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    One can be enough.

    Good day,

    Today’s post is taken from a magazine article I wrote for the Texas Professional Photographer and wanted to share it with you. Happy creating.

    We have all heard the Genesis story about how God created light and it was good. “One light to rule the day and one the night” it continues. One light, when I was a new photographer, that seemed odd to me. You see, I was taught about a 5 light studio setup—Main, fill, accent, hair, background. I also find it interesting that in God’s lighting diagram, the light is stationary and the subject moves, thus creating different patterns and designs. What can we learn form this? While, some occasions call for more light sources and directions, I have found that one can be, and often is, enough. I have began to love one light portraits. A single stroke of the brush from one direction sculpting and shaping a scene. Not to sound trite, but if it works for God, surely it will work for me.


    Following are images all created with a single light source, or at the least, appear to be a single source from a single direction. While the modifiers and techniques may change, the principles are the same. By understanding some foundational properties of light, we can make it work for us. Note, in some cases a reflector is used as a fill, however it is used in a way as to not diminish the power of the main light, but rather enhance its qualities, still achieving a single light source image.

    One of my favorite techniques is to use a 1’x4’ or 1’x6’ strip box and place it overhead, with the box parallel to the floor. I will place the box just above the head of my subject. This course two things. First, a soft light quality is produced due to the size of the source and it’s distance from the subject. Second, because it is so close, the light fall-off is very rapid allowing a nice gradient of light across the subject. Images 1 demonstrates the look achieved with this. Note that a 6’ long strip will give you a larger spread of light than the 4’ box. To control the spread of light, consider using a soft-grid as well. (image 2)

    While using the same modifier, however the 1’x6’ box works better for this, position the box to the side of the subject with the box now perpendicular to the floor and it creates a beautiful light for full length portraits while still maintaining a fall-off and spread to create an image with depth and texture as seen in image 3. Try adjusting the angle of the box on its center axis, rotating it left or right, while still keeping it perpendicular to the floor,  to get the desired light pattern. By rotating the box in this manner, I was able remove light from the bottom of her dress and direct the viewer’s eye to the face while still maintaining a pleasing quality on the face. This rotation also allowed more light on the background.

    Granted the previous images may be more dramatic in nature, which was intentional, but sometimes you need less ratio. This can still be achieved with a single source. When lighting couples or groups, I will use either a single 5’ octa-box, a 7’ umbrella or a large diffusion panel such a Translum® or  a simple white sheet. The image of this family (image 4) was achieved with a single source feathered in such a way that the fall-off across the group was kept within a .5 stop range. The distance of the source from the subject and the relationship of the subject to the background allowed me to get light on the background and successfully light my subjects creating depth with only one light source.

    In this final example, I used Transom®, a roll of diffusion material that can be purchased at Arlington Camera. A single strobe is placed behind the material at at distance so the light is  fully illuminating the panel from corner to corner, typically 5’-10’. Translum® is 54” wide and the roll is 30’ long so I can create a very large source efficiently and affordably without the need for large boxes or modifiers. For this couple, I used two methods. One was positioning the panel in a location the a soft-box would normally be on cameral left slightly in front of my subjects. This gave me a very large, soft source to light both the subject and the background with minimal falloff. The great thing about a product like this is it affords me the opportunity to light full length and still have a soft direction of light. In this instance, the roll was approx. 8’ hight and went to the floor.  I then changed camera position and re-posed the couple to create a  silhouette and used the Translum® as the background and the light source. I prefer this type of silhouette  because you can still see soft light creating depth and shape to the subject as opposed to a clean edge around them. (Image 5 & 6 respectively)

    The next time you are lighting your subject or packing gear for a job, remember that often times less is more and one can be enough. It has worked for this planet and I hope this article will allow it to work for you. Happy creating.

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    Love Autumn? Make it fall all year long!

    Good day,

    If you are like me, you love this time of year. The days get shorter, the light is brilliant and the colors are magnificent. Our clients seem to love this time of year as well. layered outfits, jackets, boots, scarfs, vest and more. The texture of the outfit just lends itself so well to this season. Autumn is a wonderful time of year to be a photographer but depending on where you are located, it may not be fall just yet or you may be approaching winter. In today’s post I want to share with you a technique we use to make it Autumn all year long.

    Before we get to the post production technique, I must first talk about lighting. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you know lighting is an important element  for me and it is the first ingredient in making a photograph. For this image, I first had to evaluate the existing light. The sun was relatively low in the sky producing long shadows and a hard light quality. The sun was also positioned behind and to the right(camera left) of my subject so her face was going dark. I added a Profoto B1 with an umbrella box to add light to her face. I postitioned in a way that augmented the existing light, paying careful attention to the light quality, quantity and direction. 

    The strobe took care of lighting my subject, but my background was still very specular and bright due to the direction and intensity of the sun. The left side of the image was darker than the right due to some shade from surrounding trees. To combat this I used a 2 stop graduated ND filter over my lens and took away two stops of light on camera right. Then by using my shutter speed I was able to balance the ambient light with my strobe and create an image that looks like it is naturally light and not flashed or created using HSS. Now to the autumn portion using post production tools. I utilized The “Indian Summer” filter in the Google NIK Color Efex 4 collection I was able to create the beautiful reds and golds of the fall season. NOTE: When using this filter, pay close attention to any green your subject maybe wearing as it it will change that as well as any evergreen foliage in the image. Having a spruce tree red is a dead giveaway of this technique or pine beetle. If you have not used the Google NIK Collection filter before, check it out for free here.

    Here is a quick video showing this technique. Happy creating, Cris.


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    Shutter Speed and Technology

    Good day,

    I have a few corporate clients that hire me to photograph their events. These events usually consist of a photo-op with a celebrity or keynote speaker followed by the banquet and or presentation.  I must admit, it can be monotonous work but it has allowed me to the honor of meeting and photographing Presidents, 4 star generals, best-selling authors and top athletes. I digress.

    One thing all of these have in common is that there is some sort of multi-media display at these events– A projection, screen, a TV, monitor or something similar and without fail, they all ask me to get image of these displays. I always laugh inside, because they already have the images and presentation, why do they want a still image of the display? Regardless, I comply. That brings us to today’s quick tip.

    When photographing these displays it is important that we understand a few technical things. One, the display is typically backlit so our in camera meter will fool us every time. If using an in-camera meter, you will typically need to over expose the image because your camera will see the backlight and compensate with an under exposed  result. Second, we need to understand that these images on screens cycle. While our eye perceives it as a single frame, it it anywhere from 60-90Hz, meaning the image cycles the screen  60-90 times a second. Just like our camera, these displays work with an additive light technique of Red, green and blue. When each color of light is combined we see a complete image. So, technically speaking the red, green and blue image is cycling at 60-90 times a second.

    What does that mean for you? Your shutter speed must be priority when photographing a digital display. It is safe to use a shutter speed of 1/60 or less to capture the full image, meaning all there channels together. Below are two images of the same screen. One was captured at 1/60 sec and the other at 1/250th of a sec. The difference is noticeable. In the bottom images you can actually see each channel of color as it makes its way through the Hz cycle.


    I hope this helps next time you need to photograph a screen. Whether for a corporate event, a commercial job or on a vacation at the museum, you can successfully get an image that works. Happy creating. Cris

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    A Different Direction – A new face to an old project.

    Good day,

    Earlier this year I was commissioned to photograph some local builders for this summer’s Parade of Homes. I have worked with the West Texas Home Builders Assoc before but this time I proposed we change things up a bit– Put a new look on the portraits and the book design. You see, in the past, these portraits were very formal: The images were head and shoulders, wearing a suit and tie in front of an old masters brown background. (You can see the previous look at the end of this article) They looked very nice and professional, but it did not match the style in which the parade magazine and website was designed or some of the modern architecture that these contractors were using.

    I suggested we go with black and white images, with a stronger light quality and more casual clothing for the builders and show more body. A presentation that is more in line with a clothing or commercial image than a traditional head shot. Below is the result.


    The lighting for this was not complex but it did have some purpose. Grey seamless was used as the background and I wanted a natural vignette on the background so I used a 5′ Octa-box with a soft grid to illuminate the background. This source gave me a large hotspot on the background with a nice soft falloff. My main light was an overhead 3′ octa-box again with a grid to keep light focused just on the face of my subject, again providing a natural fall-off of light. I chose to use the 3′ box for two reasons. One, being a medium-sized source, it created a crisper light quality, keeping in line with the commercial fashion inspired look. Two, it created a nice round catchlight in the eye. Finally, a 1×4 strip box with a soft grid was placed opposite main and 1.5 stops less than the main to add a kiss of separation and dimensional rim light.

    On the floor you will see some posing blocks. I use these quite often, especially with men as it forces them to get into a more relaxed position. I will often have them put one foot on a block. This relaxes the upper body and puts the weight on the back foot of my subject, which works well in posing both men and women. You can find this lighting example as well as dozens more on our Lighting For Sales mobile App.


    Each builder came in for 5 minutes, we captured about 7 images and they picked their favorite from my iPad that was connected via the CamRanger. Oh yeah, they loved them too.

    The moral of this blog is simple. Do not be afraid to take the lead in a session or an assignment. They have hired you for a reason. You are the expert and your clients trust you to deliver the best for them. If I were to hire one of these builders, I would most definitely make suggestions to what I prefer in my new home, but I would also trust them to make the best decision based upon those suggestions.

    As mentioned, I have done this project for the past 4 years. What I failed to mention above was that I was only photographing any new contractors that didn’t previously have an image, and matching that image to the old style mention before. By suggesting a different route for these portraits, it not only gave the publication a new, fresh look, it forced every contractor to come to my studio, see my work, meet me and get a new portrait. That was 35 opportunities to market and introduce myself to these business owners. Not to mention, I was compensated more than in previous years. Below are a few more from the project. Happy creating, Cris.


    Here is what had been done in previous years.


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    Bill RamseySeptember 13, 2016 - 2:50 pm

    Brilliance is in simplicity–in your lighting set-up and even more so the business acumen to do this. Well-done, Sir.

    Hollywood Style Lighting

    Good day,

    Recently I had a senior client come in for her planning session and like always, we ask what they envision for their portraits. We talked for a while and finally she said, “I want a Revlon look”. I did a quick search found some images online and said “like this” and she exclaimed “yes!”

    So in today’s blog, I want to take you through how I lit this image. First things first. When you are evaluating another image and dissecting the light, I think it all comes back to 3 simple questions. How much light is there, what size is the source and what direction is it coming from? Quantity, quality and direction. In the images I found of this type, the light quality was crisp, telling me I needed a small source. The catchlight was between 10 and 2 o’clock telling me the direction of light and the subject jumped out and was very three dimensional telling me that I needed more light on my subject than the anywhere else, more or less a low-key image, light quantity. Having answering those questions, I can get to work and pick the right tool for the job.


    1. The main light is a fresnel spot. The fresnel produces a very crisp focused light. Most glamour, hollywood style lighting is a harder light quality. You can see the quality by the shadow edge transfer. In this case, the shadow edge is very clean and hard. The placement of a light like this is critical. First, it needs to be in a direction so that it produces three-dimensional shadows. Second, it needs to be placed so that that the shadow of the nose does not hit the lips and also watch for eyelash shadows on the eyes. When using a smaller, narrow light such as the fresnel, you have a small window that your subject can be in. If they move, you may not get the desired results.

    2. For accent lights, I used two strip boxes. On camera left is a 1×6 that is tilted with it’s top toward the background. This tilt gave me both a soft edge light on her hair and shoulder providing depth and separation and it also put some light on the background behind her left, our right ear, providing even more separation. On camera left was a 1×4 with a soft grid to add some more dimension to her hair. This light is very important in an image like this. Without it, the shadow side of her hair goes black due to the strong light from the main.

    Here is a pull away of the set up.


    On final word of when using a main light like the fresnel. Since it is a small source, it provides the light quality we want, but it will also increase specularity so make up is very important to keep the skin looking smooth without glare. Retouching will also help as well.

    If you do not have a fresnel, a snoot would work similarly as would a speed light with some sort of tunnel attachment to keep the light spread very narrow.

    Happy creating.



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