Welcome to the M Palma Photo Blog

Hi, my name is Mike, a professional wedding and portrait photographer born, raised, and based here in beautiful, Silverlake, Los Angeles, California.

On this blog, you'll find the daily inspirations, images and musings of my life.

I love photographing people, places, and anything else that catches my eye. I describe my style of photography as modern, fun, and energetic. So stay a while, check out my work, and get to know me better through my images and entries.

If you'd like to visit my main wedding and portrait site, click on this link, or click on the "connect" button up top to drop me a line via e-mail.

Like I said, stay awhile, and enjoy the entries. And please, do leave a comment. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter (via the icons above this paragraph) for even more up-to-date happenings (don't worry, I won't put up meager posts like "I'm standing in line at Starbucks" (my favorite coffee spot!). Only the really cool and important stuff!)

Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for 'LIghting'

Howdy gang! Thanks for stopping by! May has been a nice and busy month for me, shooting for both my business and personal work. The month started off with a rare opportunity to photograph the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. A world leader! Not just follow him around and document him, but literally light him, pose him, and of course take his portrait! Such an amazing honor and experience for me! That and being surrounded by the hundreds of U.S. Secret Service! So cool! However, that is a story for another time. If you’re interested, ask me later or when you see me.

As for this post, this one is all about my recent portrait shoot with director Snehal Desai, who is currently directing East West Players’ (EWP) “Tommy” by The Who, in Little Tokyo.  EWP and Snehal contacted me because they needed photos of him for an upcoming article for the “Stage Directors and Choreographers Society” journal. They needed “action” photos of Snehal as well as portraits of him for the publication.

As a former stage actor and performer, I kinda, sorta, know my way around stages and stage lighting. So when I was asked to photograph Snehal, thankfully, our set was literally the stage at EWP, complete with (almost) any lights I wanted – so long as they were already part of the current production! Of course, I brought my own lighting, which was going to be used as the key, fill, and rim, but the EWP lights were just a happy bonus! Moral of the story – always bring your own lights!

My initial plan was to do three full set-ups, using no less than my Paul C. Buff Parabolic umbrella and a fill or two. Our first set was the stage complete with a staircase prop-piece that we were able to use and re-position for our shoot. Here’s what the set-up looked like with my para:


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait,


My plan was to have Snehal sit or stand on the staircase, and have my parabolic light him as the key. I added the diffusion panel to soften the light a bit (personal preference for this shoot). Here’s what it looked like after I set up my light(s):


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait,


AMAZING light huh?!!! Right out of the box!!! I literally hit it out of the park! Woo hoo!!!! [Packs up and leaves; not before dropping his mic].

Yup, this was what I got from the set-up above. Grade “C-” or even a “D”. Then again, my Einstein strobe inside my parabolic wasn’t set to what I really wanted, but I thought that I’d be getting a little bit more light than just this! Guess not. Nonetheless, this was an easy fix. I figured I’d meter the scene once I had Snehal in place, and my main/key light would be just fine.

The next thing I noticed was that most likely, we would lose Snehal’s shape due to the dark, unlit stair background. So, I decided to add a little hair/rim light at the very top of the stairs, clamped to a railing on the set. Here’s what it looked like:




2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait,


With the addition of this hair/rim light, I knew that we could separate Snehal and give him some nice lighting to set him apart from the background. But wait! There’s more! I couldn’t just leave it solid white! It’s a theater for goodness sake! I added a purple gel to  simulate the stage lighting surrounding him, and to give the photo a little pop of color:






2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait,


These images are straight out of the camera BTW, with no processing. You can see how the purple gel adds the “flavor” of the photo now.





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Put all these elements together, and voila! A perfect photo!!!! Woo hoo… wait… what the?!!! That’s right folks, still no cigar. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to turn on some of the existing stage lights (the light tower to the right of the above photo), and the LED strip to the top. Despite all this, I still have a deep shadow on the right of Snehal’s face.

Now, some people may like this contrasty look. Deep shadows to add drama to the shot. But as you can see, this wasn’t a mysterious, dramatic set-up. This was for a magazine, so we needed something a little brighter, and more lit. So what do you do when this happens? Add another light! That’s all! I don’t have a photo of it, but I added a bare strobe to camera left, on the floor pointing straight at Snehal to fill in those shadows. You can see the highlight from this strobe in Snehal’s eyes in the finished photos below. Here’s what I got:


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait,


Ta da!!! Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I knew I could adjust that fill light to open up the shadows a bit more on the right side of Snehal’s face, so I was good to go from here.

So, from the first photo I showed you, to the previous one, I adjusted all my settings, got it to where I wanted them to be, and here’s what we made, working the “scene” a little:





2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players



2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players



Simple and easy right?!! All done within a matter of seconds! Yeah RIGHT! That’s why you arrive early to a session so you can work out the details before you bring in the talent. Thankfully I didn’t make Snehal wait too long as the entire set-up probably took about 15 minutes max. That’s what I get from all the weddings I’ve done – rush rush RUSH!!!

From there, I basically applied the same principles to my next set-up, Snehal in the audience. Here’s the BTS and one of the final photos:


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players


Note the strobe in the background for fill/fim (used the same gel as last time), and my humongous PCB Parabolic camera left. (Excuse the iPhone photo of this BTS)


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players


There you have it! Easy peasy. We worked this set-up for a short stint, and got some really great photos. I have to say that it’s easy to do your job when you have such great talent in front of you!




The last set-up we did was a headshot done outside the theater in open shade. Sure, open shade is fine and all, but when you go that extra step to make it a better photo, you get BETTER results. Here was our set-up:


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players



Here’s the shot without my umbrella for fill/separation – okay, but kind of “blah” light wise:



2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players


Still works right? Even lighting, exposure works, but there’s really no “zing” to it. Sure, I could “photoshop” it, but only amateurs think that way, GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA!

Add the umbrella in the previous photo, direct your subject to “squinch” his eyes for dramatic effect, take the shot again, LIGHTLY touch it up in post, and you get THIS result instead:


2015, m palma photography, bts, behind the scenes, paul c buff parabolic umbrella, stage, portrait, east west players


Which photo would you choose?

There you have it folks! Another “anatomy of a shoot” post. Hope it helped you “see” better, and get an idea of how I light things. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or drop me a message, Facebook or otherwise.

A HUGE thanks to Snehal Desai, Kat Carrido, Andy Lowe, and East West Players for the opportunity. Great team = great results!

Have a great week, and thanks for stopping by again :)



Happy last week of April folks. Sheesh. Heading into the fifth month of 2015, can you believe it?! Is it just me, or the older you get, the quicker time goes by? I’m sure I may have posed this question to everyone before, but with the passage of time, your brain cells also pass, pass away! Just kidding, hope not! It just feels that way.

As my title implies, when I’m not photographing, I’m STILL photographing. It’s what every artist HAS to do. You get inspired, try things out, fail, succeed, try, and try again. It’s what makes you better at your craft. Plus, it’s fun. Downright fun!

Always looking for inspiration, I find myself following a lot of pages, and photographers on FB and other sources. The other week, I came across a blog entry from Sue Bryce, an uber talented photographer I’ve been following for quite sometime since first sitting in on a class of hers during a WPPI event/workshop. She’s a great inspiration overall, not only with her photo work, but as a person as well. She posted a story about her latest lighting set-ups, and how she achieved her particular lighting for a specific shoot. (You can view the post here). In her post, she talked about how she set up her lights, what equipment she used, and then, some examples from her shoot. I’ve been doing the same every so often, so it was nice to see another photog’s work, and then try and apply it to my own work.

Inspiration in hand from Sue, and I was off to try her set-up. Not duplicate it, as no one can ever really duplicate someone else’s work, but definitely try it and see what type of images I can get.

Here’s my set-up:

2015, lighting diagram, lighting set-up, m palma photography, einstein


In Sue’s set-up (see photos in link above), her set isn’t as “cluttered” as mine, plus she was using a deep Octobox, similar to this set-up below:



2015, lighting diagram, lighting set-up, m palma photography, einstein


I’m using a large Octobox camera left, skimming my cousin Johanna from the front, and then filling her left side with the silver reflector camera right. In the set-up above, with my lovely assistant Jully, you’ll see that I went with a magnum reflector instead of the octobox cause I wanted more contrast in the light for her shoot.

Check out Sue’s work with this similar set-up, and then see how my images fared.


2015, lighting diagram, lighting set-up, m palma photography, einstein


This above image was done using the octobox with my Einstein 640WS. Jully is rimmed with a Lumopro from the back, camera right. The silver fill fills in her left side. (Processed with LR, Exposure 7)


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Here’s one done without the octobox, but with the bare, reflector. Note the more contrast in the shadow to highlight detail; not as “soft” as the previous photo.




2015, lighting diagram, lighting set-up, m palma photography, einstein, exposure 7


Here’s what it looks like, straight out of the camera (SOOC). No editing done whatsoever. You can see the higher contrast in the shadows, and the slight fill from the strobe behind her, with that highlight on her left shoulder. (Hope Jully doesn’t mind!)


2015, m palma photography, fuji x100s, dogs, family

Here’s a screen shot of some of the other images we made during this session.

Side note: I still “freak” out that these photos are taken in my small studio. You’d never know it unless you saw it (as you have been with my behind the scenes posts). See? You can make beautiful photos anywhere!

And there you have it! You look around, find something that inspires you, you try it, and you get what you YOU get! I’d like to thank Sue Bryce for her post and for inspiring myself and other photographers. Thanks Sue! A huge thank you to my cousin Johanna T. for the use of her hats (awesome hats!), and for my muse Jully for slaving away with me in my quest for the perfect light! Thanks Jully.

Finally, for no reason at all, here’s a photo of our dog Baxter:




2015, m palma photography, fuji x100s, dogs, family



Thanks for stopping by everyone. See you in MAY!



Hiya folks! Happy first week of February! How’s it goin’? Now that we’re officially out of the first month of the new year, it’s time to get going and keep up with all those goals we set for ourselves on Jan. 1st. Remember those?

As of late, I’ve been working on a lot of personal projects – trying out new lighting set-ups in studio, practicing new techniques for my weddings, etc., and as an added bonus, I have been posting my in-studio set-ups on this blog in the hope that it inspires people to maybe try them out, or perhaps get inspired and go out and photograph. For the longest time, I always searched the internet for sites that posted/diagramed their lighting set-ups, so that perhaps I could try and learn from them, and I’m finally doing it myself for those out there who are trying to do the same!

I know that some of you are also thinking “Hey, it’s Jully again in all his photos”. Yes, but, when you’re working with someone collaboratively who is totally onboard to help you out and contribute to your “vision”, why not continually work with that person. Besides, she’s a joy to work with and easy on the eyes (I know you feel the same, as my web stats seem to confirm that!). So if you’re tired of seeing Jully in my posts, I won’t feel bad at all if you stop reading and click on to another site. Seriously. I understand. (Kinda).

If you’re still here, then you’re in for another treat!

As mentioned in prior posts, I’ve been inspired lately by fashion photographer Clay Cook, of Clay Cook Photography. Clay posts “point of view” Youtube videos online to show you what it’s like photographing on a small set with models. What’s cool about the videos is that you get to see him working in a relatively small space, and get to see his lighting set-ups first hand. Plus, you see the kinds of results he’s getting with said set-up.

With that said, I once again tried out Clay’s lighting using my own minimal equipment and got to shooting! It’s really fun to do this kind of stuff and see what you’ll get. It’s like a recipe, but you get to put your own “magic” touches to it to make it your own.

With the help of my lovely assistant/model/muse Jully, here is the diagram and set-up, followed by our results.





I first diagramed the set-up via my trusty little lighting book and then set it up:


2015, m palma photography. lighting diagram, lighting set up, clay cook lighting, fashion, los angeles, einstein, studio, v flats


 Originally, I used my beauty dish without the sock diffuser connected, but I felt that the light quality I was getting was a bit too crisp and contrasty. I decided to add the diffusion to soften the light a little and decrease the contrast in the shadows. In retrospect, I could have lifted the reflector on the floor for a bit more fill, but I’m still okay with the results.

As you can see, I have very little space to work with, but you can’t tell by the results.



2015, M Palma Photography, fashion, lighting diagram, los angeles photographer, einstein strobe, model, asian, female, clay cook inspired, On One




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What I love most about these photos, and please pardon my geekiness, is that the rim light coming from camera left is faint enough to not notice it, but strong enough to add impact and separation to the photo! Without it, I think the photos would lose a bit of definition and contrast from the background.

There you have it! Another installment of my behind the scenes, lighting set-ups and diagrams. I’ll be doing more of these in the future, so do drop by and check them out. Also, if you have any questions about the lights and set-ups I’m using, feel free to drop me a line!

Lastly, if you live in the L.A. area, and are interested in modeling or collaborating on a photo project with me, also drop me a line so we can meet up and discuss. It would be fun!

Thanks everyone, and have a great first week of February. See you next time!