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Light Painting Techniques with KICK

LightPainting_genesisofman

Light painters use an impressive variety of tools and creative techniques to create stunning, intriguing and mesmerizing images. Light painter Martin Barras recently added a couple of KICKs to his tool box.

Light painting is a photographic art form in which the photographer works with light and colors and looong shutter times to create amazing effects and cool images. Light painting is almost as old as photography itself. (Picasso did it too!) But with the introduction of the digital camera the trend experienced an explosive growth.

Martin Barras is a dedicated light painter. Below he shares some fascinating images and great tips on light painting techniques with KICK. Thanks Mart!

“Visitors from Within”
LightPainting_alien

I’ve been fascinated with the concept of aliens and the unknown for as long as I can remember. For this shot I used some holographic wrapping paper to create a tunnel, and a kitchen colander for the back of the tunnel. The whole set up was propped up on books about 4-5 inches off a table, a very make shift Heath Robinson (US: Rube Goldberg) affair, I can tell you.

I placed one KICK behind the tunnel, on the table, so it lit the scene through the holes in the colander. Here the wireless connection with the KICKs from my phone really came into its own; being able to turn the light on and off remotely was great, and as KICK enabled me to select colors on the fly I could easily test different shades and hues until I found something I felt worked.

“The Genesis of Man”
LightPainting_genesisofman

Having grown up watching Doctor Who and many, many sci-fi movies during my childhood I guess this kind of imagery has stuck somewhere in my psyche.

For this shot I had to fashion a rudimentary snoot from masking tape for one of the KICKs in order to make it color the alien in the shot. Using a selection of color images I found on the internet, which I then saved to my phone, I simply picked a nice selection of colors for the pallet to give it a really 60″s psychedelic feel. I felt this complemented the time tunnel effect I created with the rotation tool.

“Welcome to the Jungle”
Lightpainting_plantman

I had seen some graphic design work online with an image of a man made from plants’ leaves. I was fascinated by the concept and wanted to find out whether I could make something similar with a camera. I had just got my first KICK lights and was keen to test them out properly.

I used KICK’s sampling feature to sample colors from other photographs I knew. Armed with a vibrant red and green I had found, I set up the shot, lit myself into the frame, and then rotated the camera using my camera rotation tool. I capped the lens, took the camera off the tripod, placed it face up towards some plants I had placed on the floor with the KICKs nestled between them. I then uncapped the lens and fired up the KICKs for a few seconds.

Although the result wasn’t 100% perfect I felt I had captured the essence of what I was after. I was happy.

“Temple”
LightPainting_temple

I’ve shot at this location in my hometown of Brighton UK before. It is a very peaceful and beautiful monument to the brave men who fought in the war. I wanted to light the Indian temple, then rotate the camera and create a (false) reflection. I needed to be in the frame twice for the silhouette of the man; but there is always a risk with shots like this that you spend a lot of time lighting the frame and shooting, only to find you’ve captured yourself on the wrong spot in the shot. The KICKs proved perfect for the job: Remote controlling the lights from my phone, I did not have to get in the frame more than necessary.

“Caved in”
LightPainting_cave

I was really happy with how this shot came out, although it wasn’t really planned at all.

I had done a rotation shot with these rocks on the beach before in order to create a cave effect similar to this, but i wanted to try it with the KICKs. The KICKs are portable and really lightweight, which is great when you’re carrying a lot of lights and a camera around, and still they are powerful. The 400 lumens output from the KICKs is powerful enough to get some bold vibrant colors going in the shot. This adds a kind of retro print around the edge of the frame, which frames the shot nicely around the rotation part, I think.

See more of Martin Barras’ work on Flickr

 

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KICK diffuser: Sunset at Broad Daylight

beeatsunset

We let a creative photo enthusiast play with a KICK diffuser for a couple of weeks. Look what he came up with and read his comments:

– As I first got my hands on the KICK diffuser I spent a couple of days thinking about what you can do with it: shoot beautiful portraits in lovely soft light with hints of color; take great pics of objects, with carefully controlled light and dark areas; or enhance shapes and curves and adjust colors perfectly in order to express an object’s particular qualities.

In the mood for macros
– Well, my latest lens is a macro lens, so I soon moved on to what KICK and the diffuser can do to macro photography. KICK is much too big for the job, really, but then I got the idea that with the diffuser the KICK might be perfect for shooting silhouette photos of tiny objects – like a bumblebee!

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The photographer caught a bumblebee and put it in the freezer for a short while in order to slow it down a bit. This gave him a couple of minutes to shoot before the bee would fly away – and he had to start over again.

– I mounted KICK and the diffuser on a small tripod, which made it easy to create the perspective I wanted. Together they allowed me to carefully control the color and intensity of the background light, and create a sunset at broad daylight.

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– It was a strange experience to stand there midday and portrait a bumblebee at sunset. What I saw in the finder was completely different from the object and the whole scene in real life! Pretty cool.

Well, that’s what we think of the image too: Pretty cool!

The Rift Labs team

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Portraits from a Car Cemetery

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DSC_0426

Dead cool. A horror movie taught photo enthusiast Ole Schjødt-Osmo how light and color may be used creatively to express a car’s character and “personality”. A deserted car cemetery was the perfect location for further photographic experimentation on the theme. And KICK proved the perfect tool.

Ole tells the story:

Inspiration. From the horror movie Christine, which made a huge impression on me as a very young man in 1983, I learned how much personality and character old cars may hold. In particular I remember how skillfully that movie used lighting and color effects to communicate a car’s energy and “desires”. It’s been more than 25 years since I saw the movie but as I approached the photo shoot location I could clearly picture in my head the light and colors I wanted to recreate.

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[The KICK (green light) is left in the front seat]

Location & motifs. The photographs were shot at a deserted car cemetery on the Norwegian-Swedish border. I learned about this place from some photographers I know, and had also seen some interesting images posted on the Internet. The rusty and overgrown wrecks fascinated me. Overgrown with grass, flowers and trees, the beautiful, almost organic, curves of the old cars stand out even more.

DSC_0482_1600pxs[KICK (green light) is in the glove compartment]

Windows are smashed and essential parts may be lacking, but the beautifully curved car bodies and one-eyed fronts still shine with character and charm through cobwebs and weed.

It was surprisingly difficult to make my way through the grass and weeds to (and not to mention inside!) the overgrown wrecks. I walked around for a while looking for cars that had the right curves and expressed the character, desire and energy I wanted. Once I found them, the task was to try and recreate it all in the photos.

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[Behind the scenes: Spot the KICK on the steering wheel]

KICK was the perfect tool for the job; easy to fit in tiny compartments and small gaps in the car wrecks. I positioned the KICK in various places inside the wrecks, and left it there. Then, via the KICK app on my phone I remote controlled color and brightness and tested different moods and angles. I think the streaks of light in the pictures create some interesting atmospheres and add story potential to the images. They evoke curiosity and expectation: there is something going on.

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[KICK (purple light) is in the glove compartment]

 

Ole Schjødt-Osmo / Rift Labs

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Back from China

Shenzhen, the capital of Guandong, China’s manufacturing region, where the sun is never really able to break through the smog.

(This has been reposted from Kickstarter)

Manufacturing in China

Prototyping is like cooking, manufacturing is like baking. When you cook, you can adjust while you work. You taste, add more pepper maybe, a squeeze of lemon, you taste again, add a splash of cream, a pinch of salt. You keep adjusting until it goes on the table. Baking is different, you mix all the ingredients, put it in the oven and pray for the best. It if fails, you got to start over from the beginning.

Manufacturing a relatively complex piece of electronics like the Kick, takes hundreds of different parts from different manufacturers. Some parts needs to be handled in a particular way, stored at a certain humidity, soldered in a certain way. When the assembled unit literally comes out of the reflow oven, it has to be tested properly to make sure everything if put together the right way and is working properly. The WiFi, the internal sensors, the charger, the battery, the LEDs, the buttons etc, etc. everything has to be tested on every device. There is literally a thousand small things that can go wrong and a lot of nail biting and obsessing over details. Designing the test jig and building an automated test procedure can sometimes be as much work as building the product in the first place.

I was in China last week to work with the factory who makes the plastic parts, and to visit potential manufacturers for the electronics. There is a lot of manufacturers in Guandong. From the really large ones like Foxconn and Flextronics who focus on customers who need massive volume. Then there is the tier below who are very professional, but who sometimes are able and willing to work with smaller customers as well. Then there is the smaller factories. The smaller the factory, the lower the price, but the more oversight they need. There are factories where workers walk around in spacesuits making little marks on notepads, and there are factories that are almost like sweatshops. Hot, smelly and poorly lit. The poor reputation that Chinese factories have is to a large degree based on poor conditions in the smaller factories.

This is the end of the production line for the printed circuit board assembly. The long chamber in the foreground is the reflow oven where the components are soldered. At the far end is the stencil printer and the pick’n place machine, the robot that places the components on the printed circuit board. 

I want to mention the fantastic help from several people like Chris Gammel, Bunnie Huang, Adam Scheuring, Billy and William from Dragon Innovation and of course Jenny Odegard. They helped locating the right kind of manufacturers, sent introductions and with visiting the factory sites.

It is critical to use a larger mainstream factory that have a reputation to uphold and an established customer base. The trick is to find someone who are still hungry, and flexible enough to take on smaller production runs. I think we found the right electronics manufacturer and that feels really good after our initial false start to manufacture the electronics.

Translation of the flowery language used by Chinese factories can be unintentionally funny. Instead of “To create the greatest value for customers and stuff”, why not “To create great value for customers and shit”. That would be my kind of people.

Molds

Two of the five molds used to make the Kick enclosure, ready for transport to the big injection molding machines.

I visited James at HiTop who makes the molds and the plastic parts. The molds are done and we worked on the T1 shots. The parts looks good for the most part, but there is a few adjustments we need to make.

As you can see in the above pictures, gaps appear when you squeeze the case. We are adding some features to the case to better keep it tight. Please note: The case above is a test-shot without any surface finish. The final parts will be polished and wet-etched to give them a fine-textured matte finish.

Molds are seldom perfect on the first try. I hope we are able to sort all remaining problems for T2. If not, there will be a T3. I was probably a little disheartened when I realized we could not fix the issues with tweaks or by adjusting the plastics mix. We need to design in additional features for the parts. James tried to lighten me up by sharing war stories about working with automotive manufacturers who sometimes were at T50 or T60 before they got it right.

The design changes has been done, but we’re holding back on implementing changes as long as we can in in case other issues appear during beta testing. The shipping date is still dependent on the delivery of the pesky batteries.

iPhone everywhere

China is totally preoccupied with the iPhone to a degree I haven’t seen anywhere. The Apple logo and iPhone 5 posters and images are everywhere you go. Even in the hotel toilet stall :-)

Beta update

The first pre-production/beta units have been assembled and are about ready to go out to the beta testers. We have way more people offering to test than we have pre-production units, so we can’t accept more testers.

M

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Manufacturing update

This poor blog hasn’t seen much love lately. As you know we had a successful Kickstarter campaign, so info and updates has been posted over there. We’ll move back here eventually. But for now, you can get the latest manufacturing update on the Kick here.

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Shooting test portraits with the Kick

We did some test shots with the Kick the day before yesterday and Alex helped me out. Actually, he did all the shooting and I helped him out!

Kick may not be your typical portrait light. But we made some shots anyway, just for the heck of it. Alex made some lighting diagrams to go with the images.

Per, who we cajoled into posing for some of the images, helped us get access to an empty theater. We needed a large pitch black space for some technical shots to illustrate how far the light would reach when using an iPhone as a camera. You can see the examples in an update under our Kickstarter page.

From Alex’ portfolio

 

 Alex Asensi is a friend and a young emerging photographer/filmmaker. He set up some typical lighting scenarios and made some test shots using one or more Kicks as the sole lighting source.

This shot uses a single Kick above. The girl is Katarina, Per’s niece, who were nice enough to be our model for the shoot. This lighting gives hard dark shadows. Katerina has a beautiful strong face that can take this kind of lighting. But lighting from a steep angle, like this will exaggerate and bring out any skin imperfection. Normally you would do do a little retouch and soften the skin a bit. You would also reduce the reflections along the nose and forehead. We have done minimal post processing to these images.

In this shot Alex used 2 Kicks about 45 degrees from each side. This fills in the shadows and makes the face less 3-dimensional. Katarina looks great in any light, but you get a little bit of “deer-in-headlights” or papparazzi feel here.

 

This shot was made with 3 Kick lights. One on each side and one above dimmed down a bit. The Kick does a decent job for this kind of dramatic lighting.

 

Here is an example of using colored light on the background. Per stood against a grey background if I remember correctly. The light is behind his back, and directed at the background. You don’t have to do it quite as explicitly as in these examples. A little touch of light can be enough to make your subject stand out against a dark or dull background. Very handy if you have little room to shoot and you want to avoid the up-against-the-wall look.

 

 

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Titanic sails tonight

Launching is scary. To let your invention out into the big bad world for the wolves to rip it apart. Or worse, being met wit a yawn, or no one even noticing. But you just have to put on your batman undies and go do it.

We went live a few hours ago and the reception has been awesome! I’m happy to report that the Kick is live and kicking on Kickstarter.

It is simply fantastic to see the Kick resonating with so many different people. There is a flurry of ideas on what people want to do with it.

Head over to Kickstarter and have a look. If you like it, pledge. And lets get a lighting revolution started!

 

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Sneak peek of how streaming light works

OK, so here comes another update and a lo-fi sneak peak on the light streaming capability. Light streaming is basically sampling light from a running video (or the phone camera), amplifying it and blasting it out.

 

 

We have been working like dogs for what feels like ages now. If it was easy, they wouldn’t call it hardware. But we are are getting very close to manufacturability. The major issues are sorted and I hope we can announce some definitive dates soon.

 

Later,

M

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Update on the tiny light

Just a brief update.

Progress has been good on the tiny version. The second prototype PCB works without too many alterations.

I had to port the code to a bigger microcontroller, the little Cortex-M0 ARM chip with USB port might not be ready to ship in time, so we are now running on a Cortex-M3, the bigger brother.

Battery life and battery management has gotten a lot of attention as well. In order to conserve as much power as possible, various parts of the device is powered down when not strictly needed. The LED drivers of course, the WiFi section, the sensors,etc. The goal is to consume as little power as possible in standby mode. The microcontroller is always on. That is, when the device is powered down, a single pin on the microcontroller is alive, barely. The rest of the device is powered down or in a deep sleep state. That single pin is connected to the power on button. When you press it, the device wakes up and is ready almost instantly.

WiFi takes a lot of work. In order to communicate WiFi devices have to be on the same network. There are basically two ways to do this. The old way is “infrastructure mode” where one device sets up a WiFi access point. That would typically be the internet router in your house. All other devices connects to this access point and you are in business. There is also “ad hoc mode” a way for devices to set up a direct connection between them. Very useful for short lived connections and perfect for our purpose.

But not all devices supports direct WiFi connections. Notably, the iPhone/iPad does not allow an automated connection to a third party device. So we have to do some of the heavy lifting on our end. When the device starts, it sets up its own WiFi access point called “RiftNet”. If there are more than one light in range they will manage the connection between them automatically.  You connect the phone to RiftNet via Settings on the iPhone/iPad, and then you can control all the lights remotely from the app. Maybe not a super elegant solution, but that is the way we have to do it if we want to support iOS. If that changes in the future, we might be able to add support via a firmware update.

Later,

Morten

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December update

Greetings, carbon units. Here is an update on the development over the last couple of months. Lots is happening and this is probably going to be a bit long and no pictures. So if your brain suffers from Social Media Induced ADD, you may struggle :-)

Onboard WiFi and Remote Control

One of the most requested features is remote control of the light. Lights get put in all sorts of hard-to-get-to places and it would be very convenient to be able to control the lights remotely. But how best to do it?

What should the controller be like? Should it be a separate remote control unit? Should one of the lights act as a master able to remotely control other lights? Or should we use a tablet or phone as controller?

A dedicated remote control device would probably be the best in terms of reliability and ease of use. It could be optimised for a single task. It could also use a simple and robust radio protocol and low cost radio chips. But it would be expensive to make a separate device.

If we use  one light to control the others, we could also utilise low cost radio chips, but we would bave a challenge cramming the added functionality into the user interface. It could easily turn into menu system hell where you would have to hunt around in menus and settings screens to do the simplest things.

The last option is to use a tablet or phone as the remote controller. The advantage is that it has a big screen, touch control and you most likely already have one with you. With phones and tablets the radio alternatives are Bluetooth or WiFi. To use Bluetooth with an iPhone/iPad, we would need to put an Apple chip in each light, and, well, I don’t think that is a viable option for the time being :-) So it has to be WiFi. The awesome part is that WiFi is widespread, standardised, and WiFi access points usually has an internet connection as well. The downside is that I need to add an expensive WiFi radio chip and processor to the hardware and run a WiFi software stack. The iPhone/iPad does not support peer-to-peer networking with third party hardware, so they have to be connected to the same access point. Android don’t have those limitations, but 90% of all photogs have iPads and iPhones, so there is that.

Tiny version

Another comment is the cost, the size and the light output of the current Floyd prototype. Talking to photogs, everybody wants something different. The thing everybody agrees on is that more light, less weight and less heat is a good thing.

To test the remote control I needed a number of devices. So I designed a tiny version of the Floyd. It is small, has a knob for intensity, a knob for color temperature and a button to activate remote control. If you press the button, you control the light from your iPhone, else you  control the light with the two knobs. It can be reasonably inexpensive to manufacture.

The current state of affairs is that the hardware works, there is WiFi communication between the PC and the light, but there is an iPhone App to make. I’m working with Hans Olav (pronounced “Han Solo”. Get outta here Chewbacca, how awesome is that?) to get an iPhone App prototype up and running.

Communications FAIL

Earlier this year I tried to keep up on the blogging but I think that can safely be declared a FAIL by now :-) I am a slow writer. Making videos, even the very simple ones, takes even more time  and that is time taken away from development. But that have to change. I’m just not sure how. Hmmm, actually I do know how. Until this project gets more resources, I have to take time away from development to do more blogging and videos. Dang.

User Interface work

There has been a lot of comments and suggestions on the Floyd prototype and it is coming together pretty nicely. It has been simplified and made more robust during the last few months. I think it initially was a bit to “technical” for some, too much Kelvin and EV values. It is more visual now and defaults to preset values like Daylight  and Tungsten instead of 5600 and 3200. Pauric who is an awesome interaction designer is doing some work on the User Interface to simplify and clarify it further. He’s had some really cool ideas and I’m looking forward to implement the UI improvements.

Light and math

I’ve spent a lot of time working on the quality of the light itself. Processing color mathematically involves a lot of heavy duty calculations and they have to be done within a few microseconds to keep up with changes in light intensity and color. Floyd is now capable of working with and converting between several color spaces so it produces preceptually correct output when it mixes and adjusts colors. It’s kind of a mini-photoshop in there now. We’re not messing around.

Red, green and blue produces a color spectrum that has a dip around 570 nanometers, which is around yellow-orange. That is no problem when the light goes straight from the emitter and into your eyes, like it does from a screen. But it can be a concern when the light is meant to be reflected before it it enters an eye or a camera.  So I’ve experimented with mixing in additional LED emitters to add energy in the dip and see if we can get a more even spectrum. But when we add a forth or fifth emitter, we now have a underdetermined math problem. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but this is the kind of hard-to-solve math problem that involves big greek letters with little doodads both over and under. Thankfully I got a lot of help from Joriki who is a math god and can answer any question whatsoever, as long as he can do it in Algebra.

Adding emitters does improve the color rendering ability of the light. It also requires additional driver electronics, more processor power and increases the size of the device. Whether the improvement is marginal or essential is up to the individual and dependent on the shooting situation.  I’ll guess we’ll see eventually how this pans out. Is RGB sufficient as a video light or do we need RGB+?

Next up

If you think that remotely controlling video/photo lights over WiFi sounds cool, and you are a software developer, and you want to do something with it, please do get in touch at hello@riftlabs.com. I can get prototype hardware out to you (at cost).

To people who ask “when is it going to be ready?” all I can say is that it is ready when it is good enough. We’ve obviously made a ton of progress, so it is not that far away. It is ready when people say “This is has value. This is useful to me. I want one.”.