Keep Tabs on Your Gels

Here's a quickie gel mounting idea from reader Rui M. Leal.

Rui is using a flash-head-sized template to cut the sample gels that are available for free from Rosco.

(The samples can be hard to find, tho. Always ask when you place an photo gear order somewhere.)

Rather than extend them with tape and mount them with velcro or rubber bands, Rui trims them in a way that leaves a small tab that fits in the built-in bounce card slot. Creased properly, they should pretty well stay put.

This seems like a pretty clean way to mount your gels if your flash has a built-in bounce card, as many do. You can see bigger pix here.

(Thanks, Rui!)

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Video Archive, And Send Me Your Suggestions

In an atypical fit of organized thinking, I have pulled together some of the videos which have appeared earlier on the site (and some new ones) to create a small-but-growing dropdown menu on the right sidebar.

This list will continue to grow as other videos (both internal and external) are added to the site.

If you have seen (or created) a video you would like to suggest for the archive, please leave the info in a comment after any post and I will see it.

Some things to remember:

• The preferred format is YouTube, for ease of integration. (Make sure to include the video's YouTube URL.)

• If I get 20 new suggestions today, that does not mean that 20 videos will appear tomorrow. There is a limit to these kinds of things, lest we all go insane.

• If you created the video, please let us know! We wanna credit you and link to your site.

• If you did not create it, give us your URL anyway so we can link to you in the "via" reverence.


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RSS Hijinks

RSS users out there may notice a string of apparently older posts popping up in your RSS readers today.

I am building a little video archive (see the dropdown on the right sidebar) and I will be wedging in some backdated video posts to avoid cluttering up the front page. Please do not adjust the color. The problem is not in your set.


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Hacking Your Camera's Sync Speed, Pt 1

This weekend's shooting reminds me of the love/hate relationship I have with my job as a newspaper shooter.

Hate: Working a 12-hour day, much of it in draining heat, only to have a couple of small photos run in the backwaters of the sports section.

Love: Getting to watch two phenomenal pitching performances at the state softball championships. The first game was merely a no hitter, thrown by a sophomore against a team good enough to make it to the 4A Maryland state championship.

The second was a perfect game thrown in the 2A championship, in which another 15-year-old sophomore struck out 19 of 21 batters faced. They gave up trying to hit her half way through the game only to find out that they could not bunt her, either.

It was just an insane performance. And she stood out there on the mound with a huge grin on her face the whole time, knowing that she owned them.

But the three games (and the continuing effects of my #$!@*!! allergies) pretty much made me useless for Sunday. And even on Monday, I am writing through the murky haze of Benadryl. So if I fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, you'll know why.

Today we are talking about sync speed, and how to raise it. But before we explain it, why would we even want to do it?

As we learned in the balancing light posts of Lighting 101, the ambient light exposure is affected by both shutter speed and aperture. The flash exposure cares only about the aperture, as long as you are operating at a shutter speed at which the camera and flash can sync together.

So, for every stop you can raise your shutter speed and still sync, you can open up the aperture one stop. This means that your flash can get the same lighting effect using half the power. Which makes it potentially far more powerful.

In normal operation, the sync speed is the fastest speed at which the entire chip can be reached by the light of the flash at once. At faster speeds, a mechanical shutter basically forms a small slit that travels across the CCD, with only a small portion visible at once. So a single burst of a flash cannot light the whole frame.

There are three ways to increase your effective synch speed: Focal plane flash, partial frame sync and exploiting an electronic shutter.

The first method is very specific to camera/flash combinations, so I am not going to give it much space here. Suffice to say that if you have a high-end digital camera and flash, you should check in your manual to see if it offers anything that says "FP Flash" or "Focal Plane Flash," or "High-Speed Flash," etc.

Basically, it fire a series of pulses (when you are over your normal sync speed) that have the effect of lighting the whole frame as the shutter slit travels across.

If you have this option, definitely enable it. Simple as that. Both my D2Hs and the D2Xs do this with my SB-800's, and it works pretty much seamlessly. (On my cameras, the FP flash enable function is at E-1 in the menu bank on the cameras.)

If you have different camera/flash combos that work in the FP flash mode for you, please post the combo (and, just as important, how to enable FP flash) in the comments. I will bring the info up top in a later post. We can compile a database pretty quickly.

One caveat with high-speed flash is that the flash loses effective power with each increasing shutter speed. This is because of the pulsing nature of FP flash. So you have to work at relatively close range. But you can still darken the sky, and/or shoot with a wide-open aperture to blow out the background. You can also reclaim power by grouping multiple flashes in the FP mode, using the Nikon's CLS or Canon's ETTL controlling systems. If you want to know how to do that for you system, hit the instruction manual.

But today, we are talking about a method that far more of you will have access to: Exploiting electronic shutters for ultra-high-speed sync.

Electronic shutters also have auxilliary mechanical shutters that actually open and close up to, say, 1/125th of a second. This helps to protect the CCD from dust and damage. Beyond that speed, the computer just grabs a progressively smaller slice of time from the CCD and "fakes" higher shutter speeds electronically. Which, as it happens, is totally golden for us.

Why electronic shutters? You can manufacture this type of shutter far more cheaply and it will last for a long(er) time. You are essentially avoiding having to engineer for the stresses of high-speed mechanical shutter operation. Thus, if you have a lower-end digicam, you likely have an electronic shutter. A good clue is if 1/500th of a sec sounds clunky, like you are still shooting at a 60th.

Why is this so cool? If you think about what we said above, you physical shutter is open all at once for all of your shutter speeds. I.e., no slit for the flash to deal with.

So, you can get high-speed flash with any flash. And you are not wasting flash energy on a series of pulses, either. To my mind, this is far more effective than FP flash.

As I mentioned above I use two flagship, company-supplied Nikons: The D2Hs and the D2Xs. But I plunked down my own cash for a body that has quietly become a little darling of the pros: The Nikon D70s.

It is small, light, not particularly heavy-duty and sports a 6.1MP chip. That sounds small by today's standards (the camera is about a year old) but it gives more than 3,000 pixel on the long dimension. Which is plenty for my needs.

You can still find them refurbished by Nikon USA for about $500 USD. I love mine, and it does things my "better" cameras cannot do.

I'm sure that there are other cameras, from various brands, that use electronic shutters. I would love to hear about your combos in the comments, so I can bring them up to the main post on an update later.

Back to the D70s, here is how to fake out the sync. It couldn't be simpler: All you have to do is make the camera think there is not a flash connected. Then it will not arbitrarily limit your shutter to it's nominal sync speed of 1/500th of a second, which is a pretty good sync speed to start with.

As long as there is not a TTL-capable flash connected to the camera - either on the hot shoe or with a TTL cord - you are good to go. So, if you are using a Pocket Wizard or a sync cord, your flash will sync above 1/500th.

This is one case where a PC cord trumps trumps the PW, as the electronics inside a PW will slow down the upper limit on this trick. But even with the Pocket Wizards, I can sync well above 1/1000th of a sec. I do not know if this will work with a Gadget Infinity remote. (It probably won't.) But I know it will work with a PC cord (and a required hot shoe adaptor in the case of a D70s.)

Case in point is this quickie portrait of a high school tennis doubles team. (I had five minutes to do this and two head shots between warm-ups and practice.)

The ambient exposure of the hazy/sunny day was ~1/1250 at f/5.6 at ASA 200. So I underexposed the ambient a stop by shooting at 1/1250th at f/8. The sun, as you can see, is coming across the back of their shoulders. Look at the shadow near the racquets on the ground to confirm.

Now, the high shutter speed gives me a lower aperture and the ability to dominate sunlight with a small flash. In this case, it was a single Nikon SB-26, on a stand (sync'ed by a PW) in manual mode and set to 1/4 power. I put the beam at 85mm to get a little more lighting efficiency, given it was about 10 feet away.

Why 1/4 power? Because recycle time will be negligible. No waiting to fire. But, it is important to note that I could have shot at 1/1 power and dropped the aperture to f/16. Thus, I would have been able to overpower daylight by three stops. Now, that is power.

Here's your limiting factor: The actual duration of the flash pulse itself.

A manual, full-power flash takes about 1/1000th of a second to discharge. A half-power flash discharges in about 1/2000th of a sec, a quarter-power flash in 1/4000th, etc.

So you are not going to get all of a full-power flash in a 1/8000th of a sec, no matter how your shutter slices it. Basically, you can sync a full-power shot at 1/1000, a half-power shot at 1/2000th, a quarter-power shot at 1/4000, etc. This assumes a PC cord with no time loss due to the electronic circuitry in remotes. But I can consistently do a half power flash at 1/1250 with my Pocket Wizards. Beyond that it gets dicey. But I can always switch to a PC cord to further stretch it.

Next, we will talk about how to work beyond the limits of your mechanical shutter. Long story short: Not camera/flash model dependent, but less stretching to be had.

And again, please list your various electronic shutter cameras (and their fast-sync capabilities) in the comments, and I will bring them up to a round-up post when time permits. If you are not sure, just test against a wall indoors to see what your off-camera outfit is really capable of.

You might be surprised.
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Related post: Balancing Light, Pt 1
(Part two continues, linked from Part 1)


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Two Cool Tips from PopPhoto Flash

I am working on an article on how to overclock your camera's sync speed, (flash at 1/2000th, anyone?) but I have just been handed the following assignments for Saturday by The Sun:

A double-header softball game and an additional single baseball game (three games all together) that are 75 miles away from each other. But at least the traffic between the two on I-95 should be smooth going on Memorial Day weekend...

Yikes. Looks like I'll be finishing the flash sync post after that. But at least I have time today to point you to something interesting.

PopPhoto's new Flash Daily blog (that's flash as in news flash and not as in strobe) is already throwing up some pretty cool tidbits.

This week they show you how to make a cheap background paper stand (at your local Home Depot) and where to find a cheap light stand bag at a sporting goods store.

If you'd like to pad your resume with the name of a big-time magazine and you are interested in doing some photoblogging, PopPhoto Flash is looking for contributors, too.

The pay ain't much, but the potential is there for some pretty cool schwag, I'd think.

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Bits and Pieces, 5/24/2007

• The Microsoft Future Pro Photographer Contest deadline is in one week.

They are being cool on the rights, the prizes are killer (like $20,000.00 in cash and much more) and one of our readers won it last year. There's space in the Strobist Trophy Case for one more, people.

Oh, and it is free to enter. College students only. (Previously discussed at length here, contest link is here.)

Lighting 102 starts in less than two weeks. Be there or be square.

• I was interviewed on Soup Questions this week, in case you are wondering what my favorite curse word is...


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DIY $8 Ringlight Folds Flat in Your Bag

Photographer Tommy Huynh has what may be the coolest adaptation of a DIY ringlight I have seen yet.

It is small, light, cheap and folds flat for easy portability.

He has instructions on how to make it, with some neat-o example pics of the look it gives. But I still think I need a drawing, or a guts shot, or something to help me better understand how it goes together.

So, the final product appears to rock. But the instructions need... a little more cowbell. He doesn't have his comments function turned on, so I don't see how to ask for a drawing or... something.

But maybe he'll see the post here and beef up the instructions a little bit. Then, being a guy, I can print them out and throw them away, as I am genetically required to assemble stuff without reading instructions, anyway.

If you are late to the DIY ringlight party, check out this one or this one, both of which were discussed earlier.


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How to Improve Your Cheapo Webcam's Picture Quality


We're taking a little detour today to talk lighting in a context other than still photos.

Each day, untold bandwidth is being used to transmit really bad webcam image quality. Which is such a shame, really, when you consider how easy this is to fix.

We're talking basic, low-end-theory off-camera lighting, folks. The same thing we talk about every day. And the webcam is an easy way to play around with lighting and see instant results. That said, here are five common webcam problems and their easy fixes.


1. For Pete's Sake, Don't Use Your Monitor as a Light Source

I think we have all been here. Or worse, on the receiving end of here. This is worst possible case, IMO, and exactly how the majority of webcam'ers operate.

As seen here, we have the computer monitor acting as our light source. Can you guess what color my desktop is? Did you guess blue?

Compounding that is the fact that the background light is brighter than the foreground light. Let's correct that first.

Solution: Turn on your flippin' desk lamp. Mine happens to be one of those adjustable engineering lamps, with a CFL bulb. But for these purposes it doesn't really matter what kind of bulb you have. As you'll see in a minute, your webcam will auto-magically adjust for it when you help out a little.

So now our color is getting closer. And you'll notice that the bright front light causes the webcam to lower the overall exposure, dropping the background down a tad.

But the bright, harsh light of the engineer's lamp is not doing me any favors. And I need me some favors.



2. Soften the Light

Solution: Diffuse the light with typing paper. Just two cents worth of office supplies gets you a softer light source. I just taped the paper to the open front of the lamp and the harsh light is now softened.

Some differences: The shiny highlight in my forehead thankfully lessens in intensity, which is due to the larger apparent size of the light source.

Also, the typing paper knocks down the brightness of the lamp, which means that the auto exposure adjustment causes (a) the background and (b) the computer reflection to come up some.

Variation: Turn the bare lamp around and bounce it off of the wall, if there is one. This makes for a bigger, softer and dimmer light source. I killed the background lights because the dimmer front source made them appear too bright in the back.

Your call on whether to diffuse the light or bounce it. I usually prefer diffused for extra control and the fact that it retains more light intensity.


3. Kill the Computer's Reflection in Your Eyes

Have you been noticing how the room lights appear to rise and fall based on the intensity of our front light?

Just adding light (other then that from the monitor) has partially solved the computer glare problem. Now let's finish it off.

Solution: Adjust the monitor brightness and/or contrast down to the threshold at which you can just barely see comfortably (just while you are using your webcam.)

That, along with the lamp acting as a dominant frontal light source, will kill the reflection.

If you do not wear glasses, this is not a critical step. But if you do wear glasses, it might be nice if people could actually see your eyes.


4. Give Your Webcam What it Wants

Here's a little secret: Sometimes, when I am using my webcam, I like to clinch my buttocks tightly together and see how red I can make my face.

(Just kidding. Mostly.)

What is really going on here is that the camera's auto exposure/white balance is going all screwy, trying to lock onto a color balance. The two pictures immediately above were taken about a second apart, in the same lighting conditions. Ever had that happen to you?

You know: Noooormal....Green...Bluish...WAY-Red...NormalForJustASecond... Weird again...

I hate that. But when it happens it is all my fault. You see, the webcam is just trying to give me good color and exposure. And it only needs one thing to work: A patch of white.

That's how auto white balance/auto-exposure works. It takes the brightest thing in the frame, assumes you want it to be white, tries to make adjustments until that happens.

If you do not give it some white right up front in the frontal light zone, no nice balance for you.

Solution: Wear a white shirt and you'll get good color and exposure when you webcam.

Pick any style. Makes no difference.

It can be a nice, crisp white oxford, as I am sporting. (I only point that out because I tend to dress far more casual than even this.) Or it can be one of those "wife beater" undershirts that the guys in the trailer parks always seem to be wearing when they get busted on Cops.

Whatever works for you is fine.

The webcam is gonna try to make something white whether it actually white or not. Give it some real whiteness, and your exposure/color problems are solved. And no more meandering through the rainbow spectrum while you are talking, either.

I turned on the lights in the background of this pic to prove a point, too: You give the webcam white in the foreground, and it'll even disregard various light source colors in the background.

And you thought white clothing was just for innocence and purity.


5. Clean Up Your Background

No, no. Stay with me. I am talking about "visually clean," not "actually clean." Your basement may remain trashed.

If you do any reasonable amount of webcam'ing, you can do yourself a lot of favors by getting a collapsible background. Sources are listed at the end of the post.

They are just like those auto windshield screenshade things that pop open in half a second and collapse back down in just 23 easy tries.

(Actually, they are a snap when you get the hang of it.)

This is the only one of the five tips that would make you go for your wallet. And granted, I am a tightwad pretty darn frugal by nature. But dropping $150 on a background and light stand pays big dividends here. If you are a photographer, this'll also give you a very portable studio backdrop to shoot (or video) the kids, dog or whatever.

You want 5x6' (or 5x7') because webcams have super-wideangle lenses, and see the edges of any backdrops smaller than 5x6'. Even when they are placed up close behind you.

The wideangle lenses, BTW, are why I look so goofy in these pics and not more like Brad Pitt, as in real life. You can minimize this bulbous-head distortion by not getting too close to the webcam. Just a hint.

The neutral grey variety is most useful because it makes your auto white balance even happier. But as long as you are giving your webcam some white on which to balance, you can go for, say, the mottled brown background if you'd rather. And those mottled backgrounds make wonderful portrait backdrops for still and video photographers.

Most important thing: You do not have to clean up the basement whenever you webcam.

Schwing. (And laziness edges out frugality for the win...)

So, whether you're talking to the grandkids, remote interviewing for a job or slooowly removing your clothing for $2.99 a minute, nothing gets you from "toy-bomb-damaged basement" to "semi-pro video booth" faster than a backdrop, sprung open and clamped to a stand.

Just remember to turn off the lights behind it, or they'll sneak through in your picture.
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So, there you have it. Further improvements for my webcam'ing images will require (a) lots of diet and exercise, and/or (b) a visit to a plastic surgeon. So we're gonna wait on those.


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Set Flash Mode to 'Automagic'


Ken Brown, who also took this awesome photo of a Mercedes 300SL using just two speedlights, has posted a YouTube video of himself shooting some spiffy cars.

He uses a single SB-24 speedlight, handheld in a softbox, and walks around each classic car popping the flash in a darkened room with the camera shutter left open.

Kinda hard to see what he is doing, because he is only visible during the flashes. But the payoff comes when he shows you the final photos. Amazing stuff this, especially for one small flash.

(UPDATE: Ken, AKA Mooosehd2, has been answering some Q's on the technique here.)

Ken, you should be teaching seminars on these techniques at big car shows...

Know of other cool, flashy videos? Link me in the comments!


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SitBonzo Strikes Again

SitBonzo, aka British newsphotographer David Berman, has posted another flash slideshow of some recent assignments. He includes some nice how-to info, along with some pretty high-end lighting diagrams (as you can plainly see.)

He narrates it himself, with a dry sense of humor and that cheeky British accent of his.

Thanks, David. Keep 'em coming.

(If you want to talk to him about it, you can do it here.)


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Thinking Bloggers

Rats. Still sick. Gonna miss the Preakness. First time in quite a few years, too.

Here I sit, in bed, bored silly. At least I can catch up on the no-physical-labor portion of my "to-do" list.

Herewith, the Thinking Blogger meme.

Just because one of these things comes along does not mean that I necessarily participate in it. But I thought the idea behind this one was particularly neat. And I was fortunate enough to be tagged with it by a few bloggers.

You have probably already seen it. But for those who haven't, here are the rules for the Thinking Blogger Award:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to the original post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award‘


First, the blogs that tagged me, with thanks for all of the kind words:

1. Barbe Saint John
2. Moving J-wards
3. Cook and Eat

(If I missed anyone, please lemme know in the comments and I will edit you in.)


Now, my five Thinking Bloggers:


1. ProBlogger

Since the first days of my own blog, Darren Rowse has guided me through the learning process more than any other person. If you blog and do not read his site on a daily basis, you are driving at night without your headlights.

What little success I have in the blogging aspect of this photo-education thing is due to his guidance. His advice is second only to that of my Magic 8-Ball.


2. The Online Photographer

Mike Johnston could write about making toast and I would read it. His eclectic subject matter runs the gamut of all things photographic, and some things not.

With a voice that bounces between intellectual and whimsical, Mike delivers fresh photo content every day with clarity and style. A must-read if you are deeply interested in photography.


3. What The Duck

Not even a year old yet, Aaron Johnson's wry, perceptive, web-based comic strip blog has taken the photo world by storm. He's already done 200+ strips, and is branching into video.

(This first effort is laugh-out-loud funny.)

If I were a hotshot photomag editor, I would snap WTD up before one of my competitors did.


4. Teaching Online Journalism

About 15 years ago, a career in print journalism quietly morphed into a life-long game of musical chairs. But the same web-based reality that is wreaking havoc in the newsroom also means that you no longer need printing presses and dead trees to reach your readers.

The Fourth Estate is going through a seismic disruption, and TOJou's Mindy McAdams has taken it upon herself to guide her colleagues into the next era. Way to go, Mindy.

Prediction: Before it is all said and done, many print journalists will successfully make the jump to the blogosphere, and to great success. These guys are overworked, underpaid and know how to tell a story. It can't not happen.


5. BoomVista

Case in point on the print-journalism-to-blog thing: Boomvista.

Written by a long-time metro daily reporter, this new blog is still in the teeth-cutting stage. It is aimed at fellow baby boomers. You may think of them as the folks whose VCR's still blink "12:00." But in reality, they are a potentially huge audience.

In its first three months, BoomVista has touched upon topics as diverse as mental atrophy, aging nudists, retirement planning and mistresses with brevity, grace and humor.

Pretty hip stuff for an old guy. Still relatively obscure, BoomVista won't stay that way for long.


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On Assignment: Two-Speedlight Group Shot

I am spending this beautiful spring day flat on my butt, stapled to the bed and trying to kick a bug that I very much hope will not keep me from shooting the Preakness race in two days. So today's OA will be a simple one, to spare the three brain cells I apparently have left at this point.

Any time I talk about group shots, I get a lot of feedback from you folks. Which tells me that many of you have to shoot these things. I'm sorry to hear that. Unless of course you are getting paid by the person, in which case I am jealous.

The group shot above was hastily pulled together as a request from Sunday's seminar students in London. The idea was to do it with a little edge, and to make use of two speedlights and our environment. (It was a typical ~20x35 classroom with a 10-foot ceiling.)

Before getting in the specifics of this shot, let's talk about some of the ways we could have done it.

First things first, we kill the fluorescents. Always, if possible. They are not helping us, so why leave them on? We could correct for them, but that would cost 2/3 of a stop of light from our flashes due to the light loss from the correcting gels.

Option number one, and the most likely should you need to extract maximum power from your flashes, would be to simply fire them directly from forty-five-degree angles in the front. This is what I would do if the shot was outside during the day, for instance, and I just needed to fill shadows from the sun.

I would also use this method if the group was very large, and I had to cover a big area.

(Tip: Ask your people to position themselves so they can each see both ot the lights, and the photographer. That way, they are all lit by both sources, and can be seen.)

I would back the lights up, to smoothly light the whole area. Then by adjusting the beam of the flashes (aiming them up a little) I could place the nearer people on the edge of the light beam and get an even exposure from front to back.

Another option might be to do the same, dual-45-angle thing and bounce the strobes off of the ceiling. This would create a two-soft-light zone that would probably be the most flattering method.

But in this case I wanted to create a little separation between the group and the dark grey background, (which was a room divider.) So I wanted to light all 34 people with one light and use light #2 to add some punch.

The front light was easy to do. I stuck a flash on a stand just out of the frame at camera right, set it to half-power and fired it into the ceiling. Why half power? Good mix of power and recycle time. If I need more aperture, I could go to full power. But I would rather have that quick, second-shot capability if I can get it.

Here is the result (note that I am doing this before all of the people into position to save time.)

Not too bad, actually. And if I only had one flash, I could live with this. In any case, I know my front light will do the job. It's giving me f/3.5 at 400 ASA, which should hold focus reasonably well if I focus on the person in the center of the second row. (That'd be the orange sweatshirt guy in the final photo, which includes the front row people.)

That done, let's go for a little separation.

My first thought was to stick a flash outside of the room in the hall and fire it through the door at back left.

This works fine, really, and creates separation between the back-left folks and the background. I had a CTO (tungsten) gel on it to create some color separation, too. A perfectly good option, actually. But I'd still like a bit more punch.

So I brought the flash inside and stuck it directly behind Ant Upton, who is the center person in the back. You should know the light is behind him, because the separation light wraps all the way around his head. If not, back to Lighting 101 with you.

I now have separation out the wazoo. But with the flash set on ultrawide (to backlight the group from close range) I am getting a lot of spill. This is bouncing off of the ceiling and screwing up the color balance more than I want.

Easy fix: Stick a gobo on top of the flash to keep the light from reaching the ceiling. Problem solved. I still have some excessive warmth to the color balance. But I am okay with that for a group shot with a little edge.

As you can see by this no-flash version, we had a little window light creeping in. It helps some, but I was actually trying to do this with flash (on principle) so I did the shot at my max sync speed of 1/250th.

So, as you can see, the flashes are doing all of the heavy lifting. If I were balancing the light, I would simply put the front flash in the left side and open up my shutter speed to exploit the window light. But not this time. Actually, I could probably do a rather nice one-light shot this way.

Looking at the final again, I think we have something with a little edge and three-dimensionality for a shot set up with two small lights in just a few minutes' time.

If you happen to be in this picture, and haven't done so yet, I hope you will go to the photo's Flickr page to box and label your head. (If you are relying on my memory to remember your name, you are screwed.)

Besides, I had an absolutely wonderful time and London, I and would like to be able to better remember all of the great people I met there.

Ditto for the Saturday folks, who's ad-hoc group shot is here. Mind you, this was grabbed from an exercise in which we were trying to create a zone of decent light for most off the room with just two small flashes. So this one really is not a very good group shot.

And another request to the Sunday attendees: If you happened to shoot the setup of the clamshell light with blow-away white background, I'd love it if you could upload it to Flickr and post the link in the post London thread. I'd like to do an OA on that shot, and a setup pic would be most helpful.

But as for now, it's time to go back to sleep and get well.

Next: Steve at Google


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I Don't Know What to Say...

I run off to another country for a few days, and come back to you guys wearing the lampshade?

Folks, I am at a loss for words. Except to point out that this is probably the first time the following phrase has ever been posted to the internet:
"... One Vivitar 283 ball-bungied to my head w/ a coffee filter diffuser ..."
Flew in last night and was immediately back into the daily grind today with three Sun assignments and 150 miles. (ILoveMyJob. ILoveMyJob. ILoveMyJob.) But I am slowly digging through my email inbox tonight and might even squeeze an On Assignment in before I hit the hay.

But this shot by John Sumrow just made my day, so I had to post it. Click the pic for more info.


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Sjan: Food Photographer

If you want to know what it really takes to make it make it as a food photographer for the "Big Three," you'll need to carefully study this video.



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Before I Leave London...

If you live near London and are considering a career in press photography, you'll want to check out this prep course being offered by the press agency, onEdition.

One of the instructors will be onEdition photographer Ant Upton, shown here in a photo from the London Sunday Strobist seminar. You can find out more about the course here.

As a lil' mini On Assignment for the above photo, Ant was lit today with an SB-26 speedlight in a shoot-through umbrella with a 1/2 CTO gel. The background was a grey room divider lit by another SB-26. It was fitted with a snoot, (2) 1/2 CTB's (which would equal 1 CTB gel) and shot through an arrangement of empty water pitchers to create the pattern.

NOTE: I'll be flying back to Baltimore tomorrow, so comment moderating will be a little slow.


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In Appreciation

I would like to belatedly welcome zenfolio, a very slick photo hosting site, and Pocket Phojo, who makes the software lets you edit and seamlessly transmit photos from your PDA while you keep shooting.

Along with MPEX and PhotoShelter, I hope you'll give them a look. They make it possible for all of the info in this site to be totally free.

Thanks, guys.


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You Wedding Shooters Just Got a New Home Page

No matter what your area of shooting, you should be looking to people in your field who are really busting some creative stuff as inspiration for your own shooting.

To that end, I point the wedding shooters (heck, anybody, actually) to Matt Adcock's new wedding-themed lighting blog, FlashFlavor.com.

Matt's just starting out with the blog thing, but he already has several great posts. If I were a wedding photog, I would bookmark this site and then pester him to update it at least three times a day.

(Sorry, Matt, but that's good stuff.)

The photo seen above was gotten in a church that doesn't allow flash photography. Yeah, it's a cool shot. But as far as I am concerned, the brownie points come from the sneakiness involved in getting it.

I'll take a chance every now and then to get good light. But you really have to hand it to a guy who is willing to risk his immortal soul to make a hot picture.

And if that isn't enough, check out Matt's video below from a "trash the dress" photo session. He shot it in an underground natural cave/pool in the Mayan Riviera. You know, just like the last place you did a wedding shoot.



For more info, and higher-res stills, check out his blog post on the subject.

Cool beans, Matt. Keep up the good work.


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Strobist Readers: List Your Blog

London has been great. Especially today, when I got a chance to meet quite a few of the site's British and European readers and shoot them. I had a great time at the seminar, and now I am ready to take Sunday off and sleep in.

Oh, wait. There's still one more. What the heck, I'll sleep on the plane.

The social component to the group is one of the best things about the joint, IMO. If you didn't make it to the pub afterwards, you missed out.

Speaking of social, someone has started a Flickr thread where Strobist readers are listing URL's to their own blogs.

Great idea. If you are the publishing magnate of your own little online empire, check in and let us know about your site here.


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Silver Umbrellas, Flashless Flash Kits and The Wiz

MPEX now has their ducks all in a pretty row heading into Lighting 102. This is no easy task folks. And I have gotten enough of a glimpse of supply chain management to know that I could never, ever make it as a retailer.

Three items:

• The silver umbrellas are now in, for those of you wanting to squeeze the most efficiency out of your speedlights. They have been backordered for eons, and Moishe is pretty sure he got the only ones in the country. The appropriate kits now ship with silvers if they are so designed.

• After many requests, they are now selling flash kits without the flash. Not as stupid as it sounds, as many of you already had a perfectly usable flash from back in the on-camera dark ages.

• And lastly, the Pocket Wizard Plus II's are on sale for just a few more days. If you snooze, you lose. He cannot extend it when it is over. Just remember, you have to add it to the cart to drop the price from $186 to $169.

(Umbrella photo by Paul Duncan. Ain't it cool?)


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Cool, Warts-and-All Photo Video

Chase Jarvis, whom you may recall from the ubercool photo laptop briefcase he designed, is at it again.

Assigned to shoot a series of videos for the Hasselblad "Master" series (go on ahead witcha bad self, Chase) he compiled every shot he made into a flipbook video to show the process behind the photos.

This is very cool. It is a quick way to watch the progression of how he thinks. He even has lighting test shots in there, too.

Honestly, I am a little surprised that he shoots as few frames as he does. He quickly progresses to the photo he is looking for. I, on the other hand, tend to burn frames like there is no tomorrow.

I guess that is the difference between a wannabe and a Master...



More info here.


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Bits and Pieces, 05/11/2007

So, can you tell I like the BBC?

I'm walking in London about 8-10 hours a day to cram as much exercise and relaxation into three days as possible. This city is so cool.

Expensive, but cool. And I am such a pathetic fanboy tourist.

Dropped by the The Flash Centre to pick up some gels for the seminars and ran into long-time email bud Neil Turner, publisher of DG28.com. (That's the other lighting how-to site on the 'net.)

If you haven't been to DG28, you really need to get your butt over there and check out Neil's place. He shoots for an education supplement and uses off-camera flash to raise the quality of his photos tremendously. Lots of how-to's on his site for lighting enthusiasts, too.

Neil is on the photo sidelines for a few months, riding the desk as a picture editor. But I am told he'll be paroled soon, when they hire a replacement for the position he is covering for them.

The Flash Centre is a neat shop, and a great lighting resource for those of you in the UK. And I am happy to report an absolute first for London: I actually purchased gels for cheaper than I could get them in the US.

Pretty impressive when you consider a Micky D's Value Meal goes for the equivalent of $8 over here. Yeesh.

But running into Neil wasn't the only cool coincidence this week.

Yesterday, I saw Tony Blair's motorcade come screaming into 10 Downing street. On the day of his resignation announcement, no less.

Two things of note: Mr. Tony does not observe the speed limit, and his bodyguards carry really nice guns.

They spring for the red-dot laser sites, too. Don't mess with Mr. Tony.

And what would a trip to London be without a visit to the cultural touchstone that is British theatre. The missus strongly suggested that I see a show and elevate my standards a bit.

So I am watching Spamalot last night, and... (What - It's theatre, okay?) ... and the guy sitting next to me turns out to be from Ellicott City, MD, about 10 miles from my house.

How far does a guy have to go to get away from it all?


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Gadget Infinity V2 Reviews Trickling Out

NK Guy, over at Photonotes.org has posted a review of the new version (V2) of the Gadget Infinity remotes. Their official name, BTW, is the "Cactus PT-04," which was surely decided upon after extensive market testing.

(Thanks for the heads-up, NK.)


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Microsoft Repents; Won't Steal Your Photos

If you happened to catch the first version of the Microsoft photo contest post earlier this week (before it died a grisly death in a hail of comment fire) you saw the now infamous "Rule Number Five."

This little paragraph basically demanded all rights to all entries, forever and ever, amen.

It went on to to the point where I am pretty sure that Microsoft was legally entitled to your unborn children. Well, they can have the curtain climbers for all I care. But those draconian rights grabs don't fly 'round these parts.

But hey, turns out it was all a screw-up by the legal types (no, really, lawyers sometimes actually make mistakes) and the real rules are much more photog-friendly.

Basically, they just now want to be able to use the winners to promote future contests without having to pay you. But hey, you did win the big prizes already. Which is not a bad deal at all.

So, to recap, what we are left with is a contest that:

• Is free to enter for college types
• Has killer prizes - as in $20k US, and more
• Does not get to take your baby

and (drum roll)

• Was won by a Strobist reader last year.

(High fives to Strobist reader Alin, who says that in addition to the twenty grand, he took home about $8k in additional hardware and software.)

Not a bad day's work.

And since this is the second year of the contest, that would mean that we are batting 1.000, folks.

So, please, let's try for a repeat. I know some of you college pukes are really shooting the lights out these days. So dig through those pics and submit something before the end of this month.

Newer, more gooder contest details (and prizes) are here.


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On Assignment: Spring Desserts


With the Queen visiting in the US, I am enjoying a few days in London before the weekend seminars. It's not that I specifically wanted to get away from her. But there is the small matter of a restraining order dating back from my college days that requires that I stay at least 5,000 miles away from her at all times.

I'd tell you more, but I think my parents read the blog now.

What'd I miss while I was gone?

Lessee, apparently United States President George W. Bush screwed up during a speech in the presence of Her Majesty (and 7,000 other people) yesterday. Dubya then parlayed a small faux pax into an international incident by turning to Queen Elizabeth II, smiling at her, and then winking at her right on national TV.

As you might imagine, absolutely no one in the sleepy British media noticed. I mean, it's not like the follow royalty or anything.

Sheesh. Nice goin' there, slick. I'll be happy if we can just get Her Majesty safely out of the United States before the Leader of the Free World asks her to "pull his finger."

What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Cake.

A couple of weeks ago, I shot a trio of spring desserts for The Sun. We did them all on location at the designer's house using one or two speedlights. The one pictured above is my favorite of the three, a totally luscious coconut whipped cream cake.

(Mmmmm-hmmmmm... Totally Luscious Coconut Whipped Cream Cake...)

We like to get out of the studio as much as possible, so we can have access to a kitchen, different shooting environments and we can tell our managers that the 30-minute food shoot really took four hours. So, we met at Tracey's house and I started comping the shots as she styled the food in her kitchen.

I wanted to create a springy theme of blue and yellow for the shots. My subject colors were white (cake) white (mousse) and yellow (pie) so I thought this would work well. I stuck a CTO gel on my flash and set the light balance to tungsten. This would make anything lit by the flash the correct color, and anything ambient a bluish hue.

Now my window, and its reflection in the table, would set the tone for the photo that I wanted.

My first idea was to do a dual-light, hard/soft thing like the book club illustration. Not that I wanted to light paint, but I thought it might be nice to have soft, wrappy light on the background and crisp light on the cake.

To do this, I would need to shoot the background and the flash in two separate exposures. Expose for the background with some plastic wrap in front of the lens, then shoot the flashed foreground at a 250th with no plastic wrap on the second half of a multi-exposure.

Turns out I had forgotten my tripod (d'oh!) and besides, the test shot looked like someone had thrown up on a Degas painting. So that idea was out.

It is important to note that I do not regard this as a mistake. I am always trying different looks as I am comping a shot. I expect most of them will fail, but I still try to find an interesting, novel way to approach a photo.

Newbs, take heart: The path to better light usually involves first working through the interesting ideas that do not work well. Don't be discouraged.

That hard/soft technique is still in my pocket for a future food shot, and I will be dragging it back out soon. Just you watch.

Since the cake shot was going to be the main art, we decided to knock off the other two (lemon pie and white mint-chocolate mousse) first and save the cake for last. The idea is to save as much time as possible to work on the lead photo.

As Tracey worked on the other items, I continued with my cake stand-in. If the subject is perishable, always shoot with a stand-in until you get the shot close. Then fine-tune with the actual subject. In this case, I thought the tissue box approximated the size and the tone (tissues, at least) of the subject. It is what was there to play with, at least.

In this case, I was using a snooted speedlight to control the spill. This gave me plenty of control in setting the relative tones between the background and the (soon-to-be) white cake.

A few minutes later, the cake comes out and I hit it with the hard light I tested on the Kleenex.

Yuck. Too hard. Made the cake look like, I dunno... razor wire?

Well, since we were going for "fluffy," and not "mouth-slicing shards" I switched to a little bit of a softer light source. We try not to draw too much blood in the food section.

I threw the flash into an umbrella, and cranked up the output (to one-half power) to compensate for the light loss. I used a silver umbrella with a black backing to control light spill onto the ceiling.

There, that's better. But I am still trying to do something to put a funky edge on the cake.

I am constantly experimenting with different ways to increase three-dimensionality with lighting. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not.

So I played with a technique called "flash drag," where I jerked the camera (in an opposite direction of the flash) during the exposure. This put a little ambient shadow along the top and right edges as the cake crept up into the ambient-only lit portion of the frame after the flash had fired but before the shutter had closed.

Ehhh... Not so much. I liked the look, but wanted to save it for a subject that could benefit more from it. That's not the kind of thing you can do too many time in a year in the food section.

So, I stick with my straight shot and start to fine-tune my composition a little. I want to grab a couple of safe versions of just the solid cake before we cut into it, just in case we screw the thing up slicing it.

Better safe than sorry. But what I am really looking forward to is this shot with a piece removed. Because we are gonna be using inside of the cake itself as a light modifier.

For the final version, we cut a slice out of the smooth, rich, mois (sorry.. it was really good) cake to shoot it with a splash of yellow showing from the inside.

Now, back to the idea of the cake as a light modifier.

Using a garden trowel, I carefully dug a speedlight-sized hole out of the center of the cake and hooked up an SB-26 to a Pocket Wizard. With the flash safely inside a clear, zip-lock bag... kidding, kidding.

(Although Franz Lanting did stick a speedlight into a melon once, and I am always looking to jam a flash into something.)

Besides, that would have destroyed the cake. And you do not get a physique like mine by missing opportunities to eat cake. Maybe I'll try it on a zucchini or something.

No, what I mean by using the cake as a light mod is that we are going to use the color of the inside of the cake to reinforce the color of the inside of the cake. Hey, when your final product is printed on Charmin, you need all of the saturation help you can get.

The second and final light for this photo came from a gridspotted speedlight, at 1/16th power, also sporting a CTO filter for proper color balance when shooting on the tungsten camera setting. The gridspot tightly controls the beam of the light. It allows us to shoot a little light in from slightly behind a pure sidelight angle. This light bounces off of the front edge of the inside of the slice and lights the back edge of the inside of the slice.

So, the hard light actually turns into very close-in soft light (reflected off of the cake) that has a golden yellow color. This perfectly reinforces the color of the inside of the cake.

And since we can control the beam so well, no light hits the outside of the slice, which would have nuked the coconut badly.

Pretty cool, huh? I always like coming up with a sneaky way to light something, so I was happy with this one.

The last lighting effect, also visible in the final shot, is a fill light coming from the left side, to glow the cake a little and make it a little more three-dimensional.

Since we are using just two small speedlights for this shot, our fill light was a very complex, sophisticated combination of a paper bag standing open with some crumpled aluminum foil attached to the side.

One cheapo reflector, made to order. At Strobist International Headquarters, we spare no expense in our quest to better light desserts.

And in the setup shot which is exposed (and daylight balanced) for the ambient, you can see how simple this really is. The key is using the CTO/tungsten setting to establish the color key with the ambient/strobe combo.

Also, notice that the "cake-slice" light, which has the grid spot, is turned on its side. This further controls the shape of the beam to fit the hole of the slice without spilling onto the frosting.


Here's the same angle, balanced for tungsten, with the flashes firing and the ambient exposed to set the window light properly.

There's nothing really difficult about this at all. It is about deciding on a look and methodically developing it.


We published this story today, and Tracey was just nice enough to e-mail me a .pdf of the actual page. So here is how it ran.

Did she do a nice job with that page, or what? That's a full broadsheet, too.

Design like this is why, all things being equal, I'd rather shoot features fronts than metro fronts. Which is cool, because we have a lot of news hounds on the staff that would rather shoot the hard stuff.

But then, how many of their assignments end up with free cake?

The leftover cake evaporated overnight at our house.

NEXT: Group Shot: 2 Speedlights, 34 People


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Reader Feedback Time

I am flying over to London tonight, and will be out of touch (and jet-lagged) tomorrow. So I want to take advantage of the time to solicit some reader feedback.

The content for the Lighting 102 series is still very much in play. And I would like to hear some things you would like to learn about. I will certainly be taking suggestions into account when I am planning the course.

Just keep them within reason. Just because you suggest "erotic self portraiture" does not mean I am gonna do it. Patrick.

Give it some thought, and hit me in the comments. I will not be moderating them for a whole day, so others' suggestions will not be there to influence you.

______________________________

NOTE: This post, made in haste as I waited to catch a plane, originally contained info about a college photo contest being run by Microsoft. The person running the contest actually contacted me personally to suggest it for Strobist readers, and presented it as no strings attached. What I did not realize when I put up the post was that all entries - winners or not - become the total property of Microsoft - forever and ever, amen.

The prizes are significant - grand prize is $20k USD. But at first glance it appears to be an inexpensive way for Microsoft to collect a bunch of royalty-free photos. I am going to talk to my contact at Microsoft and find out what they have historically done with the previous years' photos before I even consider putting the link back up.

If it is as predatory as it looks at first glance, it will not be getting further play here. But I want to know more before making that call.


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Flickr and You, Part 4: Case Study - John Dohrn

This is the last part of a four-part series, which begins here. In this final installment, we'll be taking a more expanded look at the possibilities for one of Strobist's readers who uses Flickr.
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Not even old enough to vote yet, John Dohrn has already built an impressive collection of striking insect photos. Clearly he has both a good working knowledge of bugs and a talent for shooting them.

For the sake of this piece, we are going to go on the hypothetical assumption that John might be interested in developing a specialty in insect photography.

What are some of the things he could be doing now, as a teenager, to better position himself for that future? If you are an aspiring bug photographer, you'll probably be interested in this case study. But on the off chance that you are not, I hope you will find some of the lateral thinking useful in developing your own strengths as a photographer.

After all, we are in an era increasingly geared toward specialist photographers. Specialist anything, actually. In a world where you can easily find someone who is an expert in any niche of a niche, why would you hire a generalist?

So I am going to use John and bugs as an example.


One Possible Strategy

The first thing I would do would be to lose the arty signatures embedded within the photos. Very "Buck's County Arts and Crafts Show," IMO. You want to be aiming higher than that. If you feel you must stick your name into the image area, make it very small, in a bottom corner, with a "©" symbol (created with an option "g").

As we have discussed earlier, John obviously should be making use of Flickr's metadata (tags) to help people find his photos. This would probably be more helpful to him than even to Sara Lando, given the taxonomic nature of John's tiny subjects.

A series of tags that start with John's name and drill down with increasing specificity would be simple to construct for each of his bug shots:

"John Dohrn"
insect
insects
bug
bugs
category, (i.e. fly, butterfly, ant, etc.)
genus and species
any ancillary info specific to the photo


John, by the way, is totally into bugs and is well-equipped to provide this information.

As with Lando, his profile should explain his capabilities and provide contact info, without being so overt as to upset the Flickr Gods.


Be a Thinking Photographer

But what are some of the things he could be doing as a photographer to build a library that could have significantly more commercial value in the future?

In the same way that I learned from the experiences of photographer Ken Jarecke on an AOL message board 15 years ago I want to take a look at John's work from another direction.

First, the biggest negative for John: He is young and very inexperienced as a photographer.

Now, the biggest positive: He is young and very inexperienced as a photographer.

A little flippant, maybe. But the important thing to realize is that young John, who is already making some killer photos, likely has more of the most precious commodity (time) than most any photographer reading this post. As a teenager, he already has a good knowledge of his subjects, some strong photographic skills and a passion for bugs.

Ten years from now, John could be parked at a computer screen in a nondescript office park evaluating insurance claim forms Or he could be sitting on a very valuable catalog of macro insect shots, and shooting new bug assignments all the time.

Thinking strategically at this point and planning for the long term could make a huge difference in John's future.

The very first thing I would do is to start to consider the commercial potential of various insects when deciding what I would shoot. Who uses bug photos? And for what purpose?

Putting aside for the moment that fact that insects are beautiful and amazing creatures and they will eventually dance on our graves, our primary focus (as a society) is to consider them as pests.

To that end, were I John I would begin to build a library of the usual suspects: Roaches, ants, mosquitos, etc.

Why? Because that's where the money is. And those insects would be popular search choices for people looking to buy (or assign) photos of bugs.

And given the current worrying trend of disappearing honeybees and the drastic effects this might have on our food supply, I would be making friends with a beekeeper, too. Maybe locusts, too, if they continue to ravage subsaharan Africa.

Sure, John would rather be shooting beautiful, more exotic insects. And there is no reason why he should not be doing that. But you have to think about the bread-and-butter of your genre, and consider picking the low-hanging fruit first.

I would consider a two-pronged strategy: Shoot the glamour bugs for show and the pests for dough. That is to say, wow people with your exotic shots so that will choose you for the bread-and-butter stuff.

In terms of logistics, John's area of expertise has a nice little benefit in that his subjects are very small and easy to ship. So he would want to have a good knowledge of any supply houses that can produce insects on demand for a given species. Obviously, he would have to be mindful of potential issues with invasive species when shipping the bugs, but it is possible to get around that sort of thing with the right permits and paperwork.

Better yet, John could use his photographic specialty to rationalize - and deduct the expenses for - travel to some wonderfully exotic destinations. Think of what two weeks in the cloud forests of Costa Rica could do for his portfolio.

Another advantage of John's age: No family commitments to preclude travel. And when he gets to college, he should buddy up to the bug-studying profs and grad students. This will start to integrate him into the insect-centric community.

And those guys travel all the time. John could be a valuable addition to an expedition. He should just make sure he keeps the resale rights to the photos.


Baaack, backbackback... Gone.

So, he builds a library with a nod to commercial and artistic value, develops relationships with suppliers and tries to position himself near bug-watchers. All of these things are hit-for-average approaches, and tend to increase his odds of success.

But what about the long ball? What would be John's equivalent of a walk-off home run?

I would submit that given John's early skill, subject familiarity and technical knowledge, he should always be working on discovering a totally new way to photograph bugs. Why? Because this is the kind of thing that can make a career and amp the value of his entire catalog at the same time.

If the technique is killer and visually distinctive enough, it could obsolete all of the gazillion pre-existing bug shots out there.

What would the technique be? Where would the idea come from?

Who knows.

But if I had to guess, I think it would most likely come from another "small-things" photography area that has nothing to do with bugs. So I would be studying macro photographers in other genres. Ditto video techniques, electron microscope photographic techniques, etc. And I would RSS the photo stream of every single hot-shot bug shooter on Flickr, too.

You are just looking for the one, little idea that sparks a big technical or creative discovery. Someone could stumble onto the partial idea that unlocks John's epiphany without even knowing it.

These kinds of paradigm-shifting events happen all of the time, and not just in photography, either. But they tend to happen to people who have a systematic approach to exploring all of the techniques that do not work until they hit on the one that does. People who work hard tend to get lucky.

I would love to discover a completely novel lighting look. Maybe I am weird, but I give that kind of thing some serious thought on a regular basis.

So John would want to be very creative in his approach to the technical side, all the while doing the hit-for-average stuff with respect to subject matter. So if he did stumble upon something groundbreaking, all of the other pieces of the puzzle woud already be in place.

Working toward a goal in a disciplined way like this can be the difference between having an interesting hobby to go with your boring, white-collar job or having an amazing, passion-based career that others only dream about.

And even if he never finds the techique that totally changes the world of insect photography, he will still create a far more interesting - and valuable - collection of photos than if he had just gone about his mission is a haphazard way. Which, honestly, is what the vast majority of people spend their lives doing.

Whatever you hope to accomplish with your photography or anything else, there will never be a better time to analyze your goals (and develop a comprehensive strategy to reach them) than right now. After all, what is going to be so different about you in five years?

Start now, and you could be five years closer to the things you most want to do by then. If you're not doing them already.

I hope you'll forgive the hard right-hand turn I took with this last article in the series. I had every intention of just continuing the pattern that was established earlier. But as I thought about John's potential, the ideas became less about Flickr and more about the lateral and upstream thinking process.

And I strongly believe that a systematic, integrated approach really ups your chances of success, no matter what you goal might be. To bring things full circle, leveraging these techniques with a conscious Flickr strategy could prove a powerful combination.

Obviously, I realize that very few of you have any interest in shooting bugs. But I hope that John's example might spark you to think about your own goals in a more expanded way. Be they photographic goals or something entirely different.


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First Look: Gadget Infinity V2 Remotes

I just received a review set of the new (V2) version of the $29.95 Gadget Infinity remotes. I've been playing around with them a little, and they seem to work pretty well.

Consider them a relatively painless way to dip your toe in the world of RF remotes. They have a pretty high trigger percentage - but not 100%. Bearing in mind that they also cost a tad less than the Pocket Wizards, they're not too shabby. I will be giving them a more thorough test and reporting on it in the not-too-distant future.

I'll have them with me at the London Seminars next weekend if you are attending. Feel free to check them out in person and test them with your gear. (So bring a camera and your usual flash if you like.)

Speaking of London, I'm leaving on Monday and definitely looking forward to a few days of R&R. My plan is to walk in the city for 12 hours a day and eat myself silly.

I have been putting together some cool stuff to post while I am playing hookie. Four days, and counting...


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Jessica Alba, au Naturale

Okay, I guess this is officially magazine night here on Strobist.

So I am in the checkout line this evening waiting to pony up for my Diet Mountain Dew and Baked Ruffles. I'm looking at the People Magazine 'Most Beautiful' cover story because I am way too cultured to look at the National Enquirer. Unless it is a really good issue.

Drew Barrymore? Most beautiful? Please. I mean, she's not repulsive or anything. But c'mon. I see her as high 20's, tops.

Given the photo up top, Drew is not even the prettiest person on this page.

But right in the middle of the whole Beautifulness package, there was something of interest. They shot 10 celebs for a spread without makeup or Photoshop.

We have looked into the retouching thing at length in the past. This no-makeup-no-retouching stunt flies in the face of all we hold dear in celebrity photography today.

It's almost communist, if you ask me.

So why do we give a rat's butt? Because PopPhoto Flash got the skinny (heh) on the techniques the photogs used to cheat Mother Nature (or at least Father Time) when shooting the celebs without a net.

Yes, folks, utilizing techniques like this, you can make even Jessica Alba look good.

Seriously, there are some very good tips that you can apply to your own subjects if they don't quite crack the Top 50. Check 'em out here.


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Strobist in May Issue of PDN

And not just me, either. You guys are mentioned as a group, and at least one of you is quoted.

The story, by Daryl Lang (who actually grew up very near where I live, it turns out) is about Flickr.

Strobist reader Ryan Brenizer is actually the lede of the story. Way cool. Anyone else in our group quoted? Give us a holla in the comments...

:: PDN story: Your Friend Flickr? ::


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Starting June 4th: Lighting 102

NOTE: Lighting 102 has begun. The first post is here.
______________________________

I have always thought that summertime was a great excuse to try new things.

Last summer, we ran a little experiment called Lighting Boot Camp, in which we assumed the identity of a fictitious photographer, Phil Phlashem, as he worked his way into freelance magazine photography by shooting a string of group assignments.

We started with a simple headshot and ended up shooting an artist-specific CD cover package.

When we began Lighting Boot Camp, this site was only about 60 days old. It had a few hundred regular readers and a small body of archive information. Still, over the course of the summer, we ended up with hundreds of photographers from around the world completing shared assignments together. More important, they were learning from the photos created by their fellow shooters.

Now, Strobist has over a hundred thousand regular readers and a large body - over 500 articles - of lighting-related articles. So, we're going to try another session.

Like many things I do, the original Lighting Boot Camp was totally made up as we went along a loosely structured journey through some of the various genres of assignment photography. As a group, we now have the critical mass to do something more lasting and comprehensive. Many of you are already doing some amazing things with light, as evidenced by the rotating faves gallery. Quite honestly, the work I put up on this site pales in comparison to what some of you are posting on Flickr.

Rather than be depressed about that, I see it as the best possible outcome. My goal here is not to teach lighting, so much as to create an environment that elevates the craft of photographic lighting on a mass scale. I prime the pump, you experiment and share your results, and we are all the better for it.

The goal of the Lighting 102 series is to make this process both more efficient and more inclusive. We'll also archive our results as we go, so anyone can start up at any time and get up to speed.

On June 4th, just over one month from now, we will be starting from scratch, so anyone can participate. There is no fee for the program, and you are certainly free to come and go as you please. I am giving some advance notice so people will have time to set up a Flickr account with the required waiting period so they can post photos to a group for the first assignment. (Like Lighting 102, Flickr basic accounts are free.)

Also, some of you may need some time to read up, or gear up, or both. But more on that in a minute.


What to Expect

Here's what I hope you will get out of Lighting 102:

• An organic and comprehensive way of understanding and controlling light.

• An enhanced creative process, by comparing your results with those of photographers from all around the world.

• The knowledge that good lighting need not be expensive.


We will be starting in the table-top subject mode, so you will not have to be cajoling roommates, friends or significant others into posing for you. Not to say that the techniques will not be appropriate to use on people - they will. But I realize that many of you might be doing these shoots at 11:00pm in the living room after the kids have gone to sleep. Heck, that's when I will be writing about them.

There will be plenty of discussion, both here and on the Flickr threads, about the various topics we will be covering. We'll be learning new techniques, talking about them and applying them in regular group assignments.

I want to make this as interactive as possible. I also want to get full value out of the wide range of perspectives, experience and ability of the readers of this site. This will allow us to do things that no physical classroom environment could accomplish.

We will be starting off at a basic level, but I hope the more advanced among you will not be put off by that. Over the last few months I have been developing what I think is a novel approach to understanding lighting and I want to use that as a foundation. Which means stating from scratch.


Between Now and June 4th:

First, if you have not done so, sign up for Flickr ASAP. That is where we will be posting photos from the assignments. And you really do want to participate, as comparing your results to those of many, many other photogs from around the world will show you the lateral range of creativity that can spring from a given assignment. Far and away, this will be the most valuable aspect of the process.

The free account will be just fine. Although at $25/year, the "Pro" account is a very good deal for what it offers. But as you know, I am not about unnecessary money spending. So let your wallet be your guide.

Either way, you want to do this first so you will have time for the required waiting period before posting to groups. So sign up and post a dozen or so photos and get comfy with the process of posting and tagging your pix.

Next, you will want to join the Flickr Strobist Group. It's free, and worth every penny. This is where the Q&A, discussion and picture posting will happen. There are already over 3,000 discussion threads there, most of which are about off-camera flash. Good stuff.

As for prerequisites, you should read your way through this site's Lighting 101 section if you haven't already. This will give you some good, basic background in off-camera lighting gear and technique. It will make a big difference in how much you get out of Lighting 102.

There is no required text, but I highly recommend Light - Science and Magic, 3rd. Edition. IMO, this is the best lighting book ever written, and I will be referencing it for Lighting 102.

(Much of the content in the 3rd edition is in previous editions, so if you have an earlier version you'll probably be fine. The photos and page numbers will be different, tho.)

This book has more raw lighting know-how (with less ego) than any other lighting book I have ever seen. We will not just be tracking the book, by any means. But it is a great reference and companion, and I highly recommend it. You can find a full review here.

As for lighting gear, We will be starting off in one-flash mode. But later on, there will definitely be opportunities to use a second flash if you are so-equipped.

I brought Moishe in on the planning early on, and he has gone to the trouble of putting together complete lighting kits. He has stocked a bunch of them. But as a cautionary note, I honestly have no idea what kind of demand this course will generate. So it will be first-come, first-served.

As an aside, Moishe has put a lot of work into researching, sourcing and stocking the gear that is appropriate for both the kind of lighting we'll be doing and our limited budgets. That's a tremendous help for a project like this, and I thank him for his effort on our behalf. Really, folks, collecting this gear from the motley crew of far-flung manufacturers is a job and a half. The one current bottleneck is silver umbrellas, which is has in decent stock numbers now, with another shipment expected May 8th. He will advise of the current status on the kits page.

And the Pocket Wizards sale is still on, last I heard.

If there are holes in your gear situation, this is an ideal time to patch them. And if you want to gear up for June, the early birds will get the worms.


One Small Request

The lighting info is cool and all. But the hidden gem in this series will be seeing the results of all of the other photographers. I can show you theory and technique. But combining that with the huge amount of talent and creativity contained by the readers of this site is what could make this a fantastic experience.

It's one thing to learn a new technique or approach. But to see the results of a thousand other photogs applying what you just learned will instantly show you the near infinite possibilities afforded by every photographic situation. Anyone can learn a technique. Our limiting factor is always creativity and ideas. That will be supplied by your classmates. And I can assure you that there is no one reading this that is looking forward to seeing all of the results that I am.

I think we will get a boatload of participants. But the more, the merrier. The value of this experience will be determined by how many people participate.

To that end, I am asking you to use this advance time to spread the word a little.

If you have a blog, (or a major TV network...) that's obviously a great way. But you can also let others know via message boards or forums, PJ school classmates, your camera club, Digg, whatever. Every little bit helps.

If you need a "permalink" to this post, you can get it here.

And I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to this project. Hope to see you there.

(Cool megaphone shot by TheParadigmShifter.)


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