This Is My Favorite of the Week

Of the shots made this week, this is my favorite. Just a quick snapshot done last night. It just so happened that my wife came down the hall as I was composing a portrait of my son. Seeing this I moved to my left and framed her in the doorway and him with the white wall. They also fell nicely in the rule of thirds lines. At the time he didn’t know she was behind him and I thought it was interesting that they both tilted their heads the same way.

Anyway, it was just a fun quick shot that will be hanging on my wall. Moments like this is why I love photography.

Favorite of week


Viewfinder Episode 3: The Off-Camera Flash

It’s time once again to answer a question from you the readers. In the comments of the post about ND filters Ben Priest from Ben Priest Photography asked this:

“(Could you talk about) things relating to flash gels and wireless flash use would be useful, as I have been experimenting recently with them.”

Well Ben thanks for your question, but I’m going to break this up into two posts this one will be about the wireless flash and then later we’ll talk about flash gels. So what is wireless flash, why would you want to use it, and how let’s get to it and find out.

First of all what is wireless flash. Well basically it’s pretty much what the name implies, it’s the ability to use a strobe or speedlight off camera and sync it to the shutter speed without using a pc-sync cord. This comes in handy when your controlling multiple lights at once and you want to make sure all strobes fire at once rather than trusting the slave function,. Also, it removes all the wires coming off the camera that could potentially limit your walking range away from a light source.

Transmitters can range in price from $20 USD all the way up over $200 USD depending on what kind of options you want (TTL control, multiple channels, greater range….) If your not looking for the spinning rims or the neon lights, a simple flash trigger will do nicely for your needs and will cost less than $50 bucks (mine were $25 on Ebay).

Now how do you use them is the fun part. By having your flash on a wireless trigger you can really put it any where you can dream up. Inside things, way up high shooting down or the opposite shooting up, have the light shooting from the side, anything is possible, the biggest thing here is to get that flash off the hotshoe and away from the camera. Even if it means holding it in your hand out and away from your body like an octopus.

This allows the light to look more natural and dramatic. It brings the shadows into a more useable range rather than being flat and outlining the subject like a mug shot. Plus you get rid off red eye (the photographers curse) because the light is no longer on axis with the camera. Easiest thing to remember is straight on flash, unmodified, on axis with camera = BAD harsh unflattering light and shadows. Angled off camera flash = GOOD no red eye, flattering highlights and shadows and easy to control light direction and spill.

Here’s a few examples that I’ve shot using a wireless trigger:

068pool party 204Smoke 5nathan and day 093

The best thing you can do is experiment with the setup. Get the trigger hook it to your flash and go for it. If you don’t get a TTL transmitter or own a flash with TTL control then you’ll need to manually set the flash but that’s all that bad either. Get that flash of the hot shoe and find out the remarkable world of wireless flash and be a strobist.

One final note, I learned a lot by going to where world known photographer David Hobby gives an extensive course on lighting 101 for the amazing price of FREE! I really suggest checking it out. Coming p in the next episode of Viewfinder, using gels. Stay tuned and thanks again for the question Ben.

Why would I use a ND filter indoors?


Today, being bummed out about not getting to do my sunrise shot, I decided to play around with my ND8 neutral density filter and do some indoor flash portraits. For those who don’t know, a ND filter is like putting sunglasses on your lens in order to lower the amount of light entering the lens and lower the shutter speed and/or f/ stop.

This is commonly used for landscapes, long outdoor exposures, and harsh sunlight conditions. But in this case I wanted to show how the ND filter can help in a small studio environment with an over powered flash head. Let’s set the scene, Your in a small studio or room, your model is looking lovely, your background is just right, you’ve put your softbox on your flash head to wrap the light around the model, and you’ve put a little distance between your model and your background to throw it into underexposure using the inverse square law (more on that in a future post).

All is ready, you’ve decided to use a wide open aperture of f/2.8 to get a shallow depth of field for a nice creamy bokeh to really bring attention to the model; however shooting wide open means turning down the flash power. Ok not a problem you crank down the 500 watt second head and test the exposure.

What happens? The meter shows f/8 would be the correct setting for the shot. But that wont give you a shallow DOF and there’s no more room to back up the flash which would ruin the quality of light you wanted anyway because of the (you guessed it) inverse square law. So, what to do?

Bring out the ND filter. This will allow you to limit the amount of light entering the lens and lower the effective f/ stop without changing the aperture on the camera. So by using a ND8 filter (which lowers the light by 3 stops) we’ll bring that f/8 light down to the appropriate exposure stop of f/2.8. Now we get to keep the quality of light on the model (who is still looking lovely) and throw the background into a shallow DOF and underexpose it somewhat.

The key here is controlling the light. When you have a vision for your photograph and your light source can’t be physically modified anymore, bring out the filter and get the shot. So get out there get some practice in by cranking your speedlight up way to high and control the light with the ND. Find out what happens to the background both indoors and out. What happens to the shadows? What kind of mood gets produced with this technique?

If you have questions on how to use equipment or get a certain shot or even how to get a certain effect in your photographs leave comments below or email me using the address listed on the sidebar. As always happy shooting.

Morning Patterns

Last night was a rough night for me. My body decided that 4:30 a.m. was a perfectly reasonable time to get up and that I should do so right then and there. So instead of just being bored and lying there, I got up and was bored looking at youtube for a couple of hours.

Well I decided this was a bad idea to be doing, rotting my brain and all, so I went back up to bed to try to get more sleep. The problem with this is that my bed temperature was now the room temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit) and not conducive for sleep. So once again after lying there not sleeping and having cold feet I got up, again. Only this time my wife had already gotten up and the light was better in the room (we’re around 7:30 a.m. at this point); Of course I’m going to get my camera.

I setup the tripod and camera to take a true to the light (as opposed to the camera’s preferred correct exposure calculations) photo and took a shot of the wildly messy unmade bed. Then I took it into post production and converted it into black and white. That’s when I noticed the cool pattern the folds and lines were making in the comforter.

So I cropped it to the pattern and here’s the result.


Here’s Looking at You Kid


Upon waking this morning, which includes my wife turning on the light and saying, “Mark, get up” I turned  to get my glasses and saw this. It’s a part of the image of a book I’m reading called People Pictures by Chris Orwig and my Bodhi bracelet just happened to be circling the eye.

In my mind it screamed take a picture of it and make it black and white. So I took it downstairs to the table which has a window next to it. It was a little overcast today and the amount of light was soft but dark so I setup my speedlight on full power to the left and reflecting of the white wall to brighten things up and triggering it with a wireless remote. The camera settings are f/5.6, 1/200 sec. shutter speed, ISO 100 and 55mm focal length hand held.

In PS elements I converted to B and W and burned in the dark areas of the iris, pupil, and eyelashes. Oh did I mention, one shot, one take (Do you want the camera now? Because I nailed it Smile).

Learning New Stuff

It’s always best to keep new skills coming in, so today my wife and I start to attempt food photography. We thought how hard could it be, make some food, plate it nicely, get the exposures and tweek it in Photoshop, easy. In reality it is a lot more complicated. It took my entire lighting kit to get a shot of spices.

I set two continuous lights 45 degrees left and behind and 45 degrees right and in front; both with shoot through white umbrellas. Directly behind the setup I have a speedlight flash set on optic slave trigger shooting up with a bounce card just to be a highlight fill. To trigger that I used a pc cord connected to my strobe set on 1/2 power shooting straight up into the ceiling. I used the pc instead of the wireless trigger because I needed a 100% fire of the strobe and I wanted to use a sync speed of 1/250 of a second. Here’s the setup (the strobe is left and behind the wall).


It’s good to know that after all of this we got some nice shots, but boy what a pain the butt. Guess some more homework is needed.

Here’s the results of the days pictures (fair warning not all are pretty). What are your opinions, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.

PictoWriMo Day 29

Today’s theme: Close Portraiture

There have been many times were people have said to me that they can’t produce professional quality portraits because they don’t have the backdrop, five strobes and soft boxes. I always tell them, “you don’t need all that” and it’s true, you really don’t need a Sultan’s fortune of equipment.

In these shots I used (1) 180 watt second strobe ($39), (1) light stand and umbrella ($50 the light kit came with three stands two umbrellas and three continuous lights), and a hotshoe mounted wireless transmitter used for the pc connector to sync the flash ($25 my model of camera didn’t have a built in pc port). That’s it and honestly I could have saved a little money and only used the light kit and no strobe.

Next thing is to set the light in front or 45 degrees to either side and adjust the power to 1/2 (you’ll adjust the power as needed when you take test shots). If you just use continuous lighting then you’ll just adjust your camera’s settings for exposure. In this case I wanted a black background so I set my f/ stop to f/10, my ISO to 100, and my shutter speed to 200.

With this all set all I need is my subject. “Hey Son!”. Click, click, boom! Now the shoot is done and the pictures uploaded into Photoshop I now do some tweeks on contrast and levels then a picture is done.

Here are the results, The first one was desaturated and sharpened for moody feel and the other is just a nice portrait.

pictowrimo 049 small

pictowrimo 065 small

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