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Creating and using stencils

Creating Light-stencil

Sometimes you might wish to get an image that features precisely recreated graphic elements, typefaces, e.t.c. For example, you want to add your team mascot or your city’s coat of arms to each photo. For this you’ll need a STENCIL.

To create a stencil, you will need:
Photographic printer
Photographic paper
A digital file with the stencil drawing
Flash
Diffuser

If you don’t have some if the items above, it doesn’t mean that you will not be able to make a stencil, it’s always possible to invent workarounds. We will tell you about them at the end of the lesson, but for now we will take the classical route — meaning, we’ll assume that you have all the necessary ingredients.

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Tips on preparing a stencil:

The stencil background (the parts you want to be transparent in the resulting photo) must be black. This will block the light from the flash and will not let in bleed into your drawing. All the other elements can be of any other color.

You can take any digital image, even photos, and manipulate them in image editing software so that all the parts of the image you don’t want to show up in the resulting photo will be filled with black. Not only 2D images can serve as a source for the stencil drawing, a well chosen 3D element can also be recreated with the help of a stencil.

Don’t use graphic elements that are too small — there’s a risk they will wind up looking as little bright dots.

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Stencil printing tips:

To print stencils we recommend using photo paper or cardstock, they are sufficiently dense, this will provide for black areas that are better at masking the flash output.

If the printer didn’t do a perfect job and there are white spots in the black background, simply take a thick black marker and fill those in.

Tips on using diffusers:
Trim the white edges on the stencil printout. Now for the diffuser. A diffuser is a flash attachment that produces diffuse lighting without glaring highlights. There are large and small diffusers, for studio and external flash units respectively. Attach the stencil you made to the diffuser. Put the diffuser on the flash. Essentially, the stencil is ready.

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Tips on using the stencil:

Point the stencil towards the camera and trigger the flash. The image on the stencil will be imprinted onto the photo. Naturally, you cannot do without a long exposure time. Ideally you’d use an external flash whose output you can control. That is because you will need to set the flash output by trial and error during your shoot. We purposely made a shot with the brightness set too high to demonstrate what artifacts can appear in the photo. Lowering the flash output and closing the aperture lowers the stencil brightness and minimizes the amount and the size of the artifacts. If the flash unit doesn’t have output control, put white paper baffles inside — the more of them you’ll use, the lower the output will be.

Don’t limit yourself to stencils. Firstly, it’s a rather simple activity and you will not gain much freezelight experience this way, and secondly it’s very easy to fake with image editing software and composite later into the picture, because the light signature lacks any texture.

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Now, about the workarounds. Photo printer and photo paper can be replaced with shop class. Buy some black cardboard, put a drawing on it and cut it out with the help of a utility knife. The part that was cut out can be covered with white or colored paper, depending what the intended image should be.
A diffuser in generally inexpensive, but sometimes one doesn’t feel like spending a few bucks. You can use a shoe box instead, with a frame cut out for the stencil and a hole for the flash. The most difficult thing is finding a replacement for a flash — that could prove very problematic, even with a very bright flashlight. The stencil will ofter get smudged, and a large amount of artifacts will appear.

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For those who cannot wait to get hands-on practice with this lesson we have prepared 4 stencils that you can download, print, and use to totally dive into experimenting. :)

Stencil archive — http://www.freezelight.ru/free-stuff/freezelight-stencils.zip

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