Nothing changes?

Well, not in 8 years. Here’s a technical note in the form of a post from October 2009 that is still valid…:


A reminder to all flash photographers: you need your shutter speed to be below the camera’s flash synch speed.

What does this mean? Let me explain.

The flash fires for the briefest period, of course. Like 1/2000th of a second. That is why we call it a flash.

So when it fires, if the light is to reach the entire film or sensor, the shutter needs to be totally open at that point.

That much is obvious. But what is not obvious is that there is an engineering limitation in your shutter. Beyond a certain shutter speed, the camera’s synch speed, the shutter never totally opens. Instead, a small (increasingly narrow) slit travels across the shutter to give each pixel a brief exposure time.That’s cool – the shutter does not have to be super-fast and expensive and you get a fast shutter speed.

But this gets in the way when you are using flash. When you fire during those short exposure times (on most modern cameras, faster than about 1/200th second), the light does not reach the entire sensor. Look at this example I shot to illustrate this, at speeds from 1/200th to 1/1000th sec:

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You can see that as I exceed the sync speed, the light only reaches part of the shutter.

You should also note that especially when using external flashes with Pocketwizards or similar, flash takes time to set up. My 1Ds MKIII has a synch speed f 1/25oth second but as you see, at that speed it is already beginning to cut off. Best stay a bit below your synch speed (I typically set my shutter, when I am using studio flash, to 1/125th second).

(There is a way to overcome that: fast flash, which some high end flash units offer. This continuously, all the time that the shutter travels, pulses the flash at a very rapid rate, so that the slit, as it travels across the sensor, has light coming in throughout its travel time. It works great – do use it when taking flash images outside – but it uses a lot of energy, and hence decreases the range of your flash.)

(Advanced tip: I know of at least one photographer who uses this effect to introduce an electronic version of a neutral density filter or a barn door: he sets his camera to 1/320th second while using flash, and turns the camera upside down. That makes the top part of the image dark, at least as far as the flash part of the light is concerned!)

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!

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.