Thursday, 28 March 2013

How to Shoot a Dinosaur

How do you shoot a dinosaur? If you want to do it more than once, there is one simple rule to follow:

Don't get eaten!

Sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many photographers, even experienced wildlife photographers, who fail to do this.

Because shooting real dinosaurs is very, very dangerous, this article will focus on how to shoot animatronic dinosaur models instead.

The first thing you need, is some dinosaur models. Lucky for me, Universeum in Gothenburg opened a dinosaur exhibition today. The dinosaur models were made by Emilio.

If you want to create a sense of mystery and fear, keep it dark, and show only part of the object you are shooting. You can do that by getting in close, but also by having a foreground object partially obscuring what you are shooting.
My intent was to capture the mystery and excitement I felt when I discovered dinosaurs as a child. I wanted to get as close as possible to shooting living, breathing dinosaurs in the wild. To do that, I needed to accomplish several things:

  • Make it look like the dinosaurs where photographed at dusk, or at night. The dinosaurs are exhibited on a roof terrace, and I had to shoot during the day. Thus, some lighting trickery was needed.
  • Make it look like the dinosaurs were photographed in their natural environment.
  • Make the dinosaurs look as real as possible.

Turning day into night

I had a bit of trouble with the flash misfiring, and with setting it to 2nd curtain, so I took a quick break to figure out what was wrong and fix it.
To make daytime look like dusk or nighttime I changed the white balance of my camera to Tungsten. If you have a scene lit by natural light, the camera will turn everything you shoot blue. You can make it a deeper, darker blue by deliberately underexposing the pictures by one or two stops.

This trick won't turn direct sunlight into moonlight, but it will work very well if you have a bit of shade, especially if you are shooting in the afternoon. Universeum closes at 6.00 PM, so I decided to start shooting at about 4.30 PM. That would give me the afternoon light I wanted, and about an hour and a half to shoot.

I did one more thing to shape the light: I used a flash with a Color Temperature Orange (CTO) gel. Everything hit by the flash would be colored orange. Because the camera white balance was set to Tungsten, the orange color would be balanced out by blue. The result would be a normally colored, or even slightly warm, foreground object, with a blue background.

I couldn't do an elaborate lighting setup, so I made do with a single, remotely triggered, flash. The remote trigger allowed me to put the flash close to the dinosaur, and then back off a bit to take the picture. I used the built-in flash diffusor and a small reflector mounted on the flash to soften the light.

Keeping it natural

Sometimes you have to break the rules, and this was one occasion where I backed off a bit to deliberately get a person in the frame. I asked this young woman to pose for the shot, which she did very well.
There were several things I could do to give the impression of shooting in a natural environment:
  • Use short shutter times to reduce ambient light.
  • Use high aperture settings to reduce the depth of field and blur the background.
  • Get in close, so that the dinosaurs fill as much of the frame as possible. This eliminates most of the background. It also builds tension and makes the pictures much more exciting.
  • Be very careful with the shooting angles, so I would not get railings, walls, window frames, and other structural elements in the frame.
  • Avoid getting people in the frame.
Getting all of this right took time, patience, and many failed attempts. The effort was well worth it though.

Making the dinosaurs look real

The easiest way to make models look real, is to shoot only very good models. Lucky for me, Emilio is a great artist.

I did some post processing in Aperture to make the dinosaurs pop a bit extra:
  • Cropped the photos to get rid of unwanted stuff on the edges. In general, cropping is the single most effective thing you can do to improve a photo during post processing. Of course, it is even better to get in close when taking the shot, but I always keep an eye out for things to crop out of my pictures.
  • Increased contrast to make shaded grooves in the dinosaur skin look deeper.
  • Used the burn tool to shade some parts of the dinosaurs, particularly areas that had not been airbrushed, to darken some grey areas that looked a bit plastic.
  • Used the burn tool to darken bright parts of the background. The eye is drawn to the brightest part of the picture, and I wanted that to be the dinosaurs.
  • Used the Dodge tool to lighten some areas, in particular eyes and teeth. The dinosaurs have great looking eyes, and really scary teeth, and I want to draw attention to them.
In all, I am very happy with the shoot: Some great pictures, and I learned a lot of stuff that I can use when photographing other things. And, I had a lot of fun.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Museum

Shot at the Photographical Museum in Stockholm. I went there to look at photographs, of course, but ended up more interested in the architecture itself, and the collection of photo books in the store, than in the photos hanging on the walls.


Håkan Forss is Lean/Agile coach, and one of my co-authors of the LESS! management book. Håkan wrote the chapter on standard work in software development. Working with him was a pleasure.


Torbjörn Gyllebring. The photo was shot at the Stop Starting, Start Finishing conference in Stockholm.

Though we rarely meet, I have known Torbjörn for years through social media. He is one of the most clearheaded thinkers I have ever met. If I had to describe Torbjörn in two words, they would be "insight" and "compassion".

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

On Fire!

I shot this photo right before sunset at Slussen in Stockholm. I overexposed the picture by 0.67 EV to bring out the color in the cameraman's jacket, and in the camera.

Big Smile!

One of the things I really like about street photography is that you get to meet people. Brief meetings most of the time, just talking a minute or two.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Easter Egg

I take morning photo walks as often as I can, for fun, and for practice. I always look in shop windows, because you can find amazing things there.

Monday, 4 March 2013

In the Garden

Statue in The Gardening Association, a public park in central Gothenburg

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Photo Walk

I made this comic after a very fun photo walk in Gothenburg.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Spring in the Air: The Griffins are Back!

Photo Critique

These pictures have been submitted to The Grid, a photo podcast, for critique by professionals. If they get selected for critique, I'll post a link to the episode here.

This photo was shot in a restaurant, against a window. I overexposed two steps to blow out the background.

This photo was taken in a café. I used a flash with a speed grid and a CTO gel.
This photo was shot at a Tattoo/Steampunk convention. I had bought my flash just a few hours before. Thanks to one of Scott Kelby's photo books, I knew enough to angle the flash upwards, and to use a diffusor.
From a shop window in Gothenburg. I pressed the lens against the window to avoid reflexes. A tip I picked up from an episode of The Grid.