portrait photography – show us a favorite or break-through photograph

This photograph remains one of my favorites. It was taken circa early 90’s during a studio shoot-out arranged by a camera club (CCJ) I belonged to in Jo’burg. In this photo, the models are waiting for their turn to be photographed in a studio setup, using studio lighting, as well as available light in the large studio. It was a candid moment, as I knelt in front of this model, Megan.

For me, this was a transitionary photograph – I was at a point where I knew basic photography techniques. I read voraciously, and devoured magazines and books. But my own images at the time – landscapes and cityscapes and such – were mostly “found” images. For me, there was still a gap between what I was photographing, and the images I was drawn to – portrait and fashion images which were more controlled. Even then, the portraits and fashion photography that appealed to me, had a fresh and “loose” feel – and I felt I wasn’t quite  capable of that yet. It wasn’t just insecurity, but also shyness in working with people, and posing them. I lacked the courage to involve the people in my photography.

Yet, here I had a photo that had that spontaneity and elegance that appealed to me. Even though the moment was presented to me, and I had nothing to do with how it was arranged, I still felt really proud of it … but more so, the realization dawned on me that I could do this. I could have set this up and shot it. It was within my reach.

I was aware of the problems with this photograph – the fingertips cropped off, and the tilt. The pillow she held to herself is incongruous. The background is cluttered. A more controlled photograph would’ve been more successful. Still, this was one of those photographs which sparked a change for me.

This photograph then, was pivotal in my progress as a photographer. For the first time I took a photo that looked (nearly) as good as I saw in photography magazines. I could do this!


I would like to hear your story, and see your favorite or breakthrough portrait.
It need not be perfect. It just needs to be important to you.
There are two book prizes to be won:


The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography

The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography, by Glenn Rand & Tim Meyer, is a good introduction to portrait photography. Over the course of 200 pages, the authors explain the essentials of Portrait Photography.

You can order this book from Amazon, or directly from Rocky Nook.

If you order an eBook directly from RockyNook, then the coupon code Portrait40 offers 40% off the ebook version of The Portrait.

You can also buy it at a discount as an e-book bundle, along with Tilo Gockel’s book, Creative Flash Photography. (review)

Learn more inside…


review: Bolt VB-22 barebulb flash

These are good times for photographers who love using off-camera flash. There are more and more options coming out for us to choose from and use.

B&H has rebranded their own version of a popular series of flashguns. The Bolt VB-22 bare-bulb flash (B&H) looks like the Cheetah Light CL-360, and the Godox Witstro AD360, and the Neewer AD-360. They all seem to have similar spec. So if you’ve been browsing for any of those options, B&H has the Bolt VB-22 flash at a competitive price.

For the photo at the top, I had my camera set to 1/200 @ f/3.5 @ 100 ISO to have the window appear in a certain way – bright enough, and out of focus. I used the Bolt VB-22 flash with a white Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (B&H) as the large light modifier. More about this further down in the review.


contest & give-away prize (now closed)

This contest is now closed. Check my comment at #89.

I have one of these Bolt VB-22 flash units (with accessories) to give away as a prize! 

To be in line to win the main prize, (the Bolt VB-22 flash), post in the comments how you could use such a flash (which is 2 stops more powerful than a speedlight), or how it would make a difference to your photography. Make your entry informative or fun. Show us your website if you want. Show us an image or two.

I will pick one winning entry on Monday, Feb 2nd. The most interesting or informative or deserving entry chosen by myself and my assistant, gets the prize. Unfortunately, due to high shipping costs, this part of the contest is only open to people in the USA who live in the lower 48 states.

However, there is a secondary prize which is open to everyone, worldwide! A copy of Tilo Gockel’s book – Creative Flash Photography.  The winner of this book prize will be chosen via random number generator.

Creative Flash Photography

Creative Flash Photography, is divided into 40 chapters, or as the author calls them, Workshops.  Over the course of 290 pages, Tilo Gockel gives us insights in how he uses speedlights to photograph a diverse range of subjects:  portraits, product photography, macro photography, shooting for eBay,  photos for Catalogs, food photography.

Check out my book review: Creative Flash Photography for more.

If you order an eBook, then the coupon code Flash40 offers 40% off the ebook version of Creative Flash Photography.

Learn more inside…


what piece of photo gear had a fundamental impact on your photography?

In tracing my progress as a photographer, I can see how the things I learned from other photographers really helped me – whether through magazines, books, workshops and presentations. Sometimes it’s a dramatic impact;  sometimes it’s just an incremental change; but it is there. And all this has a ripple effect on how I approach photography. Accumulated knowledge, coupled with experience.

In the same way, some photography equipment also had a huge influence on how my style and technique developed.

For example, getting the Canon 580EX speedlite that allowed a full 180 degree swivel movement to either side, had a fundamental impact on how I approached bounce flash photography. Suddenly I was able to get directional  bounce flash. This changed everything for me in terms of my understanding of lighting, and what bouncing on-camera flash, was capable of achieving.

At the time, when I upgraded my camera to the Canon 1D Mark III body, its high-ISO performance allowed me to change my style, and change how I blend flash with available light. The same thing with the progression from the Nikon D3 to D3s – I could shoot successfully in very low light levels. I talked about this in the article on wedding photography – when style, technique & choice of gear converge.

I would say though, that the photography equipment that possibly had the most impact on my style, was the use of large-aperture telephoto zoom lenses. My first such lens was the amazing Pentax 85-210 f/3.5 zoom. A massively large lens, but a beautifully sharp optic. Sadly, it was stolen. That was upgraded then to the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 ED zoom. Wow. A big wow. Life at f/2.8 instead of f/5.6 or f/4.5

Shooting with wide apertures and long focal lengths, allowed me to be more selective about my backgrounds, and melt them into pleasant colors and shapes. Your subject just pops in the final photograph. A simple technique that gives images a quality that you can’t achieve with smaller aperture lenses.

The model in the photograph is Molly K, who I photographed in the late afternoon in Times Square, using only the available light. My settings: 1/200 @ f3.2 @ 800 ISO
Nikon D4;  Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (vendor)


tell us your story

Tell us what piece of photo gear had the most impact on your photography, or helped change your photography the most?  Tell us why it had the most impact.

A previous contest here on the Tangents blog – best photography tips – had an overwhelming response. So with the kind sponsorship of our good friends at B&H, we had another contest.

The contest has now closed, and a winner has been announced.
See my comment #190

Learn more inside…


best photography tips

April 24, 2012

best photography tips

There are numerous tips and ideas in photography that helped me improve as a photographer over the years. This came via magazines and books and other photographers. Many sources.

One of the best tips that helped me develop a style over time – when using a zoom lens, zoom to the longest focal length, and then frame your shot by walking forward or back, to where you have the composition that you want.

Doing so will result in the most compression in the image, helping to isolate my subject against an out-of-focus background. (Of course, using a long lens with a wide aperture makes the difference here.) I touched on this topic with a recent article: composition for full-length portraits – step back!

I would like to hear from other readers of the Tangents blog, what their best or favorite photography tips are.

And we’ll make it a contest for the best entry.
The contest has now closed, and a winner has been announced – check my comment #190

Learn more inside…


your best digital work-flow tip / your best office work-flow tip

I’m once again on a mission to get more control of office work-flow, and to streamline my digital work-flow even further. In a post much earlier this year, I described my Mac awakening, and how a few key things changed my work-flow completely and made my life easier. De-cluttering my desk then made a big difference.  Adding some pieces of technology in a more sensible way to my office too, made my life easier and allowed me to work faster.  Well, I’m again changing a few things to improve my work-flow. (More about this later perhaps).

In a kind of parallel to this, there was the recent article on the extra items in your camera bag – with some ideas on organizing your camera bag by adding some non-photography essentials. There were some contributions by readers of the Tangents blog who came up with additional suggestions. Mention was also made there of the Shoot Kit – a neat collection of the smaller essentials, all neatly packed into an accessible canvas holder. It contains safety pins and a sewing kit and headache tablets and such.  The kit, when rolled left-to-right is secured with a Velcro strip, but rolled right-to-left is easy and silent while opening. (Check the link to the shootkit for the exact details of what is included).

Tying this all together thematically with the idea of organizing your work / life / camera bag, there was a small contest, (now closed):

– post your best digital work-flow tip, and / or
– post your best office work-flow tip.

Even though the contest is closed, everyone is still invited to add their tips and ideas.

Learn more inside…


wedding portraits with multiple light sources

We have a winner for the contest we had last week, where we had to reverse-engineer the lighting in a photograph. I’ll be contacting the winner who will shortly receive a $50 B&H gift voucher. Thank you everyone for vigorously participating!

Here is Josh Lynn to explain what he did for the lighting in the contest image, of which the photo above is the wider shot. This photo reveals more of the one light source. …

Learn more inside…


wedding portraits with multiple light sources

edited on Dec 08, 2010 :
contest winner has been announced, with feedback from Josh about this photograph

When we’ve previously featured photographs that we tried to reverse engineer, there was a great response by readers of the Tangents blog. Similarly, many participated in the recent Photoshop contest. So I’ve decided that we should combine the two. Maybe even make it a regular event.

The contest then is to reverse engineer this photograph in terms of the lighting.
The winner gets a $50 B&H gift card!

Again, the photograph to be analyzed was shot by my friend Josh Lynn. It was taken during the romantic portrait session during a recent wedding.  The setup featured 5 light sources, and Josh was kind enough to give us a head-start with this diagram of how the lights were placed:

Learn more inside…

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Photoshop contest winner

September 9, 2010

I’m happy to announce the winner of the Photoshop contest from last week.  The winning entry was submitted by Hanssel Galeano, and he will receive the $50 B&H voucher for this effort.

Before I let Hanssel explain his process in editing the image,
here is the original again for comparison …

Learn more inside…


Photoshop contest

September 2, 2010

updated Sept 09, 2010: The contest is now closed.
Here is the winning entry, as well as another notable entry.
Thank you to everyone who entered!

One of the images I took during the recent photo session with the Modern Gypsies, was this photo above. With all his antics, I had asked him to jump against the wall as if he was going to scale it. It looks pretty cool … but the mundane urban background pulls this potentially surreal image back to normality. A little bit anyway.

Then I imagined it as him scaling an impossibly high wall, rising up from an unseen area below. Pretty cool idea. However, this needs a defter hand and a more incisive understanding of Photoshop from here on than I have. Here is how far I got with my attempt at what I was envisioning …

Learn more inside…

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