cross-processing …

March 23, 2008

Many photographers who have entered the industry in the last several years aren’t readily aware that a number of the digital techniques and special effects available today in Photoshop, are actually based on processes that were available to film shooters of past years.

One effect that seems to be a particular favorite of photographers recently is cross-processing – an effect where colors are made more vivid, and the tonality and contrast are skewed to create a high-fashion or slightly surreal effect.

Fuji Sensia 200 exposed at 125 ISO – processed as C41 print film.
Nikon F90 camera;  Nikon 24-120 mm f3.5 – f4.5
Johannesburg, ca 1998


Currently I shoot exclusively in the digital format, but before digital, I used slide film for most of my personal photography. With no darkroom available to me or the inclination to use one, I had very limited options to manipulate the images I got on slide film.  Cross-processing however, is a fairly easy and really amazing technique that is accessible to anyone who uses a one-hour lab.

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gear for destination wedding photography (Canon)

I enjoy photographing destination weddings– and I’ve been fortunate to photograph weddings in Aruba, Bahamas, Miami and Las Vegas.

These are weddings are often in exotic locales.  (Well, nearly everything will seem exotic outside of New Jersey, but I digress.)  Even even though it sounds exciting to photograph in faraway places, there is a challenge that comes along with that –  packing enough of my gear and getting it safely to my destination.  It is even more of a challenge with restrictions placed on air travel.

Since I frequently get asked via emails to show what I have in my camera bag, I thought I’d post some of what my camera bag looks like when I travel.

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1/100 @ f1.6 @ 1000 ISO

“Dragging the Shutter” is a term used to describe the technique of using a slow enough shutter speed to allow a measure of ambient light to register when using flash.

This term originates from an era when photographers would determine correct flash exposure for on-location photography by :
– setting the ISO speed according to the film used,
– setting the aperture according to subject distance  (depends on flashgun’s guide number),
– then using the shutter speed as the ONLY way of independently allowing more ambient light in, slowing the shutter speed far lower than max sync speed when shooting in low light.

(This worked fairly well for color negative film, because the labs took up the slack in exposure miscalculation when printing the images.)

However, with TTL flash on a D-SLR, you have more flexibility than this.  And I’m of the opinion that the phrase “dragging the shutter” is archaic in the era of TTL flash photography.

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(1/20th @ f2.8 @ 1250 iso)

using slow shutter speeds

I am frequently asked whether I use a tripod at all to help overcome the slow shutter speeds that I often shoot at.  The question also often relates to shooting hand-held, below the arbitrary value of 1/60th of a second.

The choice of shutter speed at which you will get a sharp (enough) image will depend on a number of factors, such as how fast your subject is moving and at what angle compared to your camera, and whether you are panning with your subject.  And also choice of lens, and camera’s sensor size, and your own ability to hold a camera steady.  And luck.  And also on how large you want to display the image.

I’m not going to attempt a broad explanation covering every possibility that we’ll encounter as photographers, but answer the question in terms of the work that I do – which is primarily as a portrait and wedding photographer here in New Jersey.

My own preference is for ‘sharp’. I like crisp images, and don’t much like too much motion blur.  But this is a personal artistic choice.  So I tend to shoot at higher shutter speeds where I can.  Part of this is simply because I am not that steady in hand-holding a camera.

And in attaining higher shutter speeds, I tend to use fast optics, or shoot at higher iso settings.  Or I just use flash at times to stop motion blur.   But there are times when I am shooting in low light, and have to use a slow shutter speed …

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choosing your direction

January 16, 2008

specifically choosing your direction of bounce flash

The reason why I want (if possible) only indirect light from my on-camera flash, is that any direct flash looks too harsh.

Here’s a typical example:
As you can see, using the Stofen helps to disperse some light and is a huge step up from direct flash.  But you can also see in the entire frame that the light from top to bottom is uneven.  In the close-up you can see how there is a hard shadow on the bride’s face, as well as some specular reflection on her skin from the flash directly from the Stofen.  And in some way, any time there is flash directly from the flash modifier on your subject, you get this kind of light.  It is inevitable. 

On the right-hand side images, I simply took the Stofen off, and pointed the flash over my shoulder into the rest of the hallway.  As you can clearly see, having only indirect light from the flashgun, completely changes the look of the image.

Remember :  any time your subject can see your flash-tube you have direct flash.

This implies that if you are “bouncing” flash with the flash set to 45′ upwards, you’re not doing anything to improve your flash photography.
There are  occasional times to do that with specific intent, but mostly it just gives bad results.

The key idea here is that bouncing your flash does not mean simply putting a flash modifier on your flashgun and pointing it at the ceiling.

As to why I prefer not to bounce from the ceiling –  in a studio set-up you would most likely never set up a soft-box directly over someone’s head as the only light-source. Similarly, why would you want to bounce flash from above someone, if there are walls and other surfaces around to bounce from? Pointing the flashgun upwards is a poor choice compared to other possibilities when shooting indoors.

It is with this approach that I want to specifically choose where I want my light to come from.

There are times I do want to throw light forward from my flashgun.
But this is a specific choice, whether a short-cut or a specifically intended thing, or just a limitation of the scenario I am working in.


burning out / melting your speedlights & flashes

The obvious question that comes up with bouncing flash behind you, is that they do tend to fire at full power or close to full power. If you shoot events, where you need to take repeated shots with your on-camera flash, they do take a beating and even risk even burning out. I do hammer my speedlights, especially when I use the Quantum 2×2 battery packs.  This doesn’t bother me greatly, since I regard my speedlights in a way, as consumable items. They will become unrepairable at some point. Cost of doing business as an event photographer.

For this reason I have numerous speedlights, because there are inevitably at least one or two in for repairs.

My older speedlights tend to look like the two shown in the photos above. The one is a a Canon 580 and the other a Nikon SB-800. All speedlights will do this if fired repeatedly at (close to) full power. They over-heat.

Where my flashes do take the hardest beating, is with events where there is a lot of activity in a short time.  For example, with Jewish weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, you have the Hora which happens very fast  and only for a short time.  And you have to get the shots. The equipment matters less.  Don’t fall in love with your equipment and be afraid to use it.

And no, I wouldn’t buy a used flashgun from me either. ;)


using bounce flash outdoors

January 3, 2008

using bounce flash outdoors

While the bounce flash techniques described on these pages are heavily dependent on shooting indoors which provide those places to bounce flash off … it wouldn’t seem possible to use these techniques outdoors.  After all, you can’t bounce flash off the clouds.  (Although we’ve all seen photographers attempt this outside.)

So while there are obvious limitations in applying these bounce flash techniques outdoors, there are times when these techniques can still be quite effective.

This example, also shown in the tutorial pages is of this image taken at a wedding that I photographed in Aruba.

Here I had my daughter hold up the gold side of the Lastolite reflector. And hopefully this gives the idea of light from the sun setting over the ocean. (It had just gone down, and the light was blandly grey.)

However, these bounce flash techniques do imply some kind of surface to bounce your flash off.  But you shouldn’t feel limited by not having an obvious area to bounce light off.

Learn more inside…


manual flash vs. TTL flash

December 26, 2007

Manual flash vs TTL flash

For correct flash exposure, 4 things need to be controlled and balanced:
– aperture
– distance (from the flash to subject)
– power (the flash’s actual blitz of light, taking into consideration any diffusion)

Two things relate to camera settings, and two things relate to the flash itself.
To really understand flash photography, it is essential to memorize those 4 things.

If you need an acronym to remember things more easily: PAID
Power, Aperture, ISO, Distance.

There are distinct ways in which flash exposure is controlled though – Manual flash or  TTL flash. (For the purposes of the explanation here, Auto and TTL flash can be grouped together wrt D-SLRs.)

With manual flash, you have to adjust any of those settings to balance them out for correct flash exposure. You can use a light-meter, or even use the histogram to get correct flash exposure. With TTL flash, the camera and flash control the flash output (i.e., the power) as you adjust any of the other settings. That’s it in a nutshell – the differences between Manual flash, and Auto / TTL flash.

But let’s look at this more closely …

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my choice of on-camera flash modifiers

There is a fundamental principle in lighting : the larger your light source, the softer your light.

Using any of the myriad of flash modifiers that are on offer, helps in achieving that – spreading the light from the on-camera Speedlight much wider, thereby creating softer light that direct flash would’ve given.  However, (and this is a big however), these flash modifiers also throw light forward.  Ultimately all flash modifiers do the same thing – they disperse a lot of light around the room, while throwing some measure of light directly forward to lift shadows under the eyes and bring a sparkle to the eyes.

That is a huge step up from using direct flash – (or poorly bounced flash.. ie, flash at 45′ or 60′ forward) – but won’t be as good as directional light.  Directional light falls onto your subject from a specific angle.  This direction can very often be carefully chosen even when you use an on-camera flash indoors.

For this candid portrait of the ring-bearer, I touched up the WB in RAW, and that’s that. Simple, and it looks just great. The light is soft, and the little guy wasn’t bothered by any direct flash … since there was NO direct flash at all.

The way I achieve directional light from my flash is by adding what is in effect, a half-snoot on my on-camera flash.  The half-snoot (or flag) will partially block the light, and also direct it.

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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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