Anelisa Durham

flash photography tutorial: balancing flash and ambient exposure

This topic – balancing flash and ambient exposure – seems to one that many newer photographers struggle with. The big hurdle seems to be the basic starting point – how do you decide on the exposure for each?

I’d like to explore this topic a bit with this post.  The trigger for this was a question that someone emailed me regarding an image in one of my books on flash photography. Instead of answering the question directly, I thought that a wider answer might be more illuminating. We’re still on that perpetual quest for more aha! moments. So let’s see where we head with this. (I’ll come back to the specific question and answer at the end of this.)

Why do we even want to add flash to our subject? The answer is that with flash we can control the direction and quality of light, and create a more dynamic image.

We don’t necessarily just use flash to avoid camera shake and / or poor exposure in low light. We use flash to create better light on our subject. We can ‘clean up’ the light that falls on our subject. Or to create more dynamic and interesting light. It’s about control. We decide. So where do we start?

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creative portraits on location – allow opportunities to happen

There was an interesting challenge for me during a recent individual photography workshop in NYC – Don (who arranged the workshop), already knew the essentials of lighting techniques, and said what he really wanted was insight into the way that I see a photo before I take it.  How do I know something will work or not. Don was particularly impressed with the series of photos of Anelisa that I shot for the review of the Profoto B2 Flash. The shallow depth-of-field images was a particular draw-card.

Serendipity – I love that word. A bit of chance favoring you. When a tiny bit of serendipity comes your way during a photo shoot, you have to be open enough to see it and then run with the idea. In effect, you have to be open to opportunity and allow it to happen to you.

There are a number of examples on the Tangents blog where I stumbled on interesting found light, and used it for effect:

These are the kind of opportunities that you need to allow to happen, and not get fixated on the ideas you had in mind. Grab what is happening and work with it. Here is one example from the workshop in NYC:

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book: On-Camera Flash (2nd ed.) – flash photography demystified

If you think I’ve been quiet on the Tangents blog the past few months … here is the reason why: I’ve been hard at work on the revised edition of On-Camera Flash …  it’s just been announced for a Nov 2015 release date, and is available on pre-order with Amazon. I really am excited about this updated version of the best-selling book!

On-Camera Flash (2nd edition)  – Amazon USA

On-Camera Flash (2nd edition)  – Amazon UK

Based on the best-selling 1st edition, this is more than just a cosmetic overhaul. Combining older material which have been polished and streamlined, with lots of new material and trawling the Tangents blog for the best material.

At 35,000 words (the maximum the publisher would allow me), this is a concise introduction to on-camera flash photography, with the accent on demystifying flash. I concentrated on bounce flash photography for the latter half of the book, since I strongly believe that is where the magic lies with using on-camera flash.

One way in which this book has been radically changed from the first edition, is that it is now more of a work-book. There are several examples where you have to have your camera (and flash) in your hands, to step through the instruction. All the better to make sense of flash photography, and become confident in the use of flash photography.

For those of you who had asked for the images in the video of the review: comparing various light modifiers for on-camera flash – they are in the book!

The cover image was specifically decided on, and shot for this cover. I wanted an image that is striking. It really had to stand out. And it had to be truly illustrative of the beautiful light you can easily create with just your on-camera flash.

Here is how it came about …

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review: Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash – photo shoot

Over the years I have used a variety of off-camera lights on location shoots and at weddings, and have worked my way up from Dynalite and Quantum flashes (and speedlights), to the Profoto B1. The Profoto B1 (affiliate) has made such a difference for me in the ease of use, the speed of setting up, and the sheer power of 500 W/s of light. I love my B1 flash. For example, here is how I used the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding.

Profoto has now released the Profoto B2 250 W/s Air TTL Flash, and it comes as two options:
Profoto B2 Location Kit with two flash heads (affiliate)
Profoto B2 To-Go Kit  with a single head (affiliate)

The Profoto B2 immediately intrigued me for a few reasons. As a quick summary, the B2 offers:
250 W/s power. (Half that of the B1)
High-speed flash sync and
TTL flash exposure metering, as well as a
Freeze Mode where the flash duration is cut down to 1/15,000 sec. at lower power settings.
– It is much lighter and compact than the B1 – but this comes with a few penalties.

Before we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the Profoto B2 vs the B1, I have to mention that every review I’ve read so far, mentioned the B2 as a lower-cost alternative to the Profoto B1. However, I don’t see the Profoto B2 positioned like that – the single-flash unit is about the same price as the B1. So there’s no financial advantage there. Now, by the time you get to the 2-flash head Location kit, then the B2 kit is less expensive than two Profoto B1 heads … but still with certain disadvantages to it.

So really, I don’t think the Profoto B2 was meant to be a lower-cost option to the B1, but was meant to just be a different option to the B1. Just different. You have options. You get to choose what suits your needs best.

To test the Profoto B2, I met up with Anelisa and an assistant in Manhattan, to do a Fashion-styled shoot out on the streets. Exactly the kind of thing where the Profoto B2 is meant to excel – being a portable high-powered flash that offers high-speed flash sync, as well as TTL flash exposure metering.

The behind-the-scenes video clip adds more info about the Profoto B2. It’s a fairly long clip because we decided to keep in a lot of my dialogue with Anelisa as I direct her. That’s something to keep in mind if you work with models – talk to them, and guide them. It really becomes a collaborative effort then.

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tutorial: focusing modes for your camera

I want to expand the exposure metering tutorials with other basic tutorials on camera settings and photography techniques. It’s been in the works a while now, and here is the tutorial on the focusing modes of your camera. Similar to many of the other tutorial articles on Tangents, I wanted to distill the essential elements, and make it as uncomplicated a topic as I could.

The more I delved into the various AF options and how they work, it became more difficult to generalize it in an accessible but still truthful way. I’d love to hear your feedback.

About the photo above, it was a playful idea based on Milla Jovovich’s character, Leeloo, in Fifth Element. In the one scene she beckons the evil aliens closer with a jiggle of her fingertips. It’s an image that stayed with me – a pivotal scene in this very enjoyable Sci-Fi movie. This is the moment everything tips over into an avalanche of crazy action.

So I posed Anelisa like this during a recent photography workshop, with the express idea of using it in an article on the auto-focus modes. The key idea here is that we don’t allow the camera to decide what we focus on. We have to be deliberate about where the camera should focus.

So check out the tutorial on the focusing modes of your camera.
I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.

Now, the techie details of the photo at the top:

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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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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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on-location flash photography – adding backlighting / rim-light

Once you’re comfortable using a single off-camera light-source, such as a softbox (or un-diffused flash), there’s an easy next step to add a little bit of zing to the image. Rim-lighting!

I most often work with just a single softbox when photographing portraits on location. Having the sun behind your subject, creates a natural rim-lighting. This helps separate your subject from the background. It’s not just the shallow depth-of-field that helps create that near-3D effect where your subjects just pops out from the background – rim-lighting from behind also helps bring more attention to your subjects.

The best part – it is really simple to set up and use.

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a favorite image – before & after (and the how to)

There’s something about this photograph that I really like … aside from Anelisa being one of my favorite models. It is slightly surreal with Anelisa’s apparent levitation. The dress and hat is reminiscent of a 1950’s Fashion, and Anelisa’s mid-air pose is also reminiscent of Philippe Halsman’s iconic jumping images. All that, combined with the sun flaring across her face and the washed-out background, all adds to this wonderfully nostalgic mood.

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review: Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Softbox

The Westcott Rapidbox – 26′ Octa Softbox (vendor) caught my attention, even among the huge variety of light modifiers available for off-camera speedlights. I bought one of these softboxes to try out at the most recent on-location photography lighting workshop in New York. And I like it a lot!

It is relatively fast to set up, and collapses to a compact size and comes in a handy carry bag.

Here is another photograph, with the comparative shot at the same camera settings, that shows exactly what impact the light had in the final image. For me, there’s just the right amount of contrast with wrap-around light. I like this softbox a lot!

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