DON'T MISS: Italian conceptual portrait photographer Sara Lando coming to US for two weekends of workshops in August.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On Assignment: On Vacation

I have gone through several gear transitions in 30 years as a photographer. By that, I do not mean upgrading from an F3 to an F4, or buying a 300/2.8.

(Actually, I remember upgrading from a Nikon F to an F2. Which makes me feel older than dirt right about now.)

Rather, I am talking about major changes in both the amount and type of gear that carry in general.

With lights, I went from Novatrons (power pack and heads) to White Lightings (monoblocs) to speedlights. With camera gear I went from carrying everything - everything - in a Domke F2 bag to shooting with one or two cameras and a small waist pack.

Basically, like many shooters, I eventually went from heavy gear and lightweight experience to the reverse. It is a natural progression. Just look at what a 25-year-old photojournalist carries vs what a 45 year-old one carries.

Sadly, the path to "less gear, more brain" usually passes through "more gear, less brain."

I travel pretty light now, with my daily bag being something with which I can do a wide range of assignments. Yet I still can travel a great distance on foot and not earn myself a bad back. No big deal. A lot of mid-career PJ's do the same thing.

But I recently have been making another transition. I have long felt that, tight as my daily bag is, I have been unable to reduce what I carry when I am off the clock. I'd basically just throw my gear into carry-on bag when I go on vacation, for instance.

I don't have a Nikon "everything" lens. And even if I did, it would still be a load on a D2Hs. And then there's light. I gotta have me some light.

A coupla months ago, I got a Canon G7, and I have really grown to like it.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not.

It has that point-n-shoot "baaah-dump" shutter delay. They crammed too many pixels (10 megs) into a tiny CCD chip. Which means noise, which they have to correct. So no raw. ASA-wise, you would not wanna go above 200 (too noisy.)

But, if you acknowledge it for what it is, and realize that you need to shoot differently with it, it's an amazing little camera that can make real photos. You can totally drive the train, too - manual control, actual knobs, hot shoe, manual focus and exposure, manual flash - cool stuff. Or you can put it on autopilot, or any level in between.

Shoots very nice video, killer macro, you can get an underwater housing for it, and it is just the perfect size for portability and ease of handholding.

It has image stabilization, real nice glass (equiv 35/2.8 -- 210/4.8) and a very intuitive menu system. (And remember, I am a Nikon guy.)

Long story short, I have a new vacation kit: A Canon G7, an SB-26 speedlight and a PC cord or set of Pocket Wizards. I would totally hit Europe for six weeks with this setup, a backup battery and a few 4-gig cards.

Heck, I have been shooting assignments for The Sun with it. (Don't tell them, please.) I have an OA coming soon from a features cover shot done with the G7.

I took the camera and a speedlight to Florida - no SLRs this time - and had a great time making photos. I wanted to talk about a couple of the photos from last week as sort off a "traveling light" version of an On Assignment.

Take the photo at the top of this post, for instance. We were base camping at a hotel 2 miles from Disney World to get an early start the next morning. The kids, who were way too wired to get to sleep, were getting some story time with my wife Susan. She spends so much time reading to them. And they have both become strong and enthusiastic readers as a result.

I hope one day that they realize how much of their eventual success will have been as a result of her dedication to reading books to them.

Anyway, I was busy writing a post, as usual. But as soon as I saw them, I wanted to shoot a photo.

Here's where it gets utilitarian and way cool, IMO.

With a little pocket camera and manual control (and a slave-equipped speedlight) you can quickly and easily turn this into a decently lit photo. Here's what I did.

First things first, get the light off of the camera. I decided to use the wonderfully ironic "shoe-mount" method that was originally shown to me by a reader. (You guys rock. You truly do.)

So my light is now coming from the ceiling overhead and to camera left of Susan and the kids. I am gonna set it off with the on-camera flash, in manual and dialed way down. My speedlight, conversely, is dialed up to 1/2 power on manual, which is a lot of light.

I did this to minimize the light from the direct flash in the photo. I just want to set off my speedlight with it. The speedlight got me up to an aperture of about f/8, which I quickly dialed in using the chimp-and-adjust method on manual. Remember, I am going for speed and control.

(Here's the shoe mount flash in detail.)

So now, my powerful speedlight, bounced from camera left off of the ceiling is determining my exposure. My built-in flash is winking just enough to set off the speedlight. And I am happily making pix.

Here's where the point 'n shoot beats my SLR. I stand on the adjacent bed, hold the camera way up by the ceiling, and chimp the TFT screen in live mode to compose (it was still at a pretty hard angle to see, but doable.) I am all but shooting straight down on them, without standing on their bed. Which would have been getting a little carried away. You have to draw the line somewhere.

("Alright, guys, she's starting a new chapter! Cue the wind and the fog machine!)

Oh, sorry.

Point is, with a tiny amount of gear and a little creativity, I have a photo that would look just as good on the wall in a frame as it will in our picture album.

________________________________



A couple of days later, we were watching our last sunset of vacation from my parents' dock when I made a shot of Susan and Em with the G7 and the (*cough, mumble*) built-in flash.

(I know, I know. But I didn't have the speedlight with me and the light was going fast.)

The point here is manual control of two planes of exposure and how to quickly get it. And before I start, I'll acknowledge that the PhD mode (push here, dummy) would have probably done just fine. And I could have probably adjusted the ambient and flash exposure by using exposure compensation.

But that still leaves the variable of maybe-the-camera-nails-every-exposure-and-maybe-it-doesn't. So I go manual, for total control and repeatability, and probably just as fast.

Here is the process. I set the camera to manual and ASA 200, and set the lens to wide open (f/2.8.) I quickly adjusted the shutter speed to slightly underexpose the sky for rich color. (The girls went to total black.) It was ~1/25 of a sec, if memory serves.

Next, I dialed my flash to 1/2 power and popped a frame. Too bright on the flash, but not by much. I only have full-stop adjustment capability on the flash, but I have third stops on the aperture and shutter in manual mode. So we adjust the flash by adjusting the aperture.

I closed down the aperture 2/3 of a stop. This corrected the flash exposure. But that darkened the sky, too. (If that comes as news to you, hit balancing flash in Lighting 101.) So I opened up the shutter 2/3 of a stop to 1/15 of a sec to compensate for the closed-down aperture.

If this sounds like a lot, it isn't. It took two frames and about ten seconds. But what I got was total control and absolute repeatability. No good expressions on errant exposures, or the reverse.

Would I have rather shot this with an SB-26 PC-corded into an umbrella? Sure. But this was just a quick-grab snapshot with a point 'n shoot on the spur of the moment.

The takeaway is that once you get comfy with this stuff, you always have your brain as part of your gear bag. Even if your "gear" is a pocket digicam with an on-board flash.

UPDATE: Got some cool ideas popping up in the comments already. Someone suggested the Gadget Infinity remotes on the Canon. Perfect combo. Why didn't I think of that? I actually have a set, which I will review when I get a couple hours time.

What is your lightweight vacation combo? Tell us in the comments.

___________________

Related links:

Canon G7 [Amazon|MPEX]
L101: Traveling Light
L101: Balancing Flash
Great Vintage Flash: Nikon SB-26


__________

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42 Comments:

Blogger Deer Old Dad said...

For indoors family shots I've taken to a similar set up. I bounce two flashes off the ceiling using eBay slaves. It gives me the flexibility to move and shoot the subjects wherever they are in the room. The problems are twofold: 1) the bounce-flash racoon-eye look (which you avoided b/c your subject is facing the ceiling), 2) white-balance challenges (yellow walls, blue furniture, hardwood floor), 3) the "ambient" no-shadow look from not having a defined position from which the light's coming. However, the results are a ton better than shooting w/ on-cam flash indoors.

I'm thinking of using optical triggers to enable the on-camera flash (dialed down a stop or two) to fill in the shadows. I think the big flashes and dialed-down setting will wash out background shadows. The light doesn't have much directionality to begin with, so little would be lost there.

Thoughts?

June 21, 2007 12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool.

I have done similar flash balancing with my point-and-shoot. "Pros" make fun of point and shoots all the time, but all you have to do is get one with manual shutter speed and aperture and manual flash adjustment and you have no excuse for not getting decent shots with it. That leads to the other great service that this article provides: You show everyone what to do with those options that 98% of all point-and-shoot owners have paid for but never use. I love my SLR and L glass, but sometimes you just want something that fits in the pocket.

I love traveling light, and thanks to mentors like you on the Web, I might hopefully never pass through the "more gear, less brains" phase.

June 21, 2007 1:09 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Still curious how you shot the G7 Inner harbor shot? I know PJ's are against photoshop so did you have the photo on a wall, the camera playing back the shot and have the camera mounted sort of like you did with the light bulb shot you did a while back? Or am I thinking way too hard...

June 21, 2007 1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has a hot shoe, so it's perfect for e-bay triggers. Very light, won't weigh you down, saves a lot of messing around, and you can work on vacation just like you do on-the-job. :-). Small Business Photo

June 21, 2007 1:24 AM  
Anonymous Kevin "photodaug" Daugherty said...

Dear Dave,
I enjoyed this post because it opens up the possibilities for those of us who have not shelled out the bucks for a shiny new SLR.

Thanks for helping us to understand how much flexibililty we have even with a simple "point-n-shoot."

Since discovering your Strobist blog a few months ago I've been practicing with off camera strobe using my "point-n-shoot" Olympus C7070. Having all of the features you mentioned (and more) I've been getting IMHO terrific results.

Thanks again for helping to unleash our creativity.

Kind regards,
Kevin "photodaug" Daugherty

June 21, 2007 1:40 AM  
Blogger A J FRENCH said...

great post showing that with more thought even the simplest set-up can bring superior results - and also that making images isn't just about the tools, but about how we use them effectively.

June 21, 2007 2:21 AM  
Blogger SoulJah said...

Reminds me of a shot I took at New Year's Eve.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/novembertango/503417737/.

It's on a friends photostream, but yeah. I remember taking photos of my hand to balance the ambient and how much the flash was putting out and it took me all of one minute while those guys were all saying "Oh look at the photographer doing his craft". But once they saw the results, I knew they will remember that last sunset of 2006 forever.

June 21, 2007 3:58 AM  
Anonymous Bragi said...

David! That's so incredibly useful!!! I'd somehow completely missed the possibility to use the SB-26 with my P&S! This will make some people happy... some family members, hrmph :)

June 21, 2007 5:27 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

David: You say, "Next, I dialed my flash to 1/2 power and popped a frame. Too bright on the flash, but not by much. I only have full-stop adjustment capability on the flash,...........".

On my SB-26 if I select manual and then hit SEL twice, I get a small window in the upper right corner of the screen. It shows that I can then use the up and down arrow keys to change the power setting in 1/3 stops. Doesn't yours do the same or am I missing something here?

Nice shots by the way. I'm inspired to dig out some of my old P&S cameras.

Bob

June 21, 2007 6:02 AM  
Blogger Jerome said...

wow... this has really opened my eyes. david i truly enjoy reading your blog and learning so much everyday. this really proves your "less gear, more brain" statement. if it means anything, keep it up.

June 21, 2007 6:23 AM  
Blogger Ed Z said...

I may still be a young'un, but I too hate carrying 100lbs of gear everywhere I go...

I toyed with the pocket cam. route, but I really couldn't fine one that I liked.

what I did was to get the pentax k100d with the "pancake" prime lenses- for those of you who don't know, pentax has a series of incredible prime lenses that are absolutely *TINY*. seriously, you could easily mistake one for a Tconverter instead of a lens.

my shooting tends toward "street" stuff, so I go mainly wide angle/normal. the pentax 21 and 40mm primes give me a ~35 equiv and a normal lens, and the entire kit weighs....

wait for it...

*790 grams*. 1.7 lbs. that's body AND 2 lenses. hell, most dslr lenses weight more than that alone.
if more range is needed, I go with the 21 and the 50-200 zoom, which only adds another 180g to the weight. still <3lbs.

it's a great solution, b/c I have the speed and quality of an slr (*usable* iso up to 3200) and the quality of top-notch primes. I regularly make *beautiful* prints
at 13"x19".

yeah, it's slightly more bulky than a pocket cam, but not by much.

June 21, 2007 8:10 AM  
Blogger Steve Thurow said...

Great example of what you can do when you use your brain instead of your wallet and back.

Back when D1s were $5,000 I used a coolpix 950 with an off camera flash in a softbox to shoot jewelry for a catalog, and everthing looked great.

June 21, 2007 9:29 AM  
Anonymous C.D. Fonseca said...

I was looking for the same thing .. a nice little point and shoot. Having been a Canon G owner since the G2, and later the G6 (stolen), I tried the G7 and didn't really like it (theyu skimped). The Nikon P 5000 is smaller lighter and compatible with my Nikon Flash.

June 21, 2007 9:31 AM  
Blogger David said...

Bob-

You are correct about the SB-26 third-stop adjustments,

But I was using the Canon G7's on-board flash to light the dock shot. And it is only adjustable to full, half, or 1/4 power in manual.

-D

June 21, 2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

"I stand on the adjacent bed, hold the camera way up by the ceiling, and chimp the TFT screen in live mode to compose (it was still at a pretty hard angle to see, but doable.) I am all but shooting straight down on them, without standing on their bed."

Your wife and kids must really love you...! :)

Great article as usual...

tks
Steve

June 21, 2007 10:11 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Couldn't agree with you more. There are a lot of times when I prefer my Canon G2 over my DSLR. For one, it's smaller. Secondly, as you mentioned using the LCD to frame your shot adds a whole new creative element and 3) Sometimes I get way too technical with my DSLR. I feel like I can "dumb things down" with my G2 and still get nice pics.

June 21, 2007 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! That thing has a external shoe on top! Where were the PW's?
The 16ch ebay TX unit is even more low profile than the PW. heheheh
I've been looking at P&S for a macro setup where tripods are not practical. Haven't found one with an external flash connection *AND* RAW.
I've got 4 SB-28s but no 26, so no slave function. Looks like you had a fine vacation.

June 21, 2007 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

David,

I'm always trying to apply "strobist-think" when I'm using my PnS. UNfortunately it's a very low end model that I bought when I went to Iraq. I can still translate a lot of concepts though. Thanks for the OA. My only question is how did you get Canon to fire the SB-26? The post makes it sound like it fired optically, and I didn't see a PW on the SB.

What gives?

June 21, 2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi here is a link http://www.wrotniak.net/photo/c5050/c5050-leica.html that the info can be used to set up the g7 into a street shooter with no lag (it's for the olympus 5050 ) but the info will work with the g7

June 21, 2007 11:34 AM  
Blogger Patrick Smith said...

Excellent post today. Many people often forget that your brain is the most important part of your photos.

June 21, 2007 11:47 AM  
Blogger David said...

Anon- The GI remotes! Duh! Why didn't I think of that?

Bill- It was fired optically. The SB-26 has a built-in slave.

Anon- Great link and idea. Applying hyperfocal to an autofocus PnS to speed it up: Excellent.

June 21, 2007 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love my G7 and use quite quite a bit on newspaper jobs. Well, to be honest, more and more. Its a cool bit of kit and actually seems to meter beter then my D2hs! and, alot easier. great for difficult situations if the cops are getting a bit difficult. just bung a slave on and away you go. I still hate those ebay triggers so on a forthcoming trip to italy i will take G7 2pw's and a sb800 with omni.
jobs a good un!

Sitbonzo.

June 21, 2007 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Tom Robbrecht said...

Sorry, but as long as nobody builds a lagless mechanical shutter into one of those digital P&S things I won't touch it with a ten foot pole.
I'd rather take a Yashica T5 and NO outboard flash...

June 21, 2007 2:18 PM  
Blogger Uncle Frank said...

My lightweight vacation kit ia a d200, 4 lenses (20/2.8, 28-70/2.8, 85/1.4, 180/2.8), an su800, an sb800, and a monopod... all crammed into a Lowepro MiniTrekker. But now that I'm into Strobism, I should add a second flash, a couple of stands, and an umbrella or two.

Scarey list. It's clear that I'm sick :-0.

Thanks for the "on vacation" piece. I'm going to take my wife's Canon a710is and a Vivitar DF200 slave flash on my next holiday. But I'll have to pack an extra sneaker for shoe mounting ;-).

June 21, 2007 2:31 PM  
Blogger MFR said...

Years ago, I gave my wife a basic SLR, 2 lenses, 2 rolls of film and a fanny pack for her birthday, with a promise to teach her to use it. She loved it. So she said. But the second roll of film is still in the camera. So eventually I liberated the fanny pack from the basement, and now that's what I take when I am "just going out" and "not really shooting." So I am limited in what I can take by the size of the bag. Usually I squeeze in 1 camera (Canon 20D) 1 lens, 1 flash and 2 pocket wizards. Amazing how far that gets me.
MFR

June 21, 2007 2:36 PM  
Anonymous padu said...

A Bessa R rangefinder... I still love film... go figure.

June 21, 2007 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wish you wrote this post before I went out and got an dslr. Went to Disneyland with a point and shoot and maybe a quarter of the pictures are usable.

Funny thing, getting a dslr and learning to use it made the point and shoot a better camera.

Now which one do I take to Disneyland?

June 21, 2007 6:22 PM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

I figured out that my mobile phone has a tiny flash - an underpowered useless little wink to be sure, but enough to kick a Vivitar 283 with an optical peanut thing into action... Hmm...

June 21, 2007 8:18 PM  
Blogger Matthew Robertson said...

David, here's the most important part of your blog entry, just to make sure that everyone sees it:

"The kids, who were way too wired to get to sleep, were getting some story time with my wife Susan. She spends so much time reading to them. And they have both become strong and enthusiastic readers as a result. "

That's the best thing my mother ever did for me.

Camera gear? That's practically irrelevant if you can't read the manual and helpful tips on blogs...

My travel gear is the Oly E-510, which lets me do the live-histogram-and-chimp thing with an SLR, an 11-22 wide-standard zoom, and a 50f/2 macro lens. Add a light (dedicated) flash, optical slave trigger, and a folding grey card / white reflector, and I'm done.

June 21, 2007 8:48 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

amen to that matthew robertson, one of the best things my father did for me

June 22, 2007 1:19 AM  
Anonymous Kevin "photodaug" Daugherty said...

ANON said: "I've been looking at P&S for a macro setup where tripods are not practical. Haven't found one with an external flash connection *AND* RAW."

The Oly C7070 has macro, external flash AND RAW capabilities. Check it out: http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/C7070/C70A.HTM

I use mine for all kinds of product shots (http://flickr.com/photos/8098153@N06/579083683/)

Hope this helps.

Oh, my travel pack: Olympus C7070, 2-283s, EBay triggers, and a pair of sneakers :-).

June 22, 2007 1:45 AM  
Anonymous Christoph said...

Hi,

as for the optical triggering I remember having read somewhere that the optical releases react sensitively to the UV portion of your flash. By putting a piece of standard film over your in-camera flash you can block most of the visible light from the flash while the UV portion is allowed to pass through, enabling you to optically trigger your slave without having to worry about the on-camera flash.

I haven't tried this but have read somewhere that it is supposed to work.

June 22, 2007 3:55 AM  
Anonymous drbimages said...

Up until this year my holiday photography has been on film, a Nikon FM2 to be precise.

This year it'll be a D200 plus a flash and 2 zooms. ( I know, I know, lugging about all that gear ). Even though it's my first year with a digicam I will be bringing a Canon canonet QL17III with me.

I had 2 flashes at my nieces birthday party set up to get good light. I stuck the ebay trigger on my brother in law's Canon G2 and had him take a few shots. He was bowled over. Maybe a strobist convert, who knows?

June 22, 2007 5:55 AM  
Blogger David Allen said...

I did the assignment and found that I quickly moved on to try other things with the flashes I have.

It was useful though to learn from DOING and getting the info lodged firmly inside my head.

Looking forward to the next installment

June 22, 2007 5:36 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I haven't got a flickr account; else I would contribute to the pool.

I have done the last assignment and this one, and I've learned a lot from them.

Just tonight, I took some portraits of my wife and some self portraits using what I learned. I was very happy with the results.

However, my will not keep her eyes open for the flash. almost every picture of her is with the eyes closed or with a super-surprised look. She doesn't understand how I keep from blinking. I don't understand how she can't.

Any suggestions for that?

June 25, 2007 10:20 PM  
Anonymous broke00 said...

By the way, the Canon G7 syncs to 1/1250 sec. using the PocketWizard Plus II transceivers.

June 27, 2007 8:07 AM  
Anonymous broke00 said...

The Canon G7 syncs with the Gadget Infinity RD 616 radios (default channel and fresh alkaline batteries) at:

SB-28 @ 1/64 power = up to 1/1600
(no black bar at all; next shutter speed up 1/2000 (max) was completely black)

SB-28 @ 1/8 power = up to 1/1250
(no black bar at all; next shutter speed up 1/1600 was completely black)

with PocketWizard Plus II:

SB-28 @ 1/64 power = up to 1/1250
(no black bar at all; next shutter speed up 1/1600 was completely black)

July 06, 2007 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, just wanted to drop by and tell you that you DO can have RAWs coming out of your g7 by using a wonderful tool called CHDK from http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page
among a lot of other things, it enables your g7 to save in raw.
it is an opensource project, and no, the cam can't be harmed. check it out, it really is a great addition to all these Canon P&S Powershot cameras.

August 11, 2008 8:16 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Actually I had Canon Povershot A720IS when my dSLR was broken (that`s another story) and with CHDK custom software installed I could use exposure bracketing and do RAW`s and so on, oh and killer macros! I really loved the camera, altough I used it for like what, 3 weeks.. Then I got my new dlsr (I was a Nikon guy before Powershot, now I`m totally Canon!) and sold my Powershot to my good friend who is making a good use of it now :)

August 16, 2008 8:53 AM  
Blogger Big Hopper said...

Does it mean you never connect the SB26 to the G7? No hot shoe adapter, no cable?
I am an old NS90 owner and I love my G7 but I hate the tiney flash...

March 02, 2009 3:36 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

I've been using my Canon G10 to do the very same with good results using some eay remotes and a Canon 430exii.

My strobist pohotos (all taken with the G10) are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11119558@N07/sets/72157620388068417/

Many thanks David for all the info on this site.

Mat

August 05, 2009 7:45 AM  
Blogger stefano ottimi said...

I guess it isn't a "Hot" shoe mount...it should have been on a radiator to be that... :-)
Thanks very much for your work!
Greetings from Rome.
Stefano

August 09, 2013 12:18 PM  

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