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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