Indispensable tool!

My new product of the month, just received from Hong Kong, is going to be indispensable to me, I can see that now.

Here it is:

A “3-in-1 hotshoe mount flash bracket”, made by www.selens-online.com (link fixed). This bracket allows up to three flashes to point into one centre-mounted umbrella, as follows:

Better still, it allows ONE connection from your radio trigger (in my case, a pocketwizard) to all three flashes at once. You need just one simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (i.e. the connector is the same as on the pocketwizard itself). And that saves both radio triggers and hotshoe cables. That, for me, is the killer feature. Up to today, I had to always connect three pocketwizards and three cables.

So here’s a few photos. The last one is a “pull back shot”, where you can see the lighting setup.

As for these photos: the day was like this (a snapshot):

That is fine, but I prefer my subject to stand out more, and I want the sky to be more saturated.

So here’s the recipe. For daytime outside flash pictures, you go to 1/250 second (or whatever fastest sync speed your shutter allows) at 100 ISO and then use f/4—f/16 depending on how bright it is. Start at f/8 and vary from there.

This is f/16:

A little dark and dramatic for this particular portrait, so f/11 is more like it:

But the point is that f/16 is even possible, with three speedlights (580EX and 600EX) into one umbrella. Normally, I would have to use a studio light for this.

This was with all three flashes at full power. Normally, I would shoot at a maximum of half power if at all possible. That way, the recharge time is shorter and the flashes do not overheat.

Ordering from user mkstudio-us, via ebay, was simple. I paid under $20 for each of the three brackets I ordered. Shipping from Hong Kong was free, but it did take several months (“slow boat from China”—literally). If you are in a hurry, order elsewhere, but if time does not matter, order from these guys in Hong Kong. Excellent value.

An excellent tool that will allow you to fire three flashes with one Pocketwizard, easily and conveniently. This will be in my flash bag forever, and my firm prediction is that I will make use of it all the time.

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Postscript: a few people asked “:why not just use a strobe”. Well, a strobe is big and heavy, and its battery even heavier (lead-acid contains… yeah, lead). The fact that I can do it all with speedlights is amazing… and yes, you do need this much light pretty much every time in bright sunlight. The flash manual, and the tables in the checklist manual, explain and help. (See http://learning.photography)

Respect the click

I am old enough to remember the film days. And while the digital era is better in almost every way, there were a few things that did work better in the film era. And those things were to do with what I would call “respect for the click”.

My film camera—a Nikon FE

Today, it is no longer necessary to respect the click. So instead of making a portrait, for instance, we take 100 photos and scan through them hoping to find a good one. And instead of setting white balance, we just leave it on “whatever” and sort it out later, on the computer. Instead of getting exposure right, we shoot, adjust after looking at the screen, then shoot again, and repeat until exposure is OK. In the film days, we could not do these things: each click cost a dollar, and after each click we had to wait several days to see the results.

In the broadest sense, this means that today we do not think about the photo. And that is a shame. This prevents us from becoming a better photographer, and it gives us more work to do at the other end, after shooting. It also devalues the photo.

Fortunately, there are several ways to get the old discipline back.

One way is to turn off the automatic display at the back. That way you have to click on playback specifically to see an image. If you do not, you do not see a preview. And try not to look after every photo. Finally, try to have the self-discipline to not “just” try things. By all means correct if you have to, but give it a couple of seconds of thought to get as close as you can, before you actually shoot.

Cookies – 16mm, full frame

One great way to do that: shoot the odd roll of film. If you want to be a really good photographer, you should buy an old film camera—a good one like the one above should cost you between $100—$150. And then shoot a roll of film every month. You will be surprised how much more respect you will have for every photo.

And that is a good thing, because lack of respect for the click results in snapshots.

 

Open up opportunities

I am often asked “do you always use flash?”.

The answer is “no, but I always consider using flash”. In other words, flash gives me so many more options that I feel it would be a mistake to ignore those options.

One of yesterday’s students in the sun, the way you would have to do it without flash:

But with flash, we have options. Like this:

Isn’t that 100 times better? Emphasis on subject, saturated colour, modeling with light. And the setup is not complicated:

You may notice that I have two flashes shooting into the umbrella. That way, I can get both of them set to half power, which is a lot better than one flash at full power: full power tends to overheat flashes, and the recycle time is slower.

Camera settings for the “proper” shot were: manual mode, 100 ISO, 1/250 sec, f/8.

A couple more examples:

The green gelled flash was there to show it could be done. In a “real” photo I probably would have aimed that green gelled flash at the darker area in the background.

And even with one off camera flash you can have fun:

So now that the summer is here, bring your flash, take a lesson and learn to use it—and have fun creating images that you can be proud of; images where you are in charge of the light.

 

Light and dark

Ciaoscuro is all about the play between dark and light.

Take this student at Vistek, the other day. Lit from where the camera is, you get this:

Fine, I suppose… competently lit, just barely.. but is that creative? Not really.

Now, lit from the side, with a simple flash with a grid on it, no other modifier, we get this, instead:

I think you will agree that’s a lot better, and for several reasons. One is that there is less stuff. Only what’s important is lit: the rest is simply not lit at all. Second is that the face is now shaped (modeled) by the light. Third is that what is important is lit; what isn’t is simply not lit. Light direction as well as distribution and quantity are now totally under your control.

(Note that the grid is essential: without it, the flash light would spill onto the walls and ceiling and floor and from there to the rest of the room: no black room)

What I used? A 5Diii with a 600EX flash on the camera set to be master (but not to fire itself); and a 430EXii slave flash on our left. that’s all. “Studio setting” (1/125, 200 ISO, f/8) ensures that the ambient light is black.

 

Setup for outdoors flash pics.

A student just asked me:

When you were at the London Camera Club, you had your usual stand/flash holder/umbrella combo on display. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to ask about it. Would you mind mentioning what brands the components are – I would like to have a similar set up for my Speedlight.

I use the following setup:

So that is:

  1. A Light stand. Any brand is OK if it is sturdy enough.
  2. A mount that sits on top of the light stand and swivels. The flash sits on top of this mount. My mount is a Manfrotto,
  3. A pocketwizard receiver. I use the simple Pocketwizard PlusX: $180 for two of them.
  4. A cable between the Pocketwizard and the flash hotshoe. This cable sits on top of the mount, and the flash on top of it.
  5. An umbrella that goes through the mount (you can see the hole in the photo). This should be an umbrella with a removable cover, so you can shoot into the umbrella as well as through the umbrella.

Because this is non-TTL, the flash can be any flash. Any make, and type, as long as it has a manual power level setting and you can disable any timeouts (otherwise it turns off every minute or two).

To a large extent, these are commodity items. There are many brands. Nikon has a kit of mount plus stand plus umbrella for just over $100, for instance, but anything that looks sturdy enough will do fine.

As for radio triggers, I use Pocketwizards because they are the industry standard and rugged, and they use AA batteries; but any other non-TTL trigger will work just as well.

The setup above serves me well: it is what I use for up to 90% of my outside pictures.

Like this scene, the way it looks to my eyes:

And here comes rescue, a.k.a. me and my umbrella:

…which results in:

And the lovely Vanessa from Timmins has a sense of humour:

The good news: this type of dramatic lighting is simple, once you know how!

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Want to learn how to do this? I have a couple of spots open on my “Mastering Flash” workshop in Oakville this Sat 23 May, 1pm—4:30pm. This is a very small workshop: 3-6 people maximum. If you are interested, email me: michael@mvwphoto.com. You can book on http://learning.photography.