off-camera flash

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.

Learn more inside…

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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 (retail), 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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update: new gear for flash photography workshop

The material covered, and the gear used in the on-location flash photography workshops, are constantly being fine-tuned and adapted with each workshop. With the first workshops (around 2006) centered around bounce flash photography. Over time the workshops expanded from that fairly simple premise, into what is a more comprehensive on-location lighting course.

The past two years there has been a surge in the various brands and types of flash. For example, Canon used to be just the 580 speedlights and wireless system. There’s now the 600EX speedlights with built-in radio transmitters as well. Phottix and Yongnou have become strong contenders in the field of flash photography with their speedlights and wireless systems.

When the workshops were presented across the country and in New York, there was a restriction – I had to travel light, and had to pare down on the gear I could bring. This meant that for the off-camera flash portion of the workshop, I could most easily help the Nikon and Canon shooters, and use their respective wireless control via RadioPoppers.

Now that the workshops are presented at my studio in New Jersey, and with a smaller class, I could make the big step and see if I could accommodate everyone at every workshop, regardless of system. With two models, it does mean doubling up on speedlights and systems. So I had a look around for soft boxes that would allow two speedlights … and still allow access to the speedlight controls from outside.

The Profoto RFi Speedlight Speedring – for 2 Speedlights (Amazon), looked like the best candidate – rugged (which means it is heavy), and it easily allows two speedlights. The two speedlights could be of different size and use different radio systems. I purchased two of theseProfoto RFi Speedlight Speedring – for 2 Speedlights (Amazon), and two of these medium-sized Profoto 1.3 x 2′ softbox (Amazon). This means that with the flash photography workshops, we can accommodate up to 4 different flash systems simultaneously!

We can now more easily help photographers who prefer hardcore strobist manual-only flash, or Phottix or Yongnuo, or either of the two Canon options or Nikon, or Sony, or Pentax. Alternately, we can double up, or have a Nikon and Canon speedlight in each of the two soft boxes. More flexibility.

So if you’ve been considering attending a workshop, but don’t use Nikon or Canon speedlights, we can now easily help you with whatever challenges you have with off-camera flash photography.

There will be three more workshops for the rest of 2014, which will take place on:

  • July 20, 2014  (Sunday)
  • Sept 21, 2014  (Sunday)
  • Oct 26, 2014  (Sunday)

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camera & flash settings: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

Analyzing other photographer’s work to figure out how they got the result, and figure out how to re-create it if you want, is a solid exercise. I do it often. It’s part of expanding your understanding of photography and lighting, and a way of expanding your technique and your repertoire.

The challenge to figure out the camera settings and additional lighting for a sequence of photos from an engagement photo session - reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight - had some interesting guess-work, and some good sleuthing.

Let’s have a look at the images posted in the challenge, and then slowly step through the thought-process. Some of these are near-instinctive decisions, but some are done with a quick frown and an “ok, let’s do it this way then”:

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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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reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

When I posted this sequence of photos on Facebook of Jessica and Tony’s engagement photo session in New York, there were a flurry of questions. Which lens? 50mm? 85mm? What type of lighting? What were my camera settings?

Well, this stuff has been covered before with numerous articles on photography technique, and lighting with photo sessions. So by now, anyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, and have done some reading, will be able to figure this out.

So here’s your challenge – look at the photos, look at the location, and reverse engineer the camera settings and lighting. Figure out the possible camera settings, lens choice, focal length, and details about the lighting. I’ve added 1200 px images if you click through, to make the thought-process easier.

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off-camera flash / speed light – overpowering the sun – what are my settings?

Teaching a class on using off-camera flash at the After Dark photography convention, I took a group of attendees outside on the street with two models. Then I stepped them through the thought-process in how to get to your basic, fail-safe, works-everytime camera settings and flash settings.

Regular visitors to the Tangents blog and those who have read my books on flash photography, should know the algorithm off by heart. There’s a specific thought-process that will get you to your basic camera & flash settings when working in bright sunlight, where you have to overpower the sun with a single speed light.

Instead of re-treading this ground myself, and re-stating everything, I thought it would be good to have everyone work through this themselves. It’s a good check to see if you’re familiar with what you need to do. There’s a very specific series of decisions you make that gets you to where you need to be with your camera and flash setting – and then you can concentrate on composition and everything else that is important in taking a photograph.  The camera settings choice should be second nature and should take you a few seconds.

So here’s the challenge - call it homework if you will:
- what are my (typical) camera & flash settings for the photograph at the top?
- how did I arrive at these settings?

Learn more inside…

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step-by-step guide to using a flash meter with manual flash & ambient light

A question posted on the Tangents forum was on the topic of exactly how to use a light meter to get to correct settings for manual flash. This article covers that first tentative step in what exactly you should do with this brand-new light-meter in your hand. It will help you cope with that initial “what now?” moment.

How exactly would you have used the flash meter (with the strobe in manual mode) to arrive at the correct settings to illuminate the model properly without changing your in-camera settings? Values entered into the flash meter?

It is much easier than you think, so let’s take it step-by-step:

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on-location portraits – speedway racer, Courtney Lefcourt

When Courtney’s mom first contacted me, she told me that Courtney is a race-car driver and that the camera loves her. Intrigued, I met up with her family at the Bethel Motor Speedway for on-location portraits of Courtney. To find out more about Courtney, check out her Facebook page, Courtney Taylor Racing.

So the challenge here was two-part. The sun was very bright since it was 3:30pm in the afternoon. The other challenge is that while speedway racing might be an exhilarating sport to watch, the speedway race-track isn’t exactly a visual feast. The race-track is a barren oval strip of tarmac at an angle. I had to accentuate her more, and the race-track less – but still keep it relevant as an environmental portrait.

Courtney’s fire-retardant suit was fortunately a vivid blue and black. This neatly matched the blue sky and black top. This especially helped with the wider images.

Learn more inside…

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