models

comparing power: studio lights vs. speedlites / speed lights

Speedlights pack a huge amount of light for the size. Very portable, and loaded with sophisticated features, owning a speedlight is a must. A simple choice.

Studio lights and the larger portable flashes such as the Profoto B1 500 W/s battery powered flash (vendor), offer a lot more power than speedlights. Exactly how much more powerful isn’t all that easy to find out. There’s very little available as direct comparison. Even the specs aren’t directly comparable. Speedlights’ power is given as a Guide Number (GN), and studio lights’ power is usually given in Watt-seconds. Not an obvious translation between the two of them.

The Profoto B1 500 W/s battery powered flash (vendor) is quite powerful, offering 500 W/s as a maximum. It also features TTL capability, and can be wirelessly controlled. All this gives the B1 a flexibility approaching that of speedlights. The question then inevitably comes up just how much stronger the Profoto B1 is than a speedlight. In other words, how many speedlights would you have to gang up to match 500W/s of studio light output?

This is then what we’re going to look at here – how do studio lights compare to speedlights / speedlites in terms of output.

I had a model, Melanie in the studio, to do a series of test photos. I used a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor) vs a Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s studio light (vendor). The studio-bound D1 is similar to the portable B1, aside from not running off a battery. It also has a typical power rating of this kind of studio light. Also keep in mind that the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor) has the same output as the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (vendor)

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progression of an idea in a photo session – cosplayer, Ger Tysk

For me, there’s always some anxiety before a photo session – especially when you have the opportunity to photograph someone quite unusual and photogenic like Ger Tysk, a cosplayer. (She also creates cosplay outfits for others, and has published a book on Cosplay.) Her latest outfit is Black Widow (from Marvel.) Now, the stressful part before a photo session like this, is that there is the pressure of having a great opportunity, and then having to create a photo series that is worthy of the moment. Even if you don’t quite reach the peak of the Epic scale, you still want to have photos that look inspired and interesting. You know, something worthy of the effort and time and opportunity.

I can pretty much guarantee you now that when you see an interesting or striking photograph that someone created (as opposed to a pure  photojournalistic moment), it’s usually not success on a first try. Very often there is a series of images and attempts before an idea comes together.

I was armed with some serious gear – Nikon D810 (vendor) and Profoto B1 portable studio light (vendor). So really, if there is any limitation here, it would be myself. Everything was in place – a supremely photogenic subject, an interesting location a friend showed me, as well as some serious gear. Now it is up to me, as the photographer to pull something out of this mix that looks stunning. And that is where the pressure comes in. Time to look around, explore ideas and figure something out.

I’m quite proud of the final photograph from this part of the location, but it didn’t just immediately come together. There was a thought-process and various attempts and dead-ends before it looked like yes! this is it!

So I want to step you through parts of this photo session to show how fell into place.

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full-frame vs crop-sensor comparison :  depth-of-field & perspective

When the differences between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras are discussed, there is an inevitable question about whether the crop sensor multiplies the focal length. Whether a 50mm lens on a crop-sensor acts like a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor) or 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor).

The answers given on the photography forums are confusing – yes, the focal length effectively increases. No, it doesn’t. Two polar opposite answers. The discussion (which tend to devolve into arguments) are convincingly made for both sides. The reason is because the topic is a complex one … and therefore the answer is (kinda) complex too.

One argument goes along the lines that the crop sensor is just that, a crop. An enlargement. That nothing changes – you just get less of the scene. And that there is no “equivalent focal length” when you go to a crop sensor camera. But what really happens is more complex than that.

With this article, I want to help analyze what happens when you change lenses between a full-frame camera and a crop-sensor camera. And we’ll analyze whether there is actually an equivalency between certain focal lengths, when using a crop-sensor camera. In other words, whether your 50mm lens becomes “equivalent to” a 75mm or 80mm lens when used on a crop-sensor camera.

Since this article ended up being a long meandering discussion, I thought it best that we start with the final summary. Just to save the impatient people some work.

Summary:

Yes, a 50mm lens does indeed behave like an equivalent focal length of a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor), or an 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor) … however, the depth-of-field increases by about a stop.

Yes, a 100mm lens on a crop-sensor camera will give you the same perspective as a 150mm / 160mm lens (on a full-frame camera), if you don’t change position … however, the DoF increases. (i.e., less shallow DoF)

But let’s discuss this with some images:

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Nikon D750 – high-ISO noise performance

The two things everyone is most curious about with the new Nikon D750 (vendor), is the auto-focus performance and the high-ISO noise performance. Here’s a quick preview of what the D750 does at higher ISO settings. Specifically, 3200 ISO and 6400 ISO.

To put the Nikon D750 (vendor) through its paces for the (upcoming) review of this camera, I met up with NYC model, Glass Olive for a photo session. In a restaurant we visited, I used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG (for Nikon) (vendor) at f/1.4 and then tried sequences of images at 3200 ISO and 6400 ISO. Here are two more images, and a 100% crop of each so you can see what the noise pattern looks like.

A few things to keep in mind when looking at the two images:

  • the RAW converters haven’t been updated yet for this brand-new camera, so we are looking at the embedded JPG (at full resolution) that I extracted from the RAW file. So this is the straight-out-of-camera JPG with a slight detour. These could very well be improved upon when adjusting the RAW file.
  • I kept the JPG settings to the defaults, but these were shot in Vivid picture mode. So it looks quite punchy directly out of camera.
    In Vivid picture mode, the Sharpening is set to the middle value: 4.00
    The Clarity was set to +1.00
    (The WB was set to Auto 1)
  • looking at 100% crops give you an idea of the high-ISO noise, which helps with comparison. But, it is not how the image will print. We are looking at a 24 megapixel image. It’s huge. By the time you print it to smaller sizes, the noise is much less pronounced.

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boudoir photography: couples boudoir photo session – gesture and connection

With portraits of a couple, the way they connect with each other is often the main factor whether the image is compelling. It could be through gesture and touch. The gesture might even be subtle – if a couple snuggles in, they don’t have to look at each other – it’s entirely possible to give that sense of connectedness, even with a downward glance. As long a it looks like they are concentrating on each other or responding to each other, it works.

With the image at the top, Olena and Austin are directly looking at each other, hands intertwined and legs touching. Connection clearly there.

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finding interesting available light & white balance options

It’s always a feel-good moment to discover interesting available light while out on a photo shoot. Something unusual to add a new flavor to a different sequence of images.

While photographing a model with Tilo Gockel and Mike Silberreis (both from Germany on a visit to NYC), we started off with off-camera flash to help with the strong sunlight. (You might remember Tilo from a recent guest article on product photography on a budget.)

Then, while positioning Olena, I saw part of her dress had a patch of bright light on it. Turning around to see where this came from – I expected sun flare from nearby building window – I saw that it was actually the sun reflecting off a traffic sign right next to us. The light that was reflecting off this traffic sign was pretty hard, but had an interesting specularity, yet appeared flattering. So we shot an entire long sequence here, ditching the off-camera flash.

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photographic composition – a few guidelines (but no rules!)

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams

For me, if a photograph is intended for an audience, and not just my own records and memories – then its success hinges around impact. Does the photograph make you stop for a few seconds at least to take it in? Then you’re at least in part successful already with the portrait. With portraits so many elements kick in to make a photograph resonate with us: The moment. The expression. Gesture. Movement. Pose and position. Lighting.

In terms of composition, I strongly feel that one should react in an instinctive way. Look at the subject and scene and respond without the mechanical decision-making that all the rules of composition brings into play – the Rule of Thirds, diagonals, mathematical formulae, the Golden Mean, and so on.

Instead, take your time to look at what is actually presented in the viewfinder. Scan the whole frame; look at the sides and corners.

Is everything that you see, everything that you want? Is this the best way that the subject can be represented? Do you need to re-frame or move to another position?

The composition of this photograph of Anelisa can be analyzed in terms of the usual guidelines:
– negative space above her,
– the diagonal line implied by her arms,
– balanced by the S-curve to her pose,
– the vertical line by her body being (approximately) on a line of a third of the frame.

There is also the strong visual dynamic with her face more or less central to the frame, the curve of this industrial chimney structure pulls your eye towards the center.

All these things do appear in analyzing the image after-the-fact. But during the time of taking a sequence of images here, the decison wasn’t step-by-step like that. It was much more that instinctive recognition that, “hey, this looks good!

And, for me, that should be what determines the composition – does it look good, and does it add to the photograph’s impact.

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photography: gelling flash for late afternoon sun (& deep blue skies)

The warm light from the nearly-setting sun, accentuated with gelled flash. Towards the end of the recent photography workshop, we were shooting on the rooftop – the warm tone of the sunlight contrasting beautifully with the blue sky.

To punch it even more, we added gelled flash via an off-camera speedlight in a softbox. We had to gel the speedlight of course, to make sure the blue color balance of the flash didn’t kill the natural light. We used a 1/2 CTS gel here which brought the flash’s WB down to around 3700K. (This photo of our model, Melanie, was taken by Rosario.)

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flash freezing the action at slow shutter speeds  (model: Oktavia)

Does flash freeze action when shooting with slow shutter speeds (in low light)?
The answer is … maybe. Perhaps. It depends.

It is difficult giving a definitive answer because it depends on the scenario. In short – if your subject isn’t lit by much available light (with ambient light 4 stops or less than your flash exposure), then flash will freeze the action … if there is no bright background. Probably. But it depends on the type of movement, and how critical you are about image sharpness.

See? We just can’t quite get away from those qualifiers – perhaps / depends / probably. But let’s jump into this and see when flash will freeze the action, and when you’re likely to be succeed.

The photo above, of Oktavia dancing, was shot at  1/10 @ f/2.8 @ 1600 ISO
At 1/10th of a second, the flash did freeze her movement.

You can see the background lights streak as I moved my hand-held camera to try and keep up with her movements. I was trying to hide the flash behind her, but I liked the effect here. You can also see the city lights streak through her arm as she moved.

Let’s quickly look at the pull-back shot to see how the flashes were set up, and then we continue the discussion on whether flash freezes action …

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on-location portraits – when simplicity counts  (model: Anelisa)

This is one of those images – a portrait which is simplicity itself – and yet there is something about it, with Anelisa‘s riveting gaze and her pose, the muted complimentary colors – and the photograph just falls together somehow in a way that makes it one of my favorite photos that I’ve shot in a while. Even the lighting is simplicity itself – an off-camera flash in a softbox. But this didn’t need anything more complex than that.

Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the rough texture of the wall, and the soft look of her skin that gives this image some of its impact. I’m not one for (over) analyzing photographs to figure out why they work – I much more prefer that the photograph’s impact comes from an “I just like this” level. I took several compositions, but preferred this off-center horizontal version.

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