Time and space

Sign up now: there’s time and space to learn all about flash. A model and make-up artist will be supplied for the workshop I am teaching on January 28 in Toronto. In this workshop, from knowing “nothing”, you will learn creative flash in half a day.

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Recent single flash shot. Studio settings; manual; off-camera; 1/8″ grid.

And this includes:

  • Setting up your camera for flash.
  • Why use flash when it’s bright outside?
  • TTL or manual flash: Why go manual, and when?
  • Speedlights or studio strobes?
  • What are the limits to using speedlights?
  • Modifiers: gels
  • Modifiers: grids and snoots
  • Modifiers: softboxes and umbrellas.
  • “Magic recipes”: shortcuts for outdoors, indoors, and studio flash.
  • Common mistakes – and avoiding them.
  • Off-camera flash: How? Why?
  • Using radio triggers (which ones?)
  • Secrets of creative lighting – examples with model and make-up artist.

You will leave with a few great portfolio shots, but also with an understanding of, and “quick start” recipes for, handling each flash situation that you will come across.

This course is intended for everyone from beginner to pro. What you have in common is that you have an SLR camera, you know little about flash, and you want to learn all about it. Bring your camera! If you have a flash, bring it; if not, no worries: everything is supplied.

There are spots left but space is limited, so sign up now.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from The Speedlighter! 

As for your 2017 resolutions, how about this one: Make this the time you finally perfect those skills you always wanted to hone! Skills that allow you to quickly and easily do pictures like the ones I took over the last couple of weeks. These include a few animal (and animal-plus-owner) pictures:

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All those were made with the 85mm f/1.2 lens, and used a single speedlight in an umbrella.

But I also did an executive portrait, just yesterday:

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Do you see the difference between the two above? For the first one, I did not want to show the outside (boring, homes). Easy, so the picture,like almost all my pictufes, was stright out of the camera.

For the second one, however, I did want to show the blue sky. So I exposed that one less (using the magic Outdoors Recipe–one of the things you will learn if you turn up). Both used flash, of course; fired by Pocketwizards and with their power set manually. The second one used much more flash power because I was using low ISO and small aperture to kill the outside light. I also had to, therefore, brighten the Apple logo in post-production.

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I would almost call that last one an environmental portrait.

The next ones are certainly environmental portraits:

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The one above used a 24-70mm lens and a speedlight with a Honl Photo 1/8″ grid. The one below, a 16-35mm wide angle lens and a speedlight with an umbrella:

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What do they all have in common? Simplicity, good exposure, and a thorough knowledge of the technical necessities.

You can learn this too. Why not do it? I have several great opportunities coming up!

All of these are excellent learning opportunities, and will broaden and deepen your knowledge significantly. Hope to see you there and then. 

 

 

Doggone it

I have dogs on my mind, it seems.

Why? Because I did an outdoors portrait session of two dogs today. A little challenging, because it was cold (-9ºC), and it was bright, and the dogs would not sit still.

I started with flash held by an assistant (in casu, the dogs’ owner) and the standard outdoors settings. That gave me:

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But TTL is not easy here, because of the dark subject offset against the reflective snow, and “manual” means “keep the distance of the flash from the subject constant”, which is near impossible. So on to additional ways to shoot:

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Additional advantage: fast shutter speeds are now possible. When you use flash, 1/250 or 1/200 sec is all you can do. Without flash, this limitation is removed. Note that I use back button focus, and this means I need to keep pressing the button as I point at the subject. Having first, of course, selected AI Servo (Nikon calls this AF-C).

After this, I did some with simple on-camera flash, which can be perfectly OK if, as in this case, you mix with lots of ambient light:

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And finally, I did some standard bounced indoors shots:

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The lesson here is threefold, namely that you must know a multitude of techniques; that you must be prepared, willing and able to switch between them; and that you must be able to do so quickly.

This, incidentally, is what I teach in my workshops; including the January 28 one in Toronto, for which there is still space. See http://learning.photography for details and to book. If you know the starting points, the magic formulas that match the situation at hand, you can easily and quickly vary from them: your starting point will already be close enough to get acceptable results. Also, you will feel more confident.

After the shoot, I sat in traffic for a few hours, then downloaded and finished the images in a few more hours, and finally I uploaded a preview web site for the client to look at.

If you have every considered hiring a photographer, you now know why this costs some money. Knowledge, experience, expensive equipment, spares, and time all combine.  “My nephew has a camera too, so he can shoot this to save money” simply does not work except in the simplest cases. And as today showed once again, the world rarely consists of simple cases.

And yes, I do pet pictures too.

Fill, but not too much.

When doing a portrait, you use a main (“key”) light, a fill light, and optionally, a background light and a hair/edge light.

The purpose of that fill light, oddly, is to be darker than the main light. This introduces depth into your picture, and it narrows the subject’s face.

OK, so fill is darker than key, But perhaps not completely dark, like here:

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Nice and atmospheric, but perhaps a little too much drama.

So we add that fill light, but set it, say, two stops below the main light (so if your meter reads an aperture of f/8 for the main light, it should read f/4 for the fill light). Now we get what we wanted:

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If you make it too bright, i.e. you do not set it two stops below the key light but you set it at the same brightness, you might get something like this:

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As you see, the face looks wider now, and it loses that “real”, three-dimensional look.

So you should probably start at –2 stops for the fill light, and then adjust to taste: you are the artist, after all!

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Learn to do it yourself! Michael teaches portrait lighting and many, many other photography subjects at Sheridan College in Oakville, and to small groups or individual students all over the world, in person or via Google Hangouts. See http://learning.photography for details. 

 

Quick! Flash!

Speedlighter.ca. Speedlighter. Speedlighter!

So yeah, let me talk about speed for a moment. Speed as in “fast exposure speed, in order to freeze movement”. Fast exposure speed = short exposure time. 1/2 second is a long exposure time, i.e. a slow exposure. 1/1000 second, on the other hand, is a short exposure time, i.e. a fast exposure.

So how so you get a fast exposure time? One of two ways, it turns out. Either one of:

  • A short shutter time, or
  • A short light flash.

You see, what matters is the duration during which the light reaches the sensor. Whether that is short because the shutter only opens for a short time or because the light itself only flashes for a short time makes no difference at all. It is the same thing. A short exposure.

So let’s say I’m taking a fresh picture of a rapidly spinning spinning top. And let’s say further that I want to freeze the motion, to see the spinning top detail. Since I’m using a flash, I cannot use a fast flash shutter speed; The fastest I can go with my 5D camera is 1/200 of a second. So I’m going to have to achieve a fast exposure by using a short flash of light.

Fortunately, that is exactly what a flash fires. At full power it fires a flash of about 1000th of a second, or 1/4000 second at 1/4 power. Nice. Assuming that ambient light plays no role, your effective shutter speed is now nice and fast: 1/4000 second.

But not fast enough:

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(1/200 sec, 400 ISO, f/32, 1/4 power flash)

OK, it’s still blurry, because it is spinning rather fast, so even 1/4000 second cannot freeze that motion. Now what?

The solution is in the sentence above: “At full power it fires a flash of about 1000th of a second, or 1/4000 second at 1/4 power”.

Because how does a flash set its power? Simply by shortening the time that it is on. Full power means 1/1000 second on a typical flash (small or large). Any longer and it overheats and burns out. So:

  • Half power means 1/2000 second, half the time.
  • Quarter power means a quarter of the original time, so 1/4000 second.

Oh wait. So “lower power flash” means “shorter duration flash”?

Yes! So if I set the flash to 1/128 power, I get an effective exposure time of 1/128,000 second. That’s like a really, really fast shutter:

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(1/200 sec, 400 ISO, f/5.6, 1/128 power flash)

Now, as you see, with an effective exposure time of about 1/128,000 second, the top’s motion is completely frozen. So while my shutter speed is unchanged, it does not matter. The light is only on for 1/128,000 second. So that is my effective shutter speed.

The lesson? To freeze motion, use low power flash. The lower the better.