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.

 

The Clouds

The Clouds is, in fact, a play by Aristophanes. He who also wrote “Lysistrata”. And who said, famously, that “under every stone there lurks a politician”. If you want to understand ancient Athens and its parallels to today, read Aristophanes’ plays (and their explanations to a modern audience).

But if you want to store your images away from home, there’s the cloud. Singular.

Alas: while The Clouds is ancient history, the cloud is not quite ready. It offers great advantages, of course. Backups that actually get done. Off-site storage. Storage that is accessible from everywhere. One place for your files. Unlimited storage.

But the drawback in today’s world is simple: speed. An image can easily be 15-20 MB, and a shoot can contains hundreds of such images. Until we all have fast fibre right into the house, and all the routers are fast, it is just not practical. The infrastructure does not quite support it. Yet. Try moving a year’s shoots to another provider (you cannot be locked in)—you will see it will take days or weeks or even longer. So the cloud is not there yet for us.

It will be, of course—this is one area where Moore’s Law still holds. As long as human law does not protect the Telco’s and we have a reasonably open, competitive market, speeds to the home will increase

Until that time: store all your images on a hard disk. And back them up onto another disk. And then back them up onto another disk, which you keep off-site, in someone else’s home or studio. Only then can you relax. Each image must be in at least two places, preferably in at least three, one of which should be offsite. Don’t lose your images – every hard disk fails. Not IF, but WHEN.

And if you fail to heed my advice, like the Athenians failed to listen to Aristophanes’ anti-war message, then so be it—just don’t say I did not warn you.

Me@Work

This was me a week or two ago:

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A fun photo booth. I love doing them: not much money but a great job technically, and a fun evening full of happy people.

A lot of work. Here’s the hallway before I pack the car:

gear

You can see. it takes many hours to prepare, and then many hours to set up, pull down, re-pack… a lot of work, and that’s why it costs money. If you see it advertised for less, you get less – it’s as simple as that.

I look forward to the next ones!

 

The pendulum swings.

You know how in life the pendulum swings back and forth? Thesis leads to antithesis, resulting in eventual synthesis, and so on?

Well, right now Apple is swinging backward.

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Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine you wanted a tech company to fail. A recipe for failure for a company like Apple would have components like:

  • Let’s kill professional/prosumer apps like Aperture, Final Cut Pro, and so on.
  • Let’s kill the only web design app that’s any good: iWeb.
  • Ignore the iMac; make everything iOS. Pretend you can have one platform everywhere (my Apple TV auto-installs apps I buy on my iPhone, for instance).
  • Make the User Interface so complicated that people like me have to Google simple actions like “how do I watch Apple special events on my Apple TV”.
  • Make WatchOS 3 “the best running experience”. Fine, but I am not a runner.
  • Hang everything on Siri, which probably works fine – as long as your accent is average. If you’re me, it sucks.
  • Make it unreliable. Both my Apple TVs, Gen 3 and Gen 4, crash when I watch the Apple Special Event. The Gen 3 crashes after ten seconds; the Gen 4 after half an hour.
  • Let’s lag behind. We now get Touch ID, meaning using your fingerprint to unlock the Macbook Pro. Cool new feature! Only, um, I had this in 1999 on my IBM Thinkpad. That’s 17 years ago.
  • And worst of all: let’s remove connectors. I use power, USB, HDMI, connect displays… When teaching, for example, I always connect a laser pointer, my iPhone, and a VGA display. I need more USB ports, not fewer! But no: let’s kill all those connectors so that I have to carry a plethora of dongles.
  • Oh and the SD card, let’s kill the SD card slot!

But there’s no way Apple would do those things, right? Right?

Except they did.

Innovation is not removing useful ports and forcing people to buy dongles. I noticed that in today’s Apple Special Event, the audience looked subdued, bored and un-impressed. Oh wait. Someone smiled – after 35 minutes, finally.

Mr Cook is no Steve Jobs, unfortunately.


EDIT: added next day:

I see that they have also removed the best feature of the Apple laptops: the MagSafe power connector. That magnetic connector, that lets go when you trip over the cable (instead of dragging the computer to the floor), has saved my laptop probably a dozen times. Without it, my computers will not last more than six months. Remove MagSafe? Now I know Apple has lost it.

 

Flash-flash-flash…

A tip today about something rather simple, which can be a lot of fun

A modern flash like a Canon 600EX or Nikon SB-900 can do “stroboscopic flash”.

To use it, simply:

  1. Set the flash’s mode to stroboscopic (“Multi” on my Canon flashes);
  2. On the flash, select frequency and duration and power level; see below for the settings I used yesterday;
  3. On the camera, which is probably on a tripod, select a shutter speed at least equal to the duration above;
  4. Make sure it is dark enough so that this shutter speed does not light up everything;
  5. Have a black background
  6. Move and shoot!

The flash:

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In this case, 1/128 is the power level; — is the duration (so I set it to one second in my case); 1 Hz is the frequency (10 Hz in my case).

The result, set to the settings above:

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The flash was set to:

  • Frequency 10 Hz
  • Duration 1 second
  • Power level 1/32 power.

Camera was set to 1 sec shutter speed. Because it took assistant Rob about a second to move his arm.

You will note that the higher the flash power level, and the shorter the time, the fewer flashes you can do. This is because the flash runs out of power after a few flashes: the higher the power level, the earlier that happens.

Go have some fun!

 

Lens Choices Are Simple?

“What lens should I buy?” is the most common question I hear from students. And no wonder: lenses cost a lot of money and there’s more than one to choose from. That said, surely choosing a lens for your camera cannot be that difficult? I mean, it’s not as though there’s a lot of them to choose from, is it?

canon-lenses

Oh.

OK then, so there’s a lot. But still.

Here, then, are my Top Ten Timeless Tips about lenses:

  1. The lens is more important than the camera. I would much rather shoot with a Digital Rebel and my current lenses than with a Canon 1Dx Mk2 with kit lenses like a consumer “standard zoom” 17-55 f:3.5–5.6 EF-S/DX lens.
  2. You get what you pay for. Good “glass” makes better photos, and good “glass” costs money. But unlike a camera, a lens is an investment that keeps both its value and its functionality for at least several decades.
  3. There’s no “one lens does everything for everyone” lens. The more things a lens does, the worse its performance on each of the things it does. An SUV does a lot of things, but it’s not the best at any of the things it does. So as much as you would like there to be one lens that does it all, that lens will be a compromise lens. You may be better getting a couple of specialized lenses,
  4. Lower minimum “f-numbers” are good: you can shoot in the dark and you can get those blurry backgrounds you love. The number mentioned on the lens is the minimum for that lens, and lower is better. So a lens that says “1:2.8” can go as low as f/2.8, whereas a lens that says “1:3.5–5.6” can go as low as 3.5 when zoomed out, and can go as low as 5.6 when zoomed in.
  5. They do different things: Wide angle gives you “3-D” and easy-to-use; telephoto gives you “compressed perspective” and blurry backgrounds.
  6. They have different benefits: Zoom (adjustable)  lenses are convenient; prime (fixed) lenses offer low “f-numbers”, consistency, and quality. The “consistency” advantage is often overlooked.
  7. Zoom lenses are best “in the middle”, not at the extreme wide or telephoto focal lengths. So a 16-35mm lens will not be at its very best at 16 or at 35mm.
  8. Zoom lenses are best “in the middle”, not at the extreme wide or narrow aperture. So an f/2.8–f/22 lens will not be at its very best at f/2.8 or at f/22.
  9. Use the right lens: For portraits. use longer lenses. Unless they are environmental portraits (where the person is small in the picture); then, you can use wide lenses.
  10. Third party lenses: By all means consider 3rd party lenses (such as Sigma). Their warranties are great and they can be very much cheaper. Try them on, hold and feel them: if you like them, go for it.

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Full frame camera; 85mm f/1.2 lens at f/2.0—isn’t that nice, blurring out the noisy background? This way you can shoot nice family portraits anywhere, just about.

I love my 85mm prime lens for fashion or half-body portraits. On a crop camera, you might like to use a 50mm prime lens to get pretty much the same effect.

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Full frame camera; 85mm f/1.2 lens set to f/8.0.

Let’s finish this note with an overview of my seven lenses. These are the typical photojournalist lenses, a list designed to meet pretty much any need quickly and efficiently:

Prime (fixed) lenses: for consistency, quality, and sometimes for special purposes such as macro/close up, here’s my favourite fixed lenses:

  • Canon 35mm f/1.4
  • Canon 85mm f/1.2
  • Canon 100m f/2.8 Macro
  • Canon 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift

Zoom lenses: for convenience, these cover the gamut from very wide to kinda long:

  • Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8
  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS

Misc: this allows the 200mm lens to become a 400mm lens (at f/5.6), without the cost.

  • YongNuo 2x teleconverter

And those seven lenses allow me to cover what I need to shoot, whatever it may be.

Now it is time to get some sleep: tomorrow, I lead a Match.com workshop in Toronto.

Taking A Cat Snap

As seen in the previous post: Mau, just now:

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So what are the salient technical points of this photo?

  1. I have two flashes aiming toward the camera and toward Mau Mau from the back, providing back- and rim lighting.
  2. Back- and rim lighting provide “3-D” modelling and drama, and light the whiskers well.
  3. But the white bedsheets (and I!) reflect enough back so there is some forward lighting also.
  4. Camera: manual mode, 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, and f/22:
  5. So that is the “darkest” possible ISO, the “darkest” possible shutter speed (“sync speed”), and the “darkest” possible aperture this lens offers; alll this to completely kill the bright ambient light (and at this close distance the flashes are super bright, so that’s not a problem).
  6. I used a Yongnuo YN622C-TX wireless controller on the camera, and a YN622C connected to each one of the flashes.
  7. These flashes have to be 430EX MkII or 580EX or 600EX, or equivalent: the old 430EX with the switch does not work here. Much as I like the switch, this is a situation where electronically setting the wireless mode is a must have.
  8. Although this setup supports TTL, I used manual power setting for the flashes, 1/16 power worked fine in this case (trial and error). Manual power setting is the way to go, if you have any control over the environment.
  9. You should lose any filters you may have on the lens: they will often increase flare to an unacceptable level. They certainly will not make the picture better.
  10. The lit eye is in sharp focus; of course at f/22 there is quite a lot in focus. Eye and whiskers are essential.

As you see, beyond the obvious, rather a lot of thinking can go into a simple picture. And few of these are “the only way to do it”. That is why photography is such a cool artistic endeavour.

So if few of those are “must do this way” points, why list them?

Because it is more important that you think about all these things than what you think about them. In other words, an analytical approach to photography helps you create repeatable art, where a photo works a certain way because you want it to, rather than “by accident”.

 

Mistakes are how we learn…

….and I can make them too. Today is an example.

I just bought a used Canon ST-E3-RT wireless flash control transmitter. A great piece of engineering. And also a good piece of business, for Canon. And also a mistake, for me.
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Because as I told the seller, “This one does radio as well as IR, IIRC”.

If I had only looked that up instead of relying on my recollection! Because no, it does not do light/infrared control. It only does radio control. Meaning I can control 600EX flashes, but not the six 580EX and 430EX flashes that I own. My only 600EX is faulty and needs an expensive repair or replacement.

So I have a controller that is a marvellous piece of engineering, but it only controls 600EX flashes that I do not own. Review some time when I do own 600EX flashes!

And careful when you rely on recollection. “IIRC” (if I recall correctly) implies that you might be wrong. Which I was.

Why is this flash, as I put it, a great business move? Because it forces photographers like me to buy only new 600EX flashes, and yo discard their 430EX and 580EX flashes. Which would be fine if it was one flash… but I have six of them!

Moral of the story? Check things before you trust your recollection; every time you say “IIRC”, realize you could be wrong.

(PS: Anyone looking for an ST-E3-RT? 🙂 )

 

How can you be sure?

“How can you be sure you used a flash?”, asked a student. She meant in this image:

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Several ways:

  1. I remember.
  2. The wheel would be dark without a flash.

But most of all: just look. Zoom in. and you see:

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-03-44-19

Et voila! See the photographer? C’est moi. Avec un… quick, what’s a flash in French?

 

 

Little things.

I taught a 2-hour presentation in London, Ontario on Thursday night. The London Camera Club made me feel welcome, and was very receptive to my message about flash photography. Lots of members bought my e-books, and several signed up for my flash courses on 16 and 23 October.

(Both courses are now full: if you wanted to take part, send me an email: I will repeat the workshop again in the next weeks, if there’s demand).

Nows for tonight’s tech tip. Look at this image from today, when I was shooting a horse farm in Adjala, Ontario:

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I shot against the sun, so I used a flash to light up the Camaro—else, the wheel would be dark.

Consider the star-shaped reflection in the bumper. And there’s the star shaped sun rays. Why the star shape?

The answer is simple:

If you want a distinct star shape in your hot spots, stop down to a small aperture (high f-number).  So this was shot at f/16.  And one more tip: shooting against a light source like this, leave off your “protective” lens filters. Otherwise you will not get this: all you will get instead is flare.