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Old Oct 6, 2008, 8:46 PM   #1
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I recycled 2 banners light stands and 2 small "student" table lights hanging on a bar with a few pulleys attached to the roof.

Could you please have a look at the following setup and provide suggestions if any ?

Quick and dirty result, at 100 ISO, no photoshop :

There is a wall made of plaster at the back which is actually a home cinema screen. Leaves a nice white background

Another quick and dirty with more gama and contrast, 100 iso no flash, no tripod.

The rest of the room is completely dark, so the whole light comes from the set-up lights.

and another one with same modifs. Looks like I have a "gamma" problem.

Do I need to put acrylic translucid white sheets on both banner stands or do you see an easier / cheaper way to improve the shadows ?

This one was 2 hours before darkness, so mixed with some daylight, and gamma is this time untouched. I don't get it.

I would really appreciate your help

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Old Oct 7, 2008, 8:22 AM   #2
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I'm going to suggest you don't have nearly enough light. The shots are underexposed and I see the shot of the couple was ISO 100, f2 and 1/90. And, the F2 is causing focus issues. With a backdrop I'm not sure why you would want to shoot at f2. F8-16 would be much more common. Let's say 1/60 was a more appropriate exposure (to correct the underexposure in these shots). If you dropped down to f8 from f2, you'd need to increase your ISO to 1600 to compensate. And again, f8 is a bit wide for group shots.

So, while I'm not a studio expert I can say you need more light output to make the setup you have work.
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Old Oct 7, 2008, 9:42 AM   #3
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I see where you used spot metering with manual exposure. What were you metering on? If you meter on something too light, you'll get an underexposed image.

I also see where you have white balance set to Auto. That's not a good idea. Set it yourself with a custom white balance using a photographic gray or white card (although you may find it a bit cool that way without tweaking, that's a better starting point with no color casts).

I also saw where you used manual focus. It's pretty hard to judge accurate focus using the viewfinder on most dSLR models at wider apertures, unless you've got a split prism type focus screen installed.

I wouldn't shoot with the aperture wide open using your 50mm f/1.8 either, as some of those were at f/2. It will have better sharpness and contrast if you stop it down some more. Go with f/2.8 or so for starters, setting your ISO speed up a couple of stops (I'd go ISO 400, since you'll need to use slower shutter speeds than you're currently metering for proper exposure in that lighting, too).

Then, take some test shots and tweak your shutter speed until exposure is correct, using the histogram to help out (a slower shutter speed will give you a brighter exposure and a faster shutter speed will give you a darker exposure for a given lighting and ISO speed). Those were underexposed.

I'm with JohnG. You're probably going to need to use better lighting for a lot of improvement. Otherwise, your noise levels are going to increase with ISO speed with more optimum camera settings, and you may need to use even smaller apertures (higher f/stop numbers) to get the depth of field you need for the group shots.

Here's the EXIF for the second photo above (axel.jpg):

File name: axel.jpg (Standard EXIF Tags)

>>> Photograph Information <<<

Color Filter Array Pattern : 0 2 0 2 1 0 2 1
Color Space : sRGB
Components Configuration : YCbCr
Compressed Bits per Pixel : 4
Contrast : Normal
Custom Rendered : Normal process
Date and Time (digitized) : 2008:10:06 19:25:34
Date and Time (original) : 2008:10:06 19:25:34
Digital Zoom Ratio : 1.0
Exif Version : 2.21
Exposure Bias : 0
Exposure Mode : Manual
Exposure Program : Manual
Exposure Time : 1/90 s
FNumber : F2
File Source : Digital still camera
Flash : No flash
FlashPix Version : 1.00
Focal Length : 50.0 mm
Focal Length In 35mm Film : 75.0 mm
Gain Control : None
ISO Speed Ratings : 100
Interoperability IFD Pointer : 28200
Light Source : Unknown
Max Aperture Value : F1.7
Metering Mode : Spot
Pixel X Dimension : 640
Pixel Y Dimension : 432
Saturation : Normal
Scene Capture Type : Standard
Scene Type : Directly photographed
Sensing Method : One-chip color area
Sharpness : Normal
Sub-seconds Time : 65
Sub-seconds Time Digitized : 65
Sub-seconds Time Original : 65
Subject Distance Range : Unknown
User Comment :
White Balance : Auto

>>> Image Information <<<

Date and Time : 2008:10:06 19:25:34
Exif IFD Pointer : 228
GPS Info IFD Pointer : 28232
Model : NIKON D200
Orientation : top, left
Resolution Unit : inch
Software : Ver.1.00
X-Resolution : 72
YCbCr Positioning : Co-sited
Y-Resolution : 72

>>> Embedded Thumbnail <<<

Compression : JPEG (old-style)
JPEG Interchange Format : 0
JPEG Interchange Format Length : 9308
Resolution Unit : inch
X-Resolution : 300
YCbCr Positioning : Co-sited
Y-Resolution : 300

>>> Interoperability <<<

Interoperability Index : R98
Interoperability Version : 1.00

Here's the Makernotes section for alex.jpg

File name: axel.jpg (MakerNote EXIF Tags)

>>> Nikon3 <<<

AF Focus Position : N/A
Auto Bracket Release : Manual release
Color Balance 1 : 485/256 390/256 256/256 256/256
Color Balance 2 : 48 50 48 55 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ...
Color Mode : MODE1
Color Space : sRGB
Crop High Speed : 0 3904 2616 3904 2616 0 0
Delete Image Count : 0
Exposure Bracket Comp : 0/6
Exposure Difference : 233 1 12 0
Flash Bracket Comp : 0.0 EV
Flash Comp : 0.0 EV
Flash Device :
Flash Mode : Did not fire
Flash Setting : REAR
Focus : (MANUAL)
High ISO Noise Reduction : Off
Hue Adjustment : 0
Image Boundary : 0 0 3872 2592
Image Count : 10978
Image Data Size : 3011502
Image Optimization : NORMAL
ISO Settings : 100
ISO Speed : 100
Lens : 50mm F1.8
Lens Data : 48 50 48 49 226 215 215 17 73 185 55 100 130 239 145 244 8 15 255 105 108 201 161 228 16 81 175 42 194 119 73
Lens FStops : 7.33333
Lens Type : D
Light Source : COLORED
Noise Reduction : OFF
Pointer to a preview image : 2354
Program Shift : 0 1 6 0
Quality : FINE
Saturation : AUTO
Sensor Pixel Size : 605/100 605/100
Serial Number :
Sharpening : AUTO
Shooting Mode : Continuous
Shutter Count : 10978
Tone Compensation : AUTO
Version : 2.10
White Balance : AUTO
White Balance Bias : 0

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Old Oct 7, 2008, 11:26 PM   #4
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Agreed that more light is needed, and you do have some available - the back sides of your existing lights. Reflective panels could be use to increase the light available, and also diffuse it somewhat to help with the shadows. I think you are well on your way to a nice setup. The only other thing I can think of that might help is a bit darker background, which would make your subjects stand out a little more. Could you hang a dropcloth up as a temporary measure, without disturbing your screen?

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Old Oct 9, 2008, 8:14 PM   #5
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Guys you are such an amazing help each time I am asking you...

So I am going to do the following :

- Change each neon tube from 55W to 200W on one stand and from 55W to 100W on the other one
- Put car front window sun reflectors at the back of each stand
- Match the white balance
- F5.6 and above, ISO400 (I won't do groups, 3/4 people max)
- Metering on an eye
- I will buy a darker backdrop, easy to attach as I have an aluminium roof with alumimum beams

I will post here the results

Thanks again

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Old Oct 10, 2008, 7:22 AM   #6
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Same basic advice for all photo questions: read, shoot, think, repeat.

Specific for your set up: watch out for fast shutter speeds. Those "neon" lights go off and on 120 times per second. That means a fast shutter speed could expose while the lights are off. Do some experiments at various shutter speeds. Shoot a bunch with constant manual settings and see if the results are the same. Repeat with various shutter speeds and you should find the fastest that gives consistant results with your setup.
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Old Oct 11, 2008, 9:03 AM   #7
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Off topic but JimC, I can't believe my shuttercount shows on the data you extracted from one of the pics... This is actually the first time I see it so that is hot information for me :-)
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Old Oct 11, 2008, 10:09 AM   #8
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philgib wrote:
Off topic but JimC, I can't believe my shuttercount shows on the data you extracted from one of the pics... This is actually the first time I see it so that is hot information for me :-)
I used digiKam (a Linux based photo management/editing solution) to look at the Makernotes section to extract that part:


A number of tools can see shutter count from Nikon models now. I think iEXIF for Windows can see it:


Keep in mind that camera manufacturers don't publish the specs for what they save in the Makernotes. So, developers need to reverse engineer the data to try and interpret it. But, more and more image editing products are making a lot of progress in this area.

If you are a Windows or Mac user and want to see even more info similar to what I posted above from digiKam (lens used, focus points, many more camera settings, etc.), Phil Harvey's ExifTool can probably provide it.


You can find a GUI front end for it here that works with Windows:


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Old Oct 12, 2008, 8:27 PM   #9
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Thanks mate !
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