View Full Version : Question/Help: Taking good ref photos
July 27th, 2004, 12:39 PM
Hey there photo folks. I have a few illustration commissions that I need to complete, and I'm honest enough with my skills to know that I just can't work without some sort of reference. Since I have the illustration ideas already in mind, I was thinking that I'd get some of my friends to pose for me to use as refs.
The question I had is, what's the best way to go about getting a good quality shot? I was thinking of setting up a temporary, makeshift studio in my garage for the shoots. I bought a couple of those aluminum clamp lights with 100 watt sunlight bulbs for mobile lighting. I was thinking I'd get two large pieces of cloth (one black, one white) to hang from the ceiling as a backdrop...maybe one of those shiny window shades as a makeshift reflector if needed, and then get my friends to strike some poses.
Does this seem like a reasonable idea? I want to get the most out of my shoot so I don't waste mine or my friends time (on a kind of tight deadline), and I want to make sure the pictures I take will be usefull to me, both in terms of showing enough detail and having a good sense of lighting similar to what I want in my finished illustration.
If any of you have any thoughts on taking good ref photos, or throwing together a makeshift studio (that can be disassembled easy, as I actually need my garage), I'd love the advice. :)
BTW, these will be black and white illustrations, so I was probably going to take black and white shots. Will probably wrangle my friends Cannon Digital Rebel from him for the shoots.
July 30th, 2004, 05:40 AM
It sounds very much like something I tried. Im not sure hoiw much into photography you are, Fukifino, so Ill prolly say some pretty obvious things here... :D
The only trouble is the lights. U see, 100 watt are really low. The "real" photolights are at least 500 watts a piece (it gets hot as hell).
This means you need a real high ASA setting on the "film" (ur digital so the cameras chip/signal needs to be able to pick up low light).
I imagine with a set up like this ul be having trouble getting non shaky pics even at 800asa :/
(oh, and see to it that the white background dont fool the camera, use almost a fixed setting, which u meassure on youre friend, not the white cloth).
Somehow you need more light, either natural sunlight or stronger bulps (which means mucho balubas!). Perhaps , eeeh, u could build in a window in the ceiling...
Hwww, the old english photolady, Margeret something (???) used to take excellent photos in here greenhouse - excellent lighting there :D
So therefor i recommend shooting outdoors a cloudy day instead (one of those days when there are no shadows).
But perhaps shadows is what you want. :/
Then go check out the sun and hang the cloth between two trees or something in the right angle and shoot :D (Afaik you were going for BW, so bluish tones should not be a problem)
GL, and perhaps post some picks later ? :D
July 30th, 2004, 11:24 AM
Thanks Johannes! That was the kind of info I needed. Perhaps I'll pick up a more powerfull light or two. Good to note the problems with a white background too. I know a couple of the illustrations I'm planning will have a dark background so I'll probably use the black for that...but in general, do you reccommend shooting against a light or dark background (or neutral?)
July 30th, 2004, 12:17 PM
I'm reaching back to my illustration days here, but what I've found is that you tend to want your reference photos to be fairly bland compared to typical art photography – very little hard shadow or contrast, neutral backgrounds (regardless of how they'll be used in the end) and an even lighting.
Basically, what I usually found was that in shooting something more arty and high-contrast, I'd lose details that I was looking for. You can always bump up the contrast or what ever in the finished piece, but if you shoot your reference a particular way, you'll have fewer choices when making the painting.
Just my 2¢.
July 30th, 2004, 12:23 PM
Hmm, good point. I remember I took a couple of self shots for references for my life drawing final, and I was concerned more with lighting than anything, and the end results lost a LOT of detail which made it really hard for me.
I suppose the best idea would be to take a lighting neutral shot for pose/details and then maybe a lighting ref shot just to get a general idea of where the cast shadows and such would fall...
July 31st, 2004, 01:31 PM
Glad I could help some :D
I agree with pconsidine. Sometimes i go back through my photos and wish I had taken this and that photo in far more light (less dramatic shadows, much more light - bland lighting) so I could see what was in the shadows better.
The trick here is to get some more light into the shadows (by using some big cardboard with glued on tinfoil perhaps?).
Or just have it very bland and shadowless to begin with. By shooting a cloudy day outdoors. I hear the big movies fix this "cloudy day" ecen on a sunny day by hanging big white sheets over whole scenes with cranes if necessary. It sounds a bit complicated, but i guess som sewn together bedsheets could be hung between trees or something the blend and soften the sunlight in much the same way as clouds (the pro name for this is "bouncer" I believe).
As to background I many times wish I had not used a sheet, whatever color, since I cannot tell horizonline, perspective etc clearly. So perhaps shooting with a big aparture and focus on the person will make things blurry, but still clear enough to be very useful for reference. This means you either will have to work very close with a 1.4 or 1.8 lens (50mm), but better is to have a 85mm or even more because "tele" gives excellent blurring (and o course u need to focus on subject and not set lens on max, "eternal" focus, the word slips me right now...) Oh, and stay away for things under lenses under 35 mm, since theese will distor things to look very "photography" and unnatural to the human eye. if you have a digital camera it might be that you need to figure out which zoom setting gives the best "natural look" (about 50mm) bigger also works, but smaller gives "bananaface" and other unpleasantries, too long legs etc.
If i remember this correctly (math being mu pet-peev!) the "natural" lens of a specific filmformat is the diagonal, hence 24x36 mm "regular" film has diagonal 50 mm, something like that. So prolly u need to look up the size o the ccd chip of your camera and figure out diagonal, or I would prolly just try it out).
Now you only need to find a muscular babe willing to stand halfnude in badtaste leather with a stick in her hands! ;)
August 2nd, 2004, 03:34 PM
I don't know how much you are willing to spend on this setup, or how good you want your reference photos to look. I generally find that I don't need great reference photos to get where I need to be with an illustration, but I have recently started doing some hardcore fashion/glamour photography, soI have some insights on the lighting.
I worked my way up starting from fixed halogen lights and then moving on the strobes (studio flashes). One good option, if you want to get these images fast, without tiring your models, is to pick up a strobe, and one reflector. Alien Bees sells a 400 W/s strobe with stand for less than $300. You can pick up one of those reflective windshield covers to use as a reflector to bounce some of your light back. A light like that is very adjustable, and has a preview light to give you some idea of what the shadows look like. You can also fire the burst into a reflective umbrella, and soften or harden the shadows as you require.
The strobe/flash is nice because you get the power you need in a quick burst, so your model does not need to sit sweating under a hot light for up to a second for your camera to pick it up.
Here's an example of a studio shoot I did about two weeks ago, with my one studio light;
You may not need this kind of finish for your intended purposes, but I find that even for reference photos, it's sometimes helpful to try and modulate the lighting and shadows as well as you can in camera. That way, your figure studies and illustrations come out even more natural.
That said, I don't know where you stand with your illustration skills. I am just coming back into the drawing/painting thing, so I can use all the help I can get. I used to poo poo using references, but I have come to realize that they are essential to accurate representation, so I strive to get reference photos that I would be proud to sell as works of art in their own right.
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