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The Real Housewives of San Francisco

A blue wig from Hong Kong, a cherry Mac lipstick from USA, two crazy Europeans, and a San Francisco loft -- the perfect ingredients for hookering up with my friend Nat (a.k.a. Gaga) and shooting each other a la Miles Aldridge.

My husband can only wish I strutted around the house in this outfit every day. Polishing the glasses, putting stuff into the dishwasher, taking stuff out of the dishwassher, putting stuff into the oven, taking stuff out of the oven. You get the picture. But instead, I go to Google every day, nerd out with other nerds and write computer software. And that cake... I bought at Whole Foods. You didn't think I made it, did you?

I had a little melancholy moment by the fridge.

Tired of standing on a chair and shooting me, Nat put on her lace robe and decided to take a rest in my bathtub. I was like "this girl is crazy", but I kept my mouth shut and let her do her thing.

The phone rings, and she pulls out this... this big ass red phone.

Based on her expression, who do you think called her and what did they want from her?

Behind the scenes

It's always fun to see how things are made, right? Here is a peek into how we did it:

I wish I could list a long list of names of make-up artists, stylists, lighting assistants, and producers. But... we did our own make-up, used our own wardrobe, drank our own wine, and l was my own lighting assistant. The photos of me were taken by the very talented Natalie Rooke. The photos of Nat were taken by the very talented me. Can you tell us apart?

Here is a little step-by-step explanation of how I lit the fridge shot. The photos below are straight out of the camera, with no light adjustment. I only converted them to B/W to make it easier for you to see the amount and direction of light hitting the subject.

Suggestion: Open the above photo in a different browser window for easier side-by-side viewing.

Shot 1:

  • I set up two remote flashes (a.k.a. strobes). They are remote because they are not attached to my camera (duh). A pair of remote receivers listens to the signal from the transmitter attached to my camera. Two strobes are then attached to the two receivers. One strobe (with no light modifier) is in the fridge. The other strobe is on a lightstand about two feet camera left. As a light modifier, I used a silver reflective umbrella which created a wide soft light source.
  • If you had problems parsing the previous paragraph, read this "photo terminology for dummies" article before you continue reading the rest of this post.
  • What's wrong with this picture: It's a typically bad first shot for someone who did not think twice before firing. :) The black stripe at the bottom of the frame is telling me that my shutter speed is faster than flash sync speed. Also notice the extra bright lemon in Nat's hands. The fridge strobe is pointed at the damn lemon instead of Nat's face. Not what we want.
  • A solution: To fix the black stripe, I slowed down my shutter speed from 1/320 to 1/200 of a second. I then repointed the fridge strobe towards Nat's face.

Shot 2:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The strobe in the fridge is now pointing at Nat's face.
  • What's wrong with this picture: There is not enough light on the right side of Nat's face because the strobe to camera left misfired (did not fire). That's what happens when you buy a cheap ass remote triggers like those I got. They sometimes misfire and one or more strobes don't go off.
  • A solution: I did another shot and hoped that both strobes will fire. 

Shot 3:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The good news is that both strobes fired.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Even though the strobe in the fridge does light the subject's face, it also lights the white wall inside of the fridge. The wall now is too bright, taking the focus away from the subject. I don't like that. Also, I didn't like the angle I shot my subject from. Shooting at eye-level is boring.
  • A solution: I put a grid on the strobe in the fridge. A grid points all light in one direction, like a narrow beam. I made sure to point it only at my subject, not at the fridge wall. You can make your own grid by putting together a bunch of straws. Or you save yourself a hassle and buy one. I also decided to stand on a chair to shoot Natalie from above. It's one of the well known tricks that almost always flatter the subject and prevent seeing the double chin (not that Nat has one).

Shot 4:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The fridge wall is not lit. Also, the subject is now shot from a more flattering angle.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Putting the grid on the strobe and redirecting all light at my subject made the subject's face get too much light.
  • A solution: Lower the intensity of the flash in the fridge by about two stops.

Shot 5:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The strobe in the fridge is not overexposing (lighting too much) the subject.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Only the bottom part of the subject's hair is lit by the strobe in the fridge.
  • A solution: I asked Nat to lower her body and lean into the fridge.

Shot 6:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The whole left side of Nat's hair is lit from the strobe in the fridge.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Her hair is throwing shadows on her left cheek.
  • A solution: Move the face towards the strobe in the fridge.

Shot 7:

  • Since I was happy with the light setup, I hookered up and asked Nat to start shooting me.
  • What is fixed in this picture: Everything I cared about. The light is right, and I am facing the stronger light source (the strobe in the fridge). The other light (fill light) is filling up the areas that would have too dark of a shadow.
  • What's wrong with this picture: You don't see my right arm.
  • A solution: Grab the cake with both hands.

Shot 8:

  • What is fixed in this picture: Both my hands are visible.
  • What's wrong with this picture: The second strobe (fill light) misfired.
  • A solution: The good thing is that there is still a little bit of ambient (non-flash) light coming from a lamp in the living room. This photo can be salvaged. It can still make a decent black/white photo if curves are adjusted. The lack of the additional fill light makes the photo more contrasty, which is perfect for black/white photos. You can see this photo (processed and adjusted) earlier in this post.

Shot 9:

  • What is fixed in this picture: Nothing got fixed and a living room light was turned off.
  • What's wrong with this picture: The second strobe (fill light) misfired again. But this time, since the living room light was off, we don't have any ambient light to fill in the rest of the face.
  • A solution: This photo can be turned into a silhouette photo. You can see the actual processed photo earlier in this post.

Alright, this post is getting a bit too long. I will write about how I lit the bathtub shot in another post. Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!

PS: For the record, I do know how to bake. Here is my most recent one.

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Reader Comments (1)

I just love these shots, they are so creative. :) First I did not even recognize you it is done so well. :)

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnett

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