The Studio & The Fuji 18-55

In the last post I blathered on a bit about Lightroom grain, feel, and some thoughts regarding black and white processing. The random examples I used were on-the-fly casual shot Alicia and I made at high ISO using ambient light. Given that set of circumstances my preference was and usually is a treatment that reflects that more causal, low light, high-iso feel rather than what seems to be the end goal of most digital gear and post-processing (i.e. pristine, no grain/noise, sharpness and detail separation everywhere, etc). Of course there's the opposite right? Circumstances where you want more of a controlled look, you know when you make pictures with lights and reflectors and flags set just so…

Warning NSFW

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The frames I've included are from a few Christmas and I made after working on some normal kind of promo-shots for something or another. These also have the distinction of the first time I used strobes in any of my experiments for the Black & White project. On whole they were an epic failure for what I wanted for the project. The stuff I made after this with strobe turned into that Fragments side project. Those were lit in a completely different way and more importantly I approached making them completely differently.

The two things in common these have are that they use strobes and the Fuji 18-55. I've not settled on a final treatment for the Fragments side-project but there's a very good chance I'll do more of a medium-format film look or even a large-format film look without grain, much smoother, etc rather than the random preset slapped on those I used for just about every other thing shot in a looser more casual way.

General Purpose Studio Lens?

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There are a lot of Fuji X fans out there that use the 18-55mm XF as more of a walk-about lens. Sure it's great for that but in my own use for this group of projects as well as for all the other stuff I make that normal zoom has evolved into my general purpose studio lens. It's almost the ideal lens for use where one can control the light levels.

With the exception of tight head-shots or super wonky perspectives it covers all the bases with no concern about action-stopping shutter speeds in low light. It's kind of difficult to use anything wider than a 28mm equiv with background control unless your studio is a warehouse. It's also a heck of a lot lighter and more convenient than the 16-55 2.8. Not a whole lot of reasons you need or even want f/2.8 when using strobes and want sharp results and reasonable DOF.

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The 18-55 has plenty of detail and resolution when used stopped down a bit. Even at f/8 or f/9 DOF is still going to be the detail killer for most of three dimensional subjects. There is such thing as too much detail when people are in the picture, most modern lenses probably produce more detail than the average person wants to see regarding skin.

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Studio Control Etc.

Of course you always need to pay attention to about 3,000 variables when framing, composing, working with people, etc. One of the most important is how and where the light is falling and how it looks exactly. In very general terms the more control you want the closer your lights are going to be to the subject, in this case Christmas. Does wonders for controlling fall-off, reflections, feathering, gradients, etc, etc, etc. The huge downside of that control is less freedom of movement. Even a little bit counts a lot. Laying down vs. sitting up in this case is a massive exposure and fall-off difference.

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This translates into a lot of adjustments to lights, modifiers, subject position, etc all in the name of lighting control. The opportunity for free-wheeling serendipity is greatly reduced. Sure you can do some sort of porno-lighting (no falloff, light everywhere, not a big difference in ratios, etc) to optimize for that but not at all the same pictures or feel. This would suggest that zooms are not super useful if you're constantly making adjustments to all the other stuff anyway.

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Three things that do make zooms great in the studio. Quick framing changes are the first. The second is quick perspective change ups that make a huge difference when shooting full-length or three-quarter length shots of people. Third is space flexibility. Studios have a lot of limitations in terms of where you can stand and how far away that is. Those in-between focal lengths do come in handy more times than one would think, yes very related to framing but I've noticed in my own use I use the in-betweens far more in a studio context than elsewhere.

Processing Aside

All of these so far have Lightroom CC applied fake grain but look completely different and give more of a medium format feel of a traditional 100-ish to 400-ish film feel at reasonable or even high magnifications as seen above. I man also go grain free for something that has a more studio feel or controlled circumstances to it. The difference is subtle but there.

Here's a screenshot of some areas with finer detail and flatter tonal gradations where you might be able to see the grain treatment a bit better.

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The settings are:

  • Amount: 30
  • Size: 30
  • Roughness:40

These are just by eye rather than some recipe derived from intricate comparison but should illustrate the radical difference in feel between this and the super high-speed pushed rendition of last time. Probably not as different in terms of numbers and you might think. You could go even higher on roughness, this is about the lowest I go before it starts to look not at all like film in my opinion.

Here's no fake grain for comparison:

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Project Notes

I had no plans to make these or even work on the Black & White project this day. As has happened about 100 times prior to starting the project C. was messing with that collar that was laying around the studio and wanted to make a couple pictures of it. I think that's probably why I chucked out my previous notions of context, lighting, and approach just to see what would happen if I introduced a more complicated lighting setup into the mix.

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Sure, the props themselves provoke a lot of reaction, expression, gesture, and feel no matter what. What's the problem then? Hard to articulate but part of it is very tangible such as the amount and frequency of direction required to make it work. The other part is my own psychology and choices I make under these more controlled circumstances. Take a look at the random frames so far. Below is a change up that gets me a tiny bit closer to what I am after with the project.

Nothing to do with framing or composition or anything like that. Everything to do with body language, expression, and feel. Sure a lot of that is C. Arguably just as much is when I decide to hit the button and what I'm tuned into and theoretically what will work based on more stringent lighting conditions, etc. I made exactly one picture while messing around with this that I thought "fit" and what I wanted to see. Below is that frame, again having nothing to do with the best one.

Even leaving out all the other stuff that usually goes along with precision like hair, and makeup, and positioning, and background management. Even doing my damnedest to shoot looser and prioritize what feel I wanted and letting all the other stuff go from a more commercial set of circumstances the vast majority of frames had a feel of me manufacturing the pictures which is exactly the opposite of what I want.

End Notes

All photos made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF. Processing via Lightroom CC with a random B/W treatment just or this post.