Zoom zoom zoom.

Your flash has a ZOOM function. This allows the light to be sent “where the lens looks”. If you use a telephoto lens, why send light to the sides, where the lens cannot see? This would waste energy.

Normally, the zoom factor is set automatically, depending on the lens. Look at the back of your flash and zoom your lens just after touching the shutter button: the flash will alter its zoom as you move the zoom lens through its range. No work for you. So the light goes only where the lens looks.

But you can override this. Set flash zoom to “M” (manual). Like here: Wide lens, but I zoomed the flash in as much as I could:

See? A small oval of light.

Why would I want to do this?

  • Sometimes, I do this for effect.
  • Sometimes I do it to get more power: A concentrated small beam is brighter than a wide area, of course.
  • And sometimes, I do it for correction.

Like here:

My garage during the recent garage art sale.

Without flash, it looked like this:

The back was dark, so I needed flash. But I did not want that flash to light up the close areas, which were already very bright. Solution: zoom the flash in manually. The lens was 16mm; I zoomed the flash to about 50mm if I recall correctly. That sent light only there where it was needed.

Problem solved. More even, without overexposure of the foreground.

___

Opportunity Knocks: Learn everything I know. See http://learning.photography for all my photography learning books. And decorate your home or office with wall art: the garage sale is permanent. Contact me if you want to see my prints.

 

Daily tip: Power

Flash TIP OF THE DAY:

Say that you are ready to take a TTL flash shot. Once you have set your camera to a certain ISO and aperture and flash exposure compensation, and you have decided how to point the flash, you can do your test shot.

Say it is too dark. Why? Is it “incorrect metering, subject too light, etc”, or is it just “not enough power at this ISO/Aperture” (the shutter makes no difference)?

To ascertain that, and to see how much reserve you have, set your flash to manual, full (1/1) power:

The example shows half power (1/2); you should select full power (1/1, or 100%).

If you now have an overexposed picture, you know you can do the shot. Go back to TTL (press “mode” until “M” changes to “TTL”) and try again, changing flash compensation until your picture is good.

But if instead, your picture is too dark still, then there is simply insufficient power available. So no amount of flash compensation or metering changes will help. Instead, you have to lower the F-number or increase the ISO until that is no longer the case. (Or you could move to a room with a lower ceiling, if you are bouncing the flash).

I.e. if I were to sum this up, I would say:

Never go to TTL unless in full power manual, your picture is overexposed.

Simple, no? But you would be surprised how many photographers struggle with this simple check.

 

“Bracketing”, another meaning.

If you have ever attended a wedding or similar event, you may have seen a photographer with a flash aimed straight forward, but mounted on a bracket like the one here:

That is, a bracket that allows the flash to be mounted far from the camera.

A bracket like this is not as good as bouncing, or as an umbrella, but it can have advantages when those two are not possible: The flash is quite far from the lens, but still above it, to avoid side shadow. And on the bracket pictured, I can mount several flashes:

That makes a difference. In fact, the bracket pictured even allows me to mount an umbrella. At the risk of looking silly, with this bracket I have a way to get pretty good light even outside and anywhere else where bouncing is not an option.

 

This is an excerpt of the Portrait Photography book. Get your free preview chapter here (click to download).

 

 

 

Tip of the day: Events

For all of you, but for event photographers in particular, here’s your tip of the day: get one of these:

For about $10, you can get a battery tester like this. It is not a regular voltmeter; rather, it is a meter that tests batteries on load, with a load appropriate to the battery type.

And before each shoot, test your batteries: the ones in the flashes, and the ones in ancillary equipment like pocketwizards, light meter, and so on.

This way you avoid unnecessary changes while ensuring that you never run out mid shoot. There are few things as embarrassing. Ask me.

 

Lenses

Another repeat post:

I regularly mention that the lens is the most important part of your equipment. Great lenses especially add to your photo-taking capabilities. Now let’s look at one aspect of that greatness again: the “speed” of a lens.

Speed is of course a misnomer. When we say “a fast lens” we simply mean “a lens with a large aperture (low “f-number”). This large aperture lets in a lot of light, which makes it possible to shoot at faster shutter speeds at the same ISO, hence the word “fast”. So a low f-number means you can obtain faster shutter speeds under the same conditions.

Like the 50mm f/1.2 lens I am selling (sadly; but I bought the 85 f/1.2 and I cannot financially justify keeping both these lenses; and for wedding portraits, the 85 will be more useful).

Here’s student Becky with the 50 f/1.2L mounted on her Canon 6D:

I was able, by using the large aperture of my own f/1.2 lens, to take that picture at a fast shutter speed, handheld. And I get a blurry foreground and background at the same time,  which helps me to emphasize the subject.

How fast? Let’s look at a real example.

A shot of a glass of wine. That is what I focused on, so that is, of course, sharp:

I shot that at f/4.5, which is typical of the kind of lowest “f-number” that a kit lens would allow you to use. At 1600 ISO, that necessitated a shutter speed of 1/30th second. That is at the limit of what I can hope to do handheld; in fact it is beyond that “rule of thumb” limit, with an 85mm lens. So I am lucky that the shot is sharp. Also, I am lucky that nothing in the photo moved, because pretty much any motion would show, at that slow a shutter speed. And yes, the background and foreground are blurry – but they could be blurrier.

Now the f/1.2 lens, this time wide open at f/1.2:

The “f/1.2″ means that:

  1. At the same ISO value, I now needed only 1/320th second shutter speed. I.e. a much faster shutter speed (i.e. less time; shorter time period; all these mean the same thing).  That means I can easily hand-hold, and also I need not be afraid of motion.
  2. The lower f-number also allows me to through both Becky and the chips in the foreground way out of focus. The glass is still sharp (I am, after all, focusing on it!), but the depth of field at this low f-number is extremely shallow; meaning that foreground and background are very blurry indeed.

Now, I do not of course always want shallow depth of field; but the point is, that with a fast lens, I can. And that expands my picture abilities; in a dark evening setting I can shoot handheld without flash, and if I want, I can get extremely blurry backgrounds. And that is one of the reasons that I use an SLR in the first place. And any SLR would do this – it’s the lens, not the camera, that determines these things.

Which is why I am happy to spend on lenses. What’s not to love?

And a good lens lasts decades, both in technical terms and in value. So if you are going to spend, and why not; then spend mainly on lenses.