For many photographers, separating your subject from the background can be a time-consuming nightmare. What if you could just click your camera's shutter once and have a perfect mask ready in your camera? Freemask by Hensel lets you do that.
Fstoppers recently released “The Hero Shot: How To Light And Composite Product Photography,” an in-depth tutorial with Brian Rodgers Jr. teaching the techniques he uses to create some of the best product photographs that we've ever seen. Rodgers uses a lot of light painting and compositing. He uses the pen tool a lot. Though the process is meticulous and the results are jaw dropping, his process can be quite time-consuming.
There are certain niche photographers out there that don't have as much time to spend in post-processing. Their jobs require hundreds of images for catalogs or online galleries, and, though the results need to look good, these don't need to be all-star images which they spend hours on. For these photographers, or for any other photographers that simply do not want to spend a lot of time penning out their subjects in Photoshop, there is a simple solution built into many of Hensel's strobes called Freemask.
The concept behind Freemask is to light your subject and your background separately in two back-to-back images taken moments apart. The first step is to set up lights on your background to make it pure white. It's important to minimize the amount of light spill that comes off the background and hits your subject. This may require you to move your subject farther away from the background. The second step is to light your subject as you normally would. Finally, you want to set up your camera to shoot two frames in rapid succession. We suggest putting your camera into high-speed shooting on a two-shot bracket mode with your exposure dialed in manually.
To activate the Freemask functionality, attach the trigger to the top of your camera, set your background lights to one Freemask channel, and then set your foreground lights to another Freemask channel. When you push your shutter, two shots should fire in rapid succession. The first shot will have a white background and a black subject, and the second shot should produce a well-lit subject.
Once you have these two shots, you can stack both as layers in Photoshop and, following the instructions in the video, quickly and simply mask out your subject from the background.
The best part about this system is how quickly products can be swapped in and out with masks. We used a few random objects from around our office and took all these shots within 30 seconds.
It should be noted that Freemask is only available in certain Hensel lights including the following: Hensel Expert D 250, Hensel Expert D 500, Hensel Expert D 1000, Hensel Integra 250, Hensel Integra 500, Hensel Integra 1000, and the Hensel Cito 500.
In addition to shooting products, Freemask can be used to mask out people as well. Again, it's important to separate your subject from light spill off the background if you want a clean mask. If you do have light spill, the mask will start to fail around the subjects edges, like the hair, and it will be obvious the image is a poorly executed cut out. We took a quick shot of Lee as an example below.
When shooting live subjects, you also have to consider movement. Since the shutter needs to fire twice to capture both these frames, no matter how fast it can accomplish that, there is time for movement. Any movement between these two frames will give you an incorrect mask. Therefore, it's important for your subject to stay relatively still as you are shooting.
For the fun of it, we grabbed one of these quick cutouts and "improved" one of Mike Kelley's architectural images.
What I Liked
- Efficiency - Hensel's strobes are ideal for a fast past studio environment. They have a fast recycle time and enough power to light just about any job.
- Effectiveness - With a proper light setup, the Freemask functionality built into Hensel's lights work wonderfully and with it you can create quick masks of any still subject.
- Price - With how expensive Hensel's strobes are, buying these lights for Freemask alone is probably not worth the cost.
Though we were impressed with functionality of Freemask in Hensel strobes, it seems like this functionality is meant for particular photographers who produce a high volume of studio images. The strobes function great whether you're using the Freemask option or not, but they also come with a fairly high price tag. Though Freemask is a nice add-on, purchasing these lights for this feature alone may not be worth the extra dollar when compared to other strobes. With a little extra time and effort, it's possible to produce the same lighting and masking results with other radio triggers, at least for still life shots.