flash photography

flash photography questions & answers (FAQ)

Like anyone who maintains a site diligently, I check my web stats daily.  I want to know where traffic is coming from, and how people reach my site. I need to know the referral sites. Of specific interest are the search phrases people use, and then end up on the Tangents blog.  I originally intended there to be a monthly series of posts, with direct answers to some of the questions that popped up in the Google searches. However, since Google decided to hide the exact search phrases, this idea came to a halt. But there were some really good material here, so I decided to amalgamate the best into one longer article.

Okay … let’s look at some of the questions on the topic of flash photography:

Learn more inside…

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Light Blaster: image projection effects for creative backgrounds in the studio

Working with an idea in mind – a moody B&W portrait with a stylized cityscape as background. Using the Light-Blaster again in the studio, this final image was a progression of that idea. I knew I wanted to use the cityscape background of one of the metal gobos that came with the Light-Blaster kit.

Because I wanted the final photo to be black and white, I set my camera to Monochrome so that I’d have a good idea during the shoot what the final image would look like. Since I shoot in RAW, the image would pull up in color the moment I start my post-processing. Then I reverted it to B&W again, and edited it for contrast and for the vignette you see in the final image at the top.

The first step of the shoot was to set up the Light Blaster, then get the exposure, and then figure out the lighting on our model, Priscilla.

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update: new gear for flash photography workshop

The material covered, and the gear used in the on-location flash photography workshops, are constantly being fine-tuned and adapted with each workshop. With the first workshops (around 2006) centered around bounce flash photography. Over time the workshops expanded from that fairly simple premise, into what is a more comprehensive on-location lighting course.

The past two years there has been a surge in the various brands and types of flash. For example, Canon used to be just the 580 speedlights and wireless system. There’s now the 600EX speedlights with built-in radio transmitters as well. Phottix and Yongnou have become strong contenders in the field of flash photography with their speedlights and wireless systems.

When the workshops were presented across the country and in New York, there was a restriction – I had to travel light, and had to pare down on the gear I could bring. This meant that for the off-camera flash portion of the workshop, I could most easily help the Nikon and Canon shooters, and use their respective wireless control via RadioPoppers.

Now that the workshops are presented at my studio in New Jersey, and with a smaller class, I could make the big step and see if I could accommodate everyone at every workshop, regardless of system. With two models, it does mean doubling up on speedlights and systems. So I had a look around for soft boxes that would allow two speedlights … and still allow access to the speedlight controls from outside.

The Profoto RFi Speedlight Speedring – for 2 Speedlights (Amazon), looked like the best candidate – rugged (which means it is heavy), and it easily allows two speedlights. The two speedlights could be of different size and use different radio systems. I purchased two of theseProfoto RFi Speedlight Speedring – for 2 Speedlights (Amazon), and two of these medium-sized Profoto 1.3 x 2′ softbox (Amazon). This means that with the flash photography workshops, we can accommodate up to 4 different flash systems simultaneously!

We can now more easily help photographers who prefer hardcore strobist manual-only flash, or Phottix or Yongnuo, or either of the two Canon options or Nikon, or Sony, or Pentax. Alternately, we can double up, or have a Nikon and Canon speedlight in each of the two soft boxes. More flexibility.

So if you’ve been considering attending a workshop, but don’t use Nikon or Canon speedlights, we can now easily help you with whatever challenges you have with off-camera flash photography.

There will be three more workshops for the rest of 2014, which will take place on:

  • July 20, 2014  (Sunday)
  • Sept 21, 2014  (Sunday)
  • Oct 26, 2014  (Sunday)

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image projection effects in the studio with the Light Blaster

Shooting in a studio can feel like a challenge at times - you’re in a big box of a room, and somehow you have to work past that restriction with light and ideas, create something. I’ve been curious about using projection effects in the studio, but always seem to come up short against equipment that is either too expensive, or too limited .. until Udi Tirosh of DIY Photography, turned me onto the idea of the Light Blaster.

The Light Blaster attaches to your speedlight on one end, and a lens on the other end. In the middle, you insert a slide with colors that you can project onto a background, or onto your subject. Alternately, you can use a metal gobo to create shadow patterns on the background. Quite simple really, but the effects are great.

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using bounce flash vs. available light vs. using the videographer’s light

The expressive trumpet player in the band at a wedding – a simple portrait of this musician, sweetened with some bounce flash. The light on his face, is by now perhaps predictably, on-camera bounce flash with the black foamie thing.  Looking at the light pattern on his face, you’ll see there was no direct flash of any kind.

camera settings:  1/60 @ f2.8 @ 2000 ISO // TTL flash
Nikon D3; Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (Amazon);   Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (Amazon)

In comparison, here are a few other images.  One with no flash, so we can see the effect of the bounce flash.  Another image with just available light; and another image where I was able to use the light from the videographer’s camera

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off-camera flash / speed light – overpowering the sun – what are my settings?

Teaching a class on using off-camera flash at the After Dark photography convention, I took a group of attendees outside on the street with two models. Then I stepped them through the thought-process in how to get to your basic, fail-safe, works-everytime camera settings and flash settings.

Regular visitors to the Tangents blog and those who have read my books on flash photography, should know the algorithm off by heart. There’s a specific thought-process that will get you to your basic camera & flash settings when working in bright sunlight, where you have to overpower the sun with a single speed light.

Instead of re-treading this ground myself, and re-stating everything, I thought it would be good to have everyone work through this themselves. It’s a good check to see if you’re familiar with what you need to do. There’s a very specific series of decisions you make that gets you to where you need to be with your camera and flash setting – and then you can concentrate on composition and everything else that is important in taking a photograph.  The camera settings choice should be second nature and should take you a few seconds.

So here’s the challenge - call it homework if you will:
- what are my (typical) camera & flash settings for the photograph at the top?
- how did I arrive at these settings?

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step-by-step guide to using a flash meter with manual flash & ambient light

A question posted on the Tangents forum was on the topic of exactly how to use a light meter to get to correct settings for manual flash. This article covers that first tentative step in what exactly you should do with this brand-new light-meter in your hand. It will help you cope with that initial “what now?” moment.

How exactly would you have used the flash meter (with the strobe in manual mode) to arrive at the correct settings to illuminate the model properly without changing your in-camera settings? Values entered into the flash meter?

It is much easier than you think, so let’s take it step-by-step:

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on-location portraits – speedway racer, Courtney Lefcourt

When Courtney’s mom first contacted me, she told me that Courtney is a race-car driver and that the camera loves her. Intrigued, I met up with her family at the Bethel Motor Speedway for on-location portraits of Courtney. To find out more about Courtney, check out her Facebook page, Courtney Taylor Racing.

So the challenge here was two-part. The sun was very bright since it was 3:30pm in the afternoon. The other challenge is that while speedway racing might be an exhilarating sport to watch, the speedway race-track isn’t exactly a visual feast. The race-track is a barren oval strip of tarmac at an angle. I had to accentuate her more, and the race-track less – but still keep it relevant as an environmental portrait.

Courtney’s fire-retardant suit was fortunately a vivid blue and black. This neatly matched the blue sky and black top. This especially helped with the wider images.

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dual or triple speedlight / flashgun mounting bracket

I use a multiple flash mounting bar during workshops where I need to have a diverse number of setups running simultaneously, but something more compact is also useful. In that article, I listed other flash mounting devices that allow multiple speedlights to be hooked up on one light-stand. Since then, I’ve discovered this triple flash mounting connector – RPS Lighting Triple Flash/Umbrella Mount (vendor) -  and it is superior to  others that I’ve tried.

What sets RPS Lighting Triple Flash/Umbrella Mount (vendor) from other similar devices, is that the flash cold shoe can be rotated. This doesn’t seem like much, but when you try and add wireless flash transmitters like the PocketWizard TT5, then the bulk of those wireless transmitters get in the way. By rotating the flash trigger by 90 degrees, you can more easily accommodate two or three wireless triggers and the speedlights. You then simply rotate the flash heads to have the flashes point in the correct direction – into your umbrella.

It’s a simple tweak to this kind of device, but it makes all the difference when using multiple speedlights with wireless triggers, on a single umbrella.

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flash photography: using a grid with a speedlight

During this photo session with Austin, I wanted to get a spot-light effect on, similar to that of a video light. Now, I have played around with various speedlight grids before, but never liked the result. Speedlite grids generally they concentrate the light to the extent that the direct light from a speedlight, becomes too concentrated and hard. For dramatic light, I really like the look of a video light, with that dramatic quality to the light, and with more defined shadows. I do want that fall-off in the light as the light spreads away from the subject.

As part of my Spinlight 360, I had two grids – white grid and a black grid. Since I didn’t have a video light with me during this session, I tried the white grid on the spur of the moment, to see if the white part of the grid would sufficiently scatter the light to “defocus” the light beam from the speedlight, while the grid itself contained the light.

And here’s the result. I really like it – a look similar to that of video light, but with more power … and with the PocketWizard TT5 on my camera, I could control the output! For this photograph, I also gelled the flash with 1/2 CTS gel to have the flash’s color balance closer to that of the ambient light.

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