October 17, 2011

camera settings: 1/50 @ f8 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 35mm;  available light

shooting promotional photos for a band

Anyone who knows me well is probably very aware that my first true love is music. I live my life to a music soundtrack. There’s always music playing. Not the radio, but music of my own choice. I love music … however, my sense of rhythm isn’t all that it should’ve been for me to be a natural muso. But still, I love music. All of which meant that one few non-negotiable rules for my daughter was that she had to take music lessons. So she plays bari sax in the high-school’s Jazz band, and she’s also been taking guitar lessons for a few years now with a guitar teacher, Gerard.

All of which brings us to this photo session – promotional photos of Gerard’s band. That is Gerard (right) and Ed (center : piano) and Joe (left : guitar). I met up this weekend with them in Hoboken. Perfect for the urban feel to the photos. Hanging out with them for a few hours coming up with ideas and places for photos, was great fun. The camaraderie between them will be familiar to anyone who has ever played in a band. You connect. That all too short time I played tenor sax in a rock band back in South Africa circa 1999, just before we emigrated to the USA, was one of the best times in my life. But I digress. It was cool to hang out with these three musicians for the afternoon.

Here are some of my favorite images, with some details  …

I used off-camera flash for half the time that we shot, and for the rest I used the available light. It all depended on whether off-camera flash was needed or was practical for a specific setup.

camera settings: 1/200 @ f5 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 28mm
TTL off-camera flash 

Here is the pull-back shot of the image above, showing how I placed the light, and the setup. It was very basic and portable. A light-stand, a shoot-through umbrella, and the PocketWizard TT5 units. All images shown here were shot with the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)

And yes, the light-stand did blow over twice and the umbrella is crushed … but it is cheaper than hiring an assistant for the shoot. That’s one way of looking at it.

The next three images were all shot with just the available light. As always, the idea with using the available light is that observed and people posed accordingly so that the light is flattering, and not just a random thing.

camera settings: 1/160 @ f5.6 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 28mm;  available light

camera settings: 1/60 @ f5.6 @ 1000 ISO … lens zoomed to 40mm;  available light

With these two B&W images above, as well as the image at the very top, I used a textured layer in Photoshop to help bump up the contrast and give a certain mood to the images.

camera settings: 1/125 @ f4.5 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 35mm;  available light

camera settings: 1/250 @ f5.6 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 50mm
TTL off-camera flash as described above 

camera settings: 1/250 @ f5.6 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 35mm
TTL off-camera flash as described above  

camera settings: 1/250 @ f8 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 45mm
TTL off-camera flash as described above  

equipment used during this photo session:

Nikon D3; Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)
Nikon SB-910 Speedlight controlled by PocketWizard FlexTT5 & AC3 Controller
or alternately, the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite controlled by Canon ST-E3 Transmitter
Manfrotto 1004BAC light-stand (B&H)
umbrella bracket (B&H);  45″ white shoot-through umbrella (B&H)


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{ 17 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Arnold Gallardo October 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Nice Neil and a change form your usual shots on your blog :) Yeah musicians are a lot more fun to hang out with and the rapport you had with them shows in the photos. I like the one behind the green panels the best.

I am surprised you never carry any weight for your light stands at all? I carry two counterweights (from my boom arm) just for this purpose :)


2 Neil vN October 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Like I need to carry *more* heavy stuff around.
But yes, it would make sense to weigh the light-stand down like that … however, I like the mobility.

Neil vN


3 Neil vN October 17, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Whaddaymean? The world can never have enough photos of cute girls sitting on railway tracks. Especially if they have a suitcase and balloons.

Neil vN


4 vaenka October 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Hi Neil,

Quick one on your images above. Even with flash , outdoors you have used a 800 ISO. Wouldnt a smaller ISO work or result in slightly sharper images? please advise.



5 Carl October 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Hi Neil, I’m wondering about your camera settings like on the pic on the bottom of this page: you used: 1/250 @ f8 @ 800 ISO. Why not go with i.e. 400 ISO and a longer time or, let’s say 100 ISO and longer time and larger aperture? What’s the reasoning behind that?

Thanks, Carl


6 Neil vN October 18, 2011 at 1:09 am

vaenka & Carl .. the choice of 800 ISO is based on wanting a high enough shutter speed to hand-hold the camera. A tripod would’ve slowed me down, and in at least one of the places we shot, would’ve been impractical.

I also want the available light to play it’s part in the final image .. so the aperture / shutter speed / ISO combination is also based on that.

Neil vN


7 james October 18, 2011 at 3:39 am

“…cheaper than assistant” – but is it cheaper than a new flash if it broke when it fell down?


8 Neil vN October 18, 2011 at 4:15 am

Good point.

Neil vN


9 Jeff Hill October 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm

My 580 EXII took a tumble yesterday…and I had an assistant…double expense! (luckily my wife was the assistant and the flash didn’t break, just took a cosmetic beating)


10 Lou Recine October 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Actually what I do is I keep the ring from the Lastolite Ezybox softbox on my light stand , that way if it (When) falls the ring takes the beating , not the flash.


11 William Ng October 19, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Neil, why did you use an umbrella as opposed to your Ezybox for this shoot? Is it because you need to light three people as opposed to a single person?

Thanks for the images.


12 Neil vN October 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm

William, yes, I wanted to use an umbrella since I knew there might be places where I’d place the three of them further apart than I might for a normal portrait session.

Neil vN


13 Allen October 20, 2011 at 2:37 am

I must say, I think your usual voice-activated light stand (with attitude) has much nicer legs than this one.


14 April October 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Two words for you: SAND BAGS!

They, too, are cheaper than hiring an assistant and you won’t need to buy new umbrellas every time :P


15 Neil vN October 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm

April .. sandbags make sense .. but they become just more heavy stuff to carry around.

Neil vN


16 Sheldon October 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Neil, can you talk more about the textured layer used in Photoshop to help bump up the contrast and give a certain mood to the images?


17 Neil vN November 18, 2011 at 11:21 am

Sheldon … I’ll make it a future topic on this blog.

Neil vN


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