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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

More Flash Play….

May 12

In Lighting at 12:58pm

Another way of involving a bunch of people while teaching lighting is to use a piece of paper as a light source. In the photo world merry go round of light shapers, light tools, light modifiers, bouncers, scrims, Velcro doohickeys, and bendable whatchamacallits, sometimes just a piece of Xerox paper will do. Tape it on the screen of a computer, and bounce your speedlight into it, and you have a simulated computer light source. Embellish the scene with additional sources. Stir in gels. Mix it up with a light fitted with a grid. Link it together and fire the whole shebang with line of sight TTL. Five flashes, fifteen minutes, done deal.

Or, you keep it cool, simple and elegant. One light into the screen/paper, 1/1000th @f2.8, incandescent white balance. The windows in the background do the rest.

Or, you can make your buddy look like a mad computer genius (which he is), as I did with RC Concepcion, below.

However, sometimes you are confronted with almost no usable light in the background, as in the picture way up top of the post, so you break out a few flashes and have some fun. I had a great crowd at the GPP PopUp in Singapore, and we simply decided to involve a bunch of folks, and turn the auditorium into a nonsensical riot of color. First up, of course, was the copy paper white light/main light, Group A, dialed in to a good exposure for my three person research team. I forget the exact setting here, but in the world of TTL, you often have to dial down the power for this key light. I don’t have line of sight from camera POV, but I have found what happens is that if you fire your commander flash with the dome diffuser on, there is often enough radiant light from that initial pulse scattering around to reach the sensor on the light propped up on the keyboard.

Then, you have blackness in the background, which can turn into….any color you want. I put theatrical green gels on two speed lights, and dished them out into the crowd. They are at about 45 degrees back from the computer, and firing hard light towards my research crew up front. They are hand held, so positioning is, well, seat of the pants. But it works, except when the whole audience is laughing so hard the guys holding the lights can’t keep them aimed properly. 

The small foreground fillip we worked into this scene was to cast a fourth protagonist off to the side, the evil poacher who is sitting there copying my award winning research team’s formula off their computer screen. To illuminate this gentleman, Cali is holding a speed light attached to a paint pole, and fitted with a warm gel and a grid. I have to isolate this figure with a splash of light, but that splash cannot be a wave of light, as would be produced by, say, an umbrella. It has to be a directed pin prick of flash that hits my corporate spy, and not much else. If you hit the scene with broad, random light, the directed nature, not to mention the color, of the light you have already created gets swallowed up.

Lastly, mostly for giggles, we threw a red gelled speed light into the background. Directly behind the group, firing backwards, it has a limited spill and play. (You can see the arm of the person holding it.) Doesn’t look particularly good.

Hand held, off to the side, it produced this shot, which is what I led this blog with.

Below, is a sketch ( I use that term loosely) of the overall scene.

All speed lights, SB-910. Camera is D4. Lens is 24-70mm. Again, a fun way to demystify flash, and light a big room with a few speed lights.

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Playing Flash with the Audience!

May 6

In Lighting at 12:41pm

Generally, when I teach a large group in a seminar setting, I involve the audience in as many ways as I can. They become my photo subjects, all day, for one thing. In other instances, I pass (or throw, if someone looks like a good bet to catch it) a speed light out there so that some luckless soul then becomes a VAL (voice activated light stand).

At the recent GPP event in Dubai, we posed the intrepid Ali, and imagined him as a young auteur director of indie films who was ginning up a reputation in the Middle East and beyond.

First step, as always, is forget about the flash and the light, and compose the picture. Get control of the scene. The obvious thing to do in that auditorium was to use the center aisle, with glow strips set into the steps, as a compositional element. Once the subject is settled into a reasonable place in the frame, the main light is placed, which in this instance is the Lastolite 2×2 EzyBox soft box, white interior style. It is placed up and to camera left, in sort of standard, regulation soft box position. It does hover at the upper edge of my frame, as I want it low enough to scoop light into Ali’s eyes.

Next are the audience held kicker lights, placed to either side and behind my subject at about 45 degrees. These lights are ungelled, and hand held. (Hmmm…last sentence, beginnings of a rap song about speed lights?)

I digress. Those two lights simply rim his face and form, and define him. The corollary benefit, which to me was a happy accident, is that they also rim lit those auditorium chairs behind him, which have a rich blue color. You do have to be careful how those rim lights are aimed and zoomed. If they go too tight, and too forward looking, you lose the chairs, as in the frame below. Their position, angle, and zoom factor all bear experimentation.

Last step was to place our simulated projector behind him, which was another speed light, Group C, fixed up with a blue gel. (No smoke machine handy. Rats!) Remember in TTLville when you have the actual speed light in the frame, it effectively is blasting into the lens, and thus the camera’s brain, and it can easily go kaflooey. (That’s a technical term.) It will report on itself as being a very bright source, and thus power itself way down, most likely to a level where it’s barely discernible. When you have a backlight like this, in a position that is clearly visible to the lens, best to slam that puppy into manual mode immediately, and tell it how to behave from the get go.

When all these pieces are in play, you can then factor them and play with their ratios, relative to your camera settings. In this instance, I chose f1.4, so the background doesn’t get to be too much of a player, and remains just soft context. Here are the final settings. As always, the ambient light level was the driver. I needed the background auditorium to go relatively black, but did want the glow strips on the steps to radiate into the picture. 1/60th @ f1.4 was a good combo for that.

Below are the flash settings as recorded in the metadata.

Group A: TTL, -1.0EV (Camera: 0EV, Speedlight: -1.0EV)

Group B: TTL, -1.0EV (Camera: 0EV, Speedlight: -1.0EV)

Group C: M x 1/128     Device: SB-910

All flashes are SB-910 units, with no shapers except the main light. Camera was a D4, fitted with an 85mm f1.4 lens.

It’s a fun way to teach in that everyone gets involved, and sees the result built one flash at a time. It never becomes a fully finished picture, as you shoot a few frames and move on, but it does open some doors and solve some mysteries, such as how to tackle an extremely large, dark room with a few speed lights. We repeated the experiment at PhotoShop World in Atlanta, in an even bigger, darker cavern of a convention center, with the ebullient, charismatic wedding shooter Jason Groupp as our subject. He was great, and very patient with my bumbling about.

The below are the same basics, really, with the additional kicker of another speed light (why not:-))) with a red gel aimed at the far, far back wall. And instead of seeing the blue backlight, this time it slams into my subject, giving him a bluish rim. (Jason’s hair was perfect for that light!) And the 45 degree rims have warm gels on them. Variations on a theme. Thanks to Jason for jumping in as our subject!

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More Light Modifiers

Apr 28

In Lighting at 8:56am

To say I’ve collaborated with Lastolite on creating new light shapers is to give me too much credit. I have babbled and sketched a few things their way, but it is really Gary Astill, their chief designer, who has morphed muddled thoughts and a few notions about controlling light in fairly simple ways into real form and design.

The above was shot with a new version of the Lastolite Skylite Rapid. What’s new about it is that it has a set of velcro masks that can be arranged over the diffuser surface to give you an wide array of different size light sources.

What I did on this brief video shoot, was put three Nikon SB 910 speed lights into the Skylite Rapid (I tend just to call it a 3×3) and then sort of work my way backwards, masking off different areas of the light surface, making it skinny and long, filling it occasionally with a Tri-grip reflector, working TTL, and simply altering the path of the light, and its dispersion, to in turn alter the feel and mood of the photo.

If you remove the bounce fill from below, and really skinny out the light pattern, you get something a touch more dramatic, with a bit more cheekbone edge. Which suits my subject, who is a semi-pro footballer over in the UK, and an excellent athlete. In a number of these portraits, I’ve edged my camera (all pix shot with a D800E) into high speed sync mode, hovering here and there at about 1/500, maybe 1/800 of a second, with my longer lens, the Nikkor 70-200 zoom, wide open at f2.8.

You open up that edge, and the shadows, when you strip off the masks, and cover your subject with the full wash of a big diffuser surface.

Be careful of sun dapple! I mention this in the video below, as it can drive you mad, working on a day where the sun is playing dodge ’em with the clouds and the wind is moving the trees and leaves about. There’s a bit in the pic above, which I view now as a something of a happy accident, but it’s definitely something to watch for and control to your taste. The really nice, incremental control lighting like this gives you, when you combine a nice sized surface with the ratcheting Tri-flash, is that you can click the three flash heads into different vectors of the light shaper. This will, to a small degree, weight one area of the lighting surface with either more or less light, and enable you, for instance, to open up a shadow, or feather down a highlight as you see fit.

All in all, a very handy, portable light shaper that can adapt its size quite readily to the task at hand, and drop, collapsed, into a small duffel. You can email Jeff Snyder at, as he is responsible for quickly getting these new products up on the Adorama website in short order.

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New Lastolite Shapers

Apr 7

In Gear, Lighting at 8:05am

The folks at Lastolite are pretty cool, especially their chief designer, Gary Astill. Cool, in the sense they are receptive to ideas, which is a somewhat tough quality to find in a manufacturer in the photo industry. Listen to a photographer??!! Whaddaya crazy? They’re all a buncha wackjobs!

Point taken. We do dream up some hairbrained schemes now and then, passionate, reckless creatures that we are. But, when you work in the field for a long time, experience all sorts of adversity, attempt to use malfunctioning gizmos that were supposed to work and make life easier, and try reading bad manuals for DOA technology that does not live up to billing, well, you acquire a certain wry, rudimentary sense of what’s a good idea and what’s not. We conduct our lives with Murphy lurking in the camera bag, just ready to leap out, like a wrestler launched from the ring ropes, an airborne freight train of disappointment, body slamming our photographic ambitions for the day into the canvas of despair. This ever present possibility, out their on location with us at all times, makes us seek simple things that work.

Like a white interior for a soft box. The EzyBox Hot shoe soft box with a white interior has been out for quite some time now, and proved to be popular. So we transferred that notion to the already popular Lastolite Speed Lite box. It now comes as a Joe McNally version :-), called the Ezybox Speedlite Plus, with a white interior and three drop in diffusers, so you can control light temperature and level of diffusion. Incremental changes, but significant in terms of the quality of light. Hit this link to take a look.

You can also punch in, he’s got a handle on them. And, quick update, Adorama just updated their webpages to include the new products…’s the direct link.

I used it recently in Cuba, the only light shaper I took with me, and made a quick demo snap with it of a lovely dancer.

I left it in Cuba, with wonderful shooter, Arien Chang.  It will be perfect for his style of street shooting. It’s versatile, fits in your camera bag, and gives you a punchy, but soft light in a tiny package that weighs nothing. Below is another version with the gentleman in the set back into the leaves.

It’s a good, soft light, that, unfilled, has some drama, but can also be filled a bit with a bounce surface, like a tri-grip, and softened.  It can be hand held, or put on a stand. There’s a video at this link as well.


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Some Flashes and a Cup of Water

Mar 24

In Lighting at 9:49am

So, what do you do when your location proves to be a stretch of pitted tarmac baked into desert? You stand there of course, in the blasted sun, with squinted eyes and a certain compressed, rueful expression on your face, realizing you had said yes to the location and now would have to make it work. The sun above is a freight train, baking your skull and barreling noisily through anything you might try to construe as a thought process. The only sources of open shade are wasted pieces of stubborn shrubbery, and none of them are higher than your kneecap, so to access any measure of open shade you would have to revert to macro photography. You are standing in what is known as the Dubai Velodrome. Let’s say the word velodrome has been loosely interpreted.

But, there are positive things. Power lines crackle overhead, and in the dusty distance, a real life blend of Oz and Gotham, glitters the skyline of Dubai, punctuated by the silvery slice of the Khalifa tower. You have lenses and lights. Best thing to be done, and the best lesson a location like this can teach you, is to be patient and carve out the pieces of this initially bleak vista into something that might work as a picture. Luckily, we had Miguel, an excellent triathlete, not to mention a bunch of speed lights. I was teaching a class called Fast Flash, Bodies in Flight at what has come to be a revered slot on the photo calendar, the estimable gathering of photogs and instructors known as GPP.

First thing, as always, was to find the field of frame, or, your point of view. Strip out the unappealing elements of the location. Keep it simple. We lined up the bike parallel to the skyline. Cali positioned himself at the rear wheel to stabilize Miguel, which meant he was about to get wet. Which wasn’t a big deal, as the giant sponge of the Middle Eastern sun dried him out instantly. He actually had the best job in the bunch of us.

Once Miguel’s position was defined, placed the lights. It being a workshop, we had a bunch of speed lights at our disposal, so I placed three and three at either end of the bike, just slightly behind Miguel’s profile. I call this position, for whatever reason, three quarter back light. That’s not an official, sanctioned term. Just my own convoluted sense of the language of location. The three apiece deal perched atop a pair of Manfrotto stacker stands via a Lastolite ratcheting tri-flash, which is a handy thing in an environment like this, as you can swing the sensors around to maximize their angle of reception for the commander pulse. We were working line of sight TTL, so these units proved handy.

Then, we simply blasted Miguel with light and got to 1/125th @ f22. Enter Jon and Ali, with multiple cups of water in hand. One, two three, splash! The pic above was the first frame of four I shot with water. I then turned the scene over to the class, and they happily proceeded to continue to drench our patient riders. The shutter speed/flash combo gave us a slight bit of motion to the water, and the depth achieved by f22 kept the city, which was far off, reasonably discernible.



Speaking of the tri-flash above, there’s a whole new group of additions to the Joe McNally range of Lastolite light shaping tools just coming on line now. I’ll be blogging about them over the course of the next few weeks, but if you want to take a look at some videos of them in operation, and what they can do, hit this link. It will take you right there and you can check out a couple of new ideas for light management that we conjured with Gary Astill, Lastolite’s resident genius designer, and mad scientist of the workings of light. Huge kudos to Gary and the crew at Manfrotto/Lastolite. They are good folks, and wonderful to work with.


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