Make it better.

Here’s a typical outside flash shot. (Taken by the über-talented photographer Lisa Mininni while I was teaching her flash tricks yesterday):

What did we do to make this?

[A] Take the shot:

This was a flash shot, of course. So outside in bright sunlight the settings are very, very simple.

  1. Pocketwizard on camera.
  2. Second Pocketwizard connected to the flash by means of a “Pocketwizard to hotshoe”–cable from www.flashzebra.com. Modify with a softbox or umbrella (the latter is smaller but will blow over more easily in the slightest breeze).
  3. Flash set to manual, half power. (Be ready to increase to full if you need to—but the flash may overheat, and recharge time between shots will be long).
  4. White balance to “Flash”.
  5. Camera manual, 100 ISO, 1/250 sec.
  6. Then, determine the aperture you need for a good background. Start at f/8—and then vary from there. On a day like yesterday, I needed f/11 to f/16.
  7. Once your background is right, look at the flash part. If the flash is too bright, reduce its power level or move it farther away from what it is lighting. If the flash is too dark, increase its power level or move it closer to what it is lighting. Or add a second flash, Worst case, use direct, unmodified flash.

[B] Finish the shot:

That finishing (not “editing”!) is just as important as taking the photo, and it consists of:

  1. Verify exposure and tweak if necessary. (If you have taken the shot properly, this should not be needed.) Pay attention also to “highlights” and “blacks”.
  2. Set white balance to “Flash”, if it wasn’t already. (Ditto).
  3. Correct lens and “architecture”–distortion.
  4. Crop and rotate if/as needed.
  5. Sharpen if/as needed.
  6. Perhaps add a very slight post-crop vignette.

Those steps are pretty much standard, and a typical picture takes me less than 30 seconds to finish.

[C] Options

I could of course add another flash, for the background. Set that to quarter power.

OK. How was this shot lit, then? Here’s how:

That’s right—always make a pullback shot, where you can see the lighting setup. You’ll forget. I used a third pocketwizard connected to the second flash via a second hotshoe cable.

Is this rocket science? No. But it is fun and it does open up untold creative possibilities.

___

Come to me for a private lesson and I will teach you how to do this, how to use modifiers, how to balance light sources, how to use gels, and much, much more,. You don’t need much, other than an SLR, a flash, and knowledge of the basics (“what is aperture and shutter speed and how do they work”)—but I can even teach you those if you like. See http://learning.photography or give me a call on +1 416-875-8770 and never look back. I can teach you remotely, too, using Google hangouts, too, even if you are in, say, Australia.


Back to the future

The best computer UI (User Interface) that I have ever experienced is that of the Compaq Concerto I used to own. This computer, which was decades ahead of its time, was powered by Windows for Pen computing and by, as I just found out, Wacom pen and screen hardware. Hardware that today looks like this:

Not surprising. The intuitiveness was amazing. I regret that this disappeared: we lost 20 valuable years.

But we are back: back to the future. The Wacom tablet I mentioned the other day gets me back there. The pen feels the same, and the functions are even better now than in the Compaq days. Like the radial menu:

I assigned this to a pen button, so now by clicking that button I get this menu (where I can set functions for each of the pie segments)—and what’s more, it pops up where my pen is at that time. Ridiculously simple, and such a time saver. I grabbed that picture by selecting the “Capture Selection” segments. That’s one way to have me remember those combined buttons (try to remember Command-Shift-$). You can even assign hierarchal sub-menus.

And what’s even more: the pen and button functions can be set differently for each application. The tablet senses which app you are in, and you get the applicable settings for that particular app.

I think it is a good bet you will be hearing more about this particular piece of hardware here.

 

Workflow, again

Another note on workflow.

You need to rate your images, to separate the good from the less good. But this only works if the process is:

  1. Quick.
  2. Unequivocal, objective.

Lightroom helps in both cases. The “quick” is addressed by the following process. First, you rate all images to a standard, say 3 stars, namely the standard that most of your pictures will be; and now you only mark the exceptions. That takes half the work away. And to actually mark those exceptions, you simply use the number keys on your keyboard (“1″ for one star, “2″ for two stars, and so on) combined with right arrow (“next”) and left arrow (“previous”) in the negative strip.

This only works, as said, if your system is clear. A system that needs you to indicate “how much you like an image” will not work: it has to be more objective.

My system is as follows:

  • One star: this image is technically bad; too bad to fix in post-production editing. It is out of focus, or too under= or overexposed, say.
  • Two stars: this is technically OK, but it is not an inspiring image. A snapshot. Something you’d rather not use of you do not have to.
  • Three stars: this is an image that meets my standard; i.e. one that I would be willing to share with a customer. (That does not mean I will share it).
  • Four stars: this is one of the best shots in this shoot.
  • Five stars: this is a portfolio shot.

Note that the ratings indicate the end status; i.e. after editing, not the way it looks now.

Your system may be different, but be sure that like me, you design a system that is simple and objective in the sense that it is not open to interpretation.

As a result of the system described here, I can rate a shoot in a few minutes, even when I have hundreds of images.

 

Work. Flow.

Your workflow needs to be exactly that: a flow. A logical sequence of actions.

In my case, that means:

  1. Import the images.
  2. “Asset Manage” them: add keywords; rate them 1-5; backup.
  3. Then from the ones marked 3 and over, pick the ones to actually use.
  4. Edit only these.
  5. Mark the edited ones as finished.
  6. Select the finished ones and output them for use.

So it is basically “input – handle – select – edit – use”. And whether you are a pro or an amateur, it is going to be the same flow for you.

And that flow is where you need to save time: you do not want to spend an hour making photos, followed by two hours in Photoshop.

That is where Lightroom comes in. Lightroom is a one-stop workflow tool. It handles all the steps above: ingestion—asset management—editing—using. And it does it in an amazingly efficient way.

Evidently, if you can save time in Lightroom, it saves time overall. And that is where Wacom comes in. I now also use a Wacom Intuos tablet, which I find very useful; much more useful than I would have imagined. Part of the reason is better quality than the last time I looked, years ago. And part is new functionality. Like customizable buttons per app.

This tablet is especially useful when editing, and especially because of its pressure sensitivity. When using the brush, the harder I press, the more brush effect I get.  Very cool. Skin fixes and other local edits are now much quicker—and that saves me a lot of time. This functionality is simply not available on a mouse.

In the next weeks I will keep you up to date as to how I am using the Wacom tablet. I will start with customizing the buttons: how do I do it? What functions are most useful? As I sort it out, I will give you my recommendations. Stay tuned.

 

Workflow and Lightroom

I talk about Lightroom a lot, as you will have noticed. The reason is that Adobe Lightroom is hands down the best workflow tool I know. Workflow meaning “what happens between arriving home with the camera to the finished product”.

Lightroom 6, as you will have seen, is a step forward. It has its issues—for now, the speed of the face detection module is way below par—but you can work around those, and they will be fixed.

But you do need to learn how to use it. Thank God it’s not Photoshop: it takes days to learn, not years. But it does take days.

Enter some help.

On May 30, I teach a workshop at Vistek: Lightroom and Workflow”. In it, you will learn backup strategies, computer strategies, Lightroom workflow and editing, and much more. Seating is limited, so sign up soon.

The same is true of the Flash workshop this Saturday in Oakville.If you missed the Vistek workshop, come on Saturday: 1pm, see http://learning.photography/collections/training-300-advanced/products/flash. Seating limited, so be quick if you want in.

Now, a (repeat of) a little flash tip.

If your flash looks too dark in the photo, why is it? It could have two very different reasons:

  1. Metering is wrong; the TTL circuitry decided on too low a level.
  2. With the current ISO and aperture, you simply do not have enough power (eg the ceiling you are bouncing off is too high).

To know which one: set your flash to manual mode, full power (1/1). Shoot. If the picture is overexposed, you had reason 1; if not, you had reason 2.

To solve the issue: For reason 1, go back to TTL and use flash compensation. For reason 2, go back to TTL and lower the f-number and/or increase the ISO.

That’s all – pretty simple, but often overlooked.