My latest book is now available!
Lighting & Design for Portrait Photography

A follow-up of sorts to Direction & Quality of Light, this new book is now available on Amazon and bookstores. It’s a slightly eclectic mix, showing and discussing the thought-process with portraits. The examples use available light, bounce flash, off-camera flash as well as studio lighting.

The idea is that in every one of the 60 sections, there is something to be learnt and applied, regardless of your level as a photographer or where you shoot.

Some of the material has appeared on Tangents before, but has been shaped to form a cohesive narrative arc throughout the book. About 50% is new material.

Order directly from Amazon USA or Amazon UK.

Alternately, if you want, order an autographed copy.

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high-ISO bounce flash photography

The last wedding of the year just behind me, I want to use one of my favorite images to touch again on the recent topic of high-ISO bounce flash with on-camera speedlight. I want to show that the results aren’t a fluke – but that with a consistent approach to bounce flash photography, you can get consistent results. However, since we shoot under various scenario changes, we have to adapt a bit.

The venue was this hotel reception room with massively high ceilings … but with the walls closer by. Easy enough to bounce on-camera flash off. The one challenge here were the huge mirrors along the walls. This caused unpredictable reflections. It also flattened the light too much when shooting towards the shorter width of the room. So I ended up shooting as much as I could towards the longer end of the reception room.

Yes, the photo above was lit with a single on-camera bounce flash, shooting at a high ISO.

Learn more inside…

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review: high-ISO performance – Nikon 750 vs Nikon D4S / D4 / D810 / D610

With the initial quick test of the Nikon D750 high-ISO noise performance, I was quite impressed. But it really is only in comparison to other cameras that we can see how good it is. With that, I took 5 of the current full-frame Nikon DSLRs to compare them against each other to see their high-ISO noise.

The Nikon D4s (vendor) is currently the high-ISO king, so it was specifically interesting to see how the 24 megapixel Nikon D750 (vendor) would compare. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to wait until the end of this review, then here’s the good news: to my eye, the D750 is comparable to the D4S in terms of high-ISO noise. Maybe even a squeak better! But you don’t have to take my word for it, there are RAW files you can dowload and check for yourself.

Learn more inside…

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review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens

The moment you hold the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens (vendor) in your hand, you know it is a serious lens. It is hefty. It feels like quality. It just feels like they took craftsman-like care in designing and manufacturing this lens!

Sigma has somehow turned their image around from being just a third-party lens-manufacturer, to a company that needs to be taken seriously for quality optics. It started with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens, which proved to be a spectacular lens! (Here is my review: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HMS art lens.)

There’s been an incredible buzz around this lens – the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens. The initial reviews are unanimously impressed with this lens’ optical performance. Right up there with the very best. When the 50mm lens was first announced the rumored price was around $1,500 but with its official release, it came in at a relatively moderate $949.00 … but for that price, we’d expect a truly quality optic.

The good news – it really is all that! I would heartily recommend this lens.

Learn more inside…

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high-ISO bounce flash photography

One of the misconceptions about bounce flash photography that many photographers cling to, is that you absolutely need a white wall or ceiling near you. While it does help, this shouldn’t stop you from trying to be a little adventurous with on-camera bounce flash to see if it gets you the results you want. There have been several articles on the topic of bouncing off various other surfaces, or, not any particular surface nearby:

Let’s step through another recent example: Gaby and Michael’s wedding reception was at a winery, with the reception venue a huge area with stone and cement walls. It was a beautiful venue, but dark. The top-heavy lighting didn’t help either.

Sometimes … actually, very often … you just need to add additional lighting to the mix to get the results you and your clients want. Simple as that. Then it is up to you to figure out a way that best serves that need – good lighting while retaining the look and feel of the place.

I’m hesitant to use multiple flashes in the corners of a venue – the cross-lighting can look wonderful when it works, but very often leads to weird cross shadows. I prefer predictable results. So for me, multiple light sources wouldn’t be a first choice.

I tried the Profoto B1 as a bounce flash into the area, but it wouldn’t give predicable results, or … it would mean that my assistant would have to scurry around and help match the direction that I am shooting in. This can get a little hectic.

I then did a few test shots with on-camera bounce flash to see if it was feasible. And at full manual power, and selectively bouncing, I could get pretty good light at high ISO settings and wider apertures!

Learn more inside…

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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.

Learn more inside…

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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.

Learn more inside…

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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!

Learn more inside…

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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)

Learn more inside…

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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.

Learn more inside…

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