Viewfinder Episode 4: Using Flash Gels

In the previous episode Ben Priest asked about flash gels. Well I went searching around the net and found some expert photographers who can explain (better than I) the use of these handy and very important tools.

Thanks for the question Ben and if anyone has questions about photography, email me using the link on the sidebar or leave a comment below. Your question can be featured on an upcoming episode.



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.

Doing what it takes to get better

One of the photographers I follow and admire is Chase Jarvis. You probable have heard of this guy in one form or another but if you haven’t he is a commercial photographer and director, author, and visual artist. While reading an interview with him it was described that he takes between 1 to 1000 iPhone pictures a day and shares them on social media.

Wait…what? 1 to 1000 a day!? Holy CRAP that’s a lot of pictures. The reason behind this is because this is what it takes to improve. Not sitting around on the internet typing blog posts (ahem…cough) or playing Modern Warhalocraft 4: Playbox 3 edition. It’s getting up off your butt and pushing that shutter button a lot. Day in and day out clicking the shutter and getting the practice time in.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst” and it’s been proven that to master something one must invest 10,000 hours in doing that thing. These aren’t coincidences, you must click that shutter and get the practice if you truly want to be a master.

So this inspired me, as of today I will be picking up my camera and pressing that shutter. Yeah and it’ll be somewhere between 1 to 1000 shots a day (ha…ha..ha let’s narrow that down a bit 1 to 30ish maybe more depending on if my wife tells me to stop or not) and sharing some of these with the world. Not that I’m saying a photo a day project or anything like that, to much pressure for me, I ‘m just getting the shot.

So let’s all ;get inspired and get going on that 10,000 shots. Don’t worry they’re only your worst.

Daily photo color twirl

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.

Who wants to go take some sunrise shots

English: One of a series of sunrise shots from...

English: One of a series of sunrise shots from Punta Cometa, Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hands up anyone? That’s right, tomorrow Wednesday the 9th I will be at the COTC/OSU Newark campus bright and early in the morning to get some beautiful sunrise shots. Anyone is welcome to join me and learn how to do this technique, the only requirement is that you don’t mind the cold. So get your camera’s charged up, empty out the memory card (lot’s of shots are going to be taken), and get that coffee pot brewing because at 7:00 a.m. it’s GO TIME!

Oh, by the way bring a tripod if you have one. (Don’t worry if don’t have one you’ll still get great shots)

Comment below if you’re coming or need directions. Hope to see you all there.


*** UPDATE ***

So sad, I woke up this morning to find that the weather report I read yesterday was wrong. All clouds and no sun makes for very dull sunrise picture. Well so goes the life of a photographer. I’ll try again on a different date and give a better warning to you all if you want to participate.

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

PictoWriMo Day 20

Today’s theme: Candid Portrait

Getting genuine smiles and expressions from from people are often difficult when your subject see’s the camera. Often they’ll get nervous and shy; when this happens it’s hard to get good portraits. When you come into a room don’t whip out the camera and start shooting like an employee gone postal because you’ll get the faces of horror on every face you see. Instead just walk around and engage with the people, get to know them some. This allows them to get comfortable with you and your presence.

Remember that you are in their space and it’s you that is the alien. Allow them to get involved in their own work. When this happens you’ll be able to discreetly take your shots. Don’t be a bully, if the person says “No thanks” respect them and back off. By getting a few of their friends they may come around and let you get one shot when they feel more comfortable with you.

Being a photographer means you have to be friendly and outgoing, but it also means you have to be discrete and in the background. Finding the balance between these two traits can be difficult but when you get it you will make great pictures.

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