Shooting the "white noise" hair collection for Mai Ha at Trevor Sorbie

1A few months ago I was asked by Mai Ha at Trevor Sorbie to shoot her latest hair collection. The images are for the British Hairdressing Awards and for PR.

The competition calls for four images to be submitted in round one, and if you’re successful to make it to the finals; another four images should be submitted to make to final collection of eight. I’m pleased to say that we made it through to the finals and find out if we won towards the end of this month at The British Hairdressing Awards final. Keep your fingers and toes crossed!

We shot both rounds in Manchester, in a wonderful little studio “we are kin”

Despite the studio having plenty of equipment, i always insist on bringing my Lencarta equipment with me wherever I go. It leaves me completely at ease as I know that it’s simple to use and uber reliable. I’ve never had anything fail on me and even if it did which at some point is inevitable, I know the team at Lencarta will be on hand to get it sorted.

Mai’s concept was white noise, with bright lighting, white styling and a white background (slightly underexposed) to give a little bit of interest. Mai’s hair work is incredible and her creativity and precision amongst the best I’ve seen which made it a really exciting job to work on.

Because the concept was very crisp and clean, some movement was added to the hair to give another dimension to the shot. The movement in this blue bob illustrates perfectly how adding movement to an image can completely transform it………..

trevor-sorbie-3The hair was brushed straight with the model standing out of shot. The model then stepped into shot, allowing the hair to swing forward as she did. As you can imagine, it took a fair few attempts before we nailed the shot but the end result was well worth it.

4 With this shot, the appearance of movement was created with the technique used in the hair, rather than the model actually moving. In fact, the hair was placed so precisely that the model couldn’t move at all! What was even more magical is that because of the technique used to give that watery wave, we only had a few minutes to nail the shot before the hair returned to being completely straight.

My set up for all of these shots had to be consistent throughout and i kept it very simple with the below lighting……..3I used two Lencarta smart flash 2 to light my background fitted with soft boxes and my single key light was the Lencarta Elite Pro fitted with one of my favourite tools; the high intensity reflector.

I shot directly below my light source and the boom arm makes that possible and very safe to do so. It keeps all of the wires out of my way so I’m free to move around at ease.

You can see more of my work at and join me across on instagram at @tonylebritton

Happy shooting!!

Location Food Photography

Of all the subjects I photograph, I tend to find food photography more demanding than most. The chef wants it to convey everything he’s put into the preparation, along with detail and texture. The ambience of the restaurant has to register too, with a feeling the food belongs in that particular setting.

Of course, the image has to look tempting and fresh too. Some foods can start to look tired very, very quickly, particularly some Indian dishes. If I’m told by a viewer they feel hungry, then it’s a winner.

I often start with a 120cm folding octabox boomed over the table. This provides the main light that tends to pick up the specular highlights in the sauce etc. I then use a second light to one side to pick up the texture. This tends to be more controlled and can be a beauty dish, standard reflector or a smaller softbox. Whichever I choose, it’ll always be gridded in some fashion, so as to tightly control the fall of light and really lift the texture for that three dimensional look.

In these photographs, I made use of a 60x60cm folding softbox with fitted grid. The size is ideal for close up food work, as there’s no real need to have a large pool of light, and a smaller ‘box is easier to control. The light is provided by a Lencarta Safari Classic. Two heads firing at minimal power.

In the above image, you can see the light from the overhead octabox catching the top of the fruit and cucumber in the foreground (right of frame). The smaller softbox is camera right and only just above table level. You can see the shadowing across the surface of the salmon tartar and in the small piece of orange on top.

Nikon D3 1/125th sec ISO200 60mm Micro Nikkor f10

In this image, the texture of the cooked skin on the redsnapper is picked up by the gridded softbox camera right, with the cooked white flesh also catching the light. You can see the gridded softbox in the black dot in the bottom right of the frame, and this is where the grid can help reduce the appearance of lens flare, as I’m shooting almost directly towards the softbox. I also tend to focus manually, a habit I never really got out of from my film camera days. The lens I tend to use mostly for food photography is the 60mm Micro Nikkor, not the new one, but the original. It’s a great lens, but a bit feckless when it comes to auto focus. Always been that way, and I don’t think it was restricted to my version of the lens, to be honest. Having said that, I tend to prefer manual focus for macro work anyway, although I can’t really say if that’s down to the inefficiencies of the lens, or whether it’s a hang over from my earlier days with the likes of the Canon A1 and Nikon F3, and all those lovely manual focus lenses!

Nikon D3 1/125th sec ISO200 60mm Micro Nikkor f10

Nothing fancy for this one, just a simple grabbed shot as the food was about to be transferred to the table. No flash, just ambient, and a switch to my trusty 24-70mm f2.8 Nikkor.

Nikon D3 1/400th sec ISO400 24-70mm f5

This assignment was for Bartle Hall and their fabulous menu.

Food Photography in Lancashire and beyond!

Beauty and the Dish


Further to my last post, and continuing the development of images for the Lencarta catalogue, I had another opportunity to work with Nicola, one of my favourite models. I originally met Nicola when I photographed her wedding in the summer of 2010, and we’ve been good friends ever since. I’m not sure if it’s the circumstances of our first meeting that influenced the nature of the assignments we would collaborate on, but this time we had a different agenda. As usual, I had two clients for the same shoot, in an attempt to get the best value for all those concerned. I’ve already mentioned Lencarta, and the second was Nicola herself as she wanted a wider range of images for her portfolio.

The above shot was conceived for a lingerie section for Nicola’s portfolio, but during the lighting development, I decided it would actually be perfect for the catalogue too, albeit from an elevated viewpoint to include the light modifier.

Initially, I boomed a 200 x 40cm gridded stripbox above Nicola. It lit Nicola quite well, but just didn’t seem to “hit the spot” as far as my original concept. I had quite intense shadowing in front of the settee, and the settee itself had areas of poor definition on the leather surface. I swapped the stripbox for a gridded 70cm white beauty dish and the change was fairly dramatic. Although it was gridded, the fact the beauty dish is much wider than the stripbox meant the shadow in front of the settee was now confined to being underneath, rather than in front of it. The leather of the settee itself was far better defined too, and the light along Nicola was also more pleasing.

Now we had the main light sorted, I also wanted some fill from the front, or camera left to be exact. I chose to use a Profold 70 x 100cm softbox with the head at around five feet. Both modifiers were mated to Elite Pro 300 heads. The beauty dish was at around ½ power and approximately 4 feet above Nicola, whereas the softbox was around 7 feet away and still set to ½ power, providing a softer fill and a little highlight along the front of the settee.

Oddly enough, I didn’t like the final image that showed the full settee in frame, and much preferred the closer shots.

Nikon D3 1/125th sec ISO200 24-70mm f20

This is the image intended for the Lencarta catalogue, taken from a higher elevation to include the edge of the beauty dish and the logo. I used a SmartFlash coupled to a standard reflector and a 10º grid to light the logo. Output on the SmartFlash was set to almost full power.

Nikon D3 1/125th sec ISO200 24-70mm f20

This is the setup shot.

Nikon D3 1/125th sec ISO200 24-70mm f18

A simple product shot – how and why I did it, part 1

This is just a simple product shot, and this blog is about how I went about photographing it and why I did it this way.

Please watch the video, which shows how the shot was set up. Like the iPhone advert, it’s a case of ‘sequence shortened’ and I’ve left quite a lot of boring but very important things out of the video. For example, any product that’s going to be photographed, and especially with hard lighting, needs to be cleaned very thoroughly. And I left out some of the metering, plus I didn’t bother to show tidying up and hiding the lead from the flash generator to the flash head – and as it’s a massive 12′ long lead that was  a job in itself…

And right at the end, you can see the modelling lamps and the room lighting being switched off so that I could capture the LED display in the same shot. Well, I didn’t bother with a shot showing the shutter speed being reduced from 1/125th to 1/30th to make this work, and I didn’t show the testing to find out what the shutter speed needed to be.

The product I photographed was a Safari Li-on, but the same principles apply to just about all photography, including people photography.

These are the separate stages involved

  1. Why am I taking the photo? What is it for? What effect do I want to achieve?
  2. Compose the shot to achieve the result I want
  3. Sort out the camera position and shooting height
  4. Light the shot – the lighting may be the most important single bit, but the lighting always has to come after everything else because it’s dependent on everything else
  5. Press the magic button

I did this purely as a lighting exercise, but what I wanted to achieve here was a photo that shows that the Li-on flash head can be used as a very powerful alternative to a hammerhead flashgun – it comes complete with a camera bracket and a handle, and the handle can also be used to handhold it.

I arranged this shot so that the flash head on the camera bracket was well forward of the flash generator itself. The flash generator MUST be in the shot because otherwise some people will think that it will work without it… But I wanted the eye to catch the flash head etc, not the flash generator and anyway, setting the flash generator further back (and using a short focal length that allows the camera to be close) makes the generator look even smaller than it is, this is often an important component of product shots. Of course, I could have put the flash generator out of focus as well, but didn’t.

I used a product table for this shot, it would have been fine on a bench, I just used what was convenient.

I used a boom arm too, and that really was necessary. I used the home studio boom arm, which was fine for it, but mostly I use the much larger Parallelogram boom because it maintains the angle regardless of the height setting. And I used a 140 x 70cm softbox, which is ideal for most small product shots. Normally, overhead softboxes are very close to the subject (just out of shot in fact) because the subjects are often highly reflective. This subject isn’t highly reflective so I had it quite high, to create a harder light on the top. And I only needed very low power on it because I only wanted a very low level of light on the top.

The first job was to light the flash generator. It’s a great bit of kit but it isn’t especially attractive to look at – a great pity that the late great Steve Jobs didn’t run Lencarta – so, as photographers, we have to do what we can to make the most of what we have.

It has some decorative fluting on it, so I set up a flash head at an acute angle to skim across its surface and reveal the texture – just a 10 degree honeycomb fitted to a standard reflector. It was a long way away, so that the inverse square law worked in my favour and put almost the same amount of light across the entire width. That’s important, and one of the reasons why even small products sometimes need a fairly large shooting area.

Effect of honeycomb at an acute angleThis photo shows the effect of that light, it was overdone at this stage because I knew that when I added the key light the effect would be mitigated. It doesn’t show much in the finished shot but it does show a bit, and this kind of attention to detail is essential.

I then metered the exposure and set the power to give f/8. I set the camera to f/11 because I intended to add another, key light, from roughly the opposite direction.

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