how to photograph lightning

November 10, 2007

how to photograph lightning

The breathtaking sight of lightning splitting the evening sky has to be one of the more dramatic subjects to photograph… and also surprisingly easy.

A vivid burst of purple lightning over this store, framed by the arch of the veranda I was sheltering under, contrasts perfectly with the yellow cast of the artificial light. Of a series of 10 photos I took here, there were 2 usable images with lightning.  The strong color cast are from the street-lights, and having used daylight-balanced film.

April ’91 .. Colesberg; South Africa
Pentax Super-A;  Pentax-A 24-50mm f4
15 sec @ f8.0 .. Fuji RD 100 .. tripod.

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directional light from your on-camera bounce flash

Most often when photographers start using their flashguns out of the directly-forward position, they move the flash head to point 45’ or 90’ upward. The idea here is to bounce flash off the ceiling. Even though this is an improvement in most cases over using the flashgun pointing directly forward, this is also most often not ideal. We can improve on this.

If we consider how studio lights are set up, we’ll rarely see a light source directly overhead of our subject. Top lighting just isn’t as flattering as light coming in from an angle to the subject. And in the same way, why would we want to bounce flash directly overhead of our subjects?

The subtitle of this post should be: You don’t really need that Lightsphere .
(Or whatever is the flavor of light modifier for this particular month.)

We need to consider the direction of our light carefully. This is one of the areas in which we can really set ourselves apart as photographers – by carefully choosing the direction our light falls onto our subject, we can control the mood of the photograph completely.

We have to think of the actual area that we’re bouncing light off, as our light source – and not of the flashgun as our light source.

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finding the light

September 12, 2007

This web article was first posted in April ’06 on the DWF, as a tongue-in-cheek reaction – or caustic response then, if you will – against the numerous articles and seminars where we photographers are urged to just look for the light.

What triggered me to write this article in the first place, was that there seems to be a trend where use of flash is disdained in favor of only using available light.
As if it is always that simple.

(This article was also published in the Sept ’06 issue of Rangefinder magazine.)

Finding the light …

I’ve been so inspired recently by the various photographers at seminars and magazine articles, telling everyone to just look for the light and to find the light.

So many photographers just use available light, and make the rest of us who aren’t blessed with perfect light like they have in la-la-land, feel so inadequate. It is our failing as photographers if we can’t find the light and use it properly.

I felt I had to rise up to this and push myself as a photographer, and just look for the light.  It is there to be found!  Inspired like that, I approached this very colorful Hindu ceremony (April 2006), with a fresh mindset …

The temple itself is beautiful and imposing from the outside, in a blocky New Jersey kinda way.

The late afternoon light was incredibly harsh, and I knew I had to do something here so that my portraits wouldn’t look like the few candids I had to shoot outside in the sun. So for the portraits, I moved the bride (and others) into the open shade between the pillars in the front. The strong vertical lines behind them helped to make the simple portraits more striking.

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equipment as inspiration

September 7, 2007

A constant debate that I see online is whether a specific piece of equipment is justifiable.  And whether it is justifiable in terms of a business decision.  The discussion typically centers around something like the eternal, “What will the 85mm f1.2 give me that the 85mm f1.8 won’t? And is it worth $1000 more?”

But I feel that in phrasing the question like that, the real effects that equipment choice have on our style are disregarded. I firmly believe that:

Style should always be evolving, borne from our choices and not from our limitations.

And those limitations are quite often our equipment choice.  Indeed, f1.2 vs f1.8

So does it bring more business?  That I can’t say – but I do know that using the very very best equipment does affect how I shoot, and does affect my results.  It also directly affects my confidence during a shoot – and therefore during client meetings. I know I can pull it off,  no matter what is thrown at me during a shoot. I have the skills and the equipment.

So let me back that up with an image from a wedding this past Saturday:

… taken with the Canon 1D mk3 and the Canon 35mm f1.4

Yes, I could’ve gotten that moment with the mk2N and the 24-105mm f4 .. but it would’ve looked vastly different.

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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.

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additional lighting – 01

August 15, 2007

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



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.

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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

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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 …

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