Molly K

controlling bright sunlight with direct off-camera flash – (model: Molly K)

Working with Molly K as our model during an individual flash photography workshop in New York, we put in action the thought-process when using flash in very bright light. There’s a specific algorithm that gets us to optimal settings.

But, as usual, there’s more to a final image than just the numerical settings on the camera …

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maximum flash sync speed, and the Nikon SB-900 / SB-910 speedlight

Because of the way the focal plane shutter works in DSLRs, shutter speed doesn’t affect our flash exposure … while we don’t go over maximum flash sync speed. When we go into high-speed flash sync, our flash output drops. (The linked article there explains it thoroughly.)

However, when we work with ambient light (and intend to add flash to our subject), then a change in shutter speed has an indirect effect on our flash exposure. A change in shutter speed will mean a change in aperture, and this is what affects our flash exposure (with manual flash), or our flash output (with TTL flash.) Check this article for how manual flash and TTL flash differ.

Therefore when we add flash to ambient light, then our shutter speed choice becomes important.

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behind the scenes video: using the Canon Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites

In my review of the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, I raved about the ease of use of the new speedlite by Canon that has built-in radio transmitters. The same with my subsequent review Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter & Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite. This system is going to have huge impact.

The behind-the-scenes video clip as I set every thing up, is of the photo session with Molly K where I used Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (vendor) and the Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter (vendor) during an actual shoot. You can actually hear the thought-process.

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review: Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter and Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites

In my review of the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, I’ve already raved about the ease of use of the new speedlite – thanks to a menu system that you can follow without having to decipher it via a manual), but mostly because of the built-in radio control of the flash. This elevates the Canon 600EX-RT to a new level. As mentioned in my review, I really think this flashgun will change things in the photo industry. It’s huge.

The main advantages of the Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter (vendor), is that you can change the flashes’ output directly from your camera. No need to run to and fro between your speedlights to change a flash’ output. And of course, The Big Thing about the new flash system, is the built-in radio control. You’re not limited by line-of-sight anymore, or compelled to buy radio slaves. It is obvious that Canon has done their homework on this puppy. While it is a complex flash system, the Canon ST-E3-RT isn’t a complicated device to use.

To test this system, I used three Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites (vendor)> and a  Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter (vendor) in a photo-shoot. Check out this behind-the-scenes video clip of how the Canon 600EX-RT speedlites were set up for this photo shoot.

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off-camera flash in low light – choosing your shutter speed

In the article on maximum flash sync speed, a question came up whether this is where we’d be at even in low light.

The answer is, that we’d most likely be at a shutter speed where the ambient light shows up. To remain at max flash sync speed in low light, isn’t the immediate best choice, for the background would usually go too dark. And we would like context. Our photographs usually look best with our subject in surroundings we can recognize, or complements our subject in some way.

Regarding our choice of max flash sync speed, this is the best go-to camera setting when you use flash in bright ambient light. High-speed flash sync kills too much of our flash output, to be our first choice, unless we are specifically chasing the higher shutter speeds or wider apertures. If you use a softbox or umbrella (or some light modifier) with high-speed flash, then you stand the risk of the flash simply not being able to pump out enough light to match the bright light. For this, generally our sweet spot is maximum flash sync speed.

Shutter speed choice when using flash, will vary depending on what we’re photographing, or trying to achieve. In low light, we’re most often dragging the shutter. But we have to be able to adapt what we do, against what we’re trying to achieve with our photos.

As recap example of using flash in low light, let’s have a closer look at the top image:

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review: Impact Quikbox Softbox (24 x 24″)

My favorite diffuser / modifier for off-camera flash, is the Lastolite Ezybox 24×24 for speed lights (vendor). The Lastolite Ezybox has featured often on the Tangents blog. (Here is the review). It’s easy to use and super-easy to set up. And in its original configuration, folds up to a surprisingly small bundle.

The good news for photographers who have been curious about the Lastolite Ezybox, is that Impact now makes a softbox – the Impact Quikbox 24×24 softbox (vendor), which is virtually identical, at a lower price.

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