Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mergers and Acquisitions

Wait ... you're looking at this blog? You really should be looking at my other blog.

Friday, July 08, 2011


How many times has this happened to you: you need to communicate your ideas on how to create the perfect lighting set up, but you have a fear of both paper and pencils.

Finally, there's a solution. The Strobox iPhone App.

It's free, it's fast, it's preloaded with images of gear you're not even sure you can name, let alone use, afford or store. Just click and drag a background, a camera, about 7 or 8 lights, three reflectors and that weird Brolly-box thingie.

Don't forget the snoot!

Add a model, and view the whole thing from above. In just minutes ... you'll have thoroughly overlit your subject in a fairly entertaining way.

But wait ... there's more!

You can look at other people's photos ... complete with lighting diagrams made with the App! That's right: no longer will you need to Guess the Lighting.

Heck, now if only your underpaid photo assistants could just afford to have phones...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Using the Metz 58 Second Reflector Well

Let's start with this: the Metz 58 AF-2 is a great hotshoe flash. In my opinion, it's the smartest flash out there.

I do, of course, understand why a photographer might choose the top-of-the-line flash from their specific camera brand. I think it's worth comparing, though, before a purchase -- it has some features that photographers might not even realize they need or realize are left out of the Brand Name flash.

I'll address the Metz 58's merits some other time, though. Today, I want to address an element I see presented badly around the web, and I just want to clarify a bit about this feature.

I'm talking about the Metz 58's "secondary reflector." Here's the deal: besides the main flash head, the Metz has a smaller, less-powerful flash tube ("reflector") that stays facing forward even when the main head is tilted up for bouncing.

So what do I want to clarify? Well, the typical discussion of this feature goes like this: "Hey, great idea, let's try it. Oh, tried it: it's too harsh."

So, let's look at this quickly. In the photo above, I set a camera bag down and made a quick shot by tilting my Metz up and bouncing the flash off the ceiling. Simple, and it worked well. But ... if we are really picky, and look at the buckle and at the shadows under the flaps of the bag, we can see the drawback of ceiling-bounce-flash: shadows. On a person's face, this can mean that the eyes get a bit dark: the brow ridges cast a shadow and "hide" the eyes.

Well, a quick solution can be to pull out the built-in white card on the head of the flash (similar to putting an index card on the flash held by a rubber band -- the old school solution). Alternately, we could bring in a reflector and redirect some of the light back into the eyes.

But can we use the Metz' "secondary reflector" to help us fill these shadows?

Yes ... and no ... and yes.

So, the Metz lets you sets:

  • Secondary reflector at full power.
  • Secondary reflector at half power.
  • Secondary reflector at 1/4 power.

Cool. Let's try those.

Above: the main flash head is titled up at the ceiling, bouncing its light. The secondary reflector is pointed at the bag, set at "full power."

Awful. It looks like the flash from a little compact camera. Essentially, the secondary reflector is about the same size, so that makes sense. But don't blame the flash: this is the photographer's fault. We need to adjust the power levels between the main bounced flash and the secondary reflector we want to use as fill. In that first shot, the direct secondary reflector was too powerful, so let's turn it down.

Above: the secondary reflector is now turned down to 1/2 power. Better, but the quality of light is still not great. We are getting too much light from the smaller, "harder" light source and not really doing what we set out to do, which was fill in shadows left by the bigger, "softer" bounced light. So let's adjust further...

Above: now we've set the reflector to 1/4 power. Not as bad ... but not good enough.

And usually, that's where the test ends, and why I think this secondary reflector feature has been treated a bit badly by reviewers. They tend to say "Hmm. If it would cut down to 1/8 power, that might work...."

Well, shucks, is it so hard to help the flash out a little?

Okay, that's better. If you look at this shot, and compare it to the original, you can see some positive improvement. The buckle in the first shot is too dark, and here we can see it. And we've done it without letting the little (and harsher) secondary reflector ruin the quality of the light.

How did we achieve this? The Metz only lets you use the secondary reflector on 1/1, 1/2 and 1/4 settings. So ... how did we go further?

Well, duh. I just attached a little diffusion over the secondary reflector. I took out my Honl Strap, put it on the head of the flash, then velcroed on a Heavy Frost gel. If I wanted to cut further, I could use more diffusion.

This could be a very easy and workable technique if one is photographing people and seeing shadowed eyes. Any diffusion material can work -- and you can vary it as you like. For someone shooting night club photos, or a wedding reception, a little refinement of this technique could be a very plausible solution for no-worries fill.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Like A Felon

Recently, I've had to use gels on my flash for both color correction and for effects.

It occurred to me that, if someone is interested in gelling their flash, they may easily be led astray by the "advice" they find on photo forums. You know, those same people who tell you to use the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle instead of a Gary Fong diffuser. They're out there, in the forums, and telling everyone to ...

  • buy big sheets of color gel material and velcro fasteners
  • spend all day cutting the gel material into strips and carefully attaching the velcro
  • somehow label the gels so you'll be able to figure out which one is the full "Color Temperature Orange" and which one is the 1/2 "Color Temperature Orange" during the pressure of a shoot, in the dark.

Great. Because you need to spend hours doing that to save about $20. Nothing like work that equals about $5 an hour and looks kinda shoddy at the end of the day. Let me save you the time, but cost you about $50. First, know what you want to do. The idea is this:

The Problem:
 Your flash puts out light that is pretty close to the color temperature of 5500k. So if you go into an office and want to use it to augment light coming from overhead fluorescent panels (which are kinda green if you shoot them with Daylight white balance instead of Fluorescent white balance), you may find a mismatch that can create color casts somewhere in the image. Or, if you go into someone's living room and want to add to the light coming from their table lamp (possibly balanced for 3200k) you will have to choose to set your white balance to match your flash or to match the lamp -- which can mean either a blue or yellow cast in some areas of the image.

The Solution:
Put a gel on your flash to match it to the existing light in the space. Then, you can set your white balance to match. In other words, in an office you would make your flash a bit green to match the greenish light fluorescents put out, and set your white balance to Fluorescent. In a living room, you would gel your flash to make its light close to 3200k color temperature, so it matches the living room lamp, and then set your white balance to "Indoor" or "Tungsten."

So what you need is the right gel -- and you can get custom made ones for relatively cheap, and quickly attach them to your flash. (And then, if you want to explore the world of "painting with light" or other color trickery, you can get additional gels to work with.)

Here's what I recommend:

1. Get a Honl Speed Strap.
This is just a strip that wraps on the head of your flash -- it's basically one size fits all for any hotshoe flash -- and that gels can be Velcroed to.

2. Get a set of Honl Color Correction Gels.
These come with a two of each of the important gels for making your flash match the conditions you'll find in the world. They attach quickly and easily to the strap, and take up almost no space in your camera bag. Adding flash to an office shot? No problem. Adding flash to a living room shot? No problem. Purposefully warming up a shot? No problem.

3. Later, get a set of Honl Color Effects Gels.
Then, you can spend hours in the dark, playing with light.

As an example, the image on this page was made with a "Bright Red" gel and a "Moss Green" and just a touch of "Yellow" -- I set my camera on a tripod, darkened the room, set my aperture to f/11 and the shutter speed to 8 seconds. I held my flash in my hand and then manually fired it in varying positions -- set on low power -- a few times with each gel.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Riverside, Riverrun

Sant Khalsa explains her photographic practice while California Museum of Photography Director Colin Westerbeck listens during the opening reception for "Riverrun: Sant Khalsa's 20-year Journey with the Santa Ana River" in Riverside, Calif. on Saturday, May 7, 2011. The exhibition will be on display until August 13, 2011.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bounce Flash Examples

Flash pointed directly at the subject. Notice the glare on the books and the hard flash shadow under the stool.

Flash tilted up to 45 degrees. Now the light comes from above (rather than hitting straight in the center of the orange, a really unnatural look). This is giving a more natural look with softer light coming from above -- but we still see glare on the books and little flash shadow under the stool.

Flash pointed straight up. Light is from above, glare is gone. In photographing people with this technique, we'd want to look at where the shadows fall on the face -- from above, the light can be blocked from the eyes by brow ridges, depending on the angle. In that case, using a card built into the flash or an index card attached via rubberband might be a good way to add a little fill. Alternatively, a flash diffuser or a reflector might help.

An example of "dragging the shutter" technique. Using about a 1/4 of a second shutter speed with the flash set to "2nd curtain sync" and moving the camera let the ambient light provide a little streaking / ghosting in the image.

Manfrotto 790B

Monopods are cool. A little bit of camera support when you need it, without having to carry around a clunky, three-legged thing. I have a few.

In my search to find small and light stuff, I ran into the Manfrotto 790B. It's particularly cool because it folds up to 15 inches in length -- but expands to be just fine for a six-foot tall photographer. Really lightweight, and well-made.

Don't put a huge camera with long glass on top of it. But if you need something to hold up a small DSLR and a reasonable lens, it's worth trying. I've been using one for a while, but I'm posting now because I noticed these have dropped to about half price.... Not a bad addition to a small photo backpack.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Exposure & White Balance with a Lastolite Ezybalance

Camera Decision
This shot used camera metering and Auto White Balance.
ISO 320, f/1.7, 1/160th
Here the white wall behind the apples fooled the meter, so the shot is underexposed.

Camera Decision Applied
I used the settings from the "default" shot.
ISO 320, f/1.7, 1/160th
When I put a grey card -- I used a Lastolite Ezybalance -- into the shot and used the same settings, I could clearly see this was an underexposed shot.

Metering from Lastolite Ezybalance
I set my white balance based on this card, and adjusted my exposure based on it as well.
ISO 320, f/1.7, 1/80th
Now I adjusted based on the reading with the grey card. It turned out I was one stop under, so I changed from 1/160th of a second shutter speed to 1/80th. I then used custom white balance based on this card.

Settings Applied
I kept the exposure settings and White Balance I had set with the card. The White Balance is 7000k and a +8 setting toward magenta.
ISO 320, f/1.7, 1/80th
This looks about the same way my eyes saw the scene. Great.

"Flash" WB
We can compare the WB with the camera's "Flash" white balance setting, which is 5500k and neutral between green and magenta.
ISO 320, f/1.7, 1/80th
This looks good as well -- though I do like the slightly warmer version I got basing my white balance on the grey card.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Photography in the News, No Pictures Please Edition

I watched Smash His Camera last night, so I blame Ron Galella for this:

Banned at Birth: Maryland Hospital Bars Delivery Room Pictures and Video

'Shifler, who works as a photographer, feels like the ban on picture taking encroaches upon her family's rights. Many of her children have been in the delivery room as their new sibling was added to the family, snapping pictures of their new brother or sister.

'They've gotten beautiful pictures and they've loved every second of it," Shifler said. "How can you tell someone you can't take a picture of your own child?" she said.'