photography technique

flash photography questions & answers (FAQ)

Looking at some of the questions about photography that appear via Google searches, I wanted to more directly answer some of the questions. This article is a selection of questions on the topic of photography, that I decided to amalgamate into one longer article.

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composition for full-length portraits – step back instead of zooming wide

A comment in the article on a simple lighting setup for the family formal photos, asked why I recommended that a photographer should step back rather than zoom wide when photographing a group. The reason is that the perspective distortion that a wide-angle lens will give to your subject, is not all that flattering.

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making your images pop – through choice of lens and technique

The immediate reaction when considering how you could make your photographs *pop* might be to juice it up in Photoshop. But the process should start much earlier – in camera. With a few easy techniques, we can consistently create images that jump off the page or screen.

With some of the engagement photo sessions that I’ve shown, I get comments about the 3D look to some of the photographs, and that prompted this article on how to make your images pop …

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technique – using lens flare for effect

While lens designers try to minimize lens flare, and we use lens hoods, we can often use lens flare for special effect. Shielding the front element of the lens from direct sun and other strong light sources helps giving a more contrasty image. But letting the lens flare take over in a controlled way, can really give impact. That golden, sun-drenched summery feel to a photograph enhances the mood.

During this recent photo session in Central Park, New York, with a couple, Alli and Scott, the lens flare was quite intentional. But as is usual, there’s a certain progression towards the final images …

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Kate – a photo shoot in New York

Kate is from Ukraine and has a deep fascination for New York. As a present, Kate’s sister flew both of them out for a vacation here … and had me photograph Kate around New York yesterday. The idea was to get a mixture of portraits of Kate and some photos of Kate in obvious New York locales.

We started off in the Meat-Packing district because I wanted a photogenic spot that wasn’t too crowded during a weekday (in winter), so we could have an easy start to the photo session. Since Kate might not have been experienced with photo shoots, I thought this would be the gentlest start. From there we wandered around a few other chosen spots.

Shooting on my own, I brought along a 70-200mm f2.8 and a 24-70mm f2.8 and two speedlights. Even though this winter’s day was slightly overcast, giving us soft light, I still didn’t want to rely entirely on just the available light …

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‘Hyper-Manual’ mode for Nikon and Canon

(subtitled: the episode where I finally learn now to use the Auto modes elegantly)

In my discussion of what would be the best camera in the world, I mentioned (at length) the clear advantage that Pentax cameras have because of their Hyper-Program and Hyper-Manual modes. I explain these two modes in more detail in that linked article, but in essence, the modes work as such:

Hyper-Program – is a program exposure mode, but by dialing the shutter speed dial it becomes Shutter Priority / Tv. By dialing the aperture dial, you instantly have Aperture Priority / Av. Very simple implementation. And very elegant.

Hyper-Manual – is manual exposure mode like we’re used to. But you can hit the Exposure Lock button, and then when you change the aperture, the shutter speed setting follows. If you change the shutter speed then, the aperture follows. Absolutely wonderful for when you have correct exposure. You can now get a different working aperture or shutter speed, and still have the same exposure value. Less twisting of dials.

Since I don’t shoot much outside of Manual exposure mode, I don’t have experience with finessing the automatic modes. Then Eric Schwab wrote in to tell me how he implements Aperture Priority with his Nikon cameras, to get something akin to Hyper-Manual mode with his Nikon cameras. I checked on my Canon 5D, and it works the same way.

I’m sure it might take a short while for finger-memory to kick in, but I can easily see how this could be a standard way of shooting.

This might not be news to most photographers who regularly use Aperture Priority / Av, but I’d like to put the information out here anyway …

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shooting in bright sunlight with off-camera fill-flash

This adorable kid looked at the camera briefly because I was singing to him.  Kids are devious little creatures. They know when you’re calling them and will purposely ignore you.  So you have to be crafty too in getting their attention. Of course, you have to be ready for the moment … and shoot a lot. Sometimes that Decisive Moment is to be found in the edit.

The photo session was from 12 noon to 1pm. So the sun was high overhead. We’re often told that the sun directly overhead isn’t the best time to take photographs.  While this isn’t as ideal as the fabled ‘Golden Hour’ – that time just before dusk and just after dawn – there are ways of working with hard sunlight and still get great images …

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using lens flare for effect

November 14, 2010

using lens flare for effect

While we often try and avoid lens flare, controlled use of lens flare can enhance the mood of a photograph. The question came up during a workshop last week – how exactly do you get lens flare. It is quite easy to get flare – shoot towards the sun, or any bright light source. Removing any filter will help in not washing out the image. Controlling the flare is more difficult though. Different lenses flare in different ways. The choice of aperture also affects how flare appears.

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creating a background with narrow depth-of-field & great bokeh

Shooting images for the review of the Nikon 85mm f1.4G AF-S lens, it struck me how truly superb this lens is. It improves on the legendary Nikon 85mm f1.4 AF-D lens in some key areas. (For me the updated lens was an immediate upgrade.)

But ultimately, you could get similarly beautiful images with any short portrait lens that gives you a very narrow depth-of-field AND has great bokeh. (Just to reinforce that again .. narrow DoF and bokeh are not the same thing. But I digress.) So, whether you’re shooting with a Nikon 85mm f1.4 lens (B&H), or the Canon 85mm f1.2 (B&H), or Canon 85mm f1.8 (B&H) … these images are easily attainable. It is more about the technique and thought-process and approach, than any specific piece of equipment. However, you do need photo equipment that enables you to achieve what you want to, technically and stylistically.

So walking around with Anelisa in New York, looking for great backgrounds I saw this fantastic Art Deco styled exterior of a diner. And I knew that with the various colors and shadings in the late afternoon, it would give beautifully colored reflections at various angles. Here is the pull-back shot …

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camera settings: shutter speeds, apertures & ISO values

A presentation that I’ve given on several occasions, is called ‘Just Give Me The F-Stop‘. The presentation is based on the perception that many photographers, in trying to get to grips with flash photography, try to break it down into what they think are the understandable elements – the numerical values of the settings used. They want numbers, believing that in knowing a certain image was taken at 1/125th @ f4.5 @ 400 ISO, that they might get closer to understanding lighting. They want the f-stop.

However, the scenarios we encounter as photographers vary so much, that it becomes meaningless for anyone to “give you the f-stop”.

Far more important are the methods we use with on-location lighting, such as how to get to correct exposure, and how to get beautiful light, and how to enhance the existing light with controlled use of flash. It is in this intersection between available light and flash that we get great results in seamlessly blending flash with available light. Of course, this is also true for other additional light, such as video light, or even the use of reflectors.

Regular readers of the Tangents blog will be familiar with this topic, but I’d like to expand on this idea a little more …

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