Using Gels, Strobes, Constant Lights, and ACDSee's Gemstone on One Photograph


In this behind the scenes video, I’m going to walk you through a pretty complex photograph I shot in our garage studio. Using strobes, LED lights, a crazy light modifier, and ACDSee’s new photo editing software, Gemstone, this final image turned out much more interesting than I originally thought.

First off, one of my favorite genres of photography to work in is definitely sports portraiture. Unlike live sports photography, where you are at the mercy of catching the action as it unfolds (or doesn’t unfold) in front of you, sports portraiture allows you to create a more surreal image in the studio or out on location. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of photographing mega athlete Gabriela Del Mar and testing a few new lighting setups with her. Gabby is an amazing pole vaulter (check out that video here), but since she also does CrossFit, gymnastics, weight lifting, and light boxing, the sky was literally the limit on what sort of athletic images we could create. We went with boxing, and I think the final image turned out pretty awesome.

The Lighting Setup

In creating this image, I knew I wanted something both colorful and dramatic. Instead of illuminating Gabby like a traditional fighter with strong side lighting and lots of detail in the shadows, I opted instead to light her completely as a silhouette and then add refined lighting on top of the shadowy figure. 

The backlit image was first created by firing two Profoto B10s into my white seamless paper. One of the B10s was fitted with a Profoto OCF 1×4 Strip Box to help soften the light, and the second light on camera right was just shot barebulb to create the faintest spot light effect. I then made the entire background red by mounting Red Color Correction Gels, which colorized my white paper. Finally, to prevent the light from bouncing all over my white ceiling and walls, I used a V Flat World Black and White V Flat on the right side where the closet white wall was located. The left side of the staging area had a dark canvas backdrop, which reduced the amount of bounced light from that direction.

Now that I had Gabby backlit with red light and her body was a completely black silhouette, it was time to add a key light. Since I wanted to keep most of her body backlit and completely black, I knew I couldn’t use a large light modifier that would throw light all around the studio. If I had used a small softbox with a fabric grid or a tight reflector dish with a honeycomb grid, those light modifiers would probably still produce too much fill light in such a small studio space. Instead, I decided to use one of my favorite light modifiers ever, the Westcott Optic Spot. Unlike other light modifiers I own, the Optic Spot allows you to tightly focus your light with precision. It’s still a hard light that looks like sunlight, but it also doesn’t spill all over the studio. Plus, because it has projection blades, I am able to build all sorts of shapes and patterns that look really cool on a silhouetted model.  

Below is an example of both the red gelled version of this setup and an earlier non-gelled version that led me to the final version shown in the video. Keep in mind, the Optical Spot was shaped different for the white background image and was shaped more like a V Wedge on the red gelled image. 

A Spontaneous Moment of Discovery

After I took a handful of images with the above lighting setup, I started wondering if I could introduce some of the studio’s overhead LED lights into my image. When I built this garage studio a few weeks ago, I installed these cool Lumary Smart LED lights on the ceiling that allow me to not only control the white balance but are also RGB. These are super useful when you want to add a little fill light to your photoshoots or create some dramatic lighting during a video production or in a background set. You can see the placement of the overhead lights below.

With the lights set to a dark blue color, I thought maybe I could slow my camera’s shutter to burn in some of this blue light I was seeing with my natural eyes. When the camera is set to 1/250th of a second, all the ambient room light is completely black, leaving only the stronger flash the ability to affect your exposure. One easy way to introduce any ambient light into your flash images is to simply slow the shutter speed down to 1/100th, 1/50th, or 1/25th of a second. The longer you let your shutter remain open, the more the ambient light will burn into your images. The trade-off, of course, is if the shutter becomes too long, you are going to have a lot of motion blur from your inability to hold the camera perfectly still. Blur can also be introduced if your subject is moving as well. I found the sweet spot to be around 1/10th – 1/20th of a second. If you need even slower shutter speeds, you can always use a tripod and ask your subject to stand as still as possible.

The Final Edit

Once I had captured a handful of images, some with and without the overhead blue lights burning into the exposure, it was time to edit the raw files. Since this video concept was sponsored by ACDSee, they asked that I try out their new raw editing software suite called Gemstone. At first, I was a little hesitant to rely on a new piece of software that I had never used before to edit such a complex image, but they reassured me that if I could navigate my way through Photoshop and Lightoom, Gemstone would be a breeze in comparison. 

You can watch the post-production steps in the video above, but the basic idea was to clean up the contrast between Gabby’s face and abs, which were lit by the Optical Spot, while still maintaining the darker parts of her body left in the shadows. Since everything was shot nearly perfectly on set, I only needed to do a few contrast adjustments using the Light EQ sliders and some color adjustments using the Color EQ sliders. Once the final selected frame was adjusted in ACDSee Raw, it was then imported into Gemstone, where I tweaked a few distracting elements on the background. I also adjusted the crop to straighten out the background paper. As a final touch, I used a subtle gradient map to help blend some of the magenta and blue tones across the shadows and highlights, which resulted in the final color grade.

Overall, my experience using Gemstone was excellent. Recently, Fstoppers writer Gary McIntyre did a full overview article about ACDSee’s Gemstone software, and his impressions were much the same as mine. I personally don’t mind paying $240+ a year to subscribe to Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop subscription model, but now, as I type that fee out, I can see how expensive it is just to edit my photos throughout the year. If you love the layout and functionality of Adobe’s software, but prefer to own your favorite photo-editing software outright instead of renting it each month, Gemstone might be the perfect software for you. Head over to the Fstoppers Gemstone Download Page for a trial of the software, and if you enjoy the software, you can purchase the full unlocked version for a fraction of what Adobe charges each year to use their similar software suite. 


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