I had the opportunity to shoot the Trio Dinicu while touring through LA in December. They wanted an ultra clean image to portray their band and had chosen the Disney Concert Hall as the best possible location. Like most starting bands they did not have a proper location budget which meant that we would have to light them up… guerrilla style using nothing more than a couple speed lights, Elinchrom Ranger, and a white t-shirt to act as a diffuser.

Since I didn’t have anyone covering video that day, I took the time to throw together a photoshop deconstruction instead for you guys! Sorry for the uneven squinty eyes and exhausted expression, turns out that preparing these things take up a lot more effort than I had predicted and it was 4:30 AM before I actually finished putting the video together!

(Listen to the awesome piece without my terrible narrating voice as you scroll through this blog post!)
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/76643861″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”100″ iframe=”true” /]

Guerrilla Lighting Diagrams:

For this first photograph, I wanted to tell a simple story of Luanne (violin) and Tommy (guitar) waiting for Marlon (bass), the 3rd and newest member of the group to join them. Since we were shooting relatively early in the morning in a very sheltered environment, we didn’t have very much sun to deal with which meant an overall very even and beautiful light falling across the entire image.

This also meant though, that things would be looking a little flat which is not something I normally like in my images. Since we didn’t have any soft boxes or umbrellas at our disposal, I popped the Elinchrom Ranger that Roger Yu had graciously lent to me for the day through a white t-shirt we had brought to cast a soft directional light straight to make Luanne and Tommy pop out just a little bit.

Of course, to make things just a little bit more surreal I employed a small little trick that I like to use to add movement to an otherwise static scene by having Lani toss the dress and scooch out of the picture as fast as possible.

Lightroom 4 Catalog lrcat  Adobe Photoshop Lightroom  Library

Photo by URFotogenik

DSC 1499 Edit

On the second series of images, we had to capture a single stand-alone portrait of each artist next to their instrument. We found this amazing little hallway of metal plates that would be just perfect. By this time, the sun had risen just a little bit higher and was already starting to bleed into the top of our image burning out the top of the reflective surfaces but also creating some amazing reflections in the hallway of mirrors.

Once again, to add just a little bit of a spotlight onto our protagonists, we used the Elinchrom Ranger to its maximum 400 watts of power and had it simply bounce off the back wall of this perfect little concave that we found. Without the concave, it would have been almost impossible to light up our subjects without having some kind of horrible reflection appearing in the image so the shots had to be framed at this perfect sweet spot.

Bouncing the light into a wall meant that we were essentially improvising one massive soft box that would not only cast a lovely highlight onto our subjects but also a light that would have just a little bit of depth thanks to the imperfections and variety of materials that were in the wall.

Untitled 1
(pardon the drawing skills)


For the final shot that we took, I placed myself precariously over the edge of this super awesome drop that we found and shot our 3 protagonists standing in the centre. Lighting was quite tricky for this one as we were trying to not only light our 3 subjects but to also cast a nice fancy glare on the top of the metal structure which helped to add depth to the final image.

Though I had initially planned on using three flashes, we finally settled for having our Elinchrom Ranger diffused through our hero white t-shirt as the main backlight and a separate speed light to cast the nice upwards “highlight” that you see bleeding across the image. No light mods needed!

URF 3915 2

Photo by URFotogenik

DSC 1541 Edit copy

Final Shot:

DSC 1541 Edit 2

Listen to another piece:
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/76644076″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”100″ iframe=”true” /]

Photoshop Deconstruction

As mentioned earlier, the best way to smooth surfaces over (IMHO) is to use something known as the Frequency Separation Technique. Never heard of it? Throw it into google and you’ll find a bazillion different examples and uses for it. What it essentially does is separate a single file into two separate layers: A texture layer and a colour layer. This means that you will be able to smooth tones without affecting texture in an image.

Too lazy to search for one? Check out Sarah Kiesling’s detailed tutorial (specifically targeted to beauty retouching)here. She has a far sweeter voice than mine and goes into some great details you might enjoy.

The reason I use this technique is to smooth out distractions in an image. Too often, our eyes are drawn to imperfections in an image which I feel can greatly weaken your image. Of course, like all things, I recommend that you “perfect” things in moderation as the final result is still supposed to be a photograph!

Always be certain to remove all larger distractions using the clone/heal/patch tool before you perform the frequency separation technique.

I’m going to simply write out the steps used in the Youtube video as a sort of text support for those of you attempting to reproduce the technique.

  • Step 1:Duplicate your layer twice
  • Step 2:Apply Gaussian Blur on the image. The Gaussian Blur value you choose actually defines how much detail will fall into the “tone” layer and how much falls into the “texture” layer. Play around with it a bit, you’ll see it soon enough.
  • Step 3:Image –> Apply Image –> Onto the Blurred layer –> Subtract | Scale: 2 | Offset: 128 –> Transform layer into a blending mode of “Linear Light” and make sure it is above then blurred layer.Apply Image*note: I like to group these two layers together so that they’re easy to toggle on and off for a quick “before and after”. Highly recommend you do the same!
  • Step 4: Play around! Either paint a “tone” on a layer between the texture and colour layers to smooth things out… or clone/heal/patch directly on the texture layer!Make sure that when you clone or heal textures that your brush is set onto “current layer”. Failure to do so will result in a completely wonky image.Hopefully this has helped you guys just a little bit! Let me know what you thought of this video and leave any comments/questions in the bottom :)Thanks to everyone who came by that day to help out 🙂 



  • Excellent post, as always !
    You have great skills in your field and passion.
    Thanks for taking the time to show us how you achieved those amazing results.
    I’ve been a long time fan of yours and always refer your work to my friends who wants to learn more from someone who makes it seems easy and fun.
    Keep it up !

    • hanks for the compliments Jo 🙂 <3 When do I see you on another one of my shoots.

  • Thanks so much – glad you liked my video (and my voice) 😉

    • great stuff 🙂 You’re on fstoppers again too!

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  • I don’t comment to often but this time its …. Wow – iam really impressed how the photos turned out , amazing work . – I have to try this technique.
    Thx for sharing


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  • Looking great, the deconstruction was nice too.

  • Very cool 🙂 thanks for the tip. Love the photo 🙂

  • Hey Benjamin,

    first off: cool work, great pic, nice atmosphere.

    I have more of a legal question. You mention that on these premises “no professional photos are allowed”. Usually this means the owner of the premises exercises his property rights and does not want his buildings, places, architecture beig used in other peoples commercial work without consent.

    Funny sidenote: The light show at night on the Eiffel tower in Paris is copyrighted, so you can take pictures and sell them at daytime, but not pictures including the illumination you have to pay a license fee…

    So, my question is: What could happen when the owner of the place finds out that you used his premises without consent (even if they didn’t catch you while shooting)? Can they force you not to publish or use the pictures? Can they sue you to pay a “license fee” or similar?

    • I think that you have to keep in mind what exactly the pictures are going to be used for. In our case, these photos are only going to be used for website and facebook, nothing more so we’re not looking at any sort of money making machine. They’re not going to be resold as merch either so really… there’s no money being made off the photos.

      The minute clients get into the commercial game there WILL be a budget allocated and then at that point its usually not your job to worry about it anymore.

      Its all about context IMHO.

  • very useful technique and photos also…it goes into my list

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  • Von, you are not a photographer. You are an artist which happens to use a camera.
    I love your work. You make it look so simple, while I know it takes a lot of creativity, time, practice and dedication.

  • Dror

    Brilliant and inventive, thanks!

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  • Jon Elmker

    Can you talk more about creating photographs at locations that you don’t have the proper location release for?

    I know you’re not a lawyer (or are you?!) but any information would be appreciated.

    • for any proper sized commercial jobs you should most definitely get proper location release forms.

      For something small – sure you’re not supposed to sell them but the way I see it is that it’s nothing big – kinda like shooting weddings at known locations. You’re not supposed to but people turn a blind eye.

  • KathyP

    Beautiful work, love the little tricks. Thanks for sharing! Your choice of music was awesome and brought back so many memories, Unfortunately, the first piece was not available, any chance you may know the name and or composer? A good Hungarian Csardas can get anyone’s blood flowing and that leads to great photography.

  • Elia Pére de Miguel

    Great advices! Thanks for the tips and taking the time to share them with us. Very usefull. =)

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