Friday, February 14, 2014

What Makes a Photo Great?


How do you know if the photo you made is great, the one, a work of art, the magnum opus?  Well, often times that's the hard part.  We all make good photos from time to time (or at least I like to think so), but what really is the difference between a good photo and a great photo?

Personally, for me, a great photo is one that will mean something to someone, and stand the test of time.  Its a photo that someone will cherish not only now, but 5, 10 and 50 years from now.  Those are the hard ones to make.  Obviously, there is all different kinds of photography with different purposes, but the ones that really wow most folks, are those that hold up over time and stick in folks' minds for many years to come.  I know there are many photos in my mind, that others have taken, that still inspire and awe me.  My personal opinion is that anyone can learn how to use a camera, and anyone can learn how to be a master at lighting or composing, these are all things that with a little effort, can be learned in a short amount of time, but finding your voice and creating an image with impact is infinitely harder.

If this is something you struggle with or would like to think about more, then you must watch the video above.  Its kinda long, but in a nutshell, Scott Kelby and Joe McNally discuss what makes a photo great.  Its hard not to walk away with useful information when listening to either of these two, but this video really resonated with me and Joe brings up several points that I think are often over looked when photographers are out snapping pics (myself very much included).

Seriously, get a good cup of coffee and sneak away from all the hustle and bustle and watch this.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Got Gloves?

Its the time of year (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) for shoveling driveways and sidewalks, scraping ice off of car windows and generally freezing our butts off.  The older I get, the more Florida sounds like an awesome place to live. :)  That being said, we have to deal with the cold and for most of us, that means bundling up with multiple layers, wearing heavy coats and hats, and donning the ever fashionable snow boots, but what about those hands?

I for one, absolutely hate wearing gloves.  You can't do anything that requires delicate touch with gloves on, nor can you really feel anything.  But this year, due to the extreme cold we've experienced (some days the highs were below freezing), I've had to re-think my opinion of gloves.  My long, skinny fingers and hands have froze to beyond numbness on more than one occasion so I broke down and bought yet another pair of winter gloves... where do they all go?  I know I've had several pairs over the years, the glove fairy must be swiping them!  This time however, thanks to my friend Chris at Outdoor Photo Gear, I got an awesome pair of gloves that solve a lot of problems for me.

These gloves are the AquaTech Sensory Gloves, and they are called that because on the index finger and thumb of each glove, there is a hole that you can slide the tips of your fingers and thumbs through, giving you the ability to have touch and feel again with your finger tips!  When you're not using the holes, there is a sleeve inside that you put your finger and thumb in to keep them warm.  You can see how this works in the photo below.  As always, you can click on any pic for a larger view...


Not only do these gloves have holes for your fingers and thumbs, they also have a really good grip thanks to all those little nubs on the palm sides.  They're also light weight, bend easily and are incredibly warm!  Another cool little bit is that they're water proof as well.  They have velcro straps on the wrists to give them a secure fit and lanyards so that you can attach them to a coat and to each other.  (Honestly though, the lanyards get in my way so I think I will be cutting them off.)

I have to say, for photographers, these are an absolute blessing!  I don't shoot in the frigid cold often, but when I do, my hands immediately go numb and I have a hard time fiddling with the shutter button and dials, but not anymore!  These are perfect for photographers because you can actually feel the shutter button and your dials with ease, all while keeping your hands toasty warm.  You can see in the shot to the right how these really help.  They also help you to maintain a better grip for zooming and focusing with your lenses.

So maybe you're not a photographer, or at least one who shoots in the cold, but there is probably something else that these gloves can help you with.  Have you ever tried to use a smart phone with a pair of gloves on?  Its maddening to nearly impossible!  Its like trying to play a piano with mittens on.  Well, with these gloves you can easily operate a touch screen smart phone (or any other phone for that matter) by having your index finger exposed.  I was even able to play a little Angry Birds with these things on... not that I'm very good anyways, but you get the point!


Again, I just wanted to say that I absolutely hate wearing gloves, but I'm wearing these now every time it gets cold out and I'm in love with them.  Also, just for the record, nobody asked me to review these and I'm not getting paid to review them.  I simply needed a pair of gloves and on my friend's suggestion, these are what I bought.  I've had them for two weeks (which is why they don't look brand new) and they are without a doubt the best pair of winter gloves I have ever owned.  Hopefully, the glove fairy won't carry these off too. ;)

Oh, they're also very affordable for the quality of the product, and you can get these online (or in the store) at Outdoor Photo Gear!  If you're a photographer, you'll love them!  If you need to use your phone in the cold, you'll appreciate how easy it is to do with these.  I wish I had a pair of these years ago.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!


Today in the U.S. we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday which basically means spending time with family, eating copious amounts of food, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and football, with the intermediate nap in between.  Hopefully, all of us are able to find things that we are thankful for in this menagerie of turkey induced comas, family.. uh, discussions, and frequent bathroom visits.  However, if you're like me (who btw is up bright and early cooking a mess of food) then at some point you get restless and need a little break from all of it.  If that's the case, then here are some really cool links, some photography related and some not, to give you something to do in the down time.

At the top of the post is one of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving-y things, a video clip from the old sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.

If you want to be inspired by some amazing photography, check out this link on Twisted Sifter of their picks for the 75 best photos of 2013.

Perhaps you know a photographer that would like a good book for Christmas?  If so, one of the best I have read... ever, is the latest book by Gregory Heisler called "Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer's Photographer".  David Hobby of the Strobist blog did a pretty cool review of this book if you'd like to find out more about it.

If you're looking to start your holiday shopping early, and you need to get something cool for that photographer in your life, hop on over to Outdoor Photo Gear!  They are offering all kinds of great discounts for the weekend.  Enjoy another fantastic performance by Troy the Turkey below!



Another cool thing to check out for the early, photography holiday shoppers is Scott Kelby's Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide!  He posts links to items he would recommend to photography buddies and the prices range from pretty cheap to umm.. pretty not-so cheap, but a lot of cool stuff on there!

Need to know how long to cook your turkey this year without relying on a timer?  Check out this cool post Netflix came up with over on Gizmodo's website!

Don't have any flashes or strobes?  No problem, here's a cool article on the Profoto blog about how to use just a reflector to get the most out of your portrait photography!

If you're in to time-lapse photography then you have to check out this video that photographer Eric Stemen made of Louisville, Kentucky.  I posted this on Facebook some time ago and all locals loved it, but even if you're not local, this is still a really inspiring piece of work!

One more awesome video... this was put together by photographers Chris McLennan & Ollie Dale.  They rigged a Nikon D800 on a remote control car chassis and ran it in to a pride of lions.  Needless to say, they walked away with some absolutely awesome photos!



Well, hopefully this will give you plenty of stuff to enjoy while sneaking away from the family today.

Hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving and also, happy first day of Hanukkah to those whose celebrate!

See you next time!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don't Miss Opportunities!



Whew!  Man it has been quite some time since I've had time to sit down and write a blog post.  Family matters, a full time job and shooting on the side certainly takes up a lot of our lives, but I don't think I'd have it any other way.  Also, any day I have a camera in my hands is a good day for me, regardless if its a paying job or just documenting my family and friends.


Recently we found out that our oldest daughter is going to be blessing us with another grandchild!  I know what you're thinking, I'm much too young and good looking to be a grandfather ...of two, but strange miracles happen every day. :)  We try to get all the kids together at least once a week for dinner just to hang out and talk about what all is going on in our lives, so this weekend I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a photograph of all the kids together since they were here.  Actually, I should point out that this was our granddaughter's idea, not mine

This was quite the informal process as no one was clothing coordinated, or even looking their best, but one thing I have figured out is, don't miss out on these opportunities because some day, they might not be there.  Plus, its not exactly easy to talk everyone in to getting their portrait taken individually, let alone in a group photo.  I also have to admit, that this in no way represents my best work, but it most definitely represents some of my most important work to me.

So, even though I wanted this post to be more about not missing opportunities, I couldn't help but include a few technical details as well.  This was actually a pretty easy portrait to put together quickly.  The portrait above was shot on a 4 foot wide white seamless.  If someone had asked me if I could take a family portrait for them on a white seamless, I would never have attempted that on this background because it is just not wide enough to accommodate shots like this, but you can in fact make it work.  I do have the ability to do family shots on white, but just not in my home studio.  I keep the 4 foot set up at home just do single portraits, small commercial projects and headshots; for that it works quite well.

To get a group of 5 on a 4 foot background, you really have to compact the group and think about positioning to make it work.  Also, it doesn't hurt that some of the participants in this shot were "smaller than average".  Again, its not a shot that I would suggest to potential clients, but for my purposes it worked out quite nicely.  Since our oldest daughter is pregnant, we put her in the chair and set her daughter on her lap.  Our youngest daughter is the next smallest so it made sense to just slide her next to them.  Then, since both of our boys are quite tall (and thankfully slim) I just positioned them in the back... man, they grow up so darn fast!  I was only able to get two shots before the group lost interest and this was the better of the two.

To light these guys, I simply used two Nikon SB-800s camera left and camera right in Westcott shoot thru umbrellas at the same power setting.  This created a nice, simply broad light that illuminated everyone evenly and added a little light to the background as well, since I had my models positioned so closely to it.  Both flashes were triggered with my pop-up flash using Nikon's built in CLS system.  To test my lights before my subjects stepped in, I relied on my old tried and true light metering method... my hand and the LCD on the back of my camera.  It took two exposures to get my lights set where I needed them, see the high tech method below. :)  Both images are straight out of camera other than putting them together in post.


For what its worth, I have the LCD on my camera set to match the same output that shows up on my calibrated monitor, that way I can be certain of the image on the LCD.  Also, I use the highlight indicators (the blinkies) on the LCD to help me see any blown out areas.

Also, so you can see the very limited space I have to work in and the light set up, check out the iPhone pic below.  You can tell right off that the background is pretty darn narrow.  Also, what is hard to tell in this pic is the direction those umbrellas are pointing.  I have each one moved slightly past center so that the light will feather a little, providing a broader sweep of light.  However, since I was using those shoot thru umbrellas, which throw light everywhere, the actual positioning could have been different, but whenever you are lighting anything, inches really matter, so I always try to get my lights set in the best position possible to eliminate any tedious post work later.


I should also note that the ceiling in this room is white, and less than 8 feet tall, so its going to throw back a little fill light on my subjects when using umbrellas.  If I didn't want that fill, I would have chosen to use softboxes or something that has an edge to it, or a grid on it, to keep that light from flying all over the place.

As far as power settings go, I believe I was using slightly more than 1/4 power on each flash.  Generally, with single portraits I can get away with 1/4 power and a larger aperture, but since I was shooting a group of 5, I chose to stop my aperture down f/7.1 to make sure I kept everyone in focus, then just increased the power a little.  At a power setting of 1/3.2 I was still getting good recycle times so I was able to bang off a few shots quickly before my subjects lost interest.

My only real critique of the portrait at the top of this post is, had I had a little more time to play with the lighting, I probably would have added one more, very slight fill light to the center, to eliminate that shadow on the background between the two boys' heads.  Its not a big thing, but still annoying to me... every photographer should be their own worst critic.

One other quick lighting set up shot I wanted to share... sometimes you have to take whatever models you have available to check your lighting setups. :)  
I hope this post reminds everyone of the importance to never overlook opportunities to create memories for yourself and your family.  The portrait I took won't win any Pulitzer prizes, but it brought a lot of smiles to my family and will most likely be around for many years to come.  In my mind, there's really no more important quality to a photograph than that.

 






Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bright Field Lighting

H2O

Last week I did a blog post on how easy it is to light glass using the dark field technique with one flash, so this week I thought I would write a post on how to shoot the same subject matter using the bright field lighting technique.

This technique is essentially the same type of lighting set up except that instead of having a black background and white edge lighting on the subject, we have a bright background with dark edge lighting on the subject.  When lighting glass, its almost always important to have the edge defined in some way or another.  While you can light glass from the front to show its true texture, defining the edge is what really defines the shape of the glass itself.

When doing this technique, there are a few important things to consider.  Obviously, a white (or light colored) background is needed but also, you need some black panels for the dark lines on the edge of the glass.  There are several ways to do this but my solution for this was to tack up a piece of black background paper to the wall, then tack a piece of white paper in the center of the black for the background.  Also, the white background needs to be large enough to completely fill the frame of the composition but not be too big.  If its too big, the black edges won't be defined well enough and if its too small, the black paper will show in the frame.  So you want to make your white background at least a few inches bigger in all directions than the subject you are shooting.  Its really just a matter of trial and error, but you can see in the set up photo taken with my phone how this basically looks.

As far as light placement goes, I always place the light underneath the subject and point it back towards the background.  You could easily boom the light above as well, but this always takes up more room.  The set up I used takes up as minimal space as necessary to get the shot, which if you're like me and work in limited studio space, learning to condense your set ups can be quite handy.

For the images in this blog post, I used a pane of glass to rest the water glass on so that I would get that dark edge on the bottom of the glass as well, but I ended up shooting tighter crops.

For the camera settings, I shot this similar to the dark field lighting image I did in the previous blog post.  I find that using a smaller aperture gives better detail in the glass, especially if you're trying to include a little action in the shot, such as pouring water in the image at the top of the post.  With that in mind, I used an aperture of f/16 at 1/250 sec, ISO 200.  I believe my flash power was set around 1/4 or 1/8.  Surprisingly, it doesn't take as much power as you would think for these type images.  The flash I used was the Nikon SB-910 speedlight.

In the previous post I used radio triggers to trigger the off camera flash, but in this post, I used Nikon's CLS system to trigger the flash.  To avoid seeing the pre-flashes reflected in the glass I simply just held my hand in front of the pop-up flash.

You may notice that I used a tripod in these shots and also in the previous post.  While I have self-professed to not be a tripod user, in shooting things like this, I find that tripods are an essential tool.  Sometimes you have to make very slight adjustments to the placement of your subject, the background or a light so having your camera on a tripod really helps because its one more variable that you won't have to keep adjusting.

Once you get this shot down, experiment with different angles, gelled flashes and different types of glass or action.  When using bright field lighting, you don't have to have a solid white background.  In fact, sometimes it makes a cooler looking image to have less light on the background.  Also, by lowering the power on your flash, it helps you to really freeze action in an image such as the water splashing in this shot.  The lower your flash power, the faster the flash duration which is what essentially helps you to freeze things that are in motion.

The really hard part of an image like this is capturing the right moment of action.  I had to shoot several of these before I got an image where my timing was on.  I simply had my daughter hold the cubes of ice above the glass and drop them on the count of three.  You would think this would be fairly easy, but its much tougher than you think... but not impossible at all!  They actually make devices to help you capture action shots like this such as sound and light triggers, but I find that with just a little patience (and cleaning up between shots) that you can do this with minimal gear.

Also, in this shot, notice that the black edges are thicker than the ones in the shot at the top of the post.  I didn't move the glass, my camera or the distance between the glass to the background but what I did change was the flash power.  By lowering the flash power (and I zoomed the head a little) the spread of light on the wall decreased and allowed more black to show through.  If you didn't want this look, all you would have to do is move the glass closer to the wall, but I actually like the thicker, dark edges for this shot, I just think it works better with the composition, but that's one of the great things about these techniques, you can move things slightly and get completely different looks.

These are really fun techniques to do if you're in to lighting glass or other shiny, reflective or translucent objects and can be done simply with one flash and a few pieces of cardboard or paper.  If anyone has any questions about this technique, please sound off in the comments below!

Now, what type of lighting technique to do for the next blog post...





Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dark Field Lighting

Martini

A friend of mine recently asked me about dark field / light field lighting and at the moment I didn't have enough time to give what I thought would be a thorough explanation.  So after thinking about it (when I did have some spare time) I thought I would just set up something quickly and post how I did it.  Sometimes pictures can say a lot more than words.

Dark field / bright field lighting is simply about creating good edge light or shadow on your subject and is often seen in photographs depicting glassware such as wine glasses, bottles etc.  This technique works really well for glassware because since glass is so reflective it will literally mirror anything in front of it, including you, your camera and your light source.  So in order to light something that reflective, sometimes its better to not actually light that subject, but rather to rim light it to show its shape and physical characteristics.

First off there are two important things to consider when lighting any piece of glass.  First off, make sure its CLEAN... and I mean as spotless as you can get it.  Any little spot or imperfection will show up like a lighthouse through fog.  You can easily take this out in post, but you could spend a lot of time "fixing" things when if you just take a little time before hand, it could save you a lot of effort after the fact.  With stemware, I usually hand wash it, dry it slightly with a towel then polish it with a paper towel.  You don't want any lint left over from cloth towels so that's why I finish with paper towels.  Also, watch those paper towels because cheap ones can wear out quickly and leave little bits of paper on your glass.  After you clean it, inspect it thoroughly for any blemishes and if you find one, simply hit it again.  Like I said, you can also take care of this in post, but one advantage to cleaning your subject is that it makes it very shiny which will also add to the final effect of the image.

The next thing to consider is, since glass is convex and has a mirror like surface, it will literally reflect everything in front of it.  So if you want to do this from a perfectionist stand point, the best way to get good results is to hang up a large black sheet between your camera and your subject then cut a slit in the sheet and point your lens through that.  That way, the only thing the glass will see is black, which in dark field lighting is what you usually want.  I set my shot up quickly and didn't bother to do this step though, I simply cleaned the final image up in post which was basically a curves adjustment layer and a little clone stamping... 5 minutes top. 

Another thing to consider is that when you are aiming a light source back toward your camera, you are going to get some flaring or areas that are washed out with light (usually on the edges of your image).  To prevent this, the black sheet will help immensely, or you can position more black cards on either side of the glass hanging parallel to the softbox.  This cuts down the flares almost completely.  I just chose to clean up the image in post as the flaring was minimal.  Both ways work, it just depends on how much time you have.  Normally, I use the black cards to do this.

Also, because of the glass's reflectiveness, make sure no windows or overhead lights are on as, believe it or not, even with fast shutter speeds these can still show up in the glass.  For these types of shots I also use radio triggers because as much as I love Nikon's CLS system, the preflash will show up in the glass even if you have the output set to "--" or zero.  Again, glass is very, very reflective so considering this upfront will save you time in post.  My AF assist light even showed up in a shot or two so eventually I started holding my hand in front of it for the final image.

With these two considerations out of the way, lets take a look at how this was lit.  There are several ways to do this, but after shooting these for years I've found two different ways I like to do this depending on how big the subject is.  For the shot above, I simply put a 24" softbox with a single speedlight (flash) behind the glass pointed back towards the camera.  Then, in between the softbox and the glass I placed an opaque black card, this is the background for the glass and also prevents the softbox from shooting right through the glass.  The black card behind the glass only needs to be big enough to fill the frame of your camera and to just be slightly bigger than the glass itself.  That way, the light from the softbox can literally wrap around the black card and rim light your glass.  You can experiment with different distances of the glass to the softbox but in this situation I find that having the glass as close as possible to the black card usually gives the best result.  If you move the glass further from the black card the rim lights on your glass will become thicker, but light will also start to spill in through the glass leaving sort of a "foggy" look.  You can experiment though for what gives you the look you want.  In this first setup shot (taken with my iPhone) you can see what it looks like from the perspective of the camera.  You can click on any image for a larger view!

For this shot again, I simply had the black card that was the background resting against the softbox and had another black card underneath the glass for a base.  You can see that in this next setup image.  Also note that I have the glass setting on a stool instead of a table.  You can use a table but it seems I get better edge definition when I use a stool, or even better, using a piece of glass as the base resting on two sawhorses (or stacks of books or whatever else you can find).  I simply didn't want to take the time to get out the sheet of glass and set it up.  However, it does create a different look and gives a reflection of the wine glass (or in this case a martini glass) in the base.  If you have a pane of glass, you should experiment with that as well, it does create a nice effect.

Keep in mind this was done with one off camera flash and not even anywhere close to maximum power.  Another way to do this (and the method I prefer for larger items) is to hang up a piece of white paper, and instead of using a softbox, simply fire your flash in to the white paper and use that as your softbox.  The white paper can be as large or as small as you wish and is a cheap and easy way to create a large light source.  I keep a piece of white seamless stapled to the wall in my studio simply because I use it so often.  By having it literally on the wall also keeps me from having to use stands for support which in turn, frees up floor space in my studio.  It also comes in handy for head shots and myriad of other projects.  You can see how this "thrifty" set up looks in this other iPhone pic.  This method does require a little more power from your flash though, but still not enough to stress it to the point of overheating, and wine glasses don't move that fast so you don't have to worry about those quick recycle times. ;)

As far as camera settings go, unless I'm going for a more creative look (like using limited depth of field) I tend to stop my aperture down quite a bit as it seems to give more detail in the final image.  I think for the shot at the top of the post, I used f/18 at 1/250 sec ISO 800.  If I had paid attention more to my camera settings, I would have dropped the ISO to 200 and used an aperture of around f/16 or f/11.  That's what I get for being in a rush.  The flash power in the softbox was set to 1/4 power.

Once you have this set up and after you get the initial shot you were looking for, play around with it a bit, shoot odd angles, add some liquid to the glass, shoot horizontal and vertical just to see what you come up with.  Just because you have a good thing, don't give up on it.  You might find that you will get an even better image that you weren't expecting and also, you may learn a couple of new tricks in the process.  You can mix up your aperture and flash settings for different looks.  You can flag off one side of the subject with another black card so that you're only lighting one side of the image.  You can use gels for a different color effect, the possibilities are endless.  Once you learn this technique, it really yields a lot of other cool effects and ideas.

Next time on the blog, I'll do a bright field lighting.

Hope this helps a few folks and inspires you try this out for yourself.  If anyone has any questions about this technique, just sound off in the comments!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Phottix Mitros TTL Flash for Nikon Review

Phottix Mitros TTL Flash for Nikon

There is a new kid in town, the Phottix Mitros TTL flash and if you're in the market for a good, TTL flash for your Nikon (or Canon) camera and don't want pay the equivalent of a high-end car payment, then this is definitely an option to consider.

Ever since Phottix released the Mitros for Canon, I've been frothing at the mouth to try the Nikon version out which is now on the market.  Why?  Because (as many of you may know) I'm a die hard Nikon fan, especially their flashes and CLS system, so when another flash came out on the market claiming to work seamlessly with the CLS system for considerably less cash, I'll admit my curiosity peaked.  The good folks at Outdoor Photo Gear got a few in and gave me one to run through the ringer, so below is my review...

First off, this is not some cheap knock-off.  This flash is built as good as any of the popular brand big boys and feels like a really solid piece of equipment.  It has a fully rotating head, a metal shoe and a rubber skirt to protect the shoe with a locking pin design just like the big boys.  It also has a simple array of buttons that control all the flash functions and a back-lit screen.  A feature I really like on this flash is the sliding on/off button as opposed to the recessed button on other flashes.  I sometimes fumble turning my Nikons on, but this one is incredibly easy to handle.  Small details like this add up big time in my opinion.  The controls may not be as user friendly as on the Nikon SB-910 but its not a deal breaker by any means (more on that in a bit).

Also, I tested the Mitros against a Nikon SB-910 and noticed a little difference in power, the SB-910 being slightly more powerful but the Mitros was more powerful than the Nikon SB-800.  I didn't use a light meter to test this, it was simply a matter of taking a portrait with the camera settings the exact same and the flash to subject distance the exact same.  Then I simply swapped the three flashes in and out, and adjusted the power as necessary to get a good exposure on my subject.  The Mitros is also in the same ballpark size-wise as the SB-910, which pretty much makes it appear to dwarf the old, reliable SB-800 flashes.  In the lineup below, from left to right, is the Nikon SB-800, the Phottix Mitros and the Nikon SB-910.  As always, you can click on any image for a larger view.




The first tests I did were to see how it handled in TTL mode on and off camera.  There are a few other excellent manual flashes out there but since this one has TTL capabilities, I thought this should be where the hard hitting testing should go.  For my first test, I simply set the flash to TTL mode and popped it on my camera, and in a nutshell, it worked every single time.  Once or twice I had to adjust the flash exposure compensation (FEC) up a tad to get a good exposure, but that is a fairly simple and quick adjustment done on the flash.  I shot several different types of situations with the Mitros on camera in TTL mode and it simply did what its supposed to do, or what you would expect it to do.

The next test was to see how it handled the CLS signals and get it off camera.  I mounted the Mitros on a stand with a shoot thru umbrella camera right and took a test shot.  In the camera I set the flash mode to CLS, using the pop-up flash as the commander and set the output power on the off camera Mitros to TTL.  Also, it should be noted that when using this flash (just like the Nikon flashes) you need to make sure you have the same channel and group number settings in camera that you use on the flash.  I also did these first shots in Aperture priority mode because I just wanted to see how much variance would show up using the Mitros in TTL mode.  Since I was in a studio environment, I noticed very little change if any at all.  Also, I noticed no color casts.  Good news so far!  So then I decided to add another Nikon flash as a hairlight just to see if throwing another flash in the mix would throw off the signals.  I dialed the flash power in manually for this flash just to see if it made any difference.  So, the key light was on TTL mode with no FEC dialed in, and the hairlight light was on manual mode, both triggered with the pop-up flash using CLS and it fired off every single time.  Well this is child's play right?  So lets test it out with something a little more difficult, outside and using High Speed Sync.

Anyone who is familiar with the CLS system knows that triggering a flash outside in broad daylight can be a challenge.  Mostly though, this is simply because the eye on the off camera flash has to see the signal from the on camera triggering flash or it can't fire.  Also, sometimes, using the pop-up flash outside doesn't create a strong enough pulse of light for the off camera flash to see.  This is a simple fix though by using another flash on camera as the master.  In any case, using this system outside is always more of a challenge than using it indoors so I thought this would be a good test to do.

So for this test, I decided right off the bat to test the Mitros' high speed syncing capabilities.  It should be noted that if your camera doesn't have this feature, then the Mitros won't high speed sync... unless you have triggers that enable that feature... which I haven't tried yet.  This is a test to see how the Mitros works with the CLS system using the Auto FP High Speed Sync feature engaged on the camera.  I placed the Mitros (again) camera right in a shoot thru umbrella and used a Nikon SB-910 on my camera as the master flash.  The settings for this shot were f/2.8 at 1/2000 second at ISO 200.  I was using matrix metering on the camera and shooting in manual.  I actually could have shot this at many different shutter speeds depending on how bright or dark I wanted the background to look but I just chose one that I felt would stress the flash to create a good image.  I think for this shot I had to dial in +1 FEC to get my model lit appropriately.  Lexi (my model) was actually standing in the shade of a tree in our front yard... I didn't want to push the flash too hard... just yet.  I shot several of these, and the Mitros went off every single time.

Something I have noticed by now with the Mitros is that when it fires, it does make an audible chirp that lets you know that it fired, however its very low in volume so its hard to notice.  I researched the manual quite thoroughly to see if this is something that can be changed but the only available option was to turn the sound off.  With the Nikon flashes you get a beep that tells you the flash has fired and then you get another beep that tells you that the flash has recycled and is ready to fire again.  This is a feature that I dearly love about the Nikon flashes that the Mitros doesn't quite have yet.  However, the Mitros does have a USB input so maybe this is something that could be fixed with a firmware upgrade somewhere down the road.  Phottix are you guys listening?  :)  In any case, its not a deal breaker.


On to the next test.  So I got Lexi out of the comfortable shade and in to the searing sun.  It was right around 4PM EST so the sun was still pretty high over head and although there were a few clouds about, there were none that were shading us... my poor model. ;)  I used the same setup as the previous shot except I went to 1/4000 sec on the shutter speed (still f/2.8) to see if could get a little more saturation in the sky.  Again, I was using an on camera Nikon SB-910 as the master, and the Mitros was off camera right in a shoot thru umbrella.  For the first portrait I took the Mitros triggered with no issues, but on the second photo, I got a little further away from my model and noticed that the Mitros wasn't firing.  This is because on the Mitros, the flash "eye" is actually on the front of the flash whereas on the Nikon models its on the side.  After using the Mitros for a bit, I think I actually prefer that the eye of the flash be on one of the sides as opposed to directly in front of the flash.  So, to get the Mitros to fire at the distance I was working at from my subject, I simply spun the body of the flash around towards me and angled the head back in to the umbrella, and it fired.  Every. Single. Time.  I even got back about 20 feet and was still able to get the Mitros to fire.

Since this test worked out so well, I decided to swap my flashes out.  This time I used the Mitros on camera as a Master Flash and used the Nikon SB-910 off camera as the slaved flash.  The menu on the Mitros for the master setting took a little fiddling with to get everything set, but once I figured it out, it was a breeze to make adjustments.  The Mitros as a master works just like the Nikon flashes in that it gives you full control over type of output (Manual/TTL/Off) and power settings for the master and three more groups:  A, B & C.  Be sure to read the Mitros' manual though as out of the box the controls can be a little puzzling, but with a quick skim of the manual, and a little practice, it becomes fairly intuitive to use.

So my next test was to see how far away from the flash and my subject I could get and still have the flash fire, but this time I set the flash to Optical Slave mode.  Long story short, I ran out of room to back up yet the flash kept on firing.  The Mitros' optical slave is VERY sensitive and my last working distance was about 60 feet.  I suspect I could have moved back much further and kept it firing, and keep in mind this is in bright, afternoon sunlight!  This test would have been better if I had a longer lens on the camera.  I was actually using a 24-70 which on my body equals to about 36-105 and on this shot I had the lens racked out to 105mm.  This test was convincing enough though so I didn't bother going in and getting a longer lens.

For my last test I wanted to see how well it would work with my radio triggers.  I've been using Cybersyncs for several years now and while they are a "no-frills" set of triggers, they have worked flawlessly for me.  They only trigger the flash which is all I need most of the time since I tend to use CLS about 90% of the time.  So I put the CST Transmitter on the camera and the CSRB receiver on the Mitros flash.  Another cool thing about the Mitros is that it does not incorporate a PC sync jack, I hate those things!  They have to be the worst method out there for connecting a receiver to your flash.  Instead of the PC port the Mitros have a 3.5mm sync jack and it also comes with a 3.5 to 3.5 sync cable, Suh-Weet!



Editor's note:  we decided to go with something a little more lively for this shot.

After getting everything connected, we found a different spot to shoot in (other than our yard) and took a few test shots.  Using the radio triggers, I simply set the Mitros to manual mode and dialed in the power that I thought would work.  For these shots I believe I had the power set to full or 1/1.  It was pretty darn bright out and rather than using High Speed Sync I decided to use my native flash sync speed of 1/250 sec which meant stopping my aperture down to f/18 to get the desired look I wanted in the background.  I also had to keep the flash in reasonably close to my model (I think it was about 4 feet away) but since it was unmodified, it still had enough power to illuminate my subject.

Oh and another note, after all the frames we shot today, including many full power pops with the Mitros, the battery indicator on the LCD showed that we were still at full charge!  That's sexy.

So lets close this up.  After playing with the Mitros all day I can safely say that if you are looking for a new flash that is TTL capable and CLS compliant then I would be hard pressed to not recommend this flash to anyone and I am a diehard Nikon fanboy.  This flash does seem to be an excellent Nikon flash replacement and you know what's even better?

Nikon SB-910:  $546.95
Phottix Mitros:  $299.99

Yikes!  That is a HUGE difference for a very similar flash unit.  Lets look at the Pros and Cons of the Phottix Mitros.

Pros:

- $299.99 ...that may be the best bargaining chip out of the bunch
- CLS and TTL capable
- Sturdy build and rock solid reliability
- 3.5mm sync port
- I love the On/Off switch
- High Speed Sync capable
- Optical slave option
- Use as a Master Flash
- Battery meter
- ...many more, including a huge customizable functions menu (which I didn't even get in to)

Cons:

- Eye placement, I really don't like that the eye of the flash is located on the front, but since the flash rotates in every direction, its not a big issue
- Beep notifications are low volume and non existent for recycle status
- TTL mode tends to underexpose about a stop when compared to using the SB-910, but since its easy to make a FEC adjustment, that's really no issue either.
- No built in gel holder (didn't get in to that in the post)
- Zoom only goes to 105 mm

When you get the Mitros it does come with a collection of goodies too.  First off, it does have its own dome diffuser which comes in handy quite frequently.  Its shaped a little differently than the Stofen type diffusers and although I didn't test it out, it looks pretty cool.  You also get a 3.5mm to 3.5mm sync cable, a plastic foot that has a 1/4-20 threaded socket for attaching to light stands or tripods, a USB cable that will allow for firmware upgrades down the road and also a proprietary port for external battery packs.  Phottix makes a battery pack that will work with this flash, but if you have the Nikon battery packs the Mitros also comes with an adapter so that you can use those units.  I was surprised to see that there wasn't a user manual in the case, but there was a USB thumbdrive.  After popping that in to my computer, I realized they had put the user manual on there!  How cool is that?  Also, the Mitros comes with a killer case that is better than any of the Nikon cases I have.  It seems more rugged and has pockets on the sides for your extra cables.  Very cool.

In summary, this is one awesome flash!  It has all the capabilities of the big boys for about $250 less than what the flagship flashes cost.  Also, I don't believe there is another non-major label flash on the market that can compare with this and as a Nikon fanboy, I hope Nikon is paying attention because this puppy is a new serious contender!

Would I recommend this to someone looking for a Nikon flash but not sure about spending the money?  Yes, I most definitely would!  Matter of fact, I think I will be adding one or two of these to my Nikon flash family.

Outdoor Photo Gear has a few of these in stock, so if you're interested, I'd jump on them now because I suspect once word gets out, these guys are going to go fast.

The Strobist also did an excellent review on his blog so you might want to check that out for his thoughts as well.

If anyone has any questions that I didn't address, please sound off in the comments!