Shaping light with the Cactus flash system

Recently, I did a shoot with Tafari Anthony - a friend of mine and talented singer. I had just gotten a new lighting toy that couldn't wait to try it out.

There are a few things going on in this image. It has deep dark blues washing over the whole image, a sharp red streak across the one in-focus eye, with a shallow fall off of focus. Let's break this down.

First of all, as with almost every image on my website, this was shot with the Fujifilm X-T1. This was also my first time using the Cactus RF60 flash system's High-Speed Sync mode (with the Cactus Wireless Flash transceiver V6 II) - allowing me to use flash at high shutter speeds (like 1/2000 in this image) - I actually had absolutely no reason to shoot this photo at 1/2000th of a second but I could and I wanted to test the gear out.

Speaking of gear, this was achieved with two speedlights triggered wirelessly (As previously stated - I use Cactus brand flashes but really anything will work) and, for the red streak, I used a tool called Blackwrap - something that you don't hear about too often in photography.

It is basically thick, black, tin foil used to flag and shape light, very common in the film industry as it is super versatile. There are a few brands, and it's somewhat expensive but extremely handy.

For the lens, I used my trusty Jupiter 9 - a vintage Russian 85mm F2 fully manual lens that I just adore. Shot wide-open - I also used a TurboBooster II focal reducer - as I shoot all manual lenses I don't have a use for the more expensive focal reducers.

For those that don't know, a focal reducer is basically a tool/adapter that will take the entire image circle from a full-frame lens and squeeze it down to the APS-C sensor of Fujifilm (Or Sony, or Micro 4/3 etc...)

For the lighting setup (diagram above) I had one flash shooting through a simple umbrella up and camera right - this was gelled blue. The second flash was gelled red (obviously) and set up behind me with two strips of blackwrap acting a sort of barn doors. I instructed Tafari to look through the slit of blackwrap and have him help me position the light - it had to be bang on or else the shot wouldn't work. He would look through the slit between the blackwrap and tell me where to move it so he could see it with his right eye. There was a small problem with this setup, however.

I was getting a little bit of red spill camera right, so I whipped out my trusty flashbender (Not the 80$ rogue flashbender, a knockoff that works quite well.) to help flag just a bit more light. I could have used blackwrap but, in this instance, the flashbender was just easier - plus since it is white instead of black, it bounced just a little more of the red light through the slit.

Post production

In post-production, the process was pretty simple. The shot itself started out a little underexposed, so I had to increase the shot by about half a stop. Personally, I enjoy my blacks to be milky, maybe just touching true black, so I almost always crank the shadows up.

As you can see - I actually pulled the saturation down a little bit. This is because if saturation is too high, much like when your luminance is too high, lightroom can start clipping details.

I also did some work with curves as well as the HSL controls - basically, I wanted the image to be red and blue with very little purple in between - the cranked reds you can see are why I had to ease off the overall saturation.

Lastly, I brought the image into Adobe Photoshop - did a few tweaks like dodging and burning, fixing a few little gaps in his hair, bringing the blue saturation up just a touch and pulling the red on his hand down so that the eye isn't drawn so much to it.

Now, one little thing you may notice is the "punch" layer. This is a little trick I learned to quickly and easily add depth to your shot. In photoshop, dropping the mid-tones just a little with your curve tool can really add a bit of punch to your image. It's pretty subtle, especially on this image, but play around and you will see what I mean.

I did a little bit of sharpening using the unsharp mask tool, and voila!

Overall, I'm really happy with how this shot turned out - and it's always interesting using tools like blackwrap that aren't talked about much, even though they are incredibly versatile.

David J. Fulde is a fashion and portrait photographer based out of Toronto, ON who enjoys experimenting with new techniques, weird lenses, and odd lighting setups.