Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nikon CLS Tutorial Video


The headline pretty much says it. This three-minute video shows you the basics on quick-and-dirty wireless TTL operation with a Nikon SB-800 and a pop-up flash CLS-enabled camera.

This guy uses a D200, but there are several other Nikons that work in a very similar way.

And remember, you can use CLS to merely trigger the strobe in the manual mode, if you want to do your own driving.

I'm just saying.


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DIY Collapsible Soft Box, Part Deux

Strobist reader Marc Englund is is at it again.

We reported on his first-generation DIY collapsible softbox back in October. That one was made out a bug shield.

Version 2.0 (pictured) is made out of kite parts, which we think is pretty darn cool. Marc has detailed instructions (with lotsa pix) here. And there's also a discussion about it on the Strobist Flickr threads.

Marc made his for 20 Euros (about $27.00.) But if you are Mr. Moneybags, you can get a commercial version for less than $60.00, along with lots of other flashy goodies.

UPDATE - Bad news: The above source for the store-bought version is USA only. Good news: Marc has listed some other sources in the comments section.


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Friday, June 29, 2007

Got Me Thinkin': Asymmetrical Strip Bank

Pop Photo's 2007 awards for lighting gear are out. Sadly, the Strobist $10 macro studio was left at the altar.

(Was it the build quality? I promise I'll use more tape next time...)

But among the things that did get noticed was the Westcott Bruce Dorn Asymmetrical Strip Bank. The lengthily named strip light is brighter up top than down below, offering automatic feathering for full and 3/4 length portraits.

Not going to run out and buy it, because the missus won't let me I am pretty busy these days. But I sure will be ready to ape the concept next time I shoot a flash through a diffusion panel. Same principle.

Kinda neat, actually.
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Pop Photo's Article
Westcott's site


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A Magic Disappearing Act

From your reports, I had assumed that the Light Science and Magic books were running in short supply. I talked to Moishe at MPEX today, and he confirmed that (a) they have pretty much dried up, and (b) are not expected back until early August.

(D'oh!)

Moishe scrounged about 25 of them by sleeping with the Focal Press marketing director working the phones today. So that's a few, anyway. But they should be back in supply in about 5 weeks.

UPDATE: Michael tells us in the comments that Amazon has gotten some back in since this post was written, too. Cool beans.


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OT, But Cool: One Year of Esquire for Less Than a Gallon of Gas

Yeah, this is OT, but bear with me. It's too good to pass up. Esquire Magazine is one of my two absolute favorite magazines in the world.

(My other favorite mag is Wired, which you have heard me yammer on about before in this post about photographer Dan Winters.)

Esquire is consistently a great read. Good photography, used well. Funny, literate, alternately sophisticated and down-to-earth. It is basically a monthly instruction manual for being a guy.

Here's another thing I like. They take a lot of chances with new ideas and approaches. So much so that they occasionally fall on their face. It's an admirable quality (the former more than the latter) and one that is rare in the magazine world.

Yeah, there's girls in there, too. (Hi, Angelina...) But that is sufficiently restrained as to carry an appropriate Wife Acceptance Factor. In fact, the missus reads it every month, too. And she has lamented the fact that there is not really a women's magazine equivalent of Esquire.

But here is why bringing it up: Amazon has just stuck it up on the $5.00 instant rebate rack, which drops the price down to $3.00, or just 25 cents an issue.

So, take my advice and forego a cup of coffee today and get Esquire for a whole year instead. You won't regret it. Just hurry up, as the offer expires tomorrow.

(Sorry to dis the international readers again, but this one is U.S. only, too.)


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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Blog, Newspaper, Family. Pick any Two.

UPDATE: Thanks, guys, for all of the congratulatory notes, words of encouragement and the contributions. I do not know whether I am more touched or psyched for the future.

Muchas gracias, y'all.


As most of you guys know, I am also a staff photographer for The Baltimore Sun, a metro daily newspaper in the eastern US.

Over the last year-and-change, Strobist has developed from a goofy little diversion into something that is all-but-impossible to maintain along with a full-time (plus) job. My concern over the last few months has been that, while the website has certainly grown into more than I ever thought it would, my family time has been severely pinched as a result.

With a 6-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, (and a wife of undisclosed age) I am well aware that the window on their time as kids will be closing before I know it. So I have decided to make some changes in my life so I can spend more time being a dad. And a hubby.

As of the end of this week I will begin a one-year leave of absence from The Sun.

That was no easy decision. I absolutely love working there. But I love doing this, too. And I love my family much more than both jobs combined.

So this little experiment of a website is about to get a lot more interesting for me as I move from having one boss to having over 100,000.

Here's what that will mean:

• Most important, more family time - both in quantity and quality.
• I'll be able to travel (i.e. more seminars) without burning up my vacation time. I am working on a long list of cities right now.
• The website will be getting more thought, planning and focus.
• I'll have time to do more ambitious projects. Next month, for instance, I'll be filming a full lighting course on DVD. I hope to have it available in October.

There are a couple of other things, too. But they are still being worked on.

Assuming things work out, I will gain a tremendous amount of family time. I can't tell you how much that means to me. For that reason more than any other, I am very grateful to the community that has grown around this site and the businesses that support it.

I'll be meeting many more of you in person and getting to visit some very interesting places. And I have thoroughly enjoyed speaking with those of you that I got to meet in Ellicott City, Providence and London. I am looking forward to doing lots more of that.

So, thanks for your support and your readership. And I hope you'll stay tuned to see how this thing turns out. I know I'm curious to see what happens.

-David


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kingston/MPEX Team Up for Special Strobist Memory Card Pricing

This is way cool. Kingston is reaching out to photogs, eager to show that they can run with the Big Dawgs.

Midwest Photo Exchange says, "Hey, we know a lot of photographers."

They sound interested.

I says, "Yeah, and we could put a picture of me on the cards!"

(Sounds of muffled laughter in the background.)

Hey, no prob, 'cause I was, you know, obviously joking...

Long story short, you guys end up with some really good deals on compact flash (and SD) cards. Unfortunately the rebates are U.S. only, there is a limit of two per household and they have a limited amount of cards. So, early bird gets the worm. And get those U.S. citizenship applications in ASAP.

How cheap? How 'bout 8gb CF for $49.95 after rebate? (And 4gb for $23.50 AR.)

UPDATE: Yeah, I guess the prices were pretty good. You guys cleaned out the 4Gb's and 8Gb's. A resupply was expected today but has been pushed back till next week. Plenty more 4's and 8's coming then. Other sizes are still in stock.

The whole lunch special menu is here. No substitutions, and they don't use MSG.
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Hey, if you are a multinational gear manufacturer who wants to show Strobist readers some luv with special pricing, (you know - Vivitar, Nikon, Porsche...) leave your contact info in the comments. We won't publish it and we'll be in touch.

Especially if there is an "evaluation sample" 911 Turbo involved. In Atlas Grey Metallic.


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Video: Two-Speedlight Bikini Shoot


Jacob the Photographer has a neat li'l video up from a bikini shoot that really gives an idea of how easy it is to effectively overpower ambient with just a couple of speedlights.

Try to reel your eyes in long enough to actually notice some of the lighting techniques going on here:

• Using high-angle key (the stand flash) with the corded, hand-held flash as fill.
• Using the corded hand-held off at an angle as a key light and the stand flash as back/separation light.
• Direct flash key (but about 2 feet higher than the lens axis) with the camera back/left separation light.
• Bringing up the foreground with flash enough to darken the sky (see here for a how-to.)
• I'll have to look into those oil-cleansing strips, too.

The main point: Look how simple and easy his various setups are, vs. what the end result look like. I mean geez, talk about minimal gear and maximum control.

That's what is it all about. Well, that and hot bikini models, of course.

My favorite part: The wolf howls from the bicycling team that rolls past at about the two-minute mark.
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Thanks for the heads-up, Jacob.

If you have shot (or found) a cool lighting-related video, please suggest it here. You can also view archived videos from the drop-down menu on the sidebar.


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Lighting 102: Brian Daly Gets the Distance Thing.

Over the top? Maybe.

Anal retentive? Perhaps.

But reader Brian Daly now clearly understands the concept of lighting control via distance. Check out his first-day effort for the L102: 1.2 exercise.

That rocks, Brian. You own that control now.


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Monday, June 25, 2007

Lighting 102: 1.2 - Position | Distance

Summary: By the end of this discussion, you should completely understand the following two statements:

1. Light has depth of field.
2. With enough light, you can turn a white wall black.

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Leading Off: (1.1) Angle Exercise Discussion

Okay, the 1.1 section had what was admittedly a pretty rudimentary exercise. Which maybe explains why many of you didn't uh, actually do it.

This stuff is the equivalent of "wax on, wax off" in the beginning of Karate Kid, and you really want to explore these things in an environment where you are not also trying to make a real photo at the same time.

The point of this exercise is not so much to stretch yourself, but to just go and do it. Walk before you run. Start building an easy comfort zone and then stretch it.

For those who want to check out the results, you can see the tagged and posted results here. And it is good to see that most of you are navigating the Flickr posting and tagging issues just fine.

The thing that should strike you from this exercise is just how different a three-dimensional form can look when lit from different angles. I didn't mention it at the time, but some of you made the leap to considering angles above and below the object, too. The above composite is basically a matrix of horizontal and vertical light source changes. Click the pic for a big version.

(Thanks for the extra effort, Chris!)

Experience tells me that many more of you guys will be showing up for the "real assignments," but that is the dessert. You folks who are eating your veggies and doing the supposedly boring stuff are going to be much more intuitive when the more complex stuff gets thrown at you.

I'm just saying.
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Light Position: Distance

My experience in learning to light (actually, in learning just about anything) is that I do not learn in a linear, sequential way. I tend to learn in fits and starts.

That is to say that I will plod my way through without making much progress, and then something clicks and I move to the next level.

Take snow skiing, for instance. When you start out, your only means of controlling your speed is by forming a wedge with your skis. It's called "snow plowing," and it ain't pretty. You form a wedge with your skis and use the friction of the inner edges to control your speed.

The first transition to real skiing is when you learn how to do a hockey stop, which is nothing more than lifting your skis up and planting them down perpendicular to the fall line with the uphill edges biting hard.

It looks so cool. And you think you are pretty hot stuff the first time you pull one off, with that awesome little spray of snow. (The sounds of screeching brakes actually played in my head.)

But what you do not realize at that moment is that the hockey stop is also the key to nearly everything that follows in intermediate skiing. It is all incremental from there. In other words, that little progression is the key to moving to the next level - and opens up many doors later on.

That is how I have come to feel about learning to understand flash distance as a lighting control variable.

So, pull out those slide rules, folks, 'cause this is where we introduce the concept of the Inverse Square Law

No, no, no. Not gonna do that to you.

Geez Louise, I have an engineering background. I worry about inverted yield curves in the bond market. I build cool stereo equipment from scratch for relaxation. I would eat math flakes for breakfast if I could.

But the Inverse Square Law still makes my eyes glaze over. Not that it is necessarily so hard to understand. (Although it is for many.) But because it just sucks all of the life and soul out of lighting.

Kinda like showing up at the hotel on your honeymoon night with one of those biological/plumbing textbooks from high school to make sure you can exactly figure out the precise plan for the evening's activities. Yeah, it may be accurate. But where's the creativity? Where's the experimentation? Where's the fun?

You gotta lose the math. Here is what you need to know about the inverse square law: The closer you are to the light source, the more powerful the light. Get real close and it gets really powerful. Get far away, and it gets weaker.

And here's the other thing: The closer you get to the light source, the quicker the lighting values change as you move in. When you get farther away, small differences in distance (from the light) become meaningless.

So, let's think about this in the context of a lighting scenario. Let's say that we have a subject about 6 feet from a light grey wall. Like, say, Jason, from last week:


In this case, the light was about five feet from him, and the wall was another ~6 feet behind Jason. As we moved the light around him for the first exercise, neither the light-to-Jason or light-to-wall distance changed much. So our wall is pretty consistently medium grey.

Now take two more shots of Jason, from the same setup:


In the first, we moved the light way back. This, of course made it less powerful. But we adjusted the aperture (opened up) to compensate for that. So Jason is properly exposed.

But look at the wall: It is lighter. Why? Because the flash-to-Jason distance is about 25 feet, and the flash-to-wall distance is about 31 feet. Relatively, those two distances are not very different. So the light does not fall off much between Jason and the wall.

But for the second pic, we brought the flash in close. Like about one foot from Jason. But the wall is ~7 feet from the flash.

Relatively, that's huge difference between the flash-to-Jason distance and the flash-to-wall distance.

We close down the aperture to compensate for the brighter, closer light. So Jason is exposed correctly. But our light grey wall is now about 7 times further away from the light than is Jason. So it goes dark.

Jason is very close, where the light is powerful. The wall is at an intermediate distance, where the light is less powerful. As I move the light close to Jason - without even gobo'ing the flash to block light from the wall, I could easily make that wall go the rest of the way to black.

So, with my subject a few feet away from a light grey background, I can make the background black simply by moving my light in close to the subject.

NOTE: If little bells aren't going off in your head as to some of the doors that this light-distance variable opens up, keep knocking it around. This is a major thing.

Extra bennies? More power, (Argh, argh, argh.) Apparent size of the light source gets bigger, too. But that comes later.

So, moving in gives control and power. The light, in effect, has very shallow "depth of field," which is to say that the exposure that is correct for the close-in subject drops off very quickly behind him. Jason may be at f/11 or f/16. But just a few feet behind his head, you are already down to f/5.6 or f/4.

You gain the ability to light one plane without contaminating the other one. Sort of like selective focus, but with light. Expressed differently: Shallow lighting depth of field.

I could stick another flash on the background and light the two areas independently. That is control.

But sometimes you want a lot of depth of field to your light. Group shots, for instance. You want the front row and the back row to be in the same neighborhood, exposure-wise. Even though they may be a few feet away from each other. So you give up power in favor of even lighting.


That is the secret to this side-lit (but still evenly lit) basketball gym in this shot. The speedlight (main light, camera left) is about 75 feet away in the top row of seats. It is firing at 1/2 power, and I got f/2.8 at ASA 800. But it is lighting a huge area. And pretty evenly, to boot. (More info on the shot is here.)

So, here is the first of our actual lighting control sliders, for lack of a better term:


• Light Placed Closer = more powerful, and control of the depth of the correct exposure.
• Light Placed Further = less powerful, and a broader zone of even lighting exposure.


In other words, lighting has depth of field if you know how to exploit it.

And with enough light - and adjusting the exposure to compensate for the increased power - you can drop the exposure on a nearby white wall to black.
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Trust Me, You Want to Actually Do This One


Who wants to guess this week's exercise?

It is similar to last weeks, except you will keep the lighting angle the same and vary the distance. Try to find a place with a clean background and some space to work with. I am thinking living room.

You'll be shooting a person or object in such a way as to use various lighting distances to control the relative tone of the background:

1. Find a nice lighting angle. Set the light a modest distance away - 5 or 6 feet. Shoot at max sync speed with your flash at say, at 1/8 power on manual. Adjust the aperture to get a good subject exposure with the light at the moderate distance.

2. Move the light back. Way back if you can. You may need to pump up the power to get a decent exposure. Maybe to 1/4 or 1/2 power. Adjust the aperture until the subject looks good, then note the background. It should be getting lighter.

3. Now move the light in tight. Real tight. As in one or two feet away. You'll probably have to dial your flash way down to compensate for the distance. Adjust your aperture for a good subject exposure. Note what happens to the background. It should get darker.

What you should find is that you have a surprising amount of control of the depth of field of the light. And this is before restricting or feathering the light in any way. And we will get to that later.

You should also start to be getting more intuitive about where you need to set you flash power to get a good working aperture from a given distance. Keep this up. You are growing a free flash meter in your brain.

Here are your tags for the exercise:

• strobist
• lighting102 (no spaces)
• position
• distance

You would not believe how many shooters out there have a "standard" light-to-subject distance and just give up this wonderful means of control.

Don't be one of them.

Here's a feedback request for the comments:

To the beginners - does this light distance concept make sense to you? If not, did it after you tried the exercise?

To the more experienced - are you already thinking consciously of light distance in this way? If you approach it differently, how so?
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Related reading:

Light Science and Magic text, 3rd edition, pp 36-39

(Briefly talks about the inverse square law in more traditional terms. Note: It appears this book is getting to be in tight supply. I am sure Focal will be running off more copies soon, if they are not already. It is a great book. Find it wherever you can.)

On Assignments with long, low fall-off light:

Big Gym, Little Lights
Lighting a Large Interior

OA's with close-in, tightly controlled light:

Compact Fluorescent
Flavored Vodkas

See all of the completed exercises for this section.

Discuss this section in the dedicated Flickr Strobist thread.
______________________

Next: Position | Review


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Saturday, June 23, 2007

More Cheap and Easy Grid Spots

Are you frustrated with your lighting skills?

Have your creative and/or mental blocks ever led you want to drink?

Fear not. It might be a good thing. Just keep an eye out for a special little item that can frequently be found in bars - the black drinking straw.

Why? Because when you cut them into pieces and glue them up in cardboard next to their little friends, they make great gridspots.

We have talked about making these with cardboard (free, easy, but warms up the light a lot) and coroplast (the black stuff makes fantastic grids, but is tough to find.)

But now you have an excuse to visit every bar in town. Just in case they have the little black straws.

("No, honey, it's okay. I am getting free supplies for lighting...)

Strobist reader Rui M. Leal has started his own neato-mosquito DIY Lighting Mods blog, and shows you how to make them here in excrutiating detail.

Check out Part 2, where he shows you how to use them, too.

And if you feel shy about asking the barkeep if you can grab a handful of straws, just grace him with a little visit from your friend, George Washington to appeal to his generous human instincts.
___________________________

Related Link:

:: How to Make a Coroplast Grid ::


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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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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Video: Using Reflectors for Macro Shots



Here's a short little video clip that demonstrates how easy it is to use reflectors to flesh out a macro shot.

Main point: They are lighting from the back/top, with a top/backlight-based exposure. So they use the reflectors to basically do everything else, except the additional background light.

This video is a demo for a commercial product (the reflector system.) But I think, with some deviously clever engineering, it just might actually be possible to DIY these things out of cardboard, posterboard, aluminum foil, a guy wearing a white T-shirt - whatever.

Call me ambitious, but I think it could be done.
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If you shoot (or find) a cool lighting-related video on YouTube, please suggest it through the link at the top of the Video Archive dropdown menu on the sidebar at right.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Lighting 102: Unit 1.1 - Position (Angle)

Summary: Lighting angle reveals form in a three-dimensional object. To see how light from a particular angle will affect your subject, view the subject from the position of the light.
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We live in a world of off-axis light. The sun does not stay right behind us. Our lighting fixtures at home illuminate us from above and other various angles. And we are constantly exposed to imagery - both still and moving - that makes use of very sophisticated off-camera lighting techniques.

Yet so many photographers, when they take the time to compose and illuminate their photos, settle for the bland, flat, on-axis (i.e., on-camera) light. Because that is the path of least resistance.

The biggest failing of on-camera flash is that the light, which comes from a point very near to the camera's optical axis, does not have the ability to reveal the three-dimensional quality of the subject.

Granted, most flashes can be tilted to bounce the light off of walls or ceilings while still attached to the camera. But those are very limited choices out of a wide variety of lighting angles available to the off-camera lighting designer.

For the purposes of this discussion we'll think in terms of only hard, bare light from a typical electronic flash. (No worries, we'll be softening it up soon.) But the idea at this point is not to create flattering light for a subject, but to explore the way off-axis light reveals and defines an object.

The first thing that you have to consider when visualizing (or pre-visualizing) the effects of off-axis light is to remember that there are two points of view in play. The first is that of your camera, which defines what you will be able to see in the photograph. But just as important is the second, which is the point of view of your primary light source.

What your light can see will define what is lit in your photo. If your light cannot see it, it will not be directly lit.

The ability to visualize the difference between these two points of view is the key to understanding how changing your light position will alter the way your subject appears.


Look, You Already Know This Stuff.

As we start this process, it is important to begin to merge the way you think about continuous light and the way you think about flash. I really cannot overstate the importance of learning to think of strobe the same way you think of continuous light.

Why? Because you are already a seasoned pro at dealing with continuous light. You experience it and react to it all of the time. You see a shadow and instinctively know where the light came from. You know by the edges of the shadow whether the light was hard or soft.

If you can learn to think about flash as a very bright, continuous light source, you will be able to make use of all of your experience with light that you have been subconsciously building for your entire life. Thinking of a flash as a very bright continuous light source is not so easy for some people. But it will get you past the math-anxiety-type fears you may have about learning how to light.

Heck, even a little mouse munching on lunch in a field knows it had better haul butt when it is suddenly darkened by a shadow. It very well could be an approaching hawk. And the mouse likely knows which way to run when the shadow appears if it has a situational awareness of the lighting environment it is in.

Here is simple exercise that will improve your light visualization skills. Stand in front of a mirror, holding a (lit) table lamp in one hand. Move the light around so that it falls on your face from a series of angles and observe the results.

Yeah, you might feel (and look) a little goofy doing this. Oh, and you might want to have a good response ready for when your significant other pops in and gives you one off those "What the...?" looks, too. But I can vouch for the fact that it works very efficiently to train your eye to light.


Reverse Engineer Photos to Sharpen Your Perception of Light

Let's see what we can tell about the light in this photo just from studying the shadow:



1. Well, right off of the bat we know that the light is coming from camera right, because the shadow goes to camera left. (Don't get cocky. The mouse could have figured that out.)
2. We know the light is hard because the shadow edge is hard. (We're not there yet, but you know that info all the same.)
3. We know the light is slightly higher than the subject because the shadow goes slightly down.
4. We know the light is fairly close to side light (i.e., close to the wall) because of the length of the shadow.

(Note that there is a very dim secondary shadow at camera right. This is coming from the ambient light, which is not totally overpowered.)

It's just a dumb, quick little exercise. But the more you make it a habit to look at photos with an eye toward analyzing the light, the easier it becomes to create any effect you are looking for with your own light.

Here's a little home experiment to try without even making a photo. Position a household lamp so that it illuminates an object. Look at the object from the position of the lamp. See what the lamp sees. Now move away from the lamp and study the changes in your subject as the lamp reveals the object in relief while you move your point of reference further away from the axis of the light source.

Compare the lit portion of the object (as you move away from the lamp) with what you were able to see of the object from the position of the lamp. That's the first step to pre-visualizing light.

Do this kind of exercise enough, and you'll be able to know exactly how a subject will look when lit from any direction before you ever position your light. Better yet, when you pre-visualize a photo you'll know at what angle to position your light to get the effect that you want.

There are actually two variables to consider when deciding where to position a light. The first is at what angle to light your object. The second is at what distance to light your subject. Each variable offers a different form of control for a photographer to exploit.


Let's Try it with Some Live Ammo

For the first little shooting exercise, we'll be dealing only with angular position of the light. This experiment is going to be so simple that many of you will not even want to do it. But I really hope that you do.


Take a person or object (in my case, Combat Camera photog Jason Robertson, from the DINFOS workshop earlier this month) and shoot it/him/her with the light very near the camera axis. You can even stick the flash directly fired on camera for the first shot. You should have a wall behind the subject (with a few feet of separation between the two) as a reference for any shadows.

As for exposure, try this method as a way to start to learn to light without a flash meter. Shoot in a normally lit, indoor room. Set your ASA on 200 and your camera at your normal max synch speed. For most of you, this will be somewhere between 1/125th and 1/500th. Set your aperture on f/5.6.

Start with your flash on manual at, say, 1/16th power, about five feet away from your subject. (If you keep the flash-to-subject distance the same as you change the angle, your exposure will not change.)

Now do a test shot. You subject will likely be a little too light or too dark. Adjust the aperture on your lens until the exposure looks right. If this seems clunky, understand that working this way will soon turn your brain into a built-in flash meter. With a little experience, your first tries will get closer and closer and exposure adjustments will be more and more minor.

Back to the exercise.

After adjusting for a good exposure for your on-camera light, move the flash around the subject and shoot it from a variety of lighting angles. For the example above, I just put up a straight-on and a 45-degree lit shot. But you'll want to play with it more than that. Experiment with some hard angles, in addition to the normal stuff. Look at the different ways in which your light reveals the subject. Again, keeping the distance constant will help keep your exposure constant, too.

Try a shot with the light at about 45 degrees to one side. Have your subject look directly into the camera. (Or have your inanimate object continue to be inanimate.) Now, keeping the subject looking in the same direction, walk over to your light and shoot the subject from the perspective of the light.

Compare the two photos, noting what you see from the position of the light with what portion of the subject was lit in the straight-on photo when the light was hitting it at a 45-degree angle. This may seem like rote, boring stuff. But the goal is to learn to light in a more intuitive manner. And observing your subject from the position of your light source is a great first step in that direction.

There is no need to stick these in the Strobist Flickr pool, but you are welcome to do so if you want. The important thing is to start actually doing this stuff and to learn to use the tagging process. Then we can easily tag, group and view the more challenging assignments later.

When uploading this exercise to Flickr, your photos should have the following tags:

• strobist
• lighting102 (note that there are no embedded spaces)
• position
• angle

If you do that, everyone will be able to easily find them with by clicking here. We'll be talking about this exercise next Monday (June 25th) and moving on to discussion of Unit 1.2 - Position (Distance).
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Questions, answers, etc: Please use the discussion-specific Flickr thread for further discussion.

Related Archive Pages:

L101 See the Flash
L101 Be the Flash
Hard Light
L101 Reverse Engineering Light

Bloggers/Vloggers: If you are blogging your exercises/assignments online, or posting videos about the process, you can include your efforts in the Technorati Trackbacks by linking to the permalink of this post.

NEXT: Lighting 102, 1.2 - Position | Distance


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Saturday, June 16, 2007

DIY Engineer Lamp Macro Light Stand

Frankly, given this photo, words aren't really necessary. But I guess I have to write something or it is not a real post.

In that case: "Blah, blah, blah. Yadda, yadda, yadda..."

(Cheapskate Inspired thinking by New Zealand-based photographer/designer Mike Gannaway. Click on the pic for more info.)


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Friday, June 15, 2007

Basics, on Video: Connect Any Speedlight to Any Camera



Just in time for the first lighting control discussions (#1, "Position," which is due up Monday) Strobist reader David James has put up a very helpful video tutorial for those of you still hazy on exactly how to sync a camera and a remote flash.

It covers both flashes and cameras with and without PC jacks, hitting on both PC cords and the inexpensive Gadget Infinity remotes.

This will be very helpful to many of the newer readers. It's also helpful to me, as a post while I am recovering from a long day at Disney World and still trying to squeeze as much R&R as possible out of my last couple of days down at my folks' place in Florida.

The last few days have been wonderful. But I don't even want to think about how big my unanswered email pile has gotten...

(Thanks, David J.)


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Thursday, June 14, 2007

On Assignment: Parking Lot Ambush

This photo, which was previously posted on Monday and shot during the DINFOS Advanced Lighting Team workshop last Friday, got a lot of interest up on the Flickr comment threads. So I thought I would do a little tutorial on exactly how it was done.

If you are looking for a setup shot, you already have it. The photo is the setup shot. We used everyone's flash, synchronized to produce a photo that looks random but was in fact very choreographed.

We used six flashes for the shot - 3 SB-26's and 3-SB-800s. They were mounted on voice-activate light stands, also known as photographers. There are several tricks to pulling this off. But once you have a roadmap, it is quite easy.

First, you have to make the flashes think they are not connected to the cameras. We did that by sliding pieces of paper between the flash and the hot shoe. (After that point the shooters are essentially light stands.)

Second, you have to sync the flashes together and to the main shooter's camera. We did that by using Pocket Wizards on the SB-800's and using those in turn to fire the SB-26's in slave mode. You could do it with fewer flashes -- even one could look cool. But we had six at our disposal. So what the heck, baby.

Third, you have to position the flashes to create the light you want. It appears fairly random. But if you look carefully, we have two back lights, two side lights, a front camera left main light (coming from up high - the "Hail Mary" camera, for a good lighting angle) and a front camera right fill. Kinda hard to miss, come to think of it.

My camera, ironically, had no flash on it -- only a Pocket Wizard. IMO, the total effect almost looks a little Jill Greenberg-ish, but without the soft lights or ring flash.

The exposure was based on the sky. I wanted to underexpose it a couple of stops. So we shot with a D70s (using the electronic shutter sync hack) at 1/1500th at f/8 at ASA 200, if I remember correctly.

The flashes, in close and zoomed to 85mm, were set on 1/8 or 1/16th, depending on their distance to the subject. So recycle time was not an issue. I could have pretty much motored away.

Always remember: Short distance = power and speed.

I had never tried this technique before, and our only prep was a couple of shots up in the hotel room. We like to be thorough, so we put in a good minute or so of research and testing.

Really, this was just a run-and-gun thing, with very little prep time and not much shooting time, either. It was shot at 1:00pm on a 96-degree day in really crappy light. We had much to do, and we were getting hungry.

Once we were downstairs in the parking lot, I popped a couple of frames to make sure that all of the lights would synch. They did -- every time. No worries, mate.

Also, I wanted to make sure that the flashes would all sync at the high shutter speed. As you can see, we were batting 1.000, even though we were working way above the ambient light.

I have to say that I absolutely love this new (for me) technique. And I would probably use the crap out of it, given the opportunity. But since I do not have six shooters following me around every day, it won't end up happening very often.

That said, I will probably be experimenting with overpowering daylight with a bunch of hard lights wrapped around the subject more often, too.

Here is what struck me from the process.

• It was far easier to choreograph (and pull off on a technical basis) than I expected. If you try it, be sure to stick your results up in the Flickr pool.

• In the end, it was darn-near impossible to get a bad looking shot. They were almost all keepers. Which actually sucked at 2:00am when we were editing this stuff. It was not easy to narrow the pix down.

But as problems go, I'll take that one every time.

As you read this, the missus and I will be at Walt Disney World with a 6- and an 8-year-old in tow.

Lord, give us strength. And please send that 3:00pm thunderstorm to thin out the amateurs in the crowd.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pocket Wizard Tutorial Video

Are you lusting after a set of PW's? Or do you already have them and want to learn how to use the relay mode? Either way, this clip ought to hook you up just fine.



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Monday, June 11, 2007

L102: You Got Questions, We Got Answers

Thanks for the questions, guys. It is the most efficient way I know to hit all of the things I forgot to explain in the first place. Let's get them out of the way so we can get this L102 party started.

Regarding the suggestions as to (a) where to get the gels, and (b) the admonitions to actually buy them so as to not mooch off of the company, I totally agree. You should pony up for a full sheet of CTO and a sheet of window green. These are the tungsten and fluorescent conversion gels. You will use these A LOT. But, for speedlights, it is hard to justify buying many more. So just ask for a sample pack at every opportunity, and you should be well-covered.

What I'd like to see: A sample pack that had 10 each of CTO and Window Green, 5 each of CTB, 1/2 CTB, 1/4 CTB, 1/2 CTO, 1/4 CTO, 1-stop ND, and a coupla reds for $15 each. Slightly bigger than the current sample packs would be great. They'd make money and we'd be gellin' in style.

There was a suggestion that people shoot their setups on the photo uploads for the assignments. I totally agree with that, if you can remember to do it. Not being without sin in this area, I cannot really insist on it...


Q: Will I be picking example reader submissions to talk about after the fact?

A: Sure will. Probably three or so from each exercise/assignment.


Q: Could you add a Lighting 102 link to the top right side menu of the Strobist homepage?

A: Yep. It'll be up as of the first lighting control post, which will be next in the series.


Q: Should I do Lighting 101 first?

A: That will always be a good reference/foundation. But L102 will be a far more comprehensive approach. I will be referencing relevant posts in L101 as we go along.


Q: How often do new posts (lessons) go up for it? Once a week?

A: That will roughly be the schedule. We'll need time for stuff to sink in, for people to see the latest post, and for exercises to be done. And also, for me to create the posts/exercises while also running the rest of the blog, shooting for The Sun and occasionally sleeping. The exercises will be quick hits, completed from week to week. But the assignments will be more involved. You'll have a minimum of two weeks to complete each assignment. I'll get into a rhythm of posting L102's on or near Mondays. But because of the vagaries of my job at The Sun, that is more of a goal than a promise. (Could be Sunday or Tuesday, for instance.)


Q: I only see one thread for the Lighting 102 discussions. Will there be separate threads for each section?

A: Oh, yeah. Can you imagine all of the L102 discussion compressed into one thread? Yikes. I will be setting up a separate thread for each discussion, exercise and assignment.


Q: (I am) attempting to participate without a hot shoe or any means (that I know of...if there are ways to manually control off-camera flash without hooking it up to my camera directly, please let a newbie know) of off-camera flash....ergo, lamps. Well the principles will still be the same?

A: Uh, yeah... somewhat. But you'll miss out on a lot. If you were learning how to SCUBA dive, you'd want a mask...


Q: I have a new monolight kit (200ws each so small) that I want to get comfortable using, so I think I'll try the sam exercises with them as well.

A: That should work just fine.


Q:I would like to create videos of the exercises/assignments and post them on YouTube. Is this okay?

A: It is more than okay. I think it is a great idea. We are visual animals. Monkey see, monkey do. I will be happy to link to the good ones and archive them so that others may benefit from your efforts. FWIW, the YouTube videos that are linked here tend to get about 10,000 views over the first couple of weeks. Which always helps if you are looking for exposures. And if you are really good, I have a script I'd like to share with you...


Q: I would like to blog about my progress in Lighting 102. Is this cool?

A: Absolutely not! (Kidding.) Of course it's cool. In fact, I would encourage it.

In a broader sense, I think anyone who is into photography should be blogging. It's free, creative, visual - all those things shooters like. Couldn't be easier, really. Heck, I helped my dad start up a blog this afternoon, and he's 62.

I recommend Google's blogging platform, blogger.com. It may not be the spiffiest platform out there, but it is pretty darn good and getting better each day. Besides, with Google owning it, it'll probably be around in five years.

A year ago, I started a blogspot blog just to fart around with lighting ideas and look what has happened. You really never know. And I have never paid a penny for bandwidth, or anything associated with this site. Way cool.

Besides, blogging steadily about this process will mean you'll be more likely to stick to it. Kinda like telling your coworkers you are starting the Atkins Diet. For the 6th time this year.


Next: Control #1, Position | Angle


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Sunday, June 10, 2007

DINFOS Rocks.


Man, am I whupped. I just got back from teaching the back half of a week-long intensive lighting seminar at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Here's the deal. Photographers are chosen by portfolio from among the U.S. military shooters all over the world. They are sent to a one-week workshop, courtesy Uncle Sam, at DINFOS where they fan out and shoot assignments of just about every nature.

They are learning and competing - a great combo. The cool prizes (Nikon cameras, strobes, Lowepro bags, etc.,) are second only to the bragging rights for the winners. It's almost worth heading down to the army recruiter to sign up, just for a chance to get in.

Almost.

In addition to the photojournalism groups, there is one group of five shooters chosen to be on the Advanced Lighting Team. That lucky group is normally taught by none other than Joe McNally for a whole week, where he works with them in an intensive, small-class environment.

Well, Joe M. couldn't make it this year, so the duty was split between myself and a former Patuxent Publishing coworker of mine, Joe Eddins of the Washington Times. He got them first and then handed them over to me. Joe had them for Mon-Weds, then I got them for Thursday and Friday. The presentations and dinner were on Saturday.

My guys had been out all night pretty late the night before, so we mercifully kept them in the dark A/C all day on Thursday and overloaded their brains for about 9 hours. Besides, Friday was coming.

When Friday arrived, we were pretty much screwed a little behind the eight ball. We needed to do a full photo presentation on Saturday, and all of the stuff that they shot with Eddins had already been shown to the main group.

So we turned in a 17-hour day on Friday. We started shooting at 10:00am, finished at 9:30pm and then edited and produced the QuickTime show until 3:00am. These guys totally rocked, and I could not be more proud of them.

I'll be putting a YouTube version up in a few days. But I have to swap the music out first.

Suffice to say that when you are choosing music for a next-day show at 2:00am the night before, copyright and DRM are just fleeting little theoretical thoughts that are not on your top ten list of worries...

Matt H., Matt L., Andy, Jason and Sean, if you are reading this, there will also be some "On Assignments" popping up over the next few weeks featuring your photos and the techniques behind them.

And you mere civilians will definitely want to check out their stuff as it pops up. We did six shoots in a day and they all yielded strong photos. Lots of setup shots, too.

Sorry if I have seemed a little nonexistent on the website this week.

I am sitting at the BWI Airport waiting to catch a plane to Florida for a week, where I'll be looking to get my first good night's sleep in quite a while and then hit the Q&A post for Lighting 102. The first real classwork will be up shortly after that.

We'll then settle into a (roughly) weekly schedule for the L102 tutorials, discussions and assignments after that.

Oh, and on behalf of my Advanced Lighting Team (The "Serial Flashers") at the DINFOS photo workshops, I would like to offer our sincere thanks (to those of you who are U.S. taxpayers) for picking up the tab.


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Friday, June 08, 2007

Stellar by Starlight

Here's your scenario: You are assigned to shoot a wedding on a beach. Brief ceremony - about 10 minutes long.

Oh, and did we mention it's at night? With no lights at all? And when we say 'no light' we mean that the bright part of the night sky reads (at ASA 400) f/2.8 at twenty seconds.

The goal: General coverage of the event and one stunning photo.

Matt Adcock gives us the rundown on how a couple of fellow Atlanta wedding photogs handled this nightmare assignment over at FlashFlavor.com.


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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

L102: Light Controls Overview

Today, we'll run through the various lighting controls to give you some context for later.

If these are all old hat, you may be in for more than you think. While they may sound simple to some of the more seasoned readers, I am discovering new techniques all of the time simply by studying these controls on a one-by-one basis. And I expect to learn a lot just by going through this process myself.

Each control has a range of possibilities, and offers both advantages and disadvantages that can be exploited or avoided for a given subject.


Lighting Controls Overview

1. Varying the Position
Changing the angle of your light position is what will allow your flash to define the three-dimensional shape of your subject. This is where on-camera flash fails us. It illuminates, but does not reveal shape. Getting your light off of the camera is the most basic control, so it is our first of the seven.

In addition to varying the angle of your light source, you can also dramatically change the effect of your light by varying the distance to the subject. In particular, altering the distance of the light to the subject as it relates to the distance from the light to the background.


2. Varying the Apparent Size of the Light Source
Note that I said "apparent." In photography, size does not matter. Apparent size matters. How a subject sees your light source will determine many things.

Size of light source can be altered by reflection off of a diffuse surface, or transmission through a translucent material. In addition to changing the apparent size of the light source, this will lower the intensity per square inch. This, in turn, will alter the way your light interacts with your subject.

We also will spend some time in this section talking about how the various surface properties of your subject come into play with your light source, and how to exploit those variables.


3. Altering the Relative Intensity
This is about balancing light - with the ambient, other strobes, lightning, glowing swamp gases, whatever.

It is not about the light level. That is easily compensated for by your exposure settings. The magic is in the relative light levels, and where you place your exposure settings with respect to your various light intensities.

This is a sticking point for a lot of people, so we are gonna hit it hard.


4. Restricting Light
Even more important than where your light goes is where it does not go. We'll be using various light restricting tools and exploring their effects in a methodical way.

Snoots, grids, gobos, cookies, (man-made and natural, oatmeal and chocolate chip) beam-width adjustment, feathering - it's all good. And we'll be hitting each one in turn.


5. Refraction and Reflection
You do it without thinking about it every time you zoom your flash. That little fresnel lens in the front bends your light to suit your mood. Or at least your lens. But there are other ways to bend light, and we will be exploring them.

Water, glass, mirrors, the extreme gravity around a black hole - whatever it takes.


6. Altering the Color
We're talking gels, gels, gels and more gels. Sure, white light is clean and predictable, but you have a whole color spectrum to play with. We'll make sure we get the basic color correction stuff in. But we'll also be looking at altering light color to develop a theme in a photo.

There are subtle things you can do, and not-so-subtle things. Most people are about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer when they start out with gels. But, just as the vinophiles will tell you, the real fun is in the slight variations.

Layering colors from a given family, complimentary color cross lighting, deliberate in-camera color balance shifting and more.

If you do not have a Rosco or Lee sample pack, beg borrow or steal one. And if you have a good source for said sample packs, please sound off in the comments. Especially out-of-US sources. I never, ever turn down a sample pack. Ever.

Go ahead. Offer me one and try me.


7. Time
Flash is impossibly brief, but continuous light is variable with respect to time duration. This gives us another creative lever to exploit.

Yes, light is light. But elapsed time adds a fourth dimension to a three-dimensional world, and offers results that simply cannot happen in a single instant.


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So, there you go. Seven straightforward concepts that together yield a world of possibilities.

We will explore them, dissect them, discuss them, occasionally curse them and finally get to know them on an instinctive level.

That accomplished, the goal will be to control them without letting them distract us from more creative thoughts.

When you tie your shoes, you do not consume mindshare by remembering that the little bunny has to go around both trees before it hops into its hole. (Can you tell I have kids?) You just tie your shoes while you are thinking about more important things. That's how you want to be when you position your lights, for example.

I have noticed a lot of questions popping up in the comments and the L102 thread on Flickr. So before we dive into "position," I will answer as many questions as is practical in the next L102 post, to minimize confusion going forward.

If you have a question, try to stick it in the L102 thread in the next few days. I'll go through and answer as many as I can, assuming they have not been answered by someone else.

FYI, I am teaching for the rest of the week at the Defense Information School at Ft. Meade in Maryland. It is put on by the US Department of Defense and Nikon. I have three days with a hand-picked class of six military photographers to teach an intensive course on location lighting. With such a luxurious amount off time and such a small class, I am chomping at the bit to get started.

That's right folks, join the Army and learn to light. ("Just sign on the dotted line, son, and those SB-800's are yours...")

Following that, I am headed down south with my family for a week to see my folks in greater metropolitan Umatilla, Florida. But I have some interesting stuff in the hopper all ready to go during my so-called vacation.

And two more big announcements when I get back.


Next: L102: Questions and Answers


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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Take the Plunge with This DIY Background Stand

DIYPhotography.net is a site after my own heart. Their latest offering is a Home-Depot-sourced lightweight background stand modeled after the Bogen Autopole system.

How do they safely and temporarily connect it to your ceiling? Well, let's just say that if things ever get really bad around your house, you'll be able to unstop two toilets at once.

From up to 12 feet away.

(Thanks for the Flickr tip, Greg!)

:: Hardware Store Backdrop Stand ::

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Sponsor Salad Toss, May '07

Just a quick shout out to to say thanks to the May sponsors, Midwest Photo Exchange, PhotoShelter and zenfolio, without whom this lighting blog thing would grind to a screeching halt. Show 'em some luv, y'all.

And if you want to reach the 114,950 different photographers that visited Strobist 827,360 times last month, you can learn more about it here.

'Cause Strobist is, like, so cheap and easy.


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Monday, June 04, 2007

Lighting 102: Introduction

Welcome to Lighting 102.

If you were around for last summer's Lighting Boot Camp, you will find this a completely different experience. Boot Camp went for the instant gratification of a quickie series of assignments. L102 is designed to be a comprehensive course that starts from square one and is designed to build a broader and organic understanding of how to control light.

There will be full assignments and small exercises. But where Boot Camp skipped straight to dessert, this time we'll eat our veggies first.

We will start by exploring the different ways in which light can be controlled. Along the way we will be doing exercises to build a strong understanding of each of those variables. As we start to get some of the control factors under out belt, there will be assignments that make use of what we have learned so far.

With each new subject, exercise and assignment, there will be discussion threads created on Flickr so you can easily ask and answer questions.

Photo classes typically have class review sessions, where the students just stick their assignments up on the wall and learn from each other. This one will be no different, except for the class size and the far-flung nature of the students. And the more people participate, the more valuable the experience will be.

And if you are reading this post sometime much later than June 4th, 2007, no worries. All of the above will be archived it in such a way as to make it easy to start whenever you want and work at your own pace. You may catch up to us, or you may not. Makes no difference. You'll still have access to the course material and the students' photos will be archived.

Like most courses, you will get out of this exactly what you put into it. You are not required to do anything. There are no grades. There will be no tests.

I will only make you one promise:

If you study the lessons, do the exercises and complete the assignments, you will build a stronger understanding of how to control light.

Some of you are already doing some fantastic lighting work. You guys may find the beginnings of this class a little boring and/or remedial. But I am not structuring this course to make a few Rock Stars that much better. This class is designed so anyone, at any experience level, will be able to learn to light better.

Okay, let me back up on that just a bit. You'll want to already be comfy with exposure, as in f-stops and shutter speeds and such. Because we will be leaving your TTL flash comfort zone behind in search of more creative control.

That said, let's get started.


First Things First: Be Willing to Change Your Thinking

The first goal is for you to be open to thinking about light in a different way. Depending on whether you are experienced at using flash or a rank beginner, this will mean one of two things.

If you are an old hand at this stuff, be willing to learn to approach it from another different direction. No one is asking you to forget what you know, or to abandon your tried-and-true techniques. But looking at a well-known task from a different angle can serve to strengthen your understanding of it.

If you are a total newb, your job is a little more difficult: You'll need to put aside any fears you have of learning about a subject as nebulous and intimidating as lighting.

We will be breaking this down into little chunks that are easily digestible. And you'll have many, many people who will be able to answer your questions. All I ask is that you go into this process with the confidence that you can absolutely learn this stuff. Because you can.

Here's a little secret: There are only a few things you can do to control light. Once you learn those - and learn them well - you are off to the races.

Conversely, I find it to be an amazing thing that so few controls can yield such an huge variety of visual styles for lighting.

When I wrote Lighting 101, it was pretty much created on the fly. I was a newspaper shooter with a decent grasp of a few lighting principles and tricks, and I wanted to share them.

Fast forward a year or so, and I am a completely changed photographer. That's the biggest advantage of being in the position of running a lighting blog: It tends to make you to think about light pretty much non-stop.

And you also find yourself at a vortex of a continuous stream of ideas being flung at you by readers. Every day I get new threads and emails pointing me to neat photos, ideas and tecchniques. That rocks. And any long-time pro will tell you that ideas are the valuable commodity in this business.

I can easily teach you lighting techniques. But what do you do with them after you learn them? That's the real trick.

The goal is to get you to the point where your only limitation is your imagination. If you can visualize a look that can be created with light, you can almost certainly achieve it. But that assumes that you can visualize it to begin with.

Once you learn the techniques, some of you will be limited by them - or to merely reproducing them and other techniques that are demonstrated by other photographers.

But some among you will find that having the techniques under your belt will free you so that you are capable of doing just about anything you want to do with light.

I do not spend a lot of time dissecting technique when I shoot. I don't think of light in terms of f-stops and shutter speeds any more. Lighting ratios are gone, too. Inverse square rule - never much fun to begin with - is history.

Now, I think of light in the same way that I think about music: Genre. Style. Volume. Ensemble. Mood.

Or sometimes I think of light in terms more like food: Flavor, spice. complexity, simplicity. Do I follow the recipe, or do I ditch it and improvise?

Food, actually, is a very good analogy to light.

Science tells us that we can only taste five things: Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Don't believe me? Check out the Wikipedia page for more info. (And I didn't know what "umami" was, either.)

Yet, even with only those five tastes, the possibilities are endless. And the concept of food and cooking still captivates millions - billions - of us. How many magazines, books, TV shows, etc., are devoted to food? How many restaurants are there? How many years are spent in search of the perfect Bar-B-Que? The perfect red wine?

Here's the analogy:

Try as I might, I cannot come up with more than seven things you can do to light.

Seven simple little controls. Each with its own effect. Each with associated advantages and disadvantages. Each infinitely variable.

You learn those seven controls, and you have the Rosetta Stone. You speak the language.

You get so comfortable with them as to be able to manipulate them effortlessly, and lighting becomes merely another method of creative expression. And that's the real goal.

Each of the seven controls is very simple in both concept and execution. We will discuss each one at length, discuss them in Flickr threads and do exercises to drive the concepts home.

We'll do assignments throughout the process that incorporate what we have learned so far. By the time we get through all seven controls, they'll seem like old friends.

Do you drive a car? Or maybe ride a bike? Can you walk?

If so, you are clearly capable of calculating and controlling a simultaneous stream of variables. Lighting is way easier than any of those activities when you think about it.

So for today, your only assignment is to clear your mind of any fear you may have associated with learning to light. You can get this stuff.

Only a jerk would assign homework on the first day of class. But if you do want to learn more (or review) I have moved all of the L101 posts and the On Assignments to drop-down menus on the sidebar. They will be good references throughout the course, and now you can get to any individual post in one click.

As we get to concepts that also are covered in the book Light: Science & Magic, I will be referencing sections you may wish to review. So if you are stuck on a point, this should help you to get past it.

And if that doesn't work, there's always those couple of thousand other photogs in the Flickr threads to ask.


Next on Lighting 102: Seven ways to control light - an overview.


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Sunday, June 03, 2007

What's Cooler than a Ninja? Lots of Ninjas.

Ok, how often do I get an excuse to put ninjas on a photo blog? Not very. So you know this one is going up.



A little insight into how "A-list" photographers think. Of Chase's video, bear the following thoughts in mind:

• This shoot was not assigned to him by anyone.
• He conceived it, executed it and fronted the costs himself. (With his team, of course.)
• The sole purpose of this job was to make some cool photos and keep the creative juices flowing.

While there is no immediate monetary benefit to doing a shoot like this, consider the downstream benefits for Chase:

• He and his team get the experience of a wonderfully creative afternoon.
• He gets photos that make his portfolio pop with current, cutting edge stuff.
• The photos yielded by the shoot also show his range and ability, meaning creative directors have confidence to hire him for the more traditional shoots.
• Whenever work is available that calls for creative, high-impact photos, Chase stands a better chance of getting those assignments, too.

Not a bad return for an afternoon's work, huh?
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Learn more, and even ask Chase a question about ninjas on his blog.

Some of the photos are already integrated into his portfolio: See #'s 12 - 13 here, and #'s 15-17 here
.

Other Chase Jarvis videos:

:: Hasselblad Masters Series ::
:: Laptop Uberbriefcase ::


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Friday, June 01, 2007

Hacking Your Camera's Sync Speed, Pt. 2

NOTE: This is the second of a 2-part series. The first part, which was about exploiting electronic shutters, is here. Today's post is about gaining power through partial-frame syncing.
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We recently lucked into a good deal on a used Trek MT60 mountain bike for my son Ben. We are big believers in buying better quality used, rather than cheaper-made stuff new. And I am proud that my 6-year-old is already choosing quality and value over shiny, cheap and new.

But a new bike, even if it is not really new, means doing a picture of him on it to email down to Nana and Papa Ken.

I shot a typical, quickie two-light setup. The first light was the sun, from behind and over Ben's camera right shoulder. The second was an SB-26 on a stand at camera left. It's easy to balance with the sun when shooting with a small flash at close range. And even at 1/4 power on the SB-26 there was plenty of off-camera fill at 1/250th of a sec.

But to raise that shutter speed even more, you have to try a little partial-frame syncing. This is a technique in which you only have the flash lighting part of your frame, with the trade-off being higher sync speeds.

As with the electronic shutter trick, you'll have to fool your camera into not knowing that there is a flash up top. Check back on part one for the how-to info. (Basically, it means no on-camera flash unless you insulate the TTL contacts, and no use of a TTL off-camera cord. Anything else - PC cord, remotes, etc, is cool.)

To give you an idea of how it works I set up an SB-26 on a stand, aimed at the wall, and started playing with the shutter on my D2Xs, which nominally syncs at 1/250th of a sec.

Here we are at 1/250th. No surprises here. The camera is supposed to sync at 1/250th and it does, with no blocked areas.

But what happens as we take a walk up the shutter speed scale?

As you can see, 1/320th is almost totally synched. That's because there is a little margin for error built into the system. But as we go up higher, you can see that there is still some flash-lit compositional room in which to play. And I frequently make use of higher speed by composing so the lit part of my subject is in the band of the frame that gets the partial sync.

Interestingly, you'll note that in this test the 1/640th test frame shows more sync area than the 1/500th. There is some variability in this technique from frame to frame, and you should allow for a little bit of a fudge factor when composing.

On my camera, the good band is at the bottom of the frame when held in a normal, horizontal position. Your camera may be different, due to different shutter designs, so you'll wanna check.

With a little compositional planning, I can comfortably sync up to 1/1000th and still get some good, usable real estate for my flash. Mind you, the electronic shutter trick is better as it gives you full sync. And the focal plane flash thing rocks if your gear supports it. But to some degree, this trick works with most any camera and flash. So you can always fall back on it.

You might think that a half-frame of flash-lit area is useless. But remember that in a high-speed sync situation, you are almost certainly basing your exposure on the ambient (even if you have knocked it down a stop) and lighting your subject somewhere in the frame.

It is easier than you think to pull this off when you need to raise your shutter speed, open your aperture and make your flash more powerful. The ability to overpower the sun in mid-afternoon is a cool thing.

For instance, if I am shooting BMX bikers going over jumps, I would light the area where they hang in the air and shoot at 1/1000th of a sec with my camera held upside down. Remember, my sweet spot is on the bottom of the frame.

If that sounds too acrobatic for you, try it. If you have a vertical release, it is cake. Really.

As an example, here is Ben shot at a 500th of a sec, which is a full stop past my sync speed. I have the flash zoomed to just light him from up top. As you can see, he syncs fine in the right hand composition, but not when he is on the left.

I could easily reverse this by rotating the camera to the alternative vertical orientation, i.e. trigger finger on the bottom rather than the top. And note that you cannot see the sync line, as the exposure is based on the (underexposed) ambient light.

Sure, you may have to jump through some compositional hoops with this trick. But it gives you the ability to really nuke daylight when you have to. All you have to do is try a bit of planning with your composition.

And you do not have to spring for a focal-plane flash setup or a camera with an electronic shutter. Which leaves more money for used bikes.


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