X100F: Soft Negative Faces

Being a glass half-full kinda guy (well, most of the time), I've always considered the well-known softness of the X100 line (at f2) an asset—part of the camera's personality if you will. We shoot with Dianas and plastic Lensbaby gear for effect, so why not use these similar characteristic when it fits the context? If I need sharpness I just stop down—typically f2.8 is fine. Since the X100F sports the same lens, I thought I'd do a quick session to exploit, even intensify the trait. So 1) all portraits were shot wide open and 2) I doubled-down with the following in-camera settings:

- NR -4
- Sharpness -4
- Highlights -2
- Shadows -2 

I shot JPEG using the Pro Neg Standard simulation, straight to square format. Now, at that aperture and distance my strobes would normally be much too strong—not so with the X100F: I switched on the ND filter AND set my shutter speed to 1/1000s. The high shutter speed had a double effect: killing all ambient (f2 lets in a lot of light) but also further dropping the power output of the strobes (yes, there IS a drop once you get at those synching speeds). All of this only possible thanks to the camera's leaf shutter, obviously. I also used zone focus and eye recognition to move things along. In terms of lighting, I diffused the hell out of an Elinchrom Deep Octa: both baffles plus the deflector. One light, camera left, close to the subject. Images were processed in Lightroom CC.

A few minutes with the kids after school, a very bad imitation of La Castafiore (trust me)...Done :)

 


Shot with an X100F prototype



Studies for a Backlit Screen I

I wanted to make something you could slip in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on.
— Brian Eno (on ambient music)

Shot with the X-T1 and XF 60mm f/2.4 R


LANDSCAPE ORIENTATION

PORTRAIT ORIENTATION

Elinchrom Deep Octa and Matthews C Stand

Elinchrom Deep (Throat) Octa 39" (100 cm)

Boy am I late on this one... I hinted at a review back in January 2014. This was my very first purchase of that year and it's basically been my goto modifier since the day it was delivered. Let me try and explain why...

When we start to talk about quality of light it can get downright esoteric... It's hard to find a subject that's more subjective or bound to specific conditions. Light is light: it can be hard or soft or big or small. Modifiers aren't magical instruments. But they DO of course have an impact on the end results. I've always been more atracted to the hard light look than the often sought wispy and airy softness of very large diffusers. I sometimes deliberately use smaller softboxes because I prefer the falloff and harder edges. Sometimes it's just barn doors and bare bulb. What attracted me to the Deep Octa was its slightly schizoid personality and versatility: it has a very specific look to it, soft but very sculpted with a quick falloff. Like an edgy softness. I saw picture after picture from it while I was researching and it felt like the modifier I'd been looking for. I was right

THE KIT

The Deep Octa comes with two baffles (interior and exterior) and a deflector, resulting in a bunch of different possible configurations:

  1. Straight up: no baffles, no deflector, just the straight silver lining and deep dish effect.
  2. Deflector-only:  sort of like a big beauty dish, the deflector eliminating the hotspot.
  3. Inner Baffle: this is its typical look and the one I use most of the time. The inner baffle is recessed inside the softbox, so the light hits the baffle, gets diffused but also spreads across the silver lining. The natural vignette it creates gives it a very distinct personality.
  4. Outer Baffle: the baffle is at the outer edge turning the Deep Octa into a more conventional softbox by diffusing its entire surface.

Those are the basics. But of course you can also combine: both baffles means double diffusion for an even softer look; add the deflector and there's no hotspot to speak of; or deflector + inner baffle-only. And it's all very quick to change too: the deflector fits into the Elinchrom umbrella shaft, the inner baffle snaps into place with buttons and the outer one uses velcro.

Bonus tip: that deflector fits into the Elinchrom head itself... Which means it can be used with ANYTHING, from the bare speedlight to any reflector, other softboxes etc. Poor man's beauty dish in a pinch.

Results

I love this thing to death. In fact I can count on my fingers the times I used anything else this year. Now, the reason it took this long for me to review it is that I wanted to do it properly, shoot examples with each configuration, show the differences etc. I never found the time and I have to be honest with myself, I probably never will. So I hope you'll forgive me if I simply show a few of my favourite images below, most of them using the inner baffle setup. 

THE ONE NOT SO FUN THING


It's a temporary problem but it IS something to be aware of: setting this up for the first time is an absolute B.I.T.C.H. I wanted to throw it out the window, set it on fire and scream every single word in my extensive dictionary of very-bad-things-I-must-try-not-to-say-in-front-of-the-kids.I think I tweeted about it — after struggling for 15 years or so — and my friend Morten called me up from the other side of our beautiful country to give me some pointers. He'd been through the same ordeal, like pretty much everyone who owns this contraption. Seriously, look it up: there are YouTube videos about it..

The problem is that the amount of force needed to get each rod into place makes no sense and at some point you end up convinced you're on your way to breaking the entire thing. But you're not. Plus the provided instructions don't really help at all because none of it lays still the way it says. You basically need to put one hand on the speedring to get a few rods in, then use your elbow and push like mad to get the rest of them in place. Like MAD. But it works. And once you've done it a few times it isn't that bad — but man... The entire dictionary, I'm not kidding.

The good news? Once it's assembled you don't have to take the rods out and go through all of it again when packing up: you just take the ends out and the whole softbox folds in like an umbrella, speedring included. And it fits in its bag as well.

So you need to suffer to get the goods.
But they're worth it.

The Elinchrom Deep Octa 39" is available pretty much everywhere. There's also a smaller 27.5" model.


Matthews Hollywood Century C Stand Grip Arm Kit - 10.5' (3.2m)

I can't believe I waited this long to get a c-stand of my own. Well... It's not the sort of thing you rush out for excitedly — it's not the latest camera or crazy amazing lens you've been waiting for, the one that will suddenly transform everything you shoot into unicorns. It's just a bloody stand. Plus they're big and heavy, and bulky and... Heavy. But they're incredibly versatile, have a smaller footprint (because of the way their legs are designed) and they're stable. Very, very stable. 

I kid you not: I get giddy every time I use this thing and I'm kicking myself for not buying one sooner. It's a tank; the build is incredible, all solid metal. You lock any of the joints and it's locked, tight, with very little effort. You look at those grips and think you'll be sweating but it's just the opposite: slight twist and you're done. Everything is just rock solid — sandbag this baby and bring on that hurricane.

The boom easily holds the Deep Octa/BX500ri combo at any angle. The longest leg is adjustable to accommodate steps or uneven ground. And the bonus with this particular Matthews stand is that it isn't actually as heavy as similar models from other brands. It's still heavy enough mind you, but it easily packs flat and can be moved on location without the need for a few months of weight training.

It's machined beautifully and does its job. It's a stand that makes me happy — Can't ask for much more. Again, available in all good camera stores.

Sparks, Dominos & the All-Encompassing Laboratory.

sparks.jpg

The process of ideation is often graphically depicted by gears; each one applying motion to the next, ad infinitum. It’s a great analogy. It’s how we reason, how our logic works, going from one point to the next, making one connection that in turn affects another; fuelling a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

The creative mind works along those same principles, although it’s often much more chaotic and difficult to control, jumping from A to C to B. It also has qualities of the domino effect, a self-sustaining event that can no longer be stopped once initiated. Inevitable. But unlike dominos (or gears), the end point remains imprecise, a quantic mess of possibilities. That’s the attraction: never really knowing the final destination, never quite certain of the outcome.

The images below are a direct result of Robert Boyer’s latest response to our ongoing winter challenge. But it’s not my reply per se, more like inspired by. I happen to love where Robert went from my shower shoot: instead of replicating the concept, he used the same basic idea to emphasize its opposite. Instead of freezing motion he painted with it. The results are beautiful. And not at all what I expected.

When he posted a BTS shot of his setup I couldn’t help myself. Out came the X-Acto knife and cardboard for a makeshift gobo. I found an old diaphanous scarf and hired my son as model. Again. He’s a good sport but as most of you know, kids whose dads are photographers tend to have a limited threshold for this sort of thing. Hard to blame ’em given our propensity for being slightly shutter crazy; so yeah, time was of the essence (!).

The studio is a cave, so no ambient light to contend with. I used a single gridded strobe (20°) aimed through the gobo. I tried a few different settings but settled on 1/4s f/7.1 at ISO 200. I was going for an extra of painterly.

You’ll notice some of the images show a lot more smearing than others: that’s because in those cases I disabled the remote trigger and shot using just the modeling light (set at max power). Without a flash burst no portion of the image ever freezes beyond the shutter speed. Same settings as before except for bumping the ISO to 500 (to account for the diminished light output).

Robert used rear-curtain sync on his shoot which is obviously the way to go — by flashing at the end of the exposure you create a still that appears after (or on top of) the motion trail caused by the slow shutter speed. But I can’t do that with my current setup. The X-Pro1’s rear-curtain sync mode is only available when using a Fuji flash unit. This probably means I could use something like an EF–X20, dial it all the way down and trigger the big lights optically at rear curtain… I’ll need to look into how much manual control that flash provides (the idea being to use it purely as commander in this case and affect the exposure as little as possible. We’re talking 1/128 power ideally). Syncing front-curtain makes the results much more diffuse and airy since all the blurring occurs after the initial flash burst. It also means you’re much less likely to get a clean shot if that’s what you’re after.

But enough technobabble.

We all need a push at some point, a reason to go further and explore the lesser known territories. This back and forth between Robert and I is forcing me into a laboratory of sorts, the purpose of which is to allow for errors, false starts and possible moments of illumination.

All you ever need is one spark.
A single push on that very first domino.

Shot with the X-Pro1 and Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 LM OIS set at 42.5mm. Elinchrom BX500ri with 20º grid.

A challenge. A shower. An odd dude & a leaf shutter.

This one's a little different...

The story goes like this: it's winter, it's sucky, it's boring.  One day I'm reading Robert Boyer's blog and he's just begun posting this great lighting series. So I decide to experiment with some of the ideas — lighting, processing, whatev. Because you know... It's winter and it's sucky, bla, bla, bla.

Along comes Robert — who's also feeling the doldrums despite his aforementioned series — and apparently MY stuff turns out giving HIM a kick in the pants; and so he starts shooting and posting like a madman. I like his stuff, he likes my stuff; I comment on his blog, he comments on mine. It's all good until one day, out of nowhere — and must I say, absolutely unprovoked — he throws this challenge out there: "Take that LaRoque - let’s see what you make next."

Pfff. Dem's fightin' words.

Thing is though, I knew I needed an angle of some sort. Robert is a lighting encyclopedia and his photography is very slick. Beautiful, sultry stuff. And then it dawned on me: I'm going to jump in the shower. Yeah. No way he's attempting THAT.

Ok, to be honest its something I'd been wanting to do for some time; I like the idea of a confined space coupled with the chaotic nature of water and movement. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to do it without looking too crazy. To pull off what I had in mind I needed to achieve two things: 1) freeze everything as much as possible and 2) make that water look like diamonds. So: high shutter speed + strobes meant leaf shutter: enter the X100. Getting the water to sparkle and give out a 3D look meant backlighting it in some way: enter speedlight. The paint in the bathroom is shiny and I knew I could play with that to create a natural separation from a single light source. Add it all up and I could keep things simple.

Final setup:

  • X100 on tripod set to 1/1000s, f/11 at ISO 200.
  • Elinchrom BX500ri strobe in a medium softbox with the bottom of it just shooting over my head. Placed straight on camera angle.
  • A single bare SB-800 clamped to the shower curtain rod, high camera left. Hugging the wall and aimed over my shoulder.
  • The key strobe triggered via Skyport and the speedlight via good ol' SU-4.

I did a few test shots to make sure the water looked the way I wanted it to and in I went, throwing dignity to the wind.

I took four frames.
Then it dawned on me that my feet were in water, the shower head was spraying willy-nilly, slowly turning the room into a swimming pool — and all of this with a nice big AC powered strobe standing right smack in the middle of it. I had a vision of a Petapixel.com headline in my mind: Darwin Award - Photographer Electrocuted while Shooting Self-Portrait in Shower. Time to stop this nonsense.

I had used an Eye-Fi card so I left everything in place, dried myself and went down to the studio to see the shots. Those four frames are all in this post. I think it worked out pretty well for an intense 3 minutes session. I spent more time trying to cram everything in our small bathroom and setting everything up than firing the camera. But given my predicament, those few minutes were plenty, thank you very much ;)

So now for the question on everyone's mind: was he wearing pants? Ha! I'm not tellin'... Dr Boyer? Paging Dr Boyer?

P.S @RB: I'm quite aware that I'll be completely and utterly toast If you manage to convince one of your beautiful models to hit the shower...