Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Boudoir Photography Studio Prop Bed

If you're doing photo shoots in your home you can just set up a bedroom to double as a boudoir studio if your bedrooms are large enough. If you're shooting boudoir photography in your studio you'll want to have a bed in it. Since space is limited for many photographers, having a bed that doesn't take up much space is important.

I've been trying to come up with plans to build a photo studio prop bed that will fold up when not in use and not cost too much to make.

The plans to build the prop bed are below but chances are I'm not going to build it after finding a better alternative.

While browsing through Amazon I found this Zinus folding bed frame that folds even smaller than my design and is cheaper to buy than it would be to build from my plans.

Zinus Full Frame Folding Bed

Unlike a lot of other folding frames I've seen it is high enough off the ground that it will put the top of the mattress at about the same height as if there was a box spring underneath it. This way you can take natural looking shots with the model seated on the side of the bed.

What size bed for Boudoir Photography?

The bigger the bed the better so it looks like you're taking photos in an actual functioning bedroom instead of a set. Size however may be an issue because you need a lot of room on the sides of the bed to frame your shots properly using a good lens in the 50-100mm range.

A queen size bed would be perfect but if size is a consideration a full size bed gives enough room to do a variety of laying down poses and the model won't look like she's on a kid's bed.

What type of Mattress?

I remember talking with a glamour photographer a few years ago that just used a plywood platform as his prop bed. He said that way the model won't sink into the bed like she would in a regular mattress. That made sense but some of the shots didn't look natural to me and it wasn't the most comfortable for the woman in the photos.

At the very least I think a foam topper over plywood wood be nice but that doesn't really give a real bed look. I think it's best to get an actual mattress. You can frequently find mattresses on craigslist cheap or free.

Another alternative, one which I'll probably go with, is to use an air mattress. It will need to be a thick one to look like a full sized mattress. Something like this Intex Comfort Plush Mid Rise Full Airbed. It's not very expensive and it doesn't take up much space when deflated. Just be careful if you have a model with spikey heels on the air mattress.

Boudoir Photo Prop Bed Plans

To build the boudoir photography prop bed you'll need to visit your local Home Depot to pick up:

  • 1 4' x 8' Sheet of 3/4" Plywood
  • 2 8' long 4x4's for the legs
  • 3 8' long 2x4 studs
  • 4 Hinges, door hinges will work
  • Assorted screws
You'll want to cut the plywood so you have:
  • 2 23-1/2" x 75" plywood panels
  • 2 7" x 37-1/2" plywood panels which you'll join together to make one long panel.
Cut the 2x4s so you have 48 5" long lengths.

Cut the 4x4's to anywhere between 13-15" each depending on how high you want the bed. You'll need 12 legs all together. The amount of legs seems like a lot but if you're going ot have someone moving around and posing it's good to have it as sturdy as possible.

Then you'll just need to assemble everything together. This is a view of the bottom side of the prop bed frame. The 2x4's are attached on their edge to the plywood in a way that leaves a socket for the 4x4 legs to slide into.

When the prop bed isn't in use you remove the 4x4 legs and it folds up nicely. It's a good size to be used as a sofa table or other table that won't take up much space.

It's not the prettiest looking bed frame but throw a full size bed skirt over it and it will look just fine.

Place the air mattress on top, use some nice sheets and decorative comforter set, place a headboard in the back. Dress the rest of the set and you have a nice boudoir set in your photo studio that won't take up a lot of space when not in use.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Neewer Background Roller System Review & Installation

Neewer is a brand I see selling photographic equipment on Amazon frequently. For the most part they seem to be cheap Chinese versions of common products. I wanted to mount my backgrounds on the ceiling when I ran across their background roller system. It was cheaper than other similar background rollers and I liked that the brackets had 4 mounting holes instead of 2 like some of the other ones. I purchased a few of them and have been pretty happy with them so far.

There were a couple of issues that I'll address in my review of the Neewer Single Background Roller System and installation instructions. I'll also go over why I chose to use multiple single roller systems instead of a multi-roller background system.

Background Roller System Choices

The oldest choice for background roller systems like this was the Manfrotto AutoPole Expan Kit. It was expensive and for a time the only system you could get. It's still available and very well made from a well respected company. The system comes with AutoPole's that allow you to set it up without any hardware pretty quickly.

These days there are more affordable roller system options for seamless paper and muslin backgrounds. Basically copies of the Manfrotto system made in China sold under brands such as Cowboy Studio, LimoStudio Fotodiox and Neewer.

You can also find them in configurations to hold 4 backgrounds, 3 backgrounds and even single background roller kits.

The multi background systems come with all the background roller supports connected together for each end of the support system. It can be mounted on a wall or ceiling.

Even though I was going to be installing multiple background rolls I didn't want to use one of these because the spacing between background rolls as well as the height difference from roll to roll would eat up more space than I needed and I'm already working in a space that's a little tight.

To save a few inches here and there I opted to go with three separate single systems. That way I was able to get them closer together and each one is the same distance down from the ceiling.

The Fotodiox and Neewer systems were priced within a couple dollars of each other for the single roller systems. I decided to go with the Neewer System because it had 4 screw holes in the hooks instead of 2 for the Fotodiox. 

What You Get

The system comes with 2 expanding rollers, 2 roller brackets, a plastic chain, weight for the chain to keep it hanging straight and out of the way, an instruction manual and 8 fasteners that seem to be meant for masonry. These were useless to me as I was installing this on a wood framed, drywall covered ceiling.

What Else You'll Need

You'll need to keep reading for the specific sizes.
  • Dimensional Lumber
  • 8 (or more) Long Anchor Bolts for new framing into old framing plus washers
  • 8 (for each single roller) shorter anchor bolts about the depth of the new framing 
  • 10' 2" EMT Conduit for each roller system about $16 from Dome Depot.

Attaching Background Roller Brackets To Drywall

Well technically we're not attaching it to drywall. I roll of seamless weighs about 15lbs the EMT conduit weighs about that or a little more. Multiply 30lbs by how ever many backgrounds you're installing and that's a lot of weight. I feel better making sure everything is secured into solid framing.

If you're installing this in a typical wood framed structure you'll need some additional framing. Whether you install it perpendicular or parallel to your framing you'll likely need some additional wood to hold the supports in place since the lengths of seamless paper don't coincide with the 16" on center that framing is typically spaced at.

You can either cut out the drywall, install the new framing securely into existing framing and repair the drywall, or you can just place the new framing over the existing drywall. It's not as clean looking but it's quicker and easier to do and creates less of a mess.

I decided to go with the latter and plan on doing the former when I have more time. As you can see I marked the location of the ceiling joists which run perpendicular to the direction of the background rollers. I used a peice of 5/4 x 4" lumber cut to a little longer than the space between the joists, drilled 4 holes for the anchors and then drove the anchors into place using a washer on each anchor. I used 5/16" anchors that were 3-1/2" long. I wanted the anchor bolt to go at least 1.5" into the existing framing. In my case I had 1" of new framing, 5/8" of drywall to go through which meant I needed at least 3-1/8" length to get 1-1/2" into the framing. I would have preferred a 2x4 but every bit of extra height I can spare helps.

I installed the first side of the roller system so that there would be about 5-1/2 to 6" of clearance on the side to leave room for the chain and roller screw handle. Then I positioned the other framing so the distance between the center of the first support and the second support would be a little more than 1" greater than the length of backgrounds I'll be using with this background system.

The plastic piece of the other roller can slide back and forth a couple of inches so you get some leeway. Just unscrew the thumbscrew before trying to mount the roller so it slides freely.

To secure the mounting brackets to the new framing I used 1/4" anchor bolts that were as long as I could get to go into the new framing without driving through it. Same deal. Drill an appropriate sized hole and use either an impact driver or socket wrench to drive the anchor bolts in.

Washers aren't needed since the base of the bracket is metal.

One thing in the above photo that I noticed. The part of the bracket that hangs down is welded to the base of the bracket. The Fotodiox single roller bracket was an L shape that is formed from one piece of metal and even though it only has 2 screw holes, being one piece of metal has it's advantages. It's also has a smaller footprint which means I could get the backgrounds closer together.

Expand Rollers Into Background

The expanding rollers can be inserted into the ends of a roll of seamless paper.

Just stick one in each and end twist the knob until the roller is holding onto the core of the seamless paper roll securely. As you tighten the knob (clockwise) the two ends squeeze together and cause the white expanding part to expand inside the roll.

Ideally you're not going to want to put rolls of seamless up directly because as the rolls hang horizontally in the air they'll start to bow in the middle. This is especially true in more humid locations.

Instead you'll want to cut your 2" EMT down to the right size and roll your seamless paper onto the roll. In addition to not having to worry about sagging paper, you'll also be able to roll up muslin backdrops on the EMT as well.

I laid the EMT conduit next to the roll of paper, taped it carefully using duct tape to the EMT trying to keep it even, mounted the EMT on the roller system then used the chain to roll it from the cardboard core onto the EMT. Every once in a while make sure it's rolling up evenly. If it's not you can just pull the chain the other direction slightly and pull from one side to straighten it up.

It helps if you have someone to help you when you mount the backgrounds on the roller brackets but I was able to manage each roll fine on my own with a little patience.

The system works great and I have my backgrounds ready to go when I need to shoot and out of the way when I'm using the room for other purposes.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

LED Modeling Lights for Novatron Standard Heads

I needed to replace a modeling lamp in one of my Novatron studio flash heads (N2140C, N2110C, N2110C, etc) and decided to go searching for an LED bulb that will work instead. Thankfully I was able to find bulbs that fit at my local Home Depot.

The incandescent N4101 Novatron replacement bulbs aren't cheap. They cost around $9 each and I'd have to head into NYC to pick them up. Besides that, my main issues is that I feel guilty wasting so much electricity after having converted most of my interior lighting to LEDs and they get hot!

Heat was a big concern. Not just fore safety or because when I gel the unmodified heads the gels sometimes melt on the bulb but also because each bulb is like having a 100w heater in the room. It's been pretty hot recently, I don't have AC ducts running down to the basement where I shoot and I haven't figured out how to vent a portable AC yet.

I went to Home Depot looking for suitable bulbs to replace my Novatron modelling lamps. I needed bulbs that were bright, short enough that they didn't protrude past the reflector so they still fit in the case, thin enough at the base that I could screw them in without a problem, and narrow enough at the bulb end so they didn't block the light coming from the actual flash tube.

The EcoSmart 60W Equivalent Soft White A15 Dimmable LED Light Bulbs fit the bill and they were only $17 for a 3 pack.

Even after being on for over an hour they're still cool enough you can touch them. I was hoping to get 100W equivalent LEDs but I couldn't find them in an A15 size anywhere. They light output they produce though is sufficient and they only use 6W each. One hour running the 100W incandescents would cost me $0.04 an hour while the LEDs would only cost $0.002. Not a huge cost savings as it would take over 400 hours for them to pay for themselves but eliminating the heat issues is a huge plus. Also, there's no thin metal filament to break when I accidentally knock over a light stand. The main reason for replacing the bulb in the first place!

The LED modeling lights produce a harder light than incandescent bulbs. That's partly the nature of LED bulbs and also partly because less light is directed towards the bottom of the bulb towards the reflector.

Since flash in a bare reflector is harder than incandescent light anyway I like this. Makes it easier to get a more accurate preview of the lighting.

They weren't available in daylight colors but the soft white matches the color of the incandescent light they replaced. My last shoot it was easier to keep my shooting space comfortable without the added heat from the 100W bulbs so it was well worth the small investment.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Black And White Film Photoshop Actions - Silver by Sparkle Stock

I love black and white photography and used to spend a lot of time in the darkroom processing my own film and prints. There were dozens of different black and white films, each with their own characteristics. The film emulsions responded differently to different colors and they had their own unique constrast.

You could also make changes to those characteristics depending on the developer you used as well as processing techniques.

Unfortunately over the years some of my favorite black and white films have been discontinued and it's just so much easier to do things digitally these days. Getting those unique black and white film effects was still important to me.

By using the Channel Mixer and curves I would at least be able to get a more realistic black and white film effect but I was happy to recently find Silver from SparkleStock. I'ts a set of 28 Photoshop Actions that mimic real black and white films, including some of my favorites.

Silver also includes contrast adjustment actions as well as film grains. I'm still trying to get a hang of applying the film grain but this is a very powerful set of actions at a great price. Only paid $5 for the full version and there's a free version available with less film emulsions.

In black and white photography different colored filters on your lens would also change how the image was recorded on film. A red filter for example would cause reds to appear darker while causing the complimentary color (green) to appear darker. So reds would lighten skin tones and darken foliage. Actions are included to simulate these filter effects.

I grabbed a color photo to use as an example and ran it through all 28 film actions as well as a simple Photoshop desaturation to compare the different looks of different films.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Can a Black Girl Look Goth?

This is the first Photoshop Toning Tutorial I'm posting here on creating a cool toned goth-type feel in a portrait of an African-American model. Using some Hue/Saturation adjustment layers plus some standard retouching, dodging, burning, etc. I was able to get the effect I wanted and we were both pleased with the results.

Before I even get to the tutorial let me just say that as a an older white guy there are a million other things I'd prefer to talk about than anything to do with race. Trying to make an African-American model look like a pale white model and publishing this online is not comfortable. Especially since I tend to look at my pictures objectively in terms of light, shadow and colors that create a pleasing picture. People who know me understand, or at least I hope they do, that I'm not objectifying the woman in the photo.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How To Cut Seamless Paper Background Rolls

Seamless paper is a staple in the photo studio. It is commonly available in widths of 26", 53" and 107" but can also sometimes be found in 86" and 140". I picked up some 9' (107') rolls of Savage background paper but the layout of my home studio was a little odd and I needed to trim the roll down a little.

Cutting a roll of seamless paper is a pretty simple process. If you have a hand saw you can just go at it with that. A hacksaw with a fine-toothed metal cutting blade will leave a clean cut but it will take a long time.

If you have a wood trim saw and a miter box you can get a straighter cut and the blade is a little more aggressive. The cut will still be clean.

I've used a reciprocating saw in the past but it's hard to get a good, clean cut with that. I've only used it to break down rolls for recycling. A circular saw isn't quite big enough to cut in one pass and it's hard to get a straight cut on a round roll.

The best results so far has been using a miter saw to cut seamless paper. The cut is clean and it's fast. I was using a smaller miter saw that only has an 8-1/4" blade so I couldn't cut through the whole roll in one pass. After making the first cut I had to roll the roll a little to complete the cut.

It's important to support the other end of the roll level with the base of the miter saw. Clamp it down so it doesn't move while cutting. I also put some tape over the area to be cut to keep the paper from fraying. I did a test cut in my waste piece first to make sure it was cutting well before moving to where I marked the paper for the final cut.

Here's a video on cutting seamless paper with a miter saw.