fill-flash example (Vegas)

September 3, 2007

I want to explain a bit more about how I use fill-flash, by using a specific example – and compare the results with and without fill-flash.

The image above is of clients of mine (Erik & Carla) whose engagement shoot took place in Vegas earlier this year.  This part of the shoot took place outside The Venetian. I bounced the flash into that open ceiling of the Venetian, and half behind me into the walls. And anyone who has been there, knows how large a space it is … but enough light bounces back from the walls and ceiling to lift the shadows and reduce the contrast.

The image as shown above, had some post-processing done to it.
Specifically, I ran the Prettyizer and Rusty Cage actions by the Boutwells.
(Highly recommended, btw)

But here on the left is the image as it comes out of Canon’s DPP (which follows the camera settings for image quality), with only a minor WB correction done to it, and exposure pulled down -0.3 stops in raw processing.
On the rightis an image taken shortly after where I tripped the shutter before the flash had enough time to recycle. ie, no flash. Exposure at 0EV, and the same WB correction as the left-hand image.


And just to show what the flash does to the detail in the faces.
(And yes, they did give me permission to use the image here.)

For me, the difference is huge. The left hand image is flattering, there is detail, but the mood is retained. And it certainly does NOT look like flash.


And NO, I did not modify the flash. A flash modifier would’ve thrown too much light forward and made it look like flash was used. Which quite often is ugly. (If only I could convince the world that using a flash modifier is more often a bad idea than a good one.)

Re my specific settings … the shutter speed was 1/250th – maximum flash sync speed for this camera.

And this setting was chosen deliberately. There is something very sweet happening at max flash sync speed – and too many photographers aren’t aware of it.If it doesn’t quite make sense why, let me elaborate:

Let’s say your background that is brightly light is at 1/60th @ f11 .. and you’re trying to push enough light from your strobe to light your subject which is in ‘shade’. Now your strobe would have a really hard time trying to push out f11 if you’re bouncing it off the ceiling or wall in a large room.

BUT .. that same exposure setting, also translates to ..
1/125th @ f8 … and now your flash has a slightly better chance.
1/250th @ f5.6 … and now we’re getting into the realm of bounceable flash.

We could extend this to 1/500th @ f4 … but we’d have to go into high-speed sync mode.  And as soon as you do that, you lose more than half your flash’s range.

You can double check this by watching what your strobe’s range indicator does as soon as you go 1/3rd stop over your max sync speed. For this, you would need to take your flash out of bounce position.
(5D users have a slightly different experience here wrt when high-speed flash sync kicks in.)

btw … I am explaining this as if your camera has a max sync speed of 1/250th. Of course it differs for different cameras, but the same thought process remains.

So we’re looking at 1/250th (or whatever your max flash sync speed is), offering us the widest possible aperture, at the most range / output we can get from our strobe. Less than max sync speed, and we’re making our strobe work harder than it probably needs to because we are using a smaller f-stop. (We’re still thinking in terms of balancing flash with a very bright background, or in bright conditions.)

For me, 1/25oth therefore becomes an easy default when working outdoors.
I have max efficiency from my strobe (in case I need it), and at the slightly higher shutter speed, I have less chance of camera shake or subject movement to register.

And in the instance where in bright conditions (or against a bright background), we’re settling on max sync speed giving us the widest aperture we can use for the most range from our strobe, but this also has the implication that ..
– our batteries lasting longer, and
– our flashgun recycles faster, and this in turn
– we have more consistent exposures when shooting faster.



You know you’ve arrived when …
other photographers start ripping off your images and text from your website

Someone let me know that when googling my name, there is a link that comes up with another photographer’s website.  So I checked it, and sure enough – there it is with some of my images, and a copy of the original HTML-based design of my website, One Perfect Moment, as it appeared at the time. My entire website ripped off!

Here’s the screenshot of the Google search …

I then followed the trail to this photographer’s other website.  And it is all duplicated there as well – the entire website, and some of my images.

Learn more inside…

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Someone asked me about the lighting I used at the reception of a wedding I recently photographed.

Here are two of the images I blogged there ..

I often vary how I set up additional lighting at reception venues.  In this instance, I had a 580EX flashgun that I held up high in my left hand, that was triggered by an on-camera ST-E2 transmitter.  I also had a second 580EX that was wirelessly slaved via the ST-E2.  I would therefore try and control my viewpoint and perspective, to have the second 580EX light up the background and give some sense of depth.  This would also avoid that dreaded black-hole background.

I haven’t really been happy with using the 580 as the on-camera master, since the results aren’t predictable. I’m getting more consistent results using an ST-E2 transmitter. The second 580EX was fastened on top of a CP-E3 battery pack that I placed on top of one of the DJ’s speakers.

In these images there was no wall behind me that I bounced off. Just the rest of the reception room.

The strobe on the DJ’s speakers was angled up, and not direct.
Because the ceiling is low, the light isn’t as spread out as I would’ve liked.
The way the light in the background is concentrated, is a result of the flash being bounced off a low-ish ceiling, and not because it was direct flash.

The flash in my hand – I don’t use it directly.
In this instance I had a Stofen on top of it, with the top cut off.
This way I can still direct my light to a large extent, instead of turning it into a barebulb type omni-directional light source.
With my hand I can also cover part of the front of the omni-bounce and have less direct light if I want.

I adapt my technique from wedding to wedding, dependent on the venue, the ambient light sources, and the results I want.
In this instance, the light levels were very dim, and I had to use flash.
But the ceilings were too low to use my Q-flashes that I most often use as additional light sources,
eg here: finding the light

Techie info for the first image:
Canon 1D mk2N / Canon 24-70mm f2.8 /  1/125th @ f2.8 @ 1600 iso

Techie info for the second image:
Canon 1D mk2N / Canon 16-35 mm f2.8 mk2 /  1/20th @ 4 @ 800 iso



Canon 1D mk3 – error 99

August 13, 2007

There have been many reports on the forums on the softness of the images on the preview LCD of the Canon 1Dmk3.   Well, I couldn’t really tell with this on my LCD display …

Yup.  Within about 200 frames into that first shoot with this fresh-out-of-the-box camera, it died on me with chronic error 99 lock-ups.  The camera would lock up on every alternate time the shutter was tripped.

To Canon USA’s credit, they repaired the camera in a super-fast turn-around time of 24 hours.

Other than that, I absolutely love this camera. No, seriously.  It is a fantastic machine.
If only it would work like it should.

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I frequently receive emails with questions which seem to vary in content, but essentially come back to the same point. For example:
 – how do the automatic exposure modes work on a specific camera, especially when flash is used ?
 – do I agree that a certain camera model tends to under-expose in matrix metering / evaluative metering when used in Aperture Priority ?
 – can I explain certain inconsistencies when using an auto mode such as Program / Aperture Priority?

Although the questions seemingly vary,  my reply is usually the same – that I don’t know the specific answer. And the reason is that, for the most part, any “answer” here is ultimately not of any consequence to me because … I shoot (nearly) exclusively in manual exposure mode.

Learn more inside…


fixing a loose hot shoe on a Canon camera

I had someone ask how easy it is to fix a loose hot shoe on a Canon 1D series camera. Somehow the 4 little screws that hold the hot shoe to the camera body can wriggle loose over time, causing the flashgun to wobble.  This can even lead to poor contact between the flashgun and the camera.

Fortunately, it’s a very easy fix.
All you need is a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers.
This image should explain it all …

Learn more inside…


how to use the camera’s histogram display for exposure metering

Histograms display the relative levels of the darker to brighter tones. As the histogram stands, it isn’t of much direct use to us, since the tonality of the scene that was captured will dictate what the histogram shows us .. without a direct indication of whether exposure is correct.

Some will say that a histogram should have an even bell-shaped curve, but this is too simplistic.   A light toned subject against a white wall will show a much different histogram that a dark toned subject against a dark wall .. even though the exposure might be correct in both instances.

In both those cases, the actual histogram display might be interesting to look at, but of no real direct use to us. But, here’s how I use the histogram to determine correct exposure

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photographing fireworks, using flash

Photographing people with fireworks in the background, is just an application of the technique known as dragging the shutter.

I had the couple in an area where there wasn’t much ambient light, so that I could light them mostly with flash. The strobe was a Quantum T2 with an umbrella, used in manual.

My flash exposure was determined in that I wanted the couple correctly exposed .. but my actual settings were dictated by my choices made in how I wanted the fireworks to register.

For my fireworks exposure, which is considered the same as ambient light,
I had to juggle the three controls again: shutter speed / aperture / ISO.

That particular photograph was 1 sec @ f6.7 @ 400 ISO

You don’t necessarily want a high ISO setting, since you do want your shutter speed to be slow. Slow enough to record the fireworks as streaks of light. There is a lot of leeway here, and a quick check of your camera’s preview will tell you whether you need to adjust your settings. Therefore your is range should be 100 to 400 ISO. Then your shutter speed is in the region of 1 second or slower. In other words, you need a tripod.

Recording multiple bursts of fireworks by blanking out the frame with a black card is a great idea. This photograph was a single exposure though. By checking my camera to see how other firework bursts recorded, I found that f6.7 @ 400 ISO @ 1 sec gave me enough firework trails and the fireworks itself weren’t over-exposed in the shot.

So using f6.7 @ 400 ISO, I set my Quantum T2 to an appropriate power level, to give me that exposure. (Manual flash in this instance, since my subject was in a specific position in relation to my strobe.)

An exposure of f4.5 @ 200 ISO @ 2 seconds, would’ve given me exactly the same exposure, but the firework trails would’ve been longer. There is a lot of leeway here, and you shouldn’t be bound by specific settings. But my suggestion would be to start at 1 second (or slower) and 400 or 20O ISO, then then chimp to taste.

Note that rear-curtain sync would not have had any effect here, since the couple was static in the frame.



repairing the Canon 580EX hotshoe foot

Since the 580EX has a plastic foot, it is very easy to snap it off in the camera’s hotshoe.
The repair is simple, and the cost of the part from Canon’s Service Center.
The part nr is: CY2-1227-000

This is typical of the damage sustained …

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when a filter on your lens actually gets to protect your lens

.. and this, ladies and gentlemen, is why using a UV filter on your lens is a good idea.

The strange thing is, I have NO idea when this happened during a shoot at a reception venue where I was doing room shots and detail shots. Most of the times I was using two cameras, with the other one slung over my shoulder. At some point I lifted the camera to my eye and noticed rainbow colored diffraction patterns across the image. My immediate reaction was .. huh? My lens is THAT dirty? And then I checked and saw the actual damage.

Whatever caused that impact would’ve destroyed the front element of my lens, so the filter saved me a lot of money there by protecting my lens. (Even then, the filter cost around $110 .. ouch!) Btw, this was with the lens hood in place.

The downside to using a UV filter as a permanent fixture on a lens, is that you risk flare and ghosting whenever the light is coming from the front. A lens hood doesn’t cover all that much when you’re using a wide zoom. A poor grade filter will also lower the contrast of your images.

There is no definitive answer to the endless discussions about the pros and cons of using a UV filter (or similar) in front of a lens – it’s a good idea sometimes, and sometimes it isn’t a good idea. Personally, I use high quality UV filters on all my lenses, but I often have to remove the filter when I am shooting into a light source or suspect I am getting flare. But that’s the beauty of a filter – you can always take it off momentarily if you need to.


recommended filters: polarizers

Aside from UV filters for protection, I would also recommend a polarizer filter. They are great for minimizing glare and to saturate colors again.