.

In particular, three questions involving light, motion blur and post processing:

Choosing the Lighting Direction

Joe asks, via the comments:

I was wondering why you selected the placement of the lights where you put them. I would have had the dancer jumping "into" the light as opposed to out of the light as you did.

Really good question, actually. And mostly because this is a choice you often arrive at without conscious thought. But going back to look at it, there was a method to the madness.

Like most things photo, the lighting direction was chosen by a series of downstream decisions that flowed from one initial decision.

The initial decision was that I wanted the motion to go left to right. This is legibility thing for me. In the west, we read sentences left to right. We scan left to right. I worked in newspapers for 20 years and I generally felt that given the choice, action reads better left to right.

So that is the anchor. Here's what flows from that decision:

1. I want him jumping into some space in the frame, rather than crowding the right edge.

2. So we are going to place him on the left, compositionally.

3. Where do we want the shadow? In frame? If so, that means you'll want it on the right. Ergo, key light on the left.

4. As it happens, his head kicks back on the leap. So if you would have had him jumping "into" the light, his face would have been out of the light. So lighting from the left worked well for us there, too.

But again, it all flowed from the left-to-right action convention that I chose first. Make your important decisions first, and let the more arbitrary decisions flow from that result.

Freezing Motion

KmlPhoto asks, via the comments:

How dark was the room or better yet how stopped down were you to kill the ambient light? I have never been able to do this without some ghosting. I usually shoot 3 stops under ambient, but no joy.

So that was one reason I used big lights. If you remember the headshot, we needed a lot of power to bounce that one light around and make it do lots of things at a low ISO.

That extra power came in handy here, too. I used two Profoto Acute2 heads for the light sources. This allowed us to work well over the ambient light of the room so we would not get any ghosting.

Even so, we killed the room lights and ran off of the modeling lights for these shots. A highlight off of a white shirt, or glistening skin, can show up as ghosting even if you are 4 or 5 stops over the ambient.

So we brought the ambient down and the flash power up. We were probably 8 stops over the ambient. Even then, Acute2's are not exactly speed demons in the t.1 department. So it was still a balance between how much power we wanted and how much motion-stopping flash duration we wanted. (Less power = faster flash pulses.)

So I am right on the edge of where I want to be. If you look at the tie closely, it is whipping and there is a tad of motion blur there. I rather like that, actually. But I would not have wanted a blurred foot, for example.

How to Do a Doutone

Eric asks, via Twitter:

"How did you do the duotone process in the black and white conversion?"

First off, technically what I do is not technically a duotone, so sorry for any confusion. But it is a similar look (a little richer, IMO) and it's very easy and controllable.

Here is how I went from the color version at top to the duotone below.

Note: I am using Photoshop CS 3, so your menu locations may be different.

First, make sure you are in 16-bit mode. [IMAGE->Mode->16-bit]. This will give you the smoothest tonal gradations throughout the process. I do this even if I am starting with a jpeg and ending with a jpeg. It always looks better.

Second, go to black and white mode. Don't just desaturate it, as BW mode still leaves you control over the independent channels. [IMAGE->Adjustments->Black & White]

This will pull up a Black and White adjustment dialog box. It's just like putting color filters on your lens back in the old days to shoot black and alter the relative tones. I bump the red some, to lighten the highlights in his skin and make it pop.

Finally, go into curves and add your color tones to the B&W. You can do this however you want, but I like to go to the red channel (only) and click a center point on the curve. Then I drag the highlights up (just a little) and the shadows down. Then I go into the blue curve and do the opposite adjustment (highlights down and shadows up—just a little.)

You can use whatever adjustments you like here, there are no real rules. But remember that the lighting gave us rich contrast with full tonal range, so it helps to know what you are going to do going in. You can then select all channels in curves and bump the contrast if you wish, which I did in this case.

Remember to convert back to 8-bit if you are saving it as a jpeg.

I love the look of these types of BW conversions, and feel like they give B&W photos a look that is tonally rich and a little old, if you will.


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OpenID myamericanmyth said...

Curious why the conversion back to 8-bit for jpegs?

July 12, 2012 1:19 PM  
Blogger Joe McCary said...

Okay, I buy your thought process for deciding left to right. But had I shot this and wanted the left to right motion (yes, I worked in newspapers too so I understand), the shadow, a VERY important element in the image, needs to fall as you have it. BUT I would have created an additional light from the right that would have really been the main light but far enough to the rear as to not illuminate the drape and thus kill the important shadow. This would have meant at least one additional light that was flagged to a narrow column of light to only illuminate the front of the dancer, not the background. It would have been strong enough to give a rim of light on our right side of the dancer. That makes this a much more difficult shot I admit, but I think the trade off would have made the dancer pop even more. You could still have your left to right motion, still have the shadow. For what its worth, I prefer the color image.

July 12, 2012 1:20 PM  
Blogger Stephen Caissie said...

Your "faux duotone" technique works well in colour as well, giving you an almost infinite variety of looks with just one tool. Example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephencaissie/7538620566/in/photostream

July 12, 2012 1:52 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 12, 2012 2:04 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I am sure that would be lovely, but it is not what I wanted to do.


July 12, 2012 2:11 PM  
Blogger Blake said...

Having now studied the photo of Mr Beverly in a number of posts, i have unfortunately come to observe that the the lighting from the left and sculpting effect has caused a certain part of his anatomy to "pop".

As they say 'once seen - difficult to un-see'
Possibly an occupational hazard for a dancer - Problem for the photographer? Or acceptable because of the subject?

July 13, 2012 5:00 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Not sure if that is a dancer thing or a photographer thing. Might be a Blake thing, tho. Might I suggest staring instead at his calf, which is very nice.

July 13, 2012 10:48 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Hi David,

I really like your Q&As.

"Less power = faster flash pulses."

Isn't that only true to IGBT flashes, e.g. your small flashguns, or the PCB Einstein, but the reverse is true for the big guns?

July 14, 2012 4:55 AM  
Blogger Warren Morgan said...

Loving the sots and the explanations around he decisions and ideas. I must however make a point on the direction choice. When reading left to right the objects viewed are moving right to left. I like a good rule breaker in photography, and I think this does it successfully, in that we would prefer the object moving from right to left, so we may scan our eyes left to right and (in this case) induce movement.

August 27, 2012 5:45 PM  

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