photography book: Direction & Quality of Light

It was a big moment last year when I announced the release of my 3rd book, Direction and Quality of Light. I’m very proud of this book. All the more amazing to see that now, nearly 2 years later, this book is still bouncing up and down at (or near) the top slot on Amazon for Best Sellers in Photography Lighting.

When I took this screen capture, it was in position #1, but this list fluctuates daily. It really feels good to see that the book is still popular. And it feels good to see that it is up there with Gregory Heisler – 50 Portraits, as one of the consistent sellers on Amazon in this category.

It is even high on the list for Most Wished For books in Photography Lighting.

As I mentioned in this post at the time: Since my previous two books, and with so many years of maintaining the Tangents blog, and doing numerous workshops and presentations, my “voice” has matured. My photography has improved. With all that combined, I really believe the material in this book is very strong. Essential even.

As I’ve told friends – I wish someone had told me everything that’s in this book, at a much earlier time in my development as a photographer. I feel it would’ve made so much difference to my understanding of the vital element of photography – light!

Right after I understood all the essentials – depth-of-field, shutter speeds, composition, timing, and all of that – instead of getting caught up in specific areas such as flash & off-camera flash & studio lighting … I wish that at the time I had truly grasped that it is all about the direction and quality of light. With this book, I try my best to share those “aha!” moments with you.

With that, I do believe this book can make a difference to your photography.

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photography questions & answers (FAQ) – exposure metering

Looking at some of the questions about photography that appear via Google searches, I wanted to more directly answer some of the questions. This article is a selection of questions that I decided to amalgamate into one longer article. The questions mostly center around exposure metering and selection of camera settings.

A related page looks specifically at questions about flash photography.

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photo gear & logistics: corporate headshots

With any professional shoot, forethought and planning is a necessity. For personal photography there’s always place for serendipity. But relying on luck with a professional shoot isn’t going to go all that far. The same goes for photographing on-location headshots – planning is essential.

With the on-location corporate headshots described in a previous article, I aimed for efficiency and speed. I set up various speedlights and soft boxes around the office place for environmental headshots. This way I could step each person through the various spots and get similar photos of everyone. But there was a certain flexibility in the final look that was okay with those portraits. Still, the setups were done beforehand. I also worked on my own, so I put some thought into how to do the logistics single-handedly.

I was approached by a large law firm in New York to do their headshots – more than 200 people that I had to take headshots of partners and personnel. The company needed corporate headshots that had a specific look to them, with a specific value to the grey background – all in a way to create a consistency with the photos, online and in printed material. With more than 200 people that need to be photographed over the course of two months on various days, there had to be a way to ensure repeatability. The look wasn’t environmental, but more conservative and traditional.

I decided to go with studio lighting gear, instead of speedlights. More power, larger light modifiers, and faster recycling times. The Profoto lights are also known for a more consistent color balance. Ideal to speed up my workflow afterwards when editing the photos. With the environmental headshots, the speedlights were sufficient because I was shooting at wider apertures and higher ISO settings to bring in the ambient light. With these more traditional headshots, the ambient light wasn’t a consideration at all and I wanted more juice than a speedlight.

This did mean carting most of my studio gear on location. I did a test setup when I first met the PR team to discuss this. This gave me an idea of the logistics. Just the logistics of getting all that gear out of the car and into the building, and setting up fast, meant I had to reconsider a few things. Then of course, at the end of each day, all this had to be done in reverse. And repeated over a number of days. Keep in mind that this is Manhattan where finding parking in front of a building to load and unload can be a real hassle. There’s just no time to unload a lot of bags.

With the test run, I had a large hand cart that I strapped bag and cases onto. But this was a bit too clumsy. It took a bit too much time to unpack the car on the sidewalk and load the hand cart. Then, navigating elevators were also not as smooth as I wanted it all to be.

More than struggling, I hate the appearance of struggling. There’s a real appeal in not looking clumsy in front of a client. Clearly it is just so much better to appear professional, well-organized and efficient.

This then is a description of just how I did that on the subsequent days where we did the headshots – rolling in looking slick and proficient and setting up fast!

When I posted an iPhone shot of the setup to Facebook, there were a lot of questions and interest in the setup, so I thought it might make for an longer discussion here. Oh, the crazy person at the top is my assistant on this shoot, Presley Ann. Before any of the company’s people sit down for their headshots, I need to be completely ready, and she sat in for the test shots.

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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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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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using the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding

With wedding photography, there are nearly inevitably time-constraints. It is therefore imperative that you, as the wedding photographer, are able to keep everything running as smoothly as possible on your side. Which implies that it is important that you (and your equipment) are adaptable. And it is also hugely important that your gear is easy to set up, and very reliable.

Karissa and Rory’s wedding was the first where I pulled out the Profoto B1 battery powered flash (vendor). I’m even more impressed with it now, than I was when I first tested it for my review: Profoto B1 500 AirTTL battery powered flash.  (And if you’d like to buy my previous AcuteB 600R kit, let me know.)

When using additional lighting, you ideally need a few things from your lights:
power! 
– and yet, a delicateness to the light when necessary.
speed of use is essential.

At 500Ws, the Profoto B1 dumps sunlight-levels of light, but you can pull it down 8 stops, to where the light can be used in subtle ways.

With off-camera flash, I’m mostly working with a specific distance, and then manual flash makes sense. The  Profoto B1 (vendor) offers TTL as well, and this might seem superfluous to some. But it really makes it easier and faster to get to correct exposure. You can do an initial exposure via the TTL mode, and then switch to Manual if your exposure is correct. This gives you the speed of TTL flash, and the consistency of Manual flash.

Here are more images from this wedding, with examples shot with the Profoto B1, as well as other images using various types of light ….

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book review: Roberto Valenzuela – Picture Perfect Posing

I’ve noticed that articles on Tangents which deal with the topic of how to pose people, gets a lot of attention. Posing is a challenging topic for most photographers except the very best who seem to have an innate gift for it.

Books on posing tend to approach the topic as a list of suggestions – the kind of “1,000 poses” type books. Another alternative offered is flow posing where you maneuver a couple through a number of poses mechanically. Both of these approaches means you have to memorize poses by rote, instead of understanding why the poses work, or how to improve a pose.

This is where Roberto Valenzuela’s book excels. He teaches a system. The Picture Posing System he has developed breaks posing technique down into 15 segments which he then carefully analyzes to show why certain poses work. Instead of recalling exact poses and trying to fit them to the person you are photographing, posing now becomes a series of conscious decisions. And that is what Roberto’s book teaches you – that series of decisions.

The book is divided into two sections. The first discusses the 15 segments to his Picture Posing System. (12 segments for individual poses; and another 3 segments for posing couples or groups.) The final section of the book deals with more advice on posing couples.

The segments discussed include topics such as:
– weight distribution and its effect on posing;
– joints and 90 degree angles;
– hands and arms – (an especially tough element of posing);
– posing with movement, feeling and expression.

 

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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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