Home Photography Ideas: Miami Vice Style Portraits
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Light painting is a great way to get into long exposure photography and opens up a world where we can control the light and shape it according to our needs. Most of the time, we use a powerful torch in low light or at night to visually paint a scene, often with fantastic results.
However, in this project, we will be placing jelly torches in hollow plastic rods covered with translucent paper to create a light wand that plays an important role in creating the final image.
The torch we use also has a built-in strobe effect, so we use it to our advantage to mimic a style reminiscent of 1980s movie posters. Think about movies like Tron and The Terminator, where the sleek neon colors are both retro and contemporary.
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And with current TV shows like Strange things and modern music like the synthwave reminiscent of this style, this period has not been so popular since… well, since the 80s.
So with a soft top car and our model fitted out as if he were a character from Miami vice, we’re going to use the light wand to create those ace effects in the camera, then tweak the colors in Photoshop later.
Getting a great look will take a lot of practice – and once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s so much fun you’ll want to keep shooting! So let’s see how it’s done …
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Feel it, call in the air …
01 Gather your pencil case
We use two tactical military flashlights, with adjustable power and strobe settings, and we have glued pink and blue plastic on the ends. We also bought some hollow acrylic tubes from eBay and put the torches inside. Alternatively, while they aren’t strobe and aren’t as powerful, you can also try an Icelandicight or a Yongnuo Light Wand (which even changes color!).
02 wrap the light
We knew the rod wouldn’t light up much if it was clear, so we wrapped parchment paper around it to help diffuse the lighting better, creating more definition. If you have any flaring issues coming from the top of the rod, just cover it with duct tape.
03 Use bulb mode
Compose your scene to leave space in the frame around your subject – we use a 24mm lens, but choose a wide focal length that suits your subject and scene. Now here’s the key: set your camera to manual mode and adjust the command dial until your shutter speed says Bulb. Now your exposure will last as long as the shutter button is pressed.
04 Trigger the camera
With your camera on a tripod, you’ll need a friend to press the shutter button for you as you move the light rods around your subject. If you don’t have an extra pair of hands, grab a wireless remote shutter release button to use while you dance the light rods.
05 Maximize your light
We used an f / 2.8 aperture to maximize light entering the lens and increased our ISO to 320 as we got underexposed images at ISO100 with the shutter speed in Bulb mode. We hit about four to six seconds of exposure, but it varied each time we shot.
Start from the left, then during the exposure move across, around and behind your subject; then make sure you left the frame on the right before doubling it, camera to the right, to create a U-shape. Starting and stopping like this ensures that the light is on the front of your subject.
Amplify it in post
01 Remove distractions
Load your image into Photoshop CC and use the Patch Tool (J) to bypass unwanted bright spots, then click and drag the selected area onto an unaffected part of your image. The Patch tool will match the texture of the moved area and remove unsightly spots.
02 Convert to smart object
Now we convert our layer to a smart object to give us more options. Right click on the layer and go to Convert to Smart Object, then go to Filter> Camera Raw Filter. The changes you make in Camera Raw are non-destructive, so you can adjust them later if you want.
03 Each modification made
We started by increasing the exposure by +0.3 to make the image a bit brighter. Then we lifted the Shadows with +20 to bring out some detail in the darker areas of the photo – which is especially noticeable around the tires and grilles of the car.
04 shine some light on me
With the Radial filter, draw a circle around the subjects. Under Effects, check Interior and hover over the pushpin to see the masked area you are affecting. Now to make the shot brighter, increase the +1.5 exposure, raise the +20 shadows, and remove the -20 blacks to keep the contrast centralized in the frame.
05 End with a thumbnail
With the Radial filter, click on ‘New’ at the top of the toolbar on the right and draw a wider selection. Now click on Exterior in the Effect section and select Exposure -0.6 to darken the edges.
06 Neon demons
Click the Main icon (H) in the Camera Raw Filter window and you will see the base panel on the right. Add even more oomph by increasing the Vibrance and Clarity sliders to +10, which adds color without clipping.
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