Viewing Lighting

Making Something Out of Nothing

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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Making Something Out of Nothing with Raph Nogal

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There is an expectation for professional wedding photographers to deliver our best work at every single wedding. Location can certainly help with this. It’s a lot easier to create impactful images in the streets of Venice than Flint. Now, I don’t know about you, but I rarely get to shoot in the streets of Venice, and still create artistic, impactful images for my clients on a consistent basis. You need to set yourself up for success. Try sending out a questionnaire to your clients prior to the wedding with not only questions, but also with a guide so that they understand what it takes to create the images they are hiring you for.

Experience, thinking on your feet, challenging yourself and a drop of “I can do this” all go a long way toward achieving this. But it seems challenges somehow always present themselves on the wedding day.

Here are some examples of how I managed to get out of a jam on the wedding day when the location was less than ideal.

The Party Room

I arrived at the groom’s condo and we all headed to a party room in the basement. I was taken aback by the extremely low ceiling and the collection of pot lights scattered throughout. This is where tools such as the Westcott Ice Light 2 and off-camera flash come in handy.

With a location like this, there was really nothing to work with. There were four walls, a couch, a table and a kitchenette. After doing some getting-ready images, I had the idea of using some of these elements in my shot to create something dynamic. I shot through the handle of the refrigerator. The highlights on the stainless steel created some interesting patterns. We lit the groom with off-camera flash.

Rained Out

Sometimes things get out of our control. On this wedding day, we got a torrential downpour. The first look was initially planned for an outdoor location in a nearby town, but that was quickly scrapped due to weather. We had to move indoors. Without a gorgeous, stunning venue, we still had to deliver great images, but we had to shoot them at the groom’s parents’ home. For bride and groom portraits, we settled for the dining room.

Fear starts to fade if you have the right tools in the bag, if you embrace spontaneity and if you have a vision.

I love dramatic images. Using off-camera flash and the right modifiers, we were able to cut out the messy bits of the room and focus our light on our bride and groom. I used a snoot and a grid on top of my speedlight to prevent the light from spilling onto parts of the scene that I didn’t want lit. Grids are useful when you are working with existing light elements, such as existing ambient or natural light, chandeliers and wall sconces. You can see these elements and light up only the parts of the scene that you want.

In the dining room, I noticed two wall sconces and a light fixture above the dining room table. I asked my assistant Oliver to snoot and grid the speedlight to expose for the sconces and the light fixture and control that light beam. We were able to turn an ordinary dining room into something special. We repeated this process and shot into a mirror as well to create some complementary images for the wedding album and to carry the story along.

The Mail Room

The bride and groom finished their first look upstairs in the hotel room, and wanted to go downstairs for some photos. This condo, unfortunately, did not have any particularly stunning features, but I thought, “Wait a minute! There’s a mail room.” My clients gave me a puzzled look. I posed them, then used a red gel on the backlight and a grid on the keylight, creating a vibrant, cool image in the mailroom of their condo.

Hotel Lobby

Hotel lobbies are packed with nooks and crannies for some great photo opportunities. You just have to find them. In this example, the bride was rushing away from the hotel into the limo to head to the first-look location. As I walked past this alcove in the wall, I knew I had to drag her back in to do a cool fashion-inspired image. I placed the bride in the alcove and made sure that her heels were visible and staggered. I tilted her face toward the light to create a beautiful jawline and cheekbones.

With the dress cascading off to the side, the image comes together. At the end of the day, we need to seize these opportunities not just to scratch our creative itch, but to give our clients our best.

The next time you find yourself in a location that is less than ideal, take two minutes to look around, think outside the box and see how you can make it work. There is always a way. Hold up a reflective surface, shoot through some clear bottles, take out a prism that’s been sitting in your bag for a year.

As Sal Cincotta always says, innovate or die. I think that statement applies not only to our business, but to life.

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5 Tips for Better Lighting on Location

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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5 Tips for Better Lighting on Location with Michael Anthony

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Being a location portrait photographer has its drawbacks. We are often at the mercy of our environment, which means we are going to be faced with lighting challenges. If your schedule is busy, you won’t always have the luxury of planning all your sessions at sunset.

A few years back, we had to start stacking shoots in our calendar to accommodate all our clients. We had to book shoots at 1 or 2 p.m., in less than optimal lighting conditions. Being forced to learn to overcome these situations, I picked up a few skills that are sure to help any photographer overcome bad lighting on location.

Come to your shoot with a plan.

First step, know exactly what the lighting needs are going to be at your shoot prior to the day of. This means that you may need to make a quick scouting trip if it’s a new location. After doing this a few times in your local area, you will have a clear idea of the lay of the land. If this is a wedding day, you could even offer to do a site visit with your clients beforehand.

Knowledge is power, and knowing what you would need for your shoot will help you to be efficient when the time comes to get out there and take amazing photos. Every time we have a shoot, I think about all the possible scenarios that we would encounter, and I pack accordingly for the session so I am not bringing equipment that I don’t necessarily need.

For typical sessions, I bring three lenses: 135, 24–70 (or 50mm) and 11–24. I bring two cameras, and leave one locked in my car.

Lighting equipment changes depending on the situation, but I usually bring one B1 or B2 flash, a soft light modifier, a reflector and a gel kit.

If I am on a commercial shoot or a wedding day, the needs are totally different; now I bring speedlights, video lights and different modifiers.

For this recent shoot in San Francisco, I knew we would be working with cloudy weather all day, so I didn’t see the need to bring along the extra weight of the B1 flash, and brought the B2 system instead, saving some weight in my carry-on.

Purchase high-quality, reliable equipment for all situations.

A professional photographer should have the right tools for every job. By doing so, you will be best equipped to handle any situation. You will need to purchase artificial lighting at some point if you want to master all situations. We use three diverse types of artificial light in our kit. From lightest to heaviest, they are low-powered, mid-powered and high-powered.

These are the tools of your trade, and they need to be reliable, durable and future-proof. There has been a rush to buy imported knockoff flashes lately. I did it early in my career to save a few dollars, and had terrible experiences repeatedly: flashes not firing or syncing, and even one that exploded after just a week. I was embarrassed to explain to my clients why my flash head was smoking.

I have learned that it is just not worth it to buy equipment from non-name brands. While there are certainly higher-end brands for strobe gear, there are other reliable ones that are moderately priced. Find flashes that are TTL- and HSS-capable to help you get to the shot quicker.

Regarding modifers, for location shooting, you will want to look for gear that is portable and easy to set up and break down when moving from spot to spot. I don’t want to have to break down a softbox to walk 25 feet because my hands were full. I love photographic umbrellas. I prefer the silver umbrellas with the diffusion fabric to soften the light when needed. This allows you to get a little more specular output from your flash. You can also use it as a soft light at the same time. Profoto makes excellent umbrellas.

Bring an assistant.

This can be a tough one. I have had good and bad experiences with staffing. But the best thing that has helped me create beautiful images quickly and efficiently is a voice-activated light stand, or human monopod. Having someone who adjusts the light position when I ask means more time to interact with my clients and less time running back and forth between them and the light.

An assistant can hold a reflector or scrim, making it easier when you’re starting out with multiple-light setups. You can have your assistant hold your keylight and keep your kicker on a stand somewhere.

But how do you find a good assistant, and how much do you pay them?

Looking for seasoned photographers in your network to assist you is a fruitless effort. For whatever reason, many photographers view assisting as a stigma. I never understood that, and it was the most problematic issue I ran into early on.

Look for talent in local schools. See if there are any students looking to enter the photography industry who would like to learn from you. Don’t stop at just one, since it will be hard to sync up your schedule with theirs. Hire three assistants so you can choose between them whenever you need someone. Book them at least seven days out and compensate them hourly after they have proved they are reliable.

Look for natural light first.

If you have read my past articles, you know that I always say good light is about proper balance. Balance could mean anything related to the situation you are photographing in. When we are not shooting our signature-look portraits, we are shooting natural light, about 99 percent of the time. This means we look for good reflective surfaces in our environment to create directional light on our subject.

You can see in this image a neutral-colored wall with direct sun on it. My bride was standing in the shade in front of me, which allowed me to make her the brightest part of the image, as the light reflecting off the building fell off gradually into the background. There are surfaces like this in almost every environment. The key is knowing where to use them.

Look for interesting shapes created by natural light. Use those to create patterns that shape your compositions.

Use gels to create fake sun flare or turn day into night.

I have talked about these techniques in depth in Shutter articles dating back to 2015. You can use either a half CTO gel, or a full one to mimic sunlight or to light a background. You can also use a creative white balance trick to turn day into nighttime using a CTO gel and the white balance settings in your camera when the light gets low.

To fake sun flare, place a high-powered flash like a Profoto B1 in the same direction that the sun would naturally be coming from. Placing it behind foliage creates a believable look that looks great. Next, use a half CTO gel on your flash, and expose your scene for natural light. From there, you can get a beautiful golden-hour sun when it isn’t golden hour or when you aren’t in the best position to take advantage of the early evening light.

You can also use your flash gels to light your background and create pretty silhouettes of your subjects. Place a speedlight on the floor facing upward, close to your background. Select the widest zoom on the flash and place your subjects in between the flash and the camera.

Lastly, to turn day into night when it gets late in the day, underexpose your scene by two to three stops. Set your in-camera white balance to 3200k. Place a CTO balanced flash to turn the light on them back to white. Optionally, place a bare flash behind your subjects to give them a beautiful blue glow. If you have a bit of the early dusk sky in the frame, you will get amazing results with this technique.

Location lighting doesn’t have to be intimidating. You just need to have the right tools and knowledge.

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Lighting the Rock and Roll Family Portrait

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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Lighting the Rock and Roll Family Portrait with Michael Corsentino

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The guitarist for a band I shoot promo work for just welcomed a brand-new baby boy into the world with his wife. That offers the perfect opportunity for a family portrait session. Not just any old cookie-cutter family portrait—I want my portraits, family or otherwise, to reflect the individuality of the subjects.

Every person and every family is unique. Could I have gone the tried and true family-on-the-beach-in-khakis-or-in-the-park-on-green-grass route? Certainly. But then it would look like a million other family portraits. It wouldn’t look like them. These guys are rock and roll, so the portrait needed to say that. What I’m getting at here is something I like to call portrait design. Rather than getting stuck following the pack, strike out on your own and produce portraits that tell your subject’s unique story. Think about them more like environmental portraits than family portraits. With environmental portraits, you’re doing your best to incorporate elements that help tell that story, whether it’s the location, the props or the wardrobe.

My original plan was to put Eric’s badass Day-Glo orange muscle car and the family in the middle of the road, and angle the car so that it crossed the double yellow line on the road. I’d stagger the family in a heroic pose, with Eric out front and Dani (his wife) and Asher behind him, and cross-light them with a broad keylight from one side, using the sun as a warm-toned kicker light from the other.

When my assistant and I arrived at the location, it quickly became apparent that none of that was going to work as planned. The yellow stripe on the road was only about 10 feet long, so it wouldn’t create the front-to-back infinity effect I wanted. The road was more highly trafficked at that time of day than expected, which made putting the car and lots of gear in the middle of the road unrealistic. The sun was low in the sky but being blocked by trees, so my accent light was gone, and it felt like it must have been the windiest day on record, which meant the light modifiers I brought were going to be a complete bear to work with.

Luckily, I had four sandbags with me, not nearly enough, and one assistant, again not nearly enough with all that wind. With the family arriving shortly and the clock ticking for setup, I needed a new plan and I needed it quickly. That’s often the case when unexpected environmental and location issues crop up. Having to change it up on the fly happens all the time. It’s something you need to be prepared for. You have to be able to roll with the punches, think on your feet and produce even when you’re thrown a series of curveballs. That’s what being a professional is all about, especially on location.

Luckily, there was an empty parking lot for a park right next to the road. It had a rustic enough look with its dirt floor, canopy of trees and a wooden fence that I could use to create leading lines in the composition. This proved to be a good compromise, one that provided a location that was consistent with my original concept for the portrait and that allowed us to work more relaxed and uninterrupted with plenty of room for gear.

Since I would be lighting a staggered grouping, I wanted to light them all fairy evenly front to back and also highlight Eric’s badass car, the main prop and rock and roll element for the shot. When you’re working with groups and you want even light, the inverse square law is your best friend. This scary-sounding term just means you’ll want a fair bit of distance between your subjects and your light source to achieve even front-to-back illumination. The reason for this is that light energy or fall-off happens much more rapidly as it leaves a strobe than it does the farther away you get from it. In other words, from 1 to 3 feet in front of your strobe, your aperture reading could easily drop two full stops. From 8 to 10 feet away from your strobe, the energy or amount of light remains much more consistent as it travels, giving you a wider margin of space for even lighting. So what you’re doing by working with distance is allowing a group of subjects to evenly share the same amount of light, more or less, from front to back.

To achieve this, I lit the group with an 8×8-foot scrim with two to three strobes fired through it from behind. I did this to create a large wall of light that provided enough coverage to illuminate the group with one source. I knew the light wouldn’t have a ton of contrast since I was using a diffused white source, but I also knew I could always add additional contrast in post. By increasing my shutter speed to underexpose or “knock down” the daylight and my increasing flash power, I’d be able to create the dramatic look I wanted.

Keep in mind when you’re working in ambient and strobe situations that shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light contributed to an exposure, and that aperture (as well as strobe power) controls the amount of flash contributed to an exposure. The light from the setting sun was being blocked by trees and clouds, and was therefore unavailable for use as an accent light. To overcome this, I used an additional strobe in place of the sun. I gelled it with color temperature orange gel (CTO) to help replicate the warm look of the sun’s light. I placed this accent light on the opposite side of the keylight.

I always bring along additional modifiers so that I have options and different looks at my disposal. I had a 20×50 strip box and a large deep silver interior umbrella and a 74-inch octabank. The wind rendered all of them useless. My assistant was having enough trouble managing the 8×8 scrim in the wind, even with four sandbags. That meant using only hard 7-inch reflectors on the strobes instead of the many modifiers I would have preferred. The wind forced us to improvise.

At the end of the day, I was able to create a compelling portrait that Eric and Dani loved. By shooting tethered, they were able to review images throughout the shoot. The key to working with babies is being ready to go when your subjects arrive. While getting as dialed in as possible with your lights, exposure and planned composition is a great practice and my standard operating procedure, when you’re photographing a baby, it’s essential. You have a very limited window of opportunity; once they get cranky and melt down, it’s over.

Capturing one image live where everyone has a perfect expression and their eyes are open can be a challenge, especially with a toddler in the mix. This is one of those fix-it-in-post opportunities. Developing solid compositing skills allows you to mix and match expressions, finding the best ones and combing them into one perfect image.

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One Light Magic

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

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One Light Magic with Michael Corsentino

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This month I use the test images from my One Light Magic class I taught at ShutterFest 2017 to show you how to get the most juice out of one light. Each was produced using only one light and a range of modifiers. This was one of my most popular classes, especially among beginners, since most of us start with one light.

 

Whether you’re using one light or six, strobes or speedlights, the same basic principles apply. Before we dive into the sample images and the modifiers used to achieve them, we need to talk about the four basic principles of light: quantity, quality, direction and distance. Let’s look at each.

 

Quantity of Light: This is the volume of artificial light you contribute to the exposure. If you want more artificial light, what do you do? Turn up the power on your strobe. What if you want less artificial light? Turn down the power on your strobe. It’s really that simple. You can either control the strobe’s power setting manually like I do, or, if you’re shooting TTL, simply use your camera’s flash exposure compensation adjustment settings, typically +/–2 to +/–3 stops depending on make and model, to find your lighting sweet spot. That’s quantity of light in a nutshell.

 

Quality of Light: This is determined in large part by the modifier, and is often described with terms like soft light, hard light and specular light. Soft light creates gradual transitions between shadows and highlights. The basic rule of thumb is the larger the modifier and the closer it’s placed to your subject, the softer the light. Feathering the light, a technique used to further accentuate soft light, is another useful method. Here, the subject is placed slightly behind the modifier and illuminated entirely by its falloff rather than the harsher center hot spot.

 

When it comes to hard light, opposites apply. Here, the transitions between shadows and highlights should be rapid and crisp. Modifiers are typically small and placed farther away from the subject. The smaller the modifier and the farther away it is from your subject, the harder the light.

 

Direction of Light: This is the angle of light in relationship to your subject. Photography is light and shadow, so don’t be afraid of shadows. They create a sense of dimension, volume, shape and drama. Imagine your subject in the center of a large clock, facing the 12 o’clock position. You, your camera and your light are also positioned at 12 o’clock, facing them. As you move the position of your light left or right around the clock’s circumference, you begin to introduce shadow to the lighting pattern created on your subject. The farther to the side you place your light along the arc of that clock face, the more shadow you introduce. Starting at the 12 o’clock position, you get butterfly/Paramount light. Moving left or right 45 degrees, you’re positioned for Rembrandt and loop lighting. Farther to the side to the 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock position, you’re where you need to be for split light. Beyond that is where rim lights are positioned, typically somewhere between 1 to 2 o’clock or 10 to 11 o’clock. I’m providing two clock positions because, if you imagine a dividing line separating the right and left half of the clock face, they each work exactly the same way, producing the same effects. They can be used alone or combined to create more layered lighting.

 

Distance of Light: This is the distance of the light source from the subject. Distance plays a key role in hard and soft light. The sun is a massive light source, but it’s 93 million miles away. Without cloud cover to broaden and soften it, it’s a point light source. This is why the sun isn’t always dependable. The perceived size of a given light source in relationship to the subject is also relevant here. The perceived size (and effect) of a 2×2 softbox placed 15 feet from a subject is large. Take that same 2×2 softbox and place it 10 feet from the subject, and its perceived size becomes very small. This is important because, as we’ve learned with quality of light, size matters, both real and perceived.

 

For the class, I highlighted three of the light modifiers I find most useful for a wide range of work: Mola Demi Beauty Dish, Elinchrom 74-inch Litemotiv Indirect Octa and Elinchrom 39-inch Deep Octa, along with their respective diffusion panels. I also showed examples of how useful grids can be for those working in tight spaces.

 

I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up on the ShutterFest Facebook page with your questions.

 

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The Art of the Scrim: Daylight Portraits

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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The Art of the Scrim: Daylight Portraits with Michael Corsentino

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It’s just as important to know when to use strobes as when not to use them. There are things you can do with scrims and natural light that are difficult if not impossible to replicate with artificial light. A case in point is this lovely daylight portrait series of model Willie Demi Spink shot at New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

 

Scrim and Subtraction All in One

 

For this shoot, I used a Sunbounce Cage, a five-sided 8×8-foot popup scrim/subtraction panel tent that becomes a portable daylight studio anywhere I go. People always ask why I don’t just shoot my studio-style on-location portraits in a studio in the first place. That’s a great question. The soft wrapping quality of light I can create with a large scrim and the sun is like nothing I’ve ever been able to create in the studio. Scrims are super portable, easily packed onto planes and into cars. I can take my studio with me. I don’t have to worry about electricity, I can capture environmental and studio images during the same shoot if desired, and, as you’ll see, there is no shortage of lighting options available, all without ever powering on a strobe.

 

Position Is Key

 

The way in which the Cage or any similar tool is oriented in relationship to the sun plays a key role in the quality of light created. Couple that with the wide variety of ways the Cage can be configured to control quantity and quality of light, as well as its direction and intensity, and you end up with an extremely versatile tool.

 

For our first look, I worked with the diffusion panel on the right side of the Cage. I did this for two reasons. Earlier in the day, the sun was lower in the sky, providing directional side light. Audra Seay, our talented HMUA, had styled model Willie’s hair flipped to the left side. This meant there would be no shadow cast from the hair when lit from the right. It’s not a hard and fast rule I followed the entire shoot, but for the majority of images, it was the look I wanted.

 

In addition to the 8×8 diffusion panel on the right side, I used the diffusion panel on the ceiling of the Cage. This created a soft hair light. My assistant simply unzipped the black cover on the ceiling as we were setting up. Each surface of the Cage can be used with either black fabric to block light or diffusion fabric to let light in. In addition to this different-colored background, fabrics can be used to create a variety of looks. Here I used black infinite cloth for a classic portrait look. I also chose black because I knew it would help accentuate the porcelain quality I wanted Willie’s skin to have after the black-and-white conversion was applied to the files. All said, the goal of this first look was to create a soft and directionally lit portrait.

 

When it was time to move on to our second look—with a more dramatic, flat-lit, specular lighting effect—the Cage needed to be repositioned to make the best use of the sun. When you’re working with scrims, it’s important to determine the path the sun will follow as it rises and sets; plan what order makes the most sense for the looks planned. We also zipped the black blocking fabric back in place. The only open surface, aside from the front, was now the top diffusion panel. The way the scrim is oriented in relationship to the sun has a direct impact on the quality of light created. Our first look was soft and side lit because the sun was coming in from the side at a relatively low position in the sky.

 

For the second look, the sun was now very high in the sky and had moved behind my camera position. We spun the Cage around to get more overhead light coming directly into the Cage via the top diffusion panel. In this position, we were able to introduce a silver reflector to provide fill light from below and the side. By rearranging the position of the Cage, the rim light on Willie’s hair light was now much brighter; with a silver reflector in place, our dramatic specular look was ready to go.

 

Fill Reflector

 

Adding the silver reflector from below or from the side for our second look introduced directional fill and a prominent catchlight in the lower half of the model’s eyes. This worked well in this situation, but you do run the risk of creating an overly harsh and distracting catchlight, so be careful. This can always be softened, along with the rest of the fill light from the reflector, by simply switching to a white-surfaced reflector.

 

Shooting Tethered on Location

 

If you follow my work or read this column regularly, you know I’m a proponent of shooting tethered whenever possible. This shoot was no different. Here I used a Nine-Volt laptop table on a C-stand, which provides a stable base on surfaces that aren’t level. To shade the laptop and make it infinitely easier to view the screen, I used Nine-Volt’s collapsible laptop sun shades.

 

Rounding out my tethering setup were Tether Tools’ 15-foot USB and 15-foot USB extension cables, along with a portable SSD drive for backing up files in the field. Shooting tethered allowed us to see large previews of what I was shooting, check exposures, monitor posing, position Rachel Velez’s awesome wardrobe and accessory styling as needed, and also dial in the black-and-white conversion for the shoot in real time. This way, every image coming up on screen was the black-and-white look used for the finals.

 

Working With Models

 

It’s essential that your talent know they can trust you implicitly. This is especially true with nude or implied-nude modeling. Trust is critical for a male photographer working with female models. Models need to feel safe and comfortable. They’re vulnerable, and need to trust that you’ve got their best interests in mind. There needs to be zero “creeper” vibe. That means no awkward jokes, no staring—you need to be a total pro at all times. I also like to have an assistant ready to drape the model in a robe between looks or during breaks. My models understand that I would never publish any capture that they aren’t comfortable with.

 

Post Workflow

 

My post-processing workflow started in Capture One Pro 10, where I chose my selects, adjusted exposure and tweaked the black-and-white conversion and digital “film” grain that had been applied in the field. I opened the images in Photoshop CC and retouched them using Retouching Academy’s Beauty Retouch Panel, my go-to. One of the benefits of applying digital grain to simulate the look of Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film stock is that retouching becomes much easier. The grain covers up a multitude of sins.

 

A Scrim Is a Scrim

 

Remember, just because you might not have access to a Sunbounce Cage doesn’t mean you can’t get close to the effects I’ve created for this shoot. Scrims and black block panels are affordable, and can also be DIY’d using PVC pipe and a variety of common fabrics.

 

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Choosing the Right Light

Friday, March 31st, 2017

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Choosing the Right Light with Michael Corsentino

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Choosing the Right Tools

 

With so many sources of artificial light at your fingertips and numerous ways these sources can be modified, choosing the best tool for the task can be confusing. HMI with focusable Fresnels, strobes, fluorescent lights, tungsten, beauty dishes, softboxes, barn doors—each has different characteristics and produces different effects. Developing a working knowledge of the differences between these tools and their results is the first step in choosing the right light.

 

Fresnels are for Hollywood glamour, fluorescents for soft beauty light, tungsten when it’s all you’ve got, strobe for everything. Each artificial light source brings something different to the table, and that’s before we even get to modifiers and the different ways they impact the shape and quality of the light.

 

The second step in choosing the right tools is to determine the effect you’re after. Planning is key. This way, even if you don’t have a working knowledge of every light source and modifier out there, you at least know the kind of light you want to create. Then it’s simply a matter of reverse engineering how to produce that kind of light in the best, most effective way possible. Within each lighting category you also have additional choices regarding which tool is best for creating the effect you want. In other words, a strobe isn’t always just a strobe.

 

There’s a ton of strobe configurations, shapes and reasons one is more suited for specific uses than another. Let’s look at the ring flash.

 

Right Flash

 

This specialty light, also known as ring light, is the perfect tool for a few essential but very niche applications, and not much else owing to its signature look. There’s no slight intended in the previous sentence because, when it comes to lighting glamour and fashion and creating a hard-edged rock and roll look, nothing beats a ring flash.

 

They’re used all time for shoots for magazines like Rolling Stone and FHM. This is one of those lights that can easily sit on your shelf collecting dust. But when you need it, you’re instantly reminded why you’d never want to be without it. Unlike a traditional strobe, a ring flash has a circular flash tube situated inside a donut-shaped housing that fits over your camera’s lens. It approximates the “flashy” look of on-camera flash, only much cooler looking.

 

The signature tells of a ring flash are circular catchlights in the eyes and a shadow cast around the edge of subjects. Bare ring flash can cause red eye in subjects’ eyes. Be on the lookout for this and be ready to correct it in post as needed.

 

Most leading manufacturers offer some version of a ring flash, and there are adapters that can turn a speedlight into an ad-hoc ring flash. One of the reasons my preferred ring flash is the Profoto is the availability of two soft light reflectors, one silver and one white, that can be used to soften and modify the quality of light in varying degrees. This isn’t an option I’ve seen offered by any other manufacturer. I didn’t end up using either of these modifiers for this shoot, but they’ve been very useful on past shoots. In addition, the Profoto Ring Flash can be used with one of their companion high-power-output 1200ws battery packs, making sure there’s plenty of juice.

 

Ring flash isn’t a stationary light source like most traditional strobes, but one that travels with you and your camera. This creates a very different set of considerations with respect to exposure. Because it’s a manual source (at least mine is), maintaining a consistent exposure takes practice and an awareness that any change in your distance from the subject will affect the exposure, either adding more light as you get closer or less as you move farther away. But once you’ve nailed down a solid exposure, as long as your distance from the subject remains constant, your exposure will remain the same.

 

Because ring flash is mounted on your camera, taking meter readings can be tricky. You’ll need an assistant to take the readings for you or a tripod to hold your camera as you take readings; or you can simply work intuitively. I do a little of both, having an assistant pull a reading and then adjusting power as I move closer and farther away from subjects.

 

The same rules apply, when balancing ambient light and ring flash, as they do with other types of flash units. Aperture and strobe power settings control the amount of light contributed to the exposure, while shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light contributed.

 

With ring flash, you also have to be comfortable working with a source that doesn’t afford you much in the way of control. There’s nothing subtle about a ring flash, and that’s kind of the point. Like an umbrella, it puts light everywhere. Unlike an umbrella, it creates a unique, harsh quality of light with specularity for miles.

 

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

 

Every location presents a different set of challenges that need to be overcome. It’s overcoming these challenges—cracking the code of each location, finding the visual hidden gems, making magic with what you’ve been given—that’s the fun, creative part of working on location. Everything else is just lots of heavy lifting, packing, unpacking and packing again.

 

The run-down motel that my producer and HMUA Audra Seay scouted for our Trashy Rocker shoot was perfect in every way, like it was right out of central casting. Add to that two of the most amazing models we’ve ever worked with, Sam and Christina, Audra’s dramatic makeup, a vintage phone, a bitchin’ electric guitar and the perfectly styled wardrobe pieces pulled by our stylist Rachel Nicole Velez, and we were ready to rock.

 

The tiny biohazard of a room was covered in mirrors. Every single wall had mirrors on it; hell, even the ceiling had mirrors. Very classy. After my initial shock, somehow I’d conveniently forgotten about the mirrors after seeing Audra’s location pictures. I tried to wrap my head around how to shoot without being seen in the pictures and how to work with a ring flash blasting light everywhere in such a confined space with wall-to-wall mirrors.

 

Working around mirrors can seem challenging at first, but it’s also an opportunity to be creative. Every obstacle is actually a chance to not only problem-solve but to be creative doing it. Once you flip things around mentally and look at challenges as opportunities to flex your creative muscles, you start to see all sorts of interesting options.

 

Mirrors can be used to create a variety of unique and otherwise impossible-to-capture images and perspectives—from mirror images to capturing reflections, or in our case shooting up into the mirrors on the ceiling to capture the subjects below. To avoid being in the pictures, I shot from angles that kept me and my ring light out of line of sight of the mirrors. When that wasn’t practical—when shooting straight on at the models—I relied on height and the models to block my reflection. With this many mirrors and a team of people in the room, there is a lot of shifting of people back and forth to keep everyone but the models out of the images. You need to be extra vigilant and constantly check the reflections as you change shooting positions. That meant not only shifting people but also gear, cases and stands.

 

Shooting Editorially

 

Shooting for editorials has more in common with wedding shooting than you might think. Both are about telling a story. Both lead to a series of images destined for layouts. Both benefit from a variety of standalone as well as supporting images. Just like weddings, when I’m shooting an editorial, I’m thinking about the eventual spreads, so I’m mindful to shoot wide, tight, horizontal, vertical, portrait, 3/4 length, full figure and details to tell the story in the most visually diverse and compelling way possible.

 

Color and tone also play an important role in the emotional impact and success of the final product. Color grading that supports the creative mission of the images rather than intrudes on it in an obvious effects-driven way is my guiding principle. I want my post-processing choices to work in the background creating mood and texture without calling attention to themselves.

 

When I’m creating complementary color grading, like the black-and-white and cross-processed styles in this editorial, I choose effects that add to the creative direction of the project, in this case a grungy rocker motel, and I think in terms of what colors will work well next to each other in spreads.

 

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8 Simple Lighting Tips for Dynamic Senior Portraits

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

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8 Simple Lighting Tips for Dynamic Senior Portraits with Michael Anthony

 

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It’s no secret that high school senior photography has changed over the last five to seven years. As with all genres of photography, our style of shooting must always adapt to the trends. Our studio has grown in the wedding market, but this year I set out to grow a new line of business for us: senior portraits.

 

Running a senior portrait session is a big departure from how we typically run a wedding shoot, but the lighting principles are the same. Our approach is very similar to how we photograph brides. The big difference here is that during a wedding day, we are photographing primarily for our clients; during a senior session, we are photographing both for the senior and her parents.

 

The thing about a senior session I love (as opposed to a wedding day) is that we have as much time as we need to create the perfect shot. I knew that I did not want to photograph the same boring portrait sessions that I see all over my Facebook feed. Instead, I wanted our senior portraits to have the same edge and fashion flare that helps us stand out among the hordes of photographers our clients can choose from.

 

Now, our style focuses on our use of light, and how we use it to shape and post our subjects. Light determines the outcome of our shoot. We have seen examples in our studio how, when a shoot departs from our house style, we end up with unhappy clients, even if the shoot would be considered a success by other studios.

 

To impress your clients, you can use light as the anchor for any photograph. Here are our tips for creating dynamic senior portraits.

 

Use Profoto for Speed and Efficiency

 

This is not a sales pitch. Here’s why I love Profoto’s B1 and B2 systems more than any other lighting option.

 

When setting up a shot, nothing can kill the interaction you have with your client more than taking 35 test shots to dial in your lighting. One reason I love Profoto is that it is the only lighting company that offers a hybrid manual/TTL mode on strobes.

 

This is how it works. First, dial in your ambient exposure in camera. This should take all of five seconds. Next, zoom in close and fill the frame of your viewfinder with whatever you intend to light, typically the subject’s face. The entire frame needs to be filled.

 

Now, with your Air-TTL remote in ETTL mode, take a test shot. The air-remote will dial in the power automatically and accurately. Switch the remote over to manual mode without touching anything else, and you are done. The variances in the scene will not affect your flash, as is common with shooting in TTL. You need to have the latest firmware installed for this to work.

 

Always Be Aware of Light Direction

 

This applies when you are shooting natural light. If you pay attention to the direction of light and find a background in your scene that is darker in tonality than your subjects, you will instantly create an environment where your subject is the brightest part of the image. This rule can be broken; one rule that should never be broken is that your subject needs to be at least as bright as the brightest part of your image.

 

All natural light, even open shade, has a direction to it. Once you find that direction, you can use it to light the face of your subject, specifically the eyes. To determine the direction of light, put your hand in front of your face. Pay attention to the grooves between your fingers. As you turn your hand left and right, watch how the light changes.

 

Find the Right Light for Your Subjects

 

I have used directional light as one of the key elements of my style of photography, but directional light isn’t the best for every subject. Directional light, or light coming from the left or right of your subject, emphasizes texture. If you pose your subject correctly, you can use this to create a slimming or three-dimensional effect. With seniors come blemishes, so you may be better off using flat light or beauty light.

 

One of my favorite tools for getting the must-have headshot from every senior session is the Westcott Omega Reflector. The reflector, designed by Jerry Ghionis, features a hole cut in the center that allows you to shoot through. This creates incredible catchlights in your subject’s eyes and hides any imperfections in their skin. The design of the Omega was well thought out, the placement of the cutout carefully considered. Don’t try making one of these at home—in my experience, it won’t work.

 

A reflector is my best friend on a senior shoot. One of the most liberating things for me, coming from a wedding background, is that we are working with one subject. This allows much more flexibility in light placement. You will often see me directing my assistant all around to different sides of my subject to find the best placement.

 

Vary Your Modifiers

 

I love soft light. I use the Profoto or Westcott 3-foot softboxes on many of my shoots. With seniors, I use bare flash for dramatic portraits. The key in choosing a modifier that looks appropriate for any scene is to match the natural light. On an overcast day, the natural light is soft, so use a soft light modifier. When shooting in the California sun, you will find us using Profoto’s Zoom Reflector to match the hard light in the scene. This rule can be broken, but if you are in a pinch, it is a good one to follow to create natural-looking images.

 

Watch Your Light Spill

 

The first thing that screams amateur about off-camera flash is light spill. There is nothing worse than a beautiful image with bad light placement. Remember, your eyes are drawn to the brightest part of an image, and if you are lighting the floor in front of your subjects, it takes the eyes out of the scene. Grids offer the easiest way to control light spill. Profoto makes grid options for monolights, while Magmod owns the market for speedlight grids. Both high-quality tools are always in our bag.

 

Make Sure Your Color Is Accurate

 

If light spill is the best indicator of an amateur strobist, unbalanced color is its little brother. If you are shooting at sunset, the light temperature will be very warm. You need to use gels to match the color of your flash to the scene. As above, this rule can be broken, especially in the case of color shifting (see my article in the 2015 Lighting Edition of Shutter). Overall, though, it should be followed if you want to create natural-looking photos.

 

Balance in Lighting Is as Important as Location in Real Estate

 

Using the proper ratio of ambient light to flash is critical to creating images that look natural and not too “flashy.” Properly balanced flash looks like natural light and appeals to most eyes. Everyone’s aesthetics are different, and even if a client hires you because they love your style, to create sellable portraits, your images need to appeal to them. Natural images appeal to a broader spectrum of people than images that are more stylistic. Have you ever submitted images to sites like The Knot or WeddingWire and been turned down because the images didn’t fit their style? It happened to me a lot when I started in photography.

 

I could not figure out why we continued booking clients while every magazine was turning us down. This is because the magazines publish images that appeal to the broadest set of readers, rather than smaller groups that like our colorful style. Just this week, I was asked to resubmit images to a large publication with a more natural-looking style of post-processing. No thank you.

 

Go Big to Create Your Standout Image

 

This tip seems obvious. Unique images equal happy clients, large sales and more referrals and social media engagement. On every shoot, focus on creating one image that is portfolio-worthy. This means that everything needs to come together—light, pose, scene, clothes, expression. Once you have this shot, double- and triple-check it to make sure it’s perfect before continuing.

 

Our signature shots are done with a wide angle, 12mm or so. They are lit with two off-camera lights, and usually showcase the scenery. If we get great attire or incorporate something special to the senior, even better. Just remember, light is the anchor to your photo, and even if all the other elements come together, if your light sucks, the image will too.

 

Summing Up

 

Good light allows you maximum manipulation of your images in post-production, where the magic happens. We have Lightroom presets for every image that will become one of our signature shots, and they require perfect light to work. This helps us create a consistent product that we can deliver to every client, which has fueled our referrals to help us get this new line of business off the ground.

 

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Location Lighting: From Simple to Complex

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

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Location Lighting: From Simple to Complex with Michael Corsentino

 

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For me, anything beyond one light and a small modifier starts to fall into the complex category. Additional lights mean more stands, more sandbags, more triggers, more grip equipment, more assistants, extra time to set up, additional transportation logistics and permits. I opt for simple, especially on location. Sometimes, though, the shoot demands more complex solutions or a combination of simple and not so simple to get the job done.

 

In the shoot for this article, I was asked to photograph a spring fashion editorial on location for a high-end boutique. The location was a park. This required a lighting plan that would accommodate whatever the location threw at us the day of the shoot. Despite weather forecasts, you never know exactly what Mother Nature has in store for you. Conditions the day of the shoot can be anything from cloudy and overcast to harsh overhead sunlight or dappled light. You just never know, especially in Florida, so being prepared for all possibilities is key.

 

With that in mind, I put together a lighting plan that allowed me five options. The first tools on my list were a large 74-inch octabank with an 8×8 scrim. I chose this combination because I wanted to create a soft quality of light for some of the looks.

 

The general rule of thumb is the larger the modifiers, the softer the light they produce. When you’re working on location, a scrim or even a small collapsible diffusion panel can be indispensable for taming harsh overhead sunlight. Scrims and diffusion panels can also be used to create large softbox-like light panels used to diffuse either natural light or a strobe fired through it. I used a strobe for my keylight in conjunction with the octabank. I also chose a second strobe with a 7-inch silver reflector. I planned to use this second strobe with a color temperature orange (CTO) gel as an accent/rim light intended to replicate the warm specular light from the sun on my model’s hair and shoulders. I added this light in case conditions were overcast, which they were at several points during the shoot.

 

Along with four C-stands, grip heads, sandbags, triggers and other miscellaneous bits, the above equipment made possible four stationary lighting arrangements. I also wanted a setup that was flexible and mobile, something that would allow me to work quickly and easily, move the models from one location to the next, to shoot full figure and three-quarter images. For this, I chose my go-to setup, an Elinchrom 27.5 Deep Octa and Quadra pack and head system. This 400 watt-seconds head has more than enough power for the kiss of light I needed, with lots of juice to spare. Equally important, it’s super lightweight, which makes it perfect for use on an extension.

 

The five lighting options I put together were as follows: scrim and octabank, scrim and octabank with gelled accent/rim light, scrim with strobe fired through it, scrim alone, single lightweight strobe and small modifier on an extension pole.

 

When you’re working with a combination of strobes and ambient light, you have two sources of illumination at work. Each of these needs to be controlled independently. This is easily accomplished using camera settings and the power output control on your strobes. Once you’ve locked in the aperture setting you want, one that produces the desired depth of field, you’ll need to adjust the remaining exposure settings to achieve a balanced exposure. In other words, an exposure that is neither underexposed nor overexposed. In a fully manual situation, which is my preferred workflow, you’ll use shutter speed, ISO and the power control for your strobes to control this balance. If TTL is your preferred exposure method, you’ll also have flash exposure compensation control in the mix. Find this on your camera body or on your strobe’s compatible TTL-enabled wireless trigger.

 

With respect to which settings control which light source, ambient versus flash, remember these simple guidelines: Shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light contributed to the exposure, while aperture and the flash power control how much light is contributed by the strobe. In ambient light/flash scenarios, where ambient light is generally the dominant light source, flash serves as fill light and is therefore not the dominant source. In practical terms, this means when you’re making adjustments to create the desired balance between flash and ambient, you’ll use slower shutter speeds to increase the overall brightness of an exposure or faster shutter speeds to knock down the ambient light and create a more dramatic exposure.

 

I’m always looking for ways to keep things as technically simple as possible. This way I can focus on being creative rather than worrying about gear. One of the great things about shooting as sunset approaches is that you can use the sun as a warm-toned, specular accent/rim light for the hair and shoulders. For the images I shot later in the afternoon, in a meadow of dry grassy reeds, I didn’t need to introduce a second strobe and CTO gel because at this time of day, the sun was perfectly positioned and had the lovely orange contrasty glow I wanted for the accent light. Earlier in the day, I had to set up a second gelled strobe to create this effect. Always keep in mind that at the right time of day, the sun makes a fantastic accent light.

 

And when it comes to keeping it simple and still creating gorgeous pro-level lighting, nothing beats one light and a small modifier on an extension pole. Working this way provides maximum flexibility and allows you to move quickly from one location to another without ever lifting a light stand. Using an extension pole to hold your strobe also avoids any of the potential hazards of people tripping over light stands. Using this setup as your sole lighting solution avoids the necessity of a permit in many municipalities. Maintaining proper exposure is as easy as keeping the distance between the strobe and your model consistent once you have your exposure locked in.

 

Just as important as knowing when to turn on your strobe is knowing when to turn it off. If Mother Nature is giving you gorgeous light that’s consistent with your creative vision, use it. It’s always going to be equal to or better than what you create with artificial light—and, again, it simplifies things. Even in situations where the sun isn’t giving you ideal light, you can modify it using a scrim or diffusion panel to create beautiful soft light. That’s why I always have a scrim with me for location work. This tool diffuses the sun’s harsh light and also softens and broadens it. Smaller diffusion panels can be used, but in this case, size does matter. The larger the scrim, the broader the source; the broader the source, the softer the light.

 

When you’re working on location, lighting conditions can change at a moment’s notice, and you need to be able to accommodate those changes and keep shooting. The technique above, in which I used a scrim to create soft natural light, works perfectly when the sun is cooperating. But what happens when the clouds roll in and cover up the sun? Now you’ve got an overcast situation without bright sunlight for the scrim to diffuse. In this case, you can simply substitute one or more strobes behind the scrim to create a light source with even coverage. I did this using a single strobe.

 

Just be careful of the wind, which can become a major issue. A windy day can wreak havoc on scrims, octabanks, large reflectors, etc. To keep your gear from blowing over and your talent safe, you’ll want multiple sandbags on each light stand. Even with sandbags, it’s best to have assistants to mind larger modifiers in case the wind picks up.

 

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Night Location Portraits

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

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Night Location Portraits with Michael Corsentino

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I love finding cool locations to shoot in. I’m always driving around scouting, jotting down street addresses, snapping iPhone pics, making mental notes for future shoots. Every town, no matter how large or small, has cool locations. I found the location for this night portrait shoot, a flat-fix garage, by just driving around one night. I’d never seen it at night all lit up by the fluorescent lights above it, and it immediately struck me how cool it looked. The wheels started turning. Along with all the tires, machines and garage grunge, it looked like the prefect location for a night shoot I’d been wanting to do for a while. The next night, I stopped by to take location pics, and sent them to my team along with pictures of the model so we could all start brainstorming wardrobe, props and general look and feel.

 

When I’m working on location, I like to keep things as simple as possible. For this shoot, that meant using a lightweight two-point light setup. I chose the most portable and easily handheld tools I have in my arsenal: light-duty stands, an extension pole, two Elinchrom Quadra 400WS packs, two companion Elinchrom strobes (these are very lightweight and therefore easily held by assistants), a Skyport HS Wireless Controller and a Sekonic L-478 handheld wireless flash meter.

 

For light modifiers, I also choose to keep things as light and portable as possible by selecting an Elinchrom 27.5″ Rotalux Deep Octa for my keylight and an Elinchrom 14×35 strip box for use as a possible kicker, accent or fill light if necessary. I love the small Deep Octa. It’s an extremely versatile modifier for its size and weight. It’s able to create looks from hard to moderately soft, and is also compact and easy to travel with. It’s always part of my travel kit.

 

Less is more with strobe lights on night shoots. Typically, you’ll be working with a high ISO setting and a slow shutter speed to capture the ambient light in the background while illuminating the subject with strobe. It’s a delicate balancing act, the goal being to maintain a moody night feeling by perfectly balancing the amount of ambient light and strobe light. Because the camera sensor’s sensitivity is boosted, you need very little flash power to do the job. (A speedlight would also work really well.)

 

The low amount of flash power needed has a couple of important technical benefits worth mentioning. First, because you’re not using a lot of power for each pop, you’re asking a lot less from the strobe’s battery. This allows you to shoot considerably more strobed images on a single battery change compared to shooting with your strobe at full or half power. I had my strobe set to the lowest power setting possible, which I believe is 25 watt-seconds for my gear. The second benefit is really fast recycle times. With a low power output, your strobe is ready to go again much more quickly, which means you can work much more quickly.

 

With respect to balancing ambient and flash, my preferred method is working in manual. TTL works but I prefer the consistency and simplicity manual allows me. My workflow is as follows: First, I establish an exposure for the ambient lighting conditions. To do this, I leave my strobe(s) off and focus solely on creating a good exposure for the background ambient lighting. That means the subject will be in silhouette. That’s all right because once I’ve got the background ambient light exposure dialed in, I turn on my keylight strobe and dial it in to match my ambient settings. How do I that? I use two things to guide me: the aperture setting of my lens and a flash meter. I have to make sure the amount of light being measured from the strobe by the flash meter matches the f-stop on my lens. In other words, if my lens is set to f/5.6, I use a flash meter to measure the light from the strobe until it reads f/5.6. It’s that simple. Using an incident light reading, the meter allows me to measure the amount of light from the strobe falling on the subject and match it to whatever f-stop I need. Of course, you could work intuitively and chimp, but why would you? This method is super quick, and time is money.

Models

I get a lot of questions regarding models, so I think it’s worth touching on briefly. How do you find new models to work with? This is something all photographers grapple with, whether they’re building their book, working on personal projects or testing out new techniques or equipment. I’ve had zero luck with online resources such as Model Mayhem or One Model Place. These services have given me major flake factor. There may be others now that I’m unaware of, but none of them are my go-to sources anymore.

 

In addition to relying on my modeling agency relationships for access to models to “test” with, I use Facebook, something we all have access to. I post work regularly on regionally oriented Facebook groups serving the photography and modeling communities in my area. Even in Orlando, a relative modeling and fashion backwater, I’ve found some incredible local talent using Facebook groups. In fact, that’s where I found Jai, the model for this shoot. So I feel pretty confident saying that for all but the most rural areas, Facebook is a resource worth looking into.

 

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