Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The $1800 picture...

Also In This Issue:
Deals!  Deals!  Deals!
Brief Notes (Stuff I’m working on)
Parting Shot - Environmental Portrait of Robin Yukiko

The picture you see above cost $1800.  Actually, for a professional studio shoot that’s pretty cheap.  It was produced by writer and director Greg Bowyer for his new romantic comedy called “With This Ring”.  It’s about a female surgeon who loses her engagement ring inside a notorious malpractice attorney.  I’ve read the script, and it’s brilliant.  (And, being a guy, I’m not usually a fan of romantic comedies!)

I pulled off this shot (plus about 500 others) with only 4 wireless flashes.  More detail about that in a minute.

So what was the budget for what seems to be a very simple picture?

  • Actors, $250 each
  • Studio space rental, $250
  • Wardrobe person $200 (the clothes were borrowed for free)
  • Make-up artist $150
  • Ads for actors, $100
  • Auditioning space for actors, $100
  • Poster design, $200
  • Photographer: $300 

Total: $1800.  And this was just for a poster.  

What went into shooting it?

First, we had to determine the mood.  Because it was a lighthearted story, we decided to go with simple, non-dramatic "storybook" lighting.  This means everything should be well lit with very few shadows.  Below are two test shots - one using only one flash (dramatic, which we didn't want) and the other using two flashes, set the same distance and same intensity (no 2:1 lighting ratio for this project!).

Actor Brett Miller, demonstrating the importance of lighting and how the wrong lighting can break the mood you're trying to create.
Lighting directly effects your emotional response to movie watching - it's one important way (music is the other) of manipulating the viewing audience, which is why the title of "lighting designer" is so important in the movie industry.

To get the storybook look I used two key lights – a softbox on the right, and an umbrella on the left roughly the same distance from the actors.  (Both powered by wireless flashes.)  To light up the background, two more wireless flashes set on "wide" (28mm) were aimed at the seamless backdrop with no diffusers.  (You can see one of them going off on the ladder on the right in the shot below.)  They were adjusted so that the background was almost white but not blown out.  Because a light background will throw off the camera’s automatic exposure meter, and because the distance between the camera, actors, and flashes was never going to change, all the flashes were set to manual output – the front two for the actors (as determined by a histogram test) and the background lights about 1.5 stops brighter.

I was just one person on this crew... there were also professional hair, makeup, and wardrobe people working all night to make sure every little detail of these shots were flawless.  We went through a few dozen poses and wardrobes before the night was over.

The crew converging on the actors between takes.

And here is some behind-the-scenes footage:

And the final product?  (Click to see a larger image)

I first worked with Greg when he was directing this promotion for "First Flight" (another of his screenplays) starring Joe Mantegna.  (Promo below.  I took the behind-the-scenes stills; and we worked together so well that he dubbed me his "Photographer for Life" :-) )

Greg is still in the process of fundraising -- this $1800 photo is part of the package to pitch the idea.  If you know of anyone who'd like to help (even if it's you!), I'll put you in touch with Greg.

(Interesting footnote: See the X-ray in the poster?  It's real.  Greg taped a wedding ring to his chest and got himself X-rayed to get this prop.  Most writers / directors would have been happy to have something cooked up in Photoshop, but Greg goes the extra mile for the greatest realism.  :-) )

Next Time in Cameracraft

Feedback for Cameracraft magazine continues to flow in, and it's evenly split between "Wow!" and "I can't believe you guys are launching an old school print magazine in this day and age! (But regardless, this magazine is awesome!)".

The next issue of Cameracraft will feature an impressive 8-page spread of Iceland landscapes taken by photographer Paul Gallagher.  (Among many other articles we're still assembling.)

Come rally behind the cause of art and join the resistance against the establishment by subscribing to a photo magazine that seriously talks about photos (instead of, you know, gear).  More info and a link for subscribing here:

Brief Notes

(If you want more info about any of the items below, please fire off an email to Gary at Friedman Archives dot com.)
  • Two books are being worked on simultaneously: One for the Sony Alpha 99 and the other for the Sony NEX 5R and NEX-6.  I’m collaborating with fellow photographer and blogger Mike Hendren for the NEX book – I really like the way he writes.)  Both books should be finished by the first quarter of 2013.  Let me know if you’d like to be notified of their completion.
  • Seminars for 2013 are slowly taking shape.  We’re planning to be in Seattle, Washington and British Columbia, Canada in June.  And we’re currently planning a handful of seminars in Austrailia and New Zealand for October.  (More info at  If you're a member of a photo club you can help bring the seminars to your city, too!
  • Version 2 of the RX-100 ebook ( is out, which adds several new sections (and makes a few corrections).  All customers of the ebook, and all printed book customers who registered their purchase with me, should have received an automatic notice with a free download link (all of my ebook updates are free).  If you didn’t get your free update please email your purchase receipt to me and we’ll fix that right away.
  • Last month I said the Spanish version of the NEX-7 ebook was imminent.  Well, now it’s actually out!
  • I'm currently working post-production for the Cable TV show pilot I mentioned back in January and that was shot last summer.  I hope to post the results of the final "sizzle reel" for all to see sometime in January.  

Deals!  Deals!  Deals!

I love a good deal, so I thought I’d share some of these with you:

15% off Portrait Professional software ( – I just purchased this software which is great cleaning up the faces of subjects.  The software will recognize a face's features and then you can do what professional head shot retouchers do in a fraction of the time: smooth the skin, brighten and widen the eyes and mouth, give the person a nose job, tidy the hair and make the person look thinner in a believable way. It does in a few minutes what it would take me at least 30 minutes to do in Photoshop.  (Just don't get carried away -- an easy thing to do. :-) )

An example of what Portrait Professional can do.  Their website has a lot of very glamorous examples, but this pair of before/after images sets your expectations properly.

One of the company's attempts to have their product spread virally is to offer purchasers a 15% discount that you can “give to your friends” (all the while charging me full price.  Nice of them.)  So I hereby consider you to be my friend, and here’s a discount code if you’d like to purchase this software yourself: WXXS-KMOQ-XADT-TYVI

15% off Samyang Lenses for Sony (A and E mount)  Samyang Lenses have amazed people because they offer amazing sharpness for budget prices.  (The caveat? Manual focusing and manual aperture ring. Lots of NEX owners who love to shoot with legacy glass don’t mind this one bit.)  I own the 8mm NEX lens and just love it.  (Some people seem to be in love with the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 lens too!)

I have struck a deal with the company so my readers can receive 15% off the list price for their Sony A-mount and E-mount lenses, plus free shipping to anywhere in the world.  But this offer is only good for a limited time!  Send me an email at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com to receive a full price list and ordering details.

Photowhoa  ( – This company offers daily deals on photo-related items.  They initially approached me asking me to link to their site as an “affiliate”, meaning if you buy from them I’ll get a cut.  Well, I’m not really interested in that, but you can visit their site directly and subscribe to their daily deals if that pleases you.

Parting Shot

Singer / Songwriter Robin Yukiko.  This image looks better when enlarged (i.e., if you click on it).

Normally I spend over an hour with my subjects when I'm photographing portraits, but this was the first time I had to do it in about six minutes.  I was up in Berkeley, California and was taking this environmental portrait of singer / songwriter Robin Yukiko using one wireless flash (off to the left).  To make the image “pop” I used a dramatic lighting angle and I underexposed the ambient light by about one stop.  I like the results - subtle, sophisticated, but it doesn't scream "Hey, everybody, look at my fancy lighting!) (Unlike some other things I've shot in the past...)

Here are the steps I took to get this look:
  1. I put my camera (A77 + that awesome 16-50 f/2.8 kit lens) into manual exposure mode.
  2. I set the ISO to 200.
  3. With the pop-up flash DOWN, I set the f/stop and shutter speed so that with the flash off, the picture would be underexposed about 1 stop.  (Live View helps in this regard.  Had I been using a camera with an optical viewfinder, I would have looked at the bottom of the camera's display until it read "-1.0", which means "the camera thinks these settings will result in an underexposure of one stop".)  I ended up with 1/50th of a second at f/4.
  4. I configured the camera and flash for wireless mode, then placed the flash (with a paper diffuser) to the left of Robin, just out of frame.
  5. I raised the popup flash and shot!
Below is a slightly wider version of the final shot, so you can see this is all I did to acheive the desired effect.  Gotta love wireless flash!
As you can see, the setup for this shot was pretty simple.  Wireless flash plus piece-of-paper diffuser on the left, ambient underexposed by about 1 stop, and 1/50th at f/4.

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

Did I mention that a Cameracraft subscription makes a great gift? :-) 


  1. I am definately up for a seminar with you in Australia (if all the stars align!) I tried to register my interest through the link but cloudflare e mail protection got in the way! Any idea which city(ies)?

    1. Not yet, but right now we're thinking "2 of the biggest ones" - perhaps Perth and Sydney? Send me your email address and I'll keep you on the list. (I don't understand the problem with cloudflare -- I do know that several others reported the same problem.)

    2. Update: The cloudflare problem seems to only affect Mac and iPad users running Safari (surprise!). If that describes you just send me an email and let me know which seminar you're interested in attending.

  2. Very interesting blog Gary. You should swap thoughts with David K on the "awesome" Sony 16-50 as my understanding is that he is not so impressed with it die to complex distortion


    1. Hi, Marco. I'm aware of David's thoughts; however I'm not too bothered by something that's so easily correctable (the A77 corrects for it automatically when shooting .jpgs, and Lightroom does it automatically when shooting RAW. So I don't notice it. :-) )

  3. Gary, always enjoy your blog, and I appreciate you're a working pro and have got to keep up with the game and prevailing fashions... but that portrait retouching software... good grief.

    I went to the link - and in most of the sample befores / afters on the splash page it doesn't actually look like the same person once put through the s/ware - particularly with narrowing of features etc, etc.

    why are we / anyone doing this? why do we want to, to this extent?

    Depressing as heck. And surely not to be condoned / encouraged.

    kind regards,


    (not registered, but have bought one of your sony e-books in the past)

    1. Marc - I completely agree with you; however the reason I got the software was because several women I've taken portraits of in the past have complained about the way they look - crow's feet, too many wrinkles, they look fat, etc. Last year to quell such a complaint I sent a portrait up to my friend Sue Hutchins (who has raved about the software) and she sent back a very impressive result (which I'd share with you but I don't have the customer's permission). So it's more by customer demand than by any nefarious plot to distort the standard of beauty.

  4. Well done as always. Thank you for the information. Who doesn't like to get a great deal on something.

  5. Hi Gary, thanks for great source of information. Especially the wireless flash tips helped me a lot.

    I would like to ask you about the logic behind metering on sony cameras. I got the a65 and I am very happy with it. Most of the time I use multisegment metering which locks AF as well as exposure when shutter is half pressed.

    Here is the thing: when using multisegment metering, I would like the camera to NOT lock exposure because if I half press and recompose the final exposure could be incorrect. However, when I am in center or spot metering, when I DO want to lock exposure, the camera only locks focus but NOT exposure and I have to lock exposure manually. So the camera does it exactly the opposite to what I would like.

    This is not a big deal as the exposure is mostly correct and if I need I can use exposure compensation or the AEL button. What I would like to know is this - am I missing something? Is there any logic in it? Why would the engineers set it up like that? Most cameras I've handled either lock AF and exposure in all modes (olympus) or lock AF and never exposure (nikon) so I find this behavior interesting....

    thanks and sorry for the long question,


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