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.

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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.

Using the fast optic and a camera that has a very usable high iso, I was able to change the way I use flash from before. I am now able to snoot my flashgun with black material and very carefully choose where I bounce my flash from. (I also gelled my flash for a Tungsten WB.)  With the mk3 I’m now able to integrate the way I use flash more subtly with the available light than ever before.

And in these choices, I was able to bring out an image that looks different than it would’ve with other equipment. I like this result much more than what I would’ve been able to get with equipment of lesser spec.

So the choice between the 50mm f1.4 and the 50mm f1.2  appears incremental when seen on paper.   (It’s a huge $1000 jump though.)  Similarly, the difference between the mk2N image quality, and the 5D image quality is incremental. And again, the difference in image quality between the 5D and the mk3 image quality is incremental.

Now add all those small increments up … and you will find the equipment now allows you to achieve results you weren’t able to before.

I know for a fact, and I can see it in the past three weekends that I have been using the Canon 1D mk3, that this camera is changing the way I shoot, and changing the way I use light. Incremental changes, but they are proving to have a profound impact.

The question remains however – does it bring more business? I don’t know if there is a direct correlation. In a sense the question becomes a trivial one for me … because right now, I am doing work I absolutely love, at a level I would never have dreamed of a few years ago. And if using the very best equipment adds to that enjoyment – well, I only have this one life to live.  It would be a sad waste in a way to have frittered it away in worries about f1.2 vs f1.8 and omygawd, it’s so much money!  Just give me the f1.2 already and let me see how much I can push myself in this endeavour.

This leads me to another point.  Right now, with an arsenal of f1.2 and f1.4 optics (and all the f2.8 zooms) at my side, the only limitations in my photography are my own.  I certainly can not blame my equipment … (ok ok .. aside from the error 99’s and back-focusing and the usual litany of Canon hiccups) … seriously, I can not blame my equipment and say that, “If only I had *that* lens, I could’ve pulled the shots out of the hat.”

Right now, my limitations are my own. And that is a challenging boundary to be at.

How is that for a business decision?

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

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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 …

Learn more inside…

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