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Reflecmedia reviewed in Professional Image Maker magazines June edition

Wednesday, 1st June 2011


Reflecmedia is pleased to announce a review of the Chromaflex system in the June edition of the magazine representing the Society Of Professional Imagemakers. The review was indepenently written by leading professional Photographer Tom Lee from his studio in Liverpool.


Reflecmedia – Chromatte Chroma Key

Yellow for Amber – Green for Screen

Chroma key is often associated with the movie and television industries but rarely talked about by stills photographers. All that is set to change with the new system marketed by Reflecmedia.

The 'Chromatte' system does not use a conventional green cloth background that is normally used with the standard technology, but instead uses a highly reflective fabric drape impregnated with microscopic reflective beads, only visible at extreme magnification. The colour of the screen changes when lit with a ring light (similar in design to a ring flash) which attaches to the end of your camera lens via an adapter ring. The ring light is fitted with small coloured LED's that reflect off the 'Chromatte' but are not strong enough to affect the subject being photographed. Chroma key can be either blue or more commonly green, but the same background fabric can be used with either colour of ring light. Reflecmedia reviewed in Professional Image Maker magazines June edition Image 1

The fabric drape can be replaced with smaller 'Chromaflex' pop up background for small studios of portability. The 7' x 7' background was used in our product test.

Subject Lighting

One of the beauties of this system is that it can be used with available light and no additional equipment is required, provided that the room has reasonable even illumination. You will however want to exert a semblance of control over your lighting and for this you'll need continuous lights rather than flash.

Using flash units will reflect so strongly off the background fabric that the effect will be a whiteout. The power of the LED ring light can be increased using it's transformer to compensate for this effect, but consistent results are not reliable. We used cool daylight balanced fluorescent units for our test and found that as long as they were not in direct line with the camera or directly pointed square to the background, we could place them pretty much where we wanted.

In Use

Those of you that share my penchant for fantasy portraits, will realise that one of the most time consuming processes of preparing composite images is the masking and cutting out of individual elements that go to making up the artwork. Reflecmedia reviewed in Professional Image Maker magazines June edition Image 2

As with everything photographic there's more than one (and perhaps 1001) ways to complete anything in Photoshop, including cutting out elements for a composite image, but the question is, can chroma key help or make the job easier? Not one to miss an opportunity, I arranged for my makeup artist, Sue Hazelhurst of Shimmer & Shine, and our illustrious magazine editor Mike McNamee to be in attendance during the test with Amber, our model.

Whilst Sue set about 'painting' our cave warrior Amber, the 'Chromaflex' background was erected in seconds thanks to its sprung steel rim and the continuous lighting positioned so as not to allow overspill onto the fabric surface. The lens was fitted with the light ring and appropriate adapter in less than a minute with the transformer set at the '0' position and we were ready to go.

Photographing Amber was then just a matter of my imagination and creativity taking over, remembering that the images were to be placed in a composite at the end of the day. At this point the 'Chromatte' section of this test was complete, however, there are a few other precautions you should bear in mind when using this type of equipment.

Shiny objects such as the swords used in this exercise will pick up the green LED light in the reflection, so anyone with thick glasses may suffer with the same problem. This was overcome by not getting too close to the subject for the lights to take effect or by using a longer focal length lens. The transformer can also be reduced in power (minus 1) to reduce the strength of reflection. Because the green key works within a narrow light band, the software can ignore green tones outside of this bandwidth, effectively ignoring the reflections. In extreme cases however, you may end up with some semi-transparency in your keyed image. Your subject should be placed fairly close to the fabric background (even touching it is OK!), to minimise shadows and make keying of the subject easier and more accurate. Extremes of lighting are also not recommended as large shadow areas can result from 'lopsided' lighting. A ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 is acceptable.

PhotoKey 4 Pro

There are many chroma key software providers on the market but we chose PhotoKey 4 Pro from FXhome (Mac and PC compatible) and it is an ideal partner to accompany the 'Chromatte' system. One of the main advantages of this software is to save time and effort in masking and cutting images in Photoshop.

At just over £200, it's not going to break the bank and is an event photographers dream. Imagine shooting with your 'Chromatte' system and instantly importing the images into PhotoKeyReflecmedia reviewed in Professional Image Maker magazines June edition Image 3 4 Pro onto any background image of your choosing and printing from the same software to your printer in seconds. There is no need to adjust your normal shooting practices and keeping it simple is what it's all about. We tried it on Podge Kelly's corporate headshot with superb results achieved by shooting only with the available studio light and using the program defaults!

There is a nifty little plug-in for users of the 32 bit version of Photoshop on their web support page that allows you to access the program directly from CS3, 4 or 5. Sadly this is not yet compatible with the 64 bit version, so we will use the software 'stand alone' as was originally intended for event photographers. Open PhotoKey 4 Pro and the project screen opens with the main work area, toolbox, and tool selector on view. The pallets are customisable but the layout shown here is the default. The first thing to do is select a canvas size. One of the easiest ways to do this is to import the background or foreground in at their native size. Select 'Canvas'>Presets>As Foreground or As Background. Alternatively choose one of the other handy presets. We won't go through all the panels in this review but we'll look at the main components.

Once we have our canvas, hit the 'Import' button where we will import the foreground and background images. You'll notice that when the foreground image is imported, the image is automatically keyed. You will however, need to use Jpeg or bitmap images as the software doesn't recognise RAW files. You may need to adjust or scale the foreground and background images, which is done with the 'Position' toolbox. Foreground and background selections are done separately as they are imported on different layers. To add a touch of realism, go to the 'Filters' toolbox and 'Defocus' the background to give an effect of depth. Just hit the print button and you're done.

Some keying software variants leave the cut out images looking false and unreal, as if attacked by very large scissors. PhotoKey 4 Pro has some pretty snazzy algorithms that take care of this for you by intelligently smoothing off the edges and wrapping the background light around the key to add shape and dimension automatically. This can all be fine tuned in the 'Key' toolbox.

Creating the Cave Warrior

Processing the Cave Warrior shots of Amber were always going to be a little more complicated than the techniques used for event work, which we managed almost straight out of the box! However, keying the images only required a little more effort within PhotoKey 4 Pro.

For my fantasy image, I only imported the image of Amber onto the matted work area without a background image. This showed an area (top left) where some overspill had contaminated the background. This can easily be dealt with by cropping this area out; however, the software has a masking facility in addition to the keying algorithms. Reflecmedia reviewed in Professional Image Maker magazines June edition Image 4At present the masks can only be applied by describing a path, but future versions of the software may include a more useable 'brush' for refining the mask, which will be a much easier option for dealing with semi-transparent areas. The mask can be used for removing or retaining the areas selected.

Rather than working on a complicated composite in the keying software, I wanted to work in my more familiar Photoshop workflow. PhotoKey 4 Pro allows you to export your keyed image in a PNG or Tiff format. This maintains the transparency necessary for compositing the image outside of the software, but does not retain the alpha channel for additional mask adjustment. When all the necessary components (background, warrior and wings) are in place, the process of blending and building the final image is completed.

The Verdict

The 'Chromatte' chroma key equipment is a new innovation that is guaranteed to liven up and increase the versatility of any event photographers business. The way in which images can be captured, imported and keyed to any background of choice in PhotoKey 4 Pro, is not much longer (if at all) than conventional event methods. The learning curve is minimal, and provides clients with a degree of choice not previously available. This system is however, not the sole domain of the event guru! Far from it, almost any studio specialising in portraits would benefit, particularly those that find themselves limited for space, or daylight studios.

Increased sales may result from the limitless choice of backgrounds at your disposal and the need to store heavy and bulky muslins or canvases is no longer required. Portability is also a key factor in any studio that operates an 'at home' service. The amount of equipment required is much reduced when all you need is available light!

As far as complicated composites such as the Cave Warrior is concerned, you have to want to do this kind of stuff! Reflecmedia reviewed in Professional Image Maker magazines June edition Image 5That said, the job of keying the main components has just got a whole lot easier and there could be no more praise than yours truly putting a system on order.....! A video showing the test session is available on my You Tube channel... http://www.youtube.com/user/tomleephoto?feature=mhum

So how much does all this cost....?

A 7' x 7' 'Chromaflex' starter kit with green or blue light ring and adapter plate, such as the one we have on test will set you back approximately £1395 +VAT. A smaller 4' x 4' kit is available along with larger fabric drapes for studio use up to 16' x 13'. Repair tape, floor panels, spares, videos and more information can be found at www.reflecmedia.com or by contacting the company directly on 01606 593911.

You may need to factor-in a continuous lighting kit if you're starting from scratch.

PhotoKey 4 Pro from FXhome retails at just over £200 and comes with a licence for 3 computers. Future development of the software may well include RAW file insertion, 64 bit plug-in and improved masking facilities for difficult subjects. More information including training videos, downloads and examples can be found at http://fxhome.com or by contacting them directly on 01603 251 727.

Shoot Notes from Mike McNamee

As the instigator of the trouble I felt duty-bound to pitch up and take some notes and pictures of the proceedings! Tom had already tested out the basic systems with Podge Kelly, who was marginally less glamorous than our real model but did not have the benefit of Sue's make-up skills. As an added complication, introduced by Tom, was the wind machine. Powerful enough to blast most models off the set it provided a real challenge as Amber's hair was flying every which way. As if this were not enough, Tom had dressed Amber in rather wispy strands of light, paper material which took to the air as soon as the wind machine kicked in. Overall then, a real challenge for chroma key to deal with!

Make-up took a little over 45 minutes. Sue had the time of her life, the fantasy effects being more adventurous than she could be with a bride, for example. Meantime the boys sat drinking tea, wincing at the eyebrow plucking activities and taking the teasing about men, pain and waxing tortures.

Suddenly, our artist was happy with her handiwork and Tom sprang into life. Swords were taken from their wall-mounts, stools were positioned, wind machines fired up and the shot in the can exactly nine minutes later!

A quick change later, Amber was in front of Tom's computer, watching a draft composite being produced. All-in-all a very satisfying afternoon's work!


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