gear

using multiple speedlights with high-speed flash sync

This photo of Angelique, our model, was taken at 1/8000 @ f2 @ 100 ISO. Yes, an eight-thousand-th of a second.  The accompanying wide aperture (with an ultra-wide angle lens), gives a unique look to the image. The shallow depth-of-field and high shutter speed are mutually dependent effects in shooting in bright light. Working with a fast shutter speed, brought us into high-speed flash sync (HSS) territory.

Do keep in mind that this shoot was more of a technical exercise to work through the settings and see how the flash behaves when working in bright light, and needing either a faster shutter speed or wider aperture. (Or both.)  In this case, we achieved shallower depth of field and a faster shutter speed. Obviously, in photographing a static model, the advantage of a faster shutter speed is lost. But when you do need the faster shutter speed, this is the solution.

With high-speed flash sync, there is a dramatic loss in effective power, as shown in this previous article. To overcome this, you need to work very close to your subject, or gang up a number of speedlights as a group.

Back to the sequence of images – I wanted to under-expose the city-scape and then use flash to highlight the model against the environment.  So the lighting had to enhance the look of the wide-aperture wide-angle lens. The lens was the beautiful Canon 24mm f1.4 II (B&H). The camera that I used is the classic Canon 5D.

My friend Yishai, of HD PhotoVideo, had shown me his permanent set-up which he uses whenever he has the need of high-speed flash.  His setup consists of four  Canon 580 EX ii speedlights (B&H), held together via a Lightware Foursquare Block. To free himself up from line-of-sight restrictions, and give reliable control of these speedlights, Yishai had connected each speedlight to a RadioPopper PX unit. (They worked with perfect reliability during this shoot.)  To have the speedlights recycle fast enough, they are powered by two Quantum 2×2 batteries (B&H). By ganging up four speedlights like this, we can start overcoming the loss of flash power when going into HSS.

To show me how these work on an actual shoot, we arranged to meet up with Angelique (on this icy cold day) on this pier in Brooklyn, for a photo session. Here is what this setup looks like …

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non-photography goodies in my camera case

Work as a wedding photographer isn’t just about the gear – cameras, lenses and flashguns – and about taking photographs of key moments. Often enough it is up to you as the wedding photographer to help guide the day’s time-line and flow, and also just to help.  For me, wedding photography isn’t just a passively observed event where I take photographs in a photo-journalistic or story-telling motif.  I’m there to record the day’s events, but also to help, if necessary, making it a spectacular day.

In the photo above, I took over from the maid of honor when her fingers weren’t strong enough for that final button and clasp at the back of the bride’s dress. My fingers were stronger, so I finished the last button. So as a photographer I’m often called on to do more than just take photographs. And in my camera roller case, I keep some extra non-photography related goodies …

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wedding photography – best lenses

With this recent review of the Nikon 24mm f1.4 the question came up about which lenses I use when photographing a wedding, and how I use them.

How do you juggle the various lenses you have for weddings and decide which ones to bring to a wedding and when to use them? Do you carry them all and just use them when you feel, or do only take specific lenses knowing what the wedding/venue will be like and know in advance that you will certain lenses at various times during the day?

Choosing which lens to use while photographing a wedding, is obviously an extension of your own style. It affects how you want to portray your subject, or the scene, through choice of depth-of-field, perspective and angle of view … or even through some special effect, such as a fish-eye lens or tilt-shift lens.

While the specific lens you use for any shot might be motivated by stylistic choice, there are also practical matters that come into play.  Sometimes the lens I choose will simply be the one already on my camera.

I also like having a wide arsenal of lenses available to me to use.  There is a reassurance in this idea, that I have the best and fastest that is available.  I want any limitations that exist, to be my own as a photographer, not because of my equipment.

So here’s how I juggle lenses and cameras …

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Petra Hall, a pretty awesome wedding photographer in Sweden, first posted this incredible story on the Digital Wedding Forum, and she kindly gave me permission to re-post it here.

the Canon 7D might be rugged, but it isn’t entirely fire-proof …

Petra’s fiance, Erkki, recently bought a new (used) car, just before a planned vacation. They had intended on cruising in the MG convertible and just enjoy the sports car in the summer. They were going to just drive around and take some photographs of the scenery.

The weekend before their vacation started, Erkki was on his way home from work when something in the car exploded and the car caught on fire. Huge flames engulfed the entire car. Erkki’s Canon 7D (with a 24-105L) was inside the car, as well his MacBook Air laptop. Everything went up in flames – the car; the camera & lens and the computer.  Luckily no-one was harmed.

Since the car was imported from the UK, the insurance for it hadn’t taken effect yet. Therefore nothing will be replaced that went up in flames.

Here’s how the camera looks like now.

It’s going to hurt.

You might want to look away in case you’re the sensitive type …

A computer techie managed to get the hard-drive safely out of the computer, so Erkki could copy all the images that he’d taken since he got the 7D last winter.

The best part of the story though is that the 7D did keep a secret inside its melted body …

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analysis of the lighting setup during a photo shoot

The photo above of Jessica, my assistant, shows the final lighting setup during a recent commercial shoot.  I had to photograph various people at a medical technology imaging company for use on their website and promotional material.  I had to show some of the workplace, but put the accent on the person I am photographing.

Of course, it is much easier to work with my assistant, and do test shots and changes in the setup beforehand.  Then we can change the lights and anything else we need to, until we’re happy with the results.  Then only do we call in the people we are actually photographing, and place them in position.

With this post I want to show the thought process in setting up the lighting for this photo.  There were a couple of dead ends, and a couple of adjustments as we went along …

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photographing people – available light portrait

While unloading lighting gear from the van to shoot a last few images for a certain section for my next book, I turned around and noticed the way the light fell on Anelisa.  Beautiful portrait light.  The (cropped) pull-back shot will show why ..

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should you use a filter on your lenses?

It’s a constant debate whether it is a good idea to use a UV / skylight filter on your lens for protection.  There are viable arguments for either choice. During this recent shoot with Jeannie Dee, I immediately noticed that with these heavily backlit portraits, I was getting an unusual amount of flare … and removing the filter on front of the lens immediately helped. Noticeably so!

Shooting towards a bright light source or a bright background, is one time where NOT using a filter makes absolute sense.
You risk getting lens flare, no matter how good the filter is. This amount of flare doesn’t necessarily mean the image is unusable though.

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review: Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II

I’ve been very happy with the older 70-200mm f2.8 VR telephoto zoom.  Even even though the edges are softer than the center, it never bothered me.  With weddings, I am mostly only interested in the center portions of the image being super-crisp.  Similarly, the vignetting didn’t bother me.  I usually add more vignetting in post-processing anyway.

Still, I ordered the new Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (B&H), and received it on Friday.
It’s beautiful!

Doing a few test shots around the house, and was immediately impressed. It is sharp! I like sharp.  Every thing about this lens is good news.  Focusing is faster, and flare is very well controlled. There has been considerable debate about the shortening of focal length with this lens as you focus closer and closer.  Yet, I would never have noticed it if I hadn’t been told about it. For my work, a total non-issue.

One of the features of this new lens, is that it has even more aggressive vibration reduction / stabilization.  So even though I do take my shutter speeds low at times, my advice is always that if you want sharp images, the first thing you need to do is make your shutter speed much faster.  Now, I’ve never been one to really be able to hold my camera steady without careful control or with steadying myself against a wall. So for me, vibration reduction is an essential feature on long lenses .. especially since I don’t work with a tripod for the style of photography I do.

At a wedding on Saturday, where I was the second shooter for a friend, I was able to see how the VR worked during an actual photo shoot.   During the ceremony I took photos of the guests sitting in the dark temple.  How dark? 1/6 th @ f2.8 @ 2000 ISO kinda dark …

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Mac-centricity

February 1, 2010

about this Mac thing ..

Until recently, I’ve been a PC user.  I didn’t have much interest in using a Mac, although I dearly loooove my iPhone and iPod.  I also have a high appreciation for Apple’s minimalist design and aesthetics.  Macs do look very cool.

Yet I didn’t feel the need or desire for a Mac.  PCs run fast.  It’s a stable platform with a wide choice of programs.  On top of that, there were some things which put me off the Mac.  The thing I found most annoying was the fanboyism of the Mac enthusiasts.  Any problem you’d encounter on a PC, you’d get a gloating chorus of,  “just use a Mac.”   Equally aggravating was the assertion that Macs are sooo intuitive.  You know what?  If Macs were so intuitive you wouldn’t have to explain their operation to me, would you?

I was a happy PC user, until the middle of last year.  Then without prior intention, I decided to get a fully kitted 17″ MacBook Pro Notebook Computer, with 8 Gb RAM.

Initially I was a little under-whelmed with the Mac experience, but then a few things fell into place for me in terms of software and hardware options … and then I switched my main computer that I work on (ie the laptop), over to the MacBook Pro.  Suddenly it all made sense!

All of this will be old news to Mac lovers. When I was gushing about my new setup to a friend of mine last week, she just laughed, “Where have you been all this time?”.

The things that fell into place for me had a big impact on my post-production workflow and efficiency, and I’d like to share some of my observations and new experience …

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maximum flash sync speed

Last week, I had an interesting lunchtime conversation with a photographer acquaintance of mine. We mostly talked about photography business related topics, but at some point I mentioned the origins of this website.  How it came to be, and why the geeky domain name, and some of the original pages on here.

One of the first articles I wrote, was this one on the advantages of having a higher maximum flash sync speed.  It is an explanation of why the Nikon D70 had an advantage over the Canon 10D.  (They were the two most popular D-SLRs at the time).  The Nikon D70 has a maximum flash sync speed of 1/500th, but only went down to 200 ISO.  The Canon 10D has a maximum flash sync speed of 1/250th, but went down to 100 ISO.   There were huge debates on the photography forums whether the D70 had the advantage or not, since many argued that 1/500th @ 200 ISO is the same as 1/250th @ 100 ISO.

That webpage explains why the D70 would have a distinct advantage.  In describing the gist of this to my friend, I realized that my explanation on that page could’ve been much simpler.

So here it is – the advantage of having a higher max flash sync speed – but explained in a way that is more concise …

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