The simplest…

Sometimes, when you are immersed in a profession, you forget that not everyone is even familiar with the language used in that profession, let alone with some of its principles and practices. As an engineer who teaches, I try never to fall victim to that thinking. But sometimes even I do. So in the next series of blog posts, I will briefly define some of the basics. Just in case.

Starting, today, with flash modes.

Your small, camera mounted, flash has a “mode” button. That button gives you access to some of the following modes:

  • TTL (also, “E-TTL”, or “TTL-BL”, etc). This means “automatic flash power”. The camera and the flash together sort out how much power is needed for every photo. They do that with a mechanism that I explain in my courses, books, and workshops. That mechanism is called “TTL”. You do not have to worry about your subject’s brightness, at least in theory: the camera and flash sort it out.
  • MANUAL (Also called “M” or “MAN).  In that mode, you set the flash power. You can, for instance, set it to 1/1, or 100% power: the brightest power level. Or 1/2 (half power), 1/4 (one quarter of its top power), 1/8, and so on. On some cameras, you can go as low as 1/128 power, a very low flash level. So in this mode, if your flash is too bright, you would turn it down to a lower level (or move back from what you are lighting); if it is too dim, you would turn it up (or move closer).
  • Repeating flash, or stroboscopic flash. In this mode, the flash will flash not once, but a defined number of times, with a defined interval. You need to define the number of flashes, the interval, and the power level. (E.g. “5 flashes, at a frequency of 10 flashes per second, at 1/16 power”). That allows you to make photos of, say, a runner against a dark background, where you see not one, but ten images of that runner as she moves through your photo.

There may even be modes additional to this. Depending on the flash you use, there may also be a setting that tells the flash that it is a remote flash, and there may be a setting that allows the flash to be used at fast shutter speeds, but at a reduced power level (“High Speed Flash”, or “FP Flash”). There could be other settings as well, like a “dumb slave setting” (Nikon calls this the “SU-4” setting).

All those additional settings are not modes, but they are what I called them: additional settings. I know, that may be confusing to you (“what is a mode and what is an additional setting?”), but if so, don’t worry about it. It’s what the engineers decided to do. The reasons for not calling these settings “modes” are not important right now.

So there you have it. Some flash “basic basics”.

In my flash courses, I explain al this in detail, of course.

Want to learn more: buy the pro flash manual, and if you are in Toronto, sign up right now for the 25 March portrait and model lighting workshop.  See you there?

25 March workshop in Toronto

Portrait and Model Lighting – 25 March 2017, Toronto
12 noon–4pm
At CSI, Daniel Spectrum Building,
585 Dundas St East,
Toronto

This workshop introduces you to all the ins and outs of photographing simple studio portraits. From posing techniques to people skills to party shots, you will learn many essential camera, lighting and composition techniques. From light meters to multiple flashes to umbrellas and other modifiers. Learn positioning, lighting and other techniques so you can start to take your own professional portrait pictures.

All you need to bring is a camera with a standard hotshoe connection (i.e. not most Sony cameras). Your previous level of knowledge is not important, but knowing how to operate your camera in manual mode and knowing how to focus are recommended.

This small hands-on course, with a model supplied, teaches:

  • Getting your flashes off camera: Why and how to use Radio Triggers.
  • Modifiers: Umbrella, softbox, reflector, gobo, snoot, and grid.
  • Camera settings and metering.
  • Reflectors. Light stands. Brackets. Gels. And so on: all the things you need to know.
  • Using small flashes for split, rim, loop, broad and short, and Rembrandt lighting.
  • Working with your model: mood, positioning, interacting, putting at ease, and getting the most out of your model.
  • Make-up: Important notes.
  • Gels for correction, and gels for creativity.
  • “Post”-work for maximum success with minimum effort.
  • Black and white: why and when?

You will leave with the ability to do great work in your own home studio, using simple equipment that gives you professional results.

Click here to reserve your space now. Limited to 10 people.

One light

A one light portrait can be good even though it may be simple. Like this one:

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A single 430EX flash fitted with a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid. Set to manual mode, 1/4 power. Photo taken in a bright room (to our eyes. But not to the camera).  Using standard studio settings: 200 ISO, f/8, 1/125 sec).

That grid is essential. If I did not use it. the single flash would throw its light everywhere; it would reflect everywhere else’ and before you know it, you have what you did not want: the room (in this case, the hall in a church where I was giving a lecture) all lit up.

What is also essential is to have the flash off the camera (“OCF” means Off-Camera Flash). I use Pocketwizards for that, and manual flash. Some use the built-in system that your camera maker provides, usually using light pulses (not normally infrared, incidentally). Yet others use cables. Others use TTL-able systems like YongNuo transmitter/receivers. However you do it, get that flash off your camera!

Don’t Give Up.

A student recently sent me this picture, saying that unfortunately, she could not use it as homework because of the low quality:

IMG_4935-1024-2

It was a small (700 pixels height) picture. Blurred, low contrast, and inaccurate colour. So she has a point: not great, though an excellent moment.

But wait. If I put that picture into Lightroom (just drag it onto a grid view), I can use the “Develop” module to fix exposure, white balance, sharpness, highlights, blacks, contrast, and not to forget clarity (presence). Would that help?

It certainly would:

IMG_4935-1024

Much better, and now suddenly it is a useable picture.

I suppose the take-away is this. First, of course, that Lightroom is easy to use and powerful. Second, that even “bad” pictures can often be fixed later, especially when small sized, like for use on the web. We often inspect too closely: usually, even a bad picture today can easily beat any picture made from a negative in 1980.

From all this, a few things follow. Namely:

  • Do not delete bad pictures: you may find a use with them anyway, if not now, then maybe tomorrow, with new digital processing techniques.
  • If a picture is bad, try making it smaller. Imperfections are less noticeable in smaller size photos.
  • Try alternates. Black and white, for instance. Or shift colours. And so on: often, these things can bring out the quality in a photo.
  • Use parts. Crop off the bad part, or selectively sharpen the important parts.
  • Learn to use Lightroom (see yesterday’s post).
  • Above all: do not give up on a picture too soon.

The improvements I made to the above picture were from a small picture. Imagine what I could have done with the original sized picture: I am sure it would have been even better.

A bad picture of a great moment may still be worth it. But often, you can make that bad picture into at least an acceptable picture.

A fun exercise is this: go  through your old photos, those of five years ago, and see what the processing techniques since then can do with them. You will often be surprised.

Do consider coming to my Lightroom seminars in a few weeks. See the post immediately below this one.

 

Congrats to students!

Congratulations to my students who won in the recent Capture Oakville photo competition!

  • Overall First place went to my student Kevin Workman
  • Hillary Currer won first prize in the “Unaltered/Out of Camera” category
  • Roger Passmore won first prize in the “Capture the Human Spirit” category… see his entry below.
  • David Hook won first prize in the “Capture Oakville” category.

Ha! That means that two thirds of the winners in this prestigious contest have been my students. Well, I am certainly proud to have contributed to their success, and this makes me extra happy to be a teacher of photography.

Congratulations: excellent work.

As for contributions: I think perhaps I contributed a little more than average to Roger Passmore’s winning entry “Michael”. Here it is:

Michael Roger Passmore

See what I mean? He captured my spirit wonderfully: serious, perhaps even grumpy, and depressed at many of the things I see in the world. Yup, that’s me!    :-)