June 30, 2010

photography questions & answers

Like pretty much anyone who maintains a site diligently, I check my web stats daily.  I want to know where traffic is coming from, and how people reach my site.  I need to know the referral sites. Of specific interest are the search phrases people use, and then end up on the Tangents blog.  To check what search phrases are used, I use Google Analytics and Woopra.  Woopra is an amazing real-time analytics program.  I can see the moment someone lands on my site, and could track their progress through my site in real time.  Right down to the screen resolution they’re using.  Astonishing.

But I digress. Looking at the search phrases used, I can see that some photographers are looking for a specific answer.  That answer might be hidden deeper down in an article; or might only be tangentially answered.  So I thought it might make for an interesting regular post where I directly answer some of those questions.

As an aside – Google absolutely dominates over Bing, Yahoo, AOL, Ask or anything else out there.  Google accounts for approximately 93% of all search engine traffic to my site. Yahoo makes it at about 4.5% of search engine traffic to this site, with Bing coming in third at 1.7%

btw … some people really really can’t spell.   I’ve seen every possible permutation of the word “aperture”.  And the word “flahs” isn’t actually spelled that way.

Okay … let’s look at some of the questions.  I selected 10 as a first post on this theme:

01)  What flash can I use at a wedding ?

I’m still of the opinion that the best flash for a wedding (or for any other event) would be the top-of-the-line name-brand flashgun / speedlight.

You need a flash that:
- has a lot of power;
- and is able to rotate 180 degrees either way;
- and offers the most flexibility;
- and quite importantly, offers the most subtle control over the flash’s output.

And for all that, the top-end flashgun (whether Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax or Olympus), will most likely be your best bet.

02)  wedding photography TTL flash or manual ?

This is one area where I detect a fair amount of dogmatism from many users of manual flash.  I use TTL flash or manual flash as the need arises.  TTL flash has a certain ease-of-use that allows you to shoot on the run, and adjust as you shoot.  But it isn’t as predictable as manual flash which is more methodically set up.

My criteria as to when I use TTL flash, and when I use manual flash .. if I move around with my flash on my camera, then TTL flash makes my life easier.  But any time that my subject is static in relation to my lights, then manual flash is the most logical choice.

Ultimately, you’ll be a stronger photographer if you can use either of those two modes of flash without hesitation, and adapt to the scenario you are photographing. No drama. No dogma.

03)  when to use flash in photography ?

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons  you would use flash.
1. If the light levels are too low to get proper exposure, or eliminate camera shake or subject movement,
2. The light on your subject or scene is uneven,
then it makes sense to add flash.

Now, the decision as to when light levels are too low … or how far you’d risk camera shake and subject movement .. or whether the light on your subject is uneven .. these kind of things are open to interpretation.  That said, I like clean open light.

04)  where to place the off-camera flash

As a very general rule, you can get great results placing the off-camera flash at about 30 to 60 degrees off from the camera’s point of view. It’s also a great starting point having the flash elevated by about 30 degrees over your subject’s eyes.  This is very general advice though.  But it would be a good starting point for a majority of simple lighting setups. From there you can (and should) experiment with light placement.

05)  How to get catchlights in the eyes with flash photography

You can easily get catch-lights in the eyes when you bounce flash indoors, but considering the direction you want your light to come from.  This also relates directly to the question above about the placement of off-camera flash.

06)  how do I test flash sync speed

An interesting question.  First, you’d check your camera manual as to what your maximum flash sync speed is. Maximum flash sync speed is also the shutter speed where you can’t dial a higher shutter speed than around 1/125 to 1/250 (or 1/300) without going into high-speed sync (HSS) mode.

However, I feel that I should answer the question as wide as it was posed, and mention that you can sync your flash at ANY shutter speed slower than maximum flash sync speed as well.  And if your camera is HSS capable, you can sync it as high as the camera and flash was designed for.  Again, playing with your camera will tell you the answer.

07)  Nikon / Canon popup flash how to use

You don’t.  It’s ugly light. Really. You want and need a larger flashgun.  I know I mentioned earlier, ‘no dogma’, and yet here is a dogmatic opinion on the pop-up flash.

I also anticipate that someone will want to point out to me the usefulness of the pop-up flash of the Nikon D200 / D300 / D700 and how it can be used in Commander Mode to control slaved flashes. While that is true, it is still annoying to your subject to have the pop-up flash blitz them in the eyes.  Preferably get a radio transmitter, or use the Nikon SU-800.

08)  best ISO for wedding formals

For the wedding formals, I try not to go over 400 ISO, but I do bump it up to 500 … 600 and even 800 ISO, depending on the ambient light, and also depending on the need for depth of field.  I can more easily fix digital noise in an image, than fix an image which is soft due to too shallow a depth of field.

That said, I have photographed the romantic portraits of a couple even up to 1600 ISO with the Nikon D3.  It would be just as accessible with the Canon 5D mk II or Canon 1D mk IV or the Nikon D700.  But for groups and families I keep it to the lower ISO ranges.

For the rest of the day, I easily change my ISO as I need.

09)  Adobe Bridge won’t show thumbnails

This is a problem with Bridge CS3 that initially drove me to distraction.  The fix is fairly easy though, once you know where to look.
Now, if I could be allowed a minute for a quick rant.  Software hiccups which are only fixed in next paid versions. For example, Bridge.

Here is my quandary.  (I’ve copied and pasted this note and sent it numerous times to the Adobe engineers with the crash reports when Bridge crashes.  No reply yet.  But I’m living in hope that some day, some day, some engineer at Adobe will give me some advice on this.)  Anyway … my quandary:  I initially upgraded from Photoshop CS3 to Photoshop CS4 specifically to have Bridge be more stable.  And it is!  No mistake .. Bridge CS3 was a dogpile.  Unstable.  Cache problems, and so on.  Bridge CS4 is much better.  But you know .. I keep throwing money at this, for the problem to improve somewhat.  So .. do I now upgrade to CS5 and hope it will be that incremental step better?

Then there are the odd search phrases that appear:

Nikon D70 summer options

Yup, someone wanted the summer options for the Nikon D70.  I have no reply.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Damen Stephens June 30, 2010 at 4:48 am

LOL at “Nikon D70 summer options” !! I was thinking of all sorts of smart-arse answers to that one, when it suddenly (and somewhat surprisingly) occurred to me what the person may have actually been searching for. If I am not mistaken the D70 used to have an electronic shutter and very high flash speed synch (around 1/500th second I think, but believe it could be fooled into going higher) … now imagine a non-native English speaker wishing to search on very high speed flash synch for fill-light to ambient matching during summer with their D70 – voila !!


2 Neil vN June 30, 2010 at 4:54 am

Damen .. you could very well be right. The question might be more about taking photos in brighter light, than it has to do with nature’s seasons.

Neil vN


3 Nigel June 30, 2010 at 5:37 am

Hi Neil

It’s scary to think what level off stats can be gathered from site visitors nowadays and no doubt it’s something we all should pay more attention to in order to fully utilise our own websites.

As for me, my route to this site is simple. I keep it on the favs tool bar in Firefox, so one click away. As for the duration per visit, that very much depends on how many of those great text links to other relevant posts you have included (ones I haven’t previously read) and I usually end up with about half a dozen browser tabs open!


4 Jeroen June 30, 2010 at 7:05 am

Hi Neil,

And again this is a fantastic post! Thank you,thank you. The information you provide and the way how you provide it really improved my photography so much. You have a special gift as a teacher and I am glad you share it with us.
Recently I covered a wedding and did a few portrait shoots. The feedback I’ve got was fantastic! I am sure I would not be able to make the photographs I make today without your lectures.
How about a workshop in the Netherlands? I mentioned it earlier in a reply last januari. Really, normally I am not the kind of person who attend on workshops but for your workshop I gladly make an exception.

Thanks again,
The Netherlands


5 Marc June 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

And here’s a second participant for a workshop in the Netherlands…


6 Neil vN June 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Jeroen .. thank you for the kind compliments.

The plans for workshops in the UK and Ireland this year didn’t come together, but I definitely intend to get over there next year. And if I can get enough interest then to do a workshop in the Netherlands, it is definitely a possibility.


Neil vN


7 David June 30, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Hi Neil,
“Woopra is an amazing real-time analytics program. I can see the moment someone lands on my site, and could track their progress through my site in real time. Right down to the screen resolution they’re using. Astonishing.”

Wow almost scary in some ways! What’s next, telling you how they like their coffee in the morning? :-D

As for the spelling mistakes. I am severely dyslexic and sometimes have to retype words several times, until I find the correct combination of letters, or that’s close enough, so a spell checker can offer what I think are the correct choice of corrections. Maybe some of those logged spelling mistakes are mine?



8 Jorge June 30, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Great Neil, I love you teach and tips all the time went I need to know something fast I looking on it.


9 Tee July 1, 2010 at 3:21 am

Neil, I aperciate yuo spelilng porperly vsat mjaority of the time. A graet releif in a wrold of poor spelelrs.
To a typicle reeder: if this hurts UR i’s plz taik time and spell them words porperly, if U No what I meen and stuff. Also, drop them abrvtions, U Rn’t txting or wahtever. Its, like, lame. Seriously.

On a more serious note, in a world where spell-checking software is a common species and government’s “no-child-left-behind” programs run rampant through our classrooms, it does make one wonder how we did end up in a situation where native speakers can’t enunciate some of the simplest words that comprise this language.

Just saw a blogger call another poster “your stupid”… Right. Well, SOMEONE was left behind. Anyways, thanks again, Neil. You shall know your efforts are appreciated. At least on another merit outside your, you know, “picture-taking” talents.


10 Neil vN July 1, 2010 at 3:46 am

aargh .. that confusion about: your / you’re .. there / their / they’re .. that kind of thing drives me nuts.

I will have to defer to The Oatmeal on this matter.


11 Marius T July 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

Hello Neil,

i am watching your blog from one year let say. Daily i read 4-5 best photoblogs world wide. Your blog is one of the most interesting one, among the first two :). I really like to read the blogs of David Hobby (aka Strobist), the Ed Pingol blog, Joe McNally and Arias, plus sometime some diy photo blogs. And that’s all.

So, i never look in your site (maybe at the beggining when i was e noob) for the setup datas (aperture, exposure, iso, distance). No. Because never, and never and never again you can not duplicate this !!! Maybe it is better to understand why did you applied this setup or to understand the effect.

What it is important is to “see the light”, and you are doing this, you are explain to us how to see it and how to deliver it with strobes. It is important to understand why and how and after that you can realize something by yourself.

I am not a master in off-camera flash but with practice i want to become a better photographer.

It is very important that when somebody is reading your blog to understand something and “to leave the blog” with some new knowledges and to try to put those in practice.

From the days i started to make more interesting photographs without keeping in mind your exif datas.

Thanks Neil,


12 Vlad July 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Hi Neil,

I love your site. I am following your blog religiously for more than 1 year now, every post every comment I read everything.

I would like to say you thank you for sharing your knowledge! I become better photographer because of you!

I have one question. How many cameras do you carry on you during the wedding? I use to carry two, but because they were hitting tables, I broke hot shoe on both cameras.

Thanks a lot.



13 Neil vN July 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Vlad .. I do carry two cameras on me for most of the wedding day. Not having the cameras be a danger to others or to the cameras themselves, is all in how you carry the camera over your shoulder. Don’t have the lenses protruding outwards or forward. Flip the camera around in the way you sling the camera over your shoulder and have the lens pointing behind you. It’s easy then to half -tuck the lens behind your hip, with the flash turned to follow your body contour. I will have to add this as a separate blog post with a photo.

Neil vN


14 Stephen July 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

If I use the SB-900 as a commander to trigger another SB-900, does that SB-900 use the same filtered light that the SU-800 does (you mentioned that the SU-800 does not send an infrared signal to the slave units but a color-filtered light)? I’m trying to decide whether to skip the SU-800 and get a second SB-900.


15 Neil vN July 1, 2010 at 11:47 pm

The communication signals from the SB-900 is in the visible spectrum, just like every other flashgun. And yes, it would make more sense to buy a second SB-900 rather than an SU-800.

Neil vN


16 derrick July 2, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Hello Neil

First of all Neil I have read your book and that is what has inspired me to follow your blog. I wanted you to know I enjoyed the Q & A and wanted to let you know that I have shared your blog with several other photographers that I know and have suggested you and your material as a teaching tool. I am a OCFG. Off Camera Flash Guy. Have a great day and I will spread the WORD


17 Neil vN July 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Derrick .. thanks!

I guess I’m an OCFG either way ..whether an on-camera flash guy; or off-camera flash guy.

Neil vN


18 Phil July 3, 2010 at 8:59 am

Hi Neil

I am on my second read of your excellent book, may I please ask a question.
If your scene dictates that you shoot in harsh direct sunlight, how do you tackle this, in particular at a Wedding where speed may be needed

Would you use fill flash on camera to lift the shadows and dial in some exposure comp, or would you try to get the flash off camera

Thanks, this blog is my source of inspiration


19 Neil vN July 3, 2010 at 10:17 am

Phil .. a related article, although distinctly not a wedding, on overpowering the sun with flash.

How I deal with the harsh light depends on how the sunlight falls on them, and whether they are backlit. Here’s another article on dealing with bright sun and using flash to cope.

Off-camera flash is always a good idea, except as in cases like the example discussed in that link. As always, we have to adapt depending on the situation.

Neil vN


20 Bill July 3, 2010 at 10:21 am

Hi Neil,
I don’t know if this is the right place to post this question, but I’m wondering what software you use to design your wedding albums, and what your workflow consists of?



21 Neil vN July 3, 2010 at 10:37 am

Bill .. I use Fotofusion Lumapix to design my wedding albums. Although they do offer templates, the real strength of Lumapix is the speed and versatility of designing free-style; dropping images on the page and shaping the layout.

Re my workflow – I have a series of articles planned (and nearly ready) on my workflow. I will post that sometime in the near future when they are more complete.

Neil vN


22 Jeff July 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Not sure if you have upgraded to CS5 yet but here are my observations as of 2 months of use.

Not a single crash as of yet and bridge cache seems to be greatly improved especially if you build the cache in advance.

Now that 64 bit is fully supported a few plugins are still catching up, but regarding general speed of use bridge and photoshop cs5 smokes cs4 with the use of 64 bit processing.

For me the best photoshop upgrade yet, not to mention the hdr/tone mapping and the best yet the content aware fill and lens correction.

The content aware fill can take a 15 minute edit and turn it into 15 seconds.


23 Kerry Travilla-Bown July 25, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Thanks for the info on Woopra! I will definitely check that one out. I am truly looking forward to your class in San Antonio, January 2011!


24 Anna March 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Do you know if there are careers in photography for just celebrities? Or a specific person? I think that would be cool. And I’m sorry if this isn’t the right place to ask this question, but, just curious.


25 Neil vN April 24, 2011 at 5:57 am

Anna, sorry, I have no idea how one would go about becoming a paparazzo.

Neil vN


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