Chromakey

It was back in April 2011 when I first commented on the remarkable new #technology of the #Reflecmedia #Chromakey system for photographers. So remarkable in fact, I actually bought one!


Since then I have had a good relationship with the company and have helped steer the #development of updated and improved equipment. Paul Holdcroft (Managing Director of Reflecmedia) says “We have always had a good grasp of chromakey within the cinematic field, but providing the same technology in the photographic market was a new challenge for us. In order to provide the right equipment to the still image sector, we needed to consult with people who understood the requirements of the profession and were also sympathetic to this new technology”.


The original system consisted of a background #curtain (or pop-up) impregnated with highly reflective glass beads. The blue or green chromakey #colour was provided by a separate ‘litering’ fixed to the camera lens (similar to a traditional ring light used in fashion photography). Whilst the curtain and pop-up technology has remained the same, the new ‘#litering’ is a far superior beast. Build quality and performance are a vast improvement on the original #hardware.


The mark 1 ‘lightring’ comprised of a cast metal ring with single colour led’s (green or blue) set into the face. These #led’s were set at an angle to maximise the coverage of light spread across the background. Whilst this was an efficient way of producing the required chromakey colour, the ring was heavy by design and made a big lens even heavier. The other (minor) drawback was that the attached controller had to be mains powered, requiring a long cable attachment. This was an important first step for ‘dipping your toe’ into a new market sector. Get something out there that works.....


The mark 2 ‘litering’ is manufactured from high impact #polycarbonate, making a small but welcome reduction in weight. The new generation of led’s are more efficient and set behind a semi opaque diffuser. This allows for alternate led’s to be either green or blue, controlled by a switch on the new #digital #controller. Using a 10’ Chromatte (curtain) background, the light falloff from corner to corner is less than half a stop using less than half the original led array!



The beauty of this arrangement is that the photographer can switch between a green or blue chromakey at the flick of a switch on the new controller. A godsend if someone wears, or an objects colour, conflicts with the chromakey spectrum.




The power socket has still been retained however, so if your battery runs out, there is a backup. During testing I went two weeks before it dropped appreciably. Yes, it has a #battery power indicator as well! There is a cable between the ‘litering’ and controller which I found too long, but shortened it by forming a loop and securing with cable ties. The controller has a facility for a belt loop or strap but one is not provided. It was a simple matter to fashion a fastening from an old #lanyard for fixing to my belt. The result is a more efficient, versatile and lighter device for about the same cost as the original equipment.


Using the Reflec Chromakey System

Chromakey is suitable for all forms of stills photography including product/pack photography, events and weddings and also in the #studio.


I recently used the Chromaflex (pop-up) background at a wedding where it was bright but too wet to take the bride and groom outside. I simply popped up the background against the wall and used the #ambient window and room light (no additional lights or flash). The result was some fun and games with little or no preparation required.


During a recent #workshop in Ireland I was ‘challenged’ to produce something in a room with no windows! Well really – only in Dublin. The cavernous space was very poorly lit with only tungsten ceiling lights from downlighters, so I cheated a little....I used a single continuous daylight balanced light source to simulate a small window approximately 12’ from the group. Once accepted, I had no option to prove the system. I’m pleased to say that the dissidents were put in their place, much to their astonishment.


My studio #backgrounds now rarely see the light of day as my system is in constant use. The new ‘litering’, although more efficient, is hardly noticed by any of my sitters and also provides less #reflectance than the mark 1 ring.


The chromakey system is designed to be used with constant light sources but can be used effectively with ambient lighting and with some care, flash lighting.


FX Home Photokey

As with all chromakey images, there is a need to composite them after capture and we reviewed version 4 in our last article. This latest version has got some really natty improvements particularly when it comes to ‘keying’ the foreground image with the background.

The Photokey 5 Pro interface (Photokey 8 is the latest iteration but has changed little in appearance)

The program interface has been completely re-jigged to include direct web access to help files and videos. There is also an option on the opening page to go directly to the program and start editing an image or open an existing project. Importing, resizing and manipulation of foreground and background images is the same as in the previous version, but several improvements with file handling and keying have been made to speed up the editing and making the accuracy of blends more precise.


There is now a ‘Hot Folder’ option in the import dialogue which works similarly to Adobe Lightroom. You simply select the folder which holds your jpeg images and they are automatically imported to the program and stacked in order.


As soon as an image is ‘double clicked’ it transfers to the adjustment window already with a basic mask. Multiple background images are also held in the import stack and are combined with the foreground image also by ‘double clicking’. This is a boon for an event photographer who wants to combine any background from his/her library of photos with individual customer portraits, quicker than it takes for the sitter to reach the computer operator!


Choosing the right background means that any further work on the image is not required or minimal at worst, as the keying of the two files (foreground/background) is generally seamless. There are occasions where there are difficult clients or the chosen background has some fringing artefacts when the sitter is keyed in. Under the new keying menu, great keys can be made or adjusted using the matting controls.


Separate sliders are provided for foreground and background matting and also gamma adjustment. The background slider is used to defringe the stray shadows or dirt patters that become visible under certain lighting situations. The foreground slider minimises any colour contamination from the subject or sitter being photographed, including colour reflections caused by the ‘litering’ on dark clothing. This was particularly used on my image of the three stooges in my classroom challenge. Additional images taken in the ‘art nude’ workshop in Dublin were composited entirely in Photokey 5 Pro in very short order.


Even with difficult subjects, keying is remarkably quick and easy to do by someone with little experience. Staff training is kept to a minimum and profits can be maximised with quick turnarounds at every event.


With studio work such as my own, complex #keying due to #semi #transparent clothes or fabrics can be easily achieved in a fraction of the time it used to. Alright, any new software takes time to master and to get the full benefit from it you need to practice just like Photoshop or Lightroom. Don’t take it out of the box and use it on your first gig, that’s just asking for trouble, but it really doesn’t take long. The videos on the FXHome Photokey site will give you a great head start.


What’s the Verdict?

Some might say I have a vested interest in this product, and they’d be right! I’m extremely keen on personal integrity and there’s no way I would want to be associated with something I didn’t believe in. I’m keen to see this product evolve and of course survive in the marketplace which as we all know is changing rapidly to cope with these austere times. If there is anything out there that will give you and edge then you have to go for it!


I love this product and use it extensively in my everyday work. Having bought the original version of the technology based on it’s uniqueness and capability, I can only say that users of the version 2 equipment will be even more taken by it’s new look, lighter frame, more portability and costs comparable to buying a new professional lens.


Techy Stuff...

To give you a head start on how to light and photograph your subjects using constant and flash light sources, I have written two data sheets which can be requested directly from me using the CONTACT FORM on this website, or alternatively personal tuition can be arranged for a small fee.


There are three main kits I recommend for event and studio photographers which are:

Deskshoot Lite Standard Kit – includes an 8’ curtain, Dual Litering, Controller, Power lead, set of 4 adapter rings to suit most lens sizes. The battery is not supplied by Reflecmedia but can be bought off the web for about £30.

Wideshoot Standard Kit – as the Deskshoot Lite Kit but with a 12’ curtain.

Chromaflex Popup – as the Deskshoot Lite Kit but no curtain. The background is similar to a Lastolite popup portable with sprung steel frame and carrying bag.


All items can be bought online directly from Reflecmedia resellers. Sales and product information can be obtained from Calvin Holdcroft at Reflecmedia 01606 593 911 or choldcroft@reflecmedia.com

I will be available to handle all technical queries and after sales training in respect of purchases from Reflecmedia. 0151 336 8216 or using the CONTACT FORM on this website.


FXHome Photokey Pro retails at around £250 including a ‘Try for Free’ option on their website: www.fxhome.com and will soon be available on the Chromakey site also, enabling you to buy all in one place.

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