Myth-busters!

(To the tune of “Ghostbusters”).

Often, my posts point out common myths and misconceptions. Of which there are many… many. On the Internet, no-one knows that you’re a dog, and no-one knows that you are wrong.

So, two oft-heard “truths”:

  1. You cannot shoot with TTL if you are a pro.
  2. You cannot use just one light for a serious portrait.

So. TTL was used in this portrait of students and friend Diana; remote TTL in fact (light flashes from on camera flash drives off camera flash); and the light was one flash through an umbrella. The on camera flash was disabled, except for those light flashes.

1/125 sec, f/8, ISO100.

The curtain was chosen as a classy background, but the umbrella was close to the subject so the curtain would get little light. TTL handles this fine; if the subject had been too light or too dark, a touch of flash compensation would have sorted that out.

The one light-with-umbrella gives us enough light for a portrait with Rembrandt lighting. Fairly dramatic chiaroscuro-type lighting, but not so dramatic that it becomes unflattering. On the contrary, this is nice light.

The blonde hair stands out nicely against the dark background; dark hair would have needed more light.

So there, a real portrait with “studio settings”, i.e. just one light, and using TTL. I could do that all night.

 

Post

I did a photo walk yesterday, in Mississauga. And after that, a group shot of the people I did the walk for. Arrange the group nicely and I get:

Not bad, and it’s what a competent photographer might well do.

But wait. There’s more. I want modelling; less flatness. Saturated background light. And I want my subjects to be the bright pixels. So that they stand out.

Meaning I need light and control over that light. Meaning:

  • A flash for key light. I used one studio flash (a Bowens 400 Ws flash)
  • For power, a Bowens battery pack).
  • A modifier (umbrella, here).
  • A sand bag to stop the light from falling.
  • Camera settings that make my background go darker (ideally, –1 to –2 stops below ambient).
  • And do not forget,  shutter speed less than my camera’s fastest flash sync speed (1/250 sec for me).

All that looks like this:

So the resulting picture is:

(Canon 1Dx, 24-70 lens, 1/125 sec at f/6,3, 100 ISO)

Compare that final shot with the one at the very top and see if you can see, and appreciate, the differences. Then, you are on your way to lighting professionally.

 

How you think: an example

Often. it’s not the “what”, but “how”. How do you decide what settings to you in your cameras? What to shoot?

I shall use myself, and today’s shoot, as an example. I shot a house, for a real estate agent:

When shooting something like this, my camera is in manual model. So I need to make many decisions. And I need to be quick: cannot afford to hang around, for the home-owner’s sake, the realtor’s sake, and my own sake.

So before the shoot I decide :”outside, tilt-shift”. Arriving, I had my tilt-shift lens on the camera already. Using the sunny sixteen rule, before even starting I set my camera to 1/100 sec, ISO100, and started at f/11. I looked; that was a little dark, the meter told me, so I went to f/8. Perfect. Then came the fine tuning: I wanted a faster shutter for hand held, so I used 1/200 sec, which necessitated f/5.6. (shutter gave me one stop less light, which I fixed by aperture giving me one stop more light).

Then I focused manually, held the camera straight, and shifted the lens up. Click. Done. Time taken: Seconds.

Now inside. I already knew I would want the wide angle lens, so I put it on, the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. Inside, I saw mainly simple white ceilings, so I decided simple flash bouncing with one flash, and combining that with ambient, would be fine. Then the sequence was:

  1. I set my camera to 400 ISO: that is my starting standard for bright indoors.
  2. I selected f/5.6: with a wide lens, that will give me sharpness from “near me” to “infinity”.
  3. Then I selected 1/50 second, which, I was sure, would give me visibility of inside light fixtures.
  4. I selected flash exposure compensation of +1 stop, and turned the flash upward behind me at roughly 45 degrees.

I got:

And that confirmed what I wanted: outside not too crazy bright; light fixture visible, room well lit. Done. Now for the rest of the shoot all I changed was the shutter speed:

  • I first tried 1/50 second.
  • Where “outside” was important, I went up to as much as 1/250 second. This gave a colder inside but better outside.
  • Where “inside” was important and outside could be a little blown out, I went down to as little as 1/20 second.

Once the basics were taken care of, now I started to think about what to shoot:

  • Diagonal into each room; straight-on in the kitchen.
  • I shot from slightly below eye-level (but not below cupboard level if that meant seeing the bottom of cupboards).
  • Of course I went wide, very wide… but I resisted going TOO wide: over-promising and under-delivering is not a very good strategy.
  • I ensured that all the lights were turned on in the rooms I shot.

And of course I avoided this error:

Can you see the error?

Yes, you need to be extremely cautious in a house with many mirrors.

I estimated an hour for this shoot. Time taken: Exactly 56 minutes. A good job, if I am allowed to say so myself, and it feels good to do a good job. This is a beautiful home, and I trust my photos (103 of them) will help secure a very quick sale for list price; perhaps even list price “plus”.

 

Fun

I shoot fun photos too. As you should. The other day, I went to a concert, and before the concert, I took a few photos at the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. I used my little Fuji X100 camera, which has a fixed 24mm (35mm equivalent: 35mm) lens.

Jellyfish love?

I shot these at 1600 ISO, f/2. 1/125 second. close to glass. No flash, of course.

The biggest problem was focus. These darn fish move.

I would not want to be one of these little fish.

I suppose the moral of today’s post is: bring a camera everywhere. Try stuff you have not shot before. Use high ISO values if you need. Quality is paramount.

For a shark, food is paramount.

 

 

High Noon

Just let me dispel that persistent myth that you cannot shoot at high noon. In bright sunlight. Well, you can shoot, but you will get awful pictures.

Nonsense.

Here. Look at this. Talented photographer Tanya Cimera Brown, yesterday, at noon, on what must be the brightest day this year so far. So this is in bright, harsh, horrible, colour-saturation-destroying, full-on sunshine. Straight out of the camera:

The sky is nice, the red-blue-green theme woks, the model is great, the sun provides a nice “shampooey goodness” hair light: what more can we ask for? And that is with a camera that can only sync at 1/160 second. With my 1/250 sec 1Dx I could do even better. With the old 1D I used to have, even better, at 1/300 second.

OK. That’s using a strobe. Can you do it with speedlights? Sure. You may need to go unmodified, to have enough light; and that means off camera. Here: two speedlights, aimed direct at the subject from off camera positions, do this:

And this: two of me, by Tanya, using the same techniques:

All those were also SOOC (Straight out of Camera).

So learn flash already!

For best results, do my Flash in the Plan program: take my course and get the book (for both, go to http://learning.photography); then follow with a hands-on session, and you will know how to do this. It’s not rocket science, but you need to learn the background, understand the constraints, and learn the artistic tips. Then, you can do this too (provided you have a model as beautiful as Tanya, of course):

Because yes, you CAN do great work at high noon. All you need is flashes and skills. And a camera, of course. Show the world what you can do!