off-camera flash

review: Bolt VB-22 barebulb flash

These are good times for photographers who love using off-camera flash. There are more and more options coming out for us to choose from and use.

B&H has rebranded their own version of a popular series of flashguns. The Bolt VB-22 bare-bulb flash (B&H) looks like the Cheetah Light CL-360, and the Godox Witstro AD360, and the Neewer AD-360. They all seem to have similar spec. So if you’ve been browsing for any of those options, B&H has the Bolt VB-22 flash at a competitive price.

For the photo at the top, I had my camera set to 1/200 @ f/3.5 @ 100 ISO to have the window appear in a certain way – bright enough, and out of focus. I used the Bolt VB-22 flash with a white Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (B&H) as the large light modifier. More about this further down in the review.

 

contest & give-away prize

I have one of these Bolt VB-22 flash units (with accessories) to give away as a prize! (USA entries only.)

To be in line to win the main prize, (the Bolt VB-22 flash), post in the comments how you could use such a flash (which is 2 stops more powerful than a speedlight), or how it would make a difference to your photography. Make your entry informative or fun. Show us your website if you want. Show us an image or two.

I will pick one winning entry on Monday, Feb 2nd. The most interesting or informative or deserving entry chosen by myself and my assistant, gets the prize. Unfortunately, due to high shipping costs, this part of the contest is only open to people in the USA who live in the lower 48 states.

However, there is a secondary prize which is open to everyone, worldwide! A copy of Tilo Gockel’s book – Creative Flash Photography.  The winner of this book prize will be chosen via random number generator.

Creative Flash Photography

Creative Flash Photography, is divided into 40 chapters, or as the author calls them, Workshops.  Over the course of 290 pages, Tilo Gockel gives us insights in how he uses speedlights to photograph a diverse range of subjects:  portraits, product photography, macro photography, shooting for eBay,  photos for Catalogs, food photography.

Check out my book review: Creative Flash Photography for more.

If you order an eBook, then the coupon code Flash40 offers 40% off the ebook version of Creative Flash Photography.

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high-speed flash sync (HSS) with the Profoto B1 portable flash

The already impressive Profoto B1 500 W/s AirTTL flash (vendor) became even more awesome in Dec 2014 when high-speed flash sync (HSS) capability was added through a firmware update.

The photo above was taken at 1/2000 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO. I wanted that super-shallow depth-of-field, and I wanted the light to be more flattering than you’d get from a bare speedlight. In this case, I used a Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox with the Profoto B1. (I kept both baffles on the softbox.)

The summary: it works! But there are a few minor limitations or quirks though that you have to be aware of. (More about this in the summary at the end of this article.)

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lighting and design in photography: (de)-constructing an image

For me, Design in photography relates to the way an image is constructed at the time of shooting. Composition and content. Lighting. Every element which forms part of a successful and eye-catching photograph. Some of the elements in the photograph are pre-visualized, some of it a kind of serendipity that is then expanded on at the time. Some of it might only be understood afterwards in looking at the photograph. My latest book, Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography, looks at exactly that thought-process throughout the 60 chapters in the book.

Several of the articles on Tangents look at that thought-process during a photo-shoot, working towards a successful image. For example:
– progression of an idea in a photo session (cosplayer: Ger Tysk)
– photo-shoot with a model: the progression of an idea  (model: Nicole)

With that idea in mind – the design of a photograph – let’s step through the image at the top.

This photograph of our model Olive, isn’t a composite. It is pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera), aside from removing a car and a few people in the background. Oh, and bumping up the Contrast and nudging the Saturation. And retouching skin. I guess it isn’t really that SOOC at this point. But it isn’t a composite. It was shot like this. The cobble-stones looked like that – aglow.

That lack of shadow adds a sense of mystery. It all looks a bit surreal. The reason why Olive looks like she is floating in the air, is that she was jumping. We did several takes to try and get her at her most relaxed in mid-air. With her feet off the ground, there is no immediate tell-tale shadow behind her. The bright sun on the cobble stones also eliminate her shadow completely. There is also no shadow in front of her, since it is outside of the frame.  So she really looks like she is incongruously suspended in the air.

Now, the lack of shadow wasn’t planned before-hand, but it was most definitely noticed when we started shooting a few test frames. So we continued with the idea.

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on-location headshots and promotional portraits – Jonathan Arons

One of the things I like the most about photography, aside from the cool toys, is that you get to meet interesting people. Characters. People with spark. The challenge is then to capture that and show it in the photographs. A headshots photo session needs to be more than just a mere glimpse of your subject’s personality.

Jonathan Arons, also known as “the trombone dancer”, is a multi-talented actor, singer, dancer and musician, based in New York. Jonathan needed some professonial headshots and some portraits for promotional use. We shot these on location in New York. As you can see, there is a dynamic persona here with a lot of energy! With portraits, the intent is always to show the personality and charm. Even some of the playful spiritedness. All of this added up to make the photo session real fun. That glitter suit though!

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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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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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posing technique – adjusting a pose with incremental changes

I’m not a huge fan of “flow posing” where someone is rigidly posed according to formula. I feel this doesn’t allow as much for personality and individuality as a more organic approach. I much more prefer a low-stress approach where a pose is adjusted, to where it looks good, and looks flattering. This does mean that I have to find that balance between allowing “faults” and finessing a pose. Sometimes it just works better for the flow of a photo session to not micro-adjust to the point where your subject might feel it as criticism.

Memorizing poses from a book or guide is a good starting point, but in practice, you’d still have to finesse body, hands, feet and your subject’s head. You have to look at individual elements and fix and adjust.

With this photo of my friend, Irene, I want to show some of the thought-process. She was kind enough to allow me to post some of the more awkward in-between poses, as we finessed it along the way.

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wedding photography lighting – shooting in partial sunlight & shade

I strongly believe that when you have the ability to control a photo session, that you pick your battles. You don’t have to try and make everything work. Set up portrait shots in light that favors you. Of course, off-camera flash really helps you in being able to pick where you want that light that favors you.

Solid advice that I adhere to, is to not have a person or a group of people half in the sun, half in shade. It’s a recipe for disaster, or a tough battle to fight, lighting wise. But then, slightly amneding Sean Connery’s immortal words in The Untouchables, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight.” When you have enough light to match the sun, then it is possible to pull something out of that challenging situation!

I like using speedlights for additional light, but I also have my Profoto AcuteB2 600R Power Pack (vendor), in the trunk of my car … just in case I need something more than a knife. But really, if the Profoto B1 500 Air (vendor), was available for Nikon, it would be the Profoto B1 that I pull out. 500 Ws of easily portable light!

I really liked this building as a backdrop, but at this time of the day, half the facade was in sun, and half in shade. And this is where having a really powerful flash on location, is very very handy. I can dump sunlight levels of light (through a softbox!) to match the sunlit areas, and match the exposure levels.

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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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