Playing with light. (further explained)

SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO200 and 1/8s hand held

If you go to a party, what could possibly be better to bring than your SD15, the 17-50 2.8 OS and a couple of strobes? I asked myself the same question and came to the fantastic conclusion that  – nothing could be better! if you find some of these shots a little bit “smoother” than usual – then you’re correct and what I did was using a new plugin that I felt I needed for another mission – a skin fix thingelebing.. Imagenomic Portraiture. Amazing software, if you ask me.

SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO200 and 1/8s hand held

Now taking a picture in a mixed light situation like here you really need to think twice about how to place your subject and what you use as your background. I personally love the warmth that light bulbs provide when used against the colder flash – but in order to get the effect wanted you need to meter for the background – in this case here my iPhone light meter gave me 1/8s at ISo200. (Some are ISO400 as well) – and as you understand, using 1/8s would be a No No if there was any light in the subjects face you would end up with a smeary result with mixed yellow / bluish tones.

SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO400 and 1/15s hand held

Lucky enough, I was able to stand in another room with the light turned off – and if I took a picture without using any strobe, you would see the person almost as a silhouette. My Friend Josef Johansson, a photo entusiast, helped me by running around with the smaller Sigma 530 strobe as a “head light” – I really like when it hits hard as with Elin’s portrait below – but it does take away some of that contrast..

added explanation.
But having a headshot without light wouldn’t cool so I placed my Quadra with a tiny amount of flash, in an umbrella over my right shoulder – Powered at something like 25-40Ws (full power is 400Ws) – and because there is no ambient light in their face, all light comes from the flash which gives a very pure coloristic and a VERY warm background.

Now, how can I possibly shot with such a super slow shutter speed hand held and still get away with it? Well, the trick is dual – First, the Sigma 17-50mm 2.8 OS which has a fantastic optical stabilizer gives me the opportunity to freeze the background enough even with speeds as low as 0,3s – normally if it was a persons face I would have had him / her to stand completely still in order to freeze – but that isn’t possible, people move, it’s in their nature.

So why is the face so sharp and even looks like it’s sometimes in the middle of an emotion which sugests movement. The answer is that because the face isn’t lit by anything except the flash, the flash exposure overtakes the cameras exposure. So the shutter speed in these photos is in reality two different ones in one. The face is exposed with a very short flash duration of something like 1/8000s and the background which isn’t touched by the flash with it’s 0,3s..

Pretty cool really. :)

SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO100 and 0,3s hand held SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO100 and 0,3s hand held SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO200 and 1/8s hand held - Skin fix

As a skin fix show – in this case it’s kind of stupid to use it, but it gives you an understanding of what it does. the foveon sensor does catch a tremendous amount of information and in a portrait situation, some of that info just is a little too much. :) So, we could call this a forced bayer / nutella effect.

SD15 - 17-50 OS @ f2.8 ISO200 and 1/8s hand held - No skin fix

All images was developed with Sigma Photo pro 4.2 (Mac) and then post-processed and uploaded to flickr using Lightroom 3. All images can be found in their full glory at my spring 2011 set.

About Carl Rytterfalk

Welcome to my blog! I'm Carl Rytterfalk, a swedish photographer who loves everything that is interesting in the world of photography. In 2002 I fell in love with the three layered Foveon sensor and has since then been an addicted user of Sigma cameras. Though I use Canon and Nikon as well. :)
This entry was posted in 17-50 2.8 OS, Adobe Lightroom, Flash, Full size, How to, Sigma Photo Pro, Sigma SD15 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Playing with light. (further explained)

  1. Carolina Holmström says:

    Helt otroliga bilder! Härliga och på nåt sätt så originella. Grymt kul var det även att se dig fota.
    Har du möjligen nån fotokurs eller tid nån gång att lära ut, typ ljus, exponering, vinklar mm. (för en nybörjare) nån gång. Kanske bara en stund att förstå och bli nyfiken på foto, men en liten inblick skulle varit grymt kul.

  2. Jesper Hansen says:

    They do have a very nice POP to them :-)


  3. Carolina Holmström,

    Tack för hjälpen! Du var ju med och gjorde bilderna! :) Du får vara beredd nästa gång jag dyker upp så ska jag lära dig några sköna trix. Påminn mig!

  4. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner says:

    Interesting, have you ever tried the Nik ColorEFX skin smoother adjustment? From the website for Imagenomic the effect looked similar…

  5. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner,

    I’ve used ColorEFX a lot in the past but never did I find anything for skin, except glow stuff for wedding photos – which I never used. Or did I miss something? Please give me a link..

  6. Jason Zheng says:

    Hello Carl, very interesting read and technique. However I do wonder how you managed to get such sharp focus with the face completely in dark. Did you use zone focusing, or maybe some AF assist light?

  7. Jason Zheng,

    Well Jason, the built in AF assist light did help a lot, but the lens hood was in the way and I didn’t wast to take it off as that other light source was there – So after a while I asked Carolina Holmström (one of the attendees to the party which was more of a family birthday thingi) to press the assist light on the Quadra when I told her to, and then turn it off on my command – (It couldn’t be on at all times as it was too strong and would affect the picture). With it on it was much easier o focus correctly.

    I did get some images that was badly out of focus – and I thought more would be trash-able but to my joy lots of images came out in-focus.

    But, I’m so much hoping for the SD1 to make sessions like this one easier. Better AF and bigger view finder. And.. nicer files! :D

  8. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner says:

    Carl Rytterfalk,

    Color EFXPro 3.0 has an effect labeled “Dynamic Skin Softener”. Used sparingly, it does just that – you can adjust the skin color/range it’s targeting, and adjust for large/medium/small details as well as using the Nik control points to adjust what gets affected (in case it starts to smooth out hair or other things).

    ColorEFX is one of the more interesting plugins since unlike something like SlverEFX (also great) where the adjustments are all variations on a theme, each item in ColorEFX is a tiny little tool…

    I used it for pretty much all the shots in this set:

    I did try to go as light as possible with the effect, on some it might still be too much.

  9. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner says:

    I managed to find a link that compares the two – seems they end up being similar:

    Although with the control points to easily eliminate the affect from hair, I personally think the ColorEFX one might be easier to manage (perhaps control points were not yet in the 2.0 version they were testing)

  10. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner,

    hehe, how’s that a test to begin with? Using a child with a babyskin to start with. What I enjoy with Imagenimics is the great variety of options and sliders – giving you a massive amount of control. That said, I didn’t try Nik’s software but will. :)

    Thanks for the link..

  11. The left photo hasn’t been adjusted more than slight WB change in LR3 – The right is developed using SPP 4.3 and after that been post-processed using imagenomics.
    [img] shot 2011-03-21 at 22.00.43.jpg[/img]
    [img] shot 2011-03-21 at 22.01.04.jpg[/img]

  12. Josef Joahansson says:

    Yea, and look at the cool guy hangin’ around in the background, holding the flash! ;)
    Was really funny to do some portrait photos just for shits and giggles! Hope it will happen soon again.

  13. Nikolaus says:

    Hi, great Images, as always.

    I’ve used portraiture too for a while, but soon grown weary of it.
    It’s a fun toy, but way too extreme for my taste.

    I’ve gone back to the softeners of analogue times, such as the cokin filters and a stocking on the lens…


  14. Martin says:

    Wow, great portraits.
    Do you have a link to the iPhone light meter app you use? Thanks.

  15. Miguel Angélus says:

    hello Carl!! I use to use the same effect to take shots at night! moving the camera and using the pop-up flash I’m able freeze the first plane, and I get light effects on movement in the background!

  16. LionelB says:

    A great tutorial on flash technique. Thank you for that. I especially like the warm background. The waxy skin smoothing leaves me feeling uncomfortable though.Toning down redness and pimples okay but if there was a scar would it be right to airbrush it out of existence ?

  17. marc says:


    The ‘Nutella’ Bayer effect on Nikon/Canon is ALSO largely due to crappy raw developers, Lightroom is just a nightmare and although I was a proponent of Capture One I now agree it also has a very sloppy style in churning out those preppy pixels, maybe it works well for huge MF files because the resolution and color depth allows for a certain sloppiness, or ‘largesse’. Silky Pix is already way crisper, but also check out RPP (Raw Photo Processor) written by Andrey Tverdokhleb, it uses high end math for demosaicing (slow) as opposed to ‘real time’ lower-end algorithms favoured by the marketing departments of the big companies (as it sells better, more convenient etc etc).
    In any case RPP is capable to tickle out +- 20% more detail out of good ole Bayern raw files.
    Workflow is different … you just do a low-contrast ‘base development’ in batch mode which outputs juicy (and heavy) 16-bit RGB files, you import these into Photoshop and add contrast and series of post-prod, the files contain massive amounts of information so you can push them very hard. That’s anyhow the workflow of the retouching pro’s they output file linear from RAW developer (with basic exposure and WB correction) and than hand them over to Photoshop in 16 bit format, as said there’s a lot of lattitude to push the files that way.

    Here’s a link to RPP :

    Also check out the Examples section for further info :

    The workflow imposed by RPP is kinda heavy, needs a lot of processor speed and storage, but is definitely worth it.


    • Marc, you’re of course right! But most people still want that silky surface and noise free appearance, a look that especially from in-camera jpegs gives a nutella look. If the above developer makes your bayer RAW files look good, then that’s great! :) If you have any LR vs RPP to share, please do.

  18. marc says:

    Base message is that with digital a lot depends on interpretation and output of data … I just invested in a higher-end audio system with a incredible USB Digital to Audio converter and set of decent speakers (oh and GOOD cables make a world of a difference too) … MP3’s just sound incredibly better. Whereas before I thought MP3 is crap, now I think it’s very ok and capable, sure uncompressed always sound fuller but it’s almost marginal, it all depends on how data is relayed, interpreted and ‘front-ended’. Same does for Sigma’s SPP : why do you think it’s so slow? Well it’s because it calculates that data ‘in depth’, sure, lightroom is faster and more convenient but there’s always trade-offs to that convenience.

  19. Manuel DF says:

    @marc: rpp just made my day. Thanks a lot!

    Regards, Manuel

  20. marc says:

    @ Manuel : Cool, glad you like it! Personnaly it’s the best output I ever saw from Bayer sensors.

    Just to explain the reason why I posted before : I don’t consider Bayer to be ‘Nutella’, if using FF with right lenses and with right development I get many files which are shit-sharp. HOWEVER and that’s the big thing there’s a certain realness and 3D aspect to Sigma files which make them special, so I’m not on to putting Bayer on the same level as Foveon. Just some pointers that some of the Bayer mediocrity comes from mediocre Raw developing algorithms, seemingly in place to create ‘faster’, more ‘convenient’ to use applications (So thanks to Adobe’s and Phase One’s marketing departments … could marketing be the evil of this world?). Anyhow, get the chain of information treatment, acquistion and processing right and you end with significantly more usable stuff than the default. Foveon still remaining in a league of its own … we’re all waiting for the SD1 after all ; )

  21. Martin says:

    @Marc : Thanks a lot for mentioning Raw Photo Processor. It will replace ACR from now on. It’s so much better.

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