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!

Why RAW or JPG?

Shoot RAW? Or JPG? Or both?

I would generally say: “Shoot only RAW”. Why not? It’s just another format.

But why could you do RAW+JPG, or just JPG? What would be valid reasons?

Here are a few.

  1. You want to be sure that you have the shot – a pic could be corrupt, but if you have two you may be OK.
  2. You may need to print a copy, like on a printer, straight from the card
  3. You have to upload loads of pictures quickly, like for a newspaper shoot of a sports match
  4. You want backups as in the first example, but you have two memory cards and can write to both at the same time. Every time I shoot, I save RAW to card 1, and JPG to card 2 – that way card 2 can be a 32GB while card 1 is a 64 GB.
  5. You want to compare the camera’s treatment of the raw data with your computer’s.

So a you see, there’s quite a few valid reasons. When you see super simple solutions on the Internet, like “Authority Figure X says ‘shoot RAW only” – well, the world may not in fact be that simple. Be wary of simplicity, while you chase it at the same time, because “less is more”.

An Essential Tool

If you take your photography seriously, you need to avoid one thing in particular: running out of battery power just when you need it. (Have you noticed, batteries never fail at a convenient time?)

The solution is simple. Buy a battery tester, and use it before you go and shoot.

A battery tester, which sells for about $7–10 in your hardware store, is a meter with a “battery” mode. That mode does not just measure voltage; instead, it measures voltage under load.

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You recognize it by its mention of batteries (like “AA”, as in this example).

Before every shoot, measure your batteries, and if in any doubt, replace them. That takes away one big drawback of battery-powered equipment.

  • Where do you use rechargeables? A: In gear that you use intensively and often: namely, in your flashes.
  • Where do you use Alkalines? A: In equipment that uses little current and that lasts many months between battery changes. Namely, in your PocketWizards and similar radio triggers.

One more note: if you use rechargeable batteries, make sure that you use an appropriate meter. NiMH batteries have a lower voltage than Alkaline batteries, so you cannot measure NiMH batteries with a meter intended for Alkalines (or vice versa).

 

Sizzling Sweet Summer Season Soon, See?

I don’t know what it is about the summer that brings out the alliterations in me. Sensational Sunshine? Horrible heat, high humidity? 

Of course it is only February, but tomorrow here promises to be 10ºC. That reminds us that there will eventually be a summer again. Better still: tomorrow I can drive my Chevy Camaro ZL1, the White Angel, to my workshop in Kitchener.

“Kitchener”, incidentally, reminds me that the story of war is written by the winners. Lord Kitchener invented concentration camps in the boer war of the early 20th century. So you might expect him to be remembered as a war criminal. Instead, he has a city named after him, and Wikipedia describes him as “The Earl Kitchener KG KP GCB OM GCSI GCMG GCIE PC.” Yes, you heard that right: “KG KP GCB OM GCSI GCMG GCIE PC”. The more letters, the more respect. History is written by the winners.

It didn’t help him: he was killed, together with 600 others, when his ship hit a mine.

Back to today, a century later. Summer brings out the best in photography in me, too. Namely, light. In particular, flash mixed with ambient light. And that is what I am teaching tomorrow.

The last leaves I saw were these:

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Now, I wait for them to re-appear. When that happens, and when the weather gets better, we once again engage in outdoors photography. Flash. We get enthused again, about photography and about life in general.

I encourage you to grab your camera, check out your lenses and flashes, then build some new skills to use this season.

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Try something you have never done. Street photography, if you are a model shooter. Or models, if you are a food photographer. Do some crazy post work (see above, in Lightroom). Learn Lightroom! And so on. Learn flash. Learn good composition. There is so much to learn, there are so many types of photography: start with this blog, why don’t you. Read back, or read random posts. Use the SEARCH field above.

But above all, have fun.  If photography isn’t fun, or isn’t fun anymore, you will not be your best.  So tomorrow in Kitchener will be fun for the 20-25 students I will have in the class. I’ll think of ways!

And that is what I am going to do right now. Prepare to teach:

  • Flash technical basics
  • On-camera flash
  • Off-camera flash, and how to do it
  • Modifiers
  • Multiple flashes
  • Small flashes or studio flashes?

Lots to learn. Lots of fun. And learning new skills is fun. I will teach some mroe here soon, so stay tuned.

 

It’s coming. Be ready.

Hold on tight and be ready. Those are words that can instil fear. Something is about to happen, and you somehow need to understand it and be ready for it, “or else”. It happens to everyone in life, and it happens in every industry, but its effects are particularly dramatic in an industry where technology plays such a central role as in photography. Things change, and they change dramatically.

An example everyone knows is Kodak, which went from being the premier company in photography to essentially disappearing in the course of just a few years. Oh, they saw “digital” coming all right, that wasn’t the issue; they saw it coming like a thundering express train while they stood there right in the middle of the track, not moving, sheepishly staring at the disaster that was about to befall them. Paralyzed, they stood there until, well, until… splash.

The general consensus has it that the reason was that they really didn’t understand what industry they were in. They thought of themselves as a chemicals company. They employed lots of PhD chemists, and got chemistry prizes and awards and patents. Chemistry experts, that’s what they were. Except, of course, they were not. They were an imaging company, and if they had realized that they would’ve switched simply from chemicals-based imaging to transistor-based imaging. They would not have been hit by that train.

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Glass plate, celluloid, or phototransistors: who cares?

Today that pace of change is still happening in the photography field. The pace of change is enormous. You learned on an SLR with film; now you need to know how to use a digital SLR. You shot at 100 ISO; now you happily shoot at 6,400 ISO. Yes – but wait. Maybe we will switch to mirrorless cameras next year. Or to 3-D cameras. Or to cameras that allow you to focus after the fact. You are a photographer, but perhaps in ten years you will think of yourself as an image – based storyteller.  Or something entirely different. Maybe  instead of a photographer, you will consider yourself a computer image manipulation expert. Or maybe you’ll become a videographer.

The point is: be ready for constant change. If you have not experience the following changes yet, chances are that you will:

  • Photoshop to Lightroom.
  • Low ISO to High ISO.
  • Crop frame to Full Frame.
  • Mirror to Mirrorless.
  • PC to Mac (or, for that matter, Mac to PC).
  • Disk storage to hybrid storage.
  • Hybrid storage to solid state storage.
  • Local storage to cloud storage.
  • Stand-alone photography to photography integrated into web, social media, cloud, etc.
  • Stand-alone hardware to “the Internet of Things”.
  • No GPS to built-in GPS everywhere.
  • CF to SD; SD to Micro SD.
  • USB to USB 2 to USB 3 speeds.
  • USB connector to Mini USB to Micro USB.
  • Proprietary to universal formats (even Sony is stepping away from proprietary to industry standard, who could have imagined!)

Now, those are just a very few predictable changes—so you can get ready and prepare for those, and you should. Plenty of help available (I, um, know an experienced educator and photographer who, um, wrote a series of books and teaches, um, a whole lot of courses (more coming soon!). And there’s Internet resources, like this blog.

But there are also—and here, unusually, I will give Mr Donald Rumsfeld credit—such things as “unknown unknowns”. The changes above flow naturally out of known trends, but many changes do not; they are the result of unexpected events. Black Swans. No-one in Hammurabi’s Court could have predicted Quickbooks Accounting software. No-one in 1217 could have predicted electric drones (“Look! It’s a miracle! I see a buzzing angel”). No-one in 1736 could have predicted DNA-based crime analysis. And so on. These are the things that will make you feel old. And I know that you do not want to feel old.

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So my advice to you is this: take courses, do seminars. Join photo clubs. Read up on the Internet. Read books on photography. Read blogs, like this one. Listen to blogs, like TWIP (This Week in Photo). And see yourself as a maker of imagery in the broadest sense. It is silly to waste any brain-energy on questions like “Canon or Nikon?”—especially when perhaps 20 years from now you will all be using Apple i-See (or iSight) cameras. Do not fossilize.

Do not look from the tools to the end product, as Kodak did (“we know chemistry, so we will make chemical photography stuff”). Instead, look from the end product back to the tools (“we want to make beautiful images, so we will use whatever technology is most suited for that today”). That’s how you stay honest and fresh.