Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863)

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2011!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Frio Coldshoe Adapter Review



There's a new kid in town in the cold shoe department!  From the same awesome guys that came up with the Orbis Ring Flash adapter, comes the all new Frio Universal adapter.  This cool little guy will connect any hotshoe flash to any 1/4-20 threaded stud and it connects very securely.

Its made of a hard, durable plastic, is very light weight, and is smaller than the standard plastic shoe that comes with most flashes.  This little guy is so small that you can literally pack 10 of these in any bag and take up little to no space.

But does it work, you say?

Let's check it out...


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Party Portraits

If you're a photographer, chances are, your friends and family have become very accustomed to seeing you with a camera.  As a matter of fact, if you're like me, then they might even think there's something terribly wrong with you, or perhaps wonder if you're sick (mentally or otherwise) if you show up to any gathering and don't have a camera with you.  I've been toting a camera around with me everywhere I go for so long now, that I've sorta become the de facto staff photographer for any social gathering.

This is actually a good thing though, because its a low pressure way to experiment with different techniques while not worrying about actually pissing off upsetting paying clients.  Sometimes though, you might feel that slight pinch from your friends and family expecting top quality work (since you're a photographer) but really all you want to do is snap a few photos of the event and have a good time.  Ever happen to you?

I digress.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to take a quick minute to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a holiday in the U.S. (and I believe Canada) where we celebrate all of the wonderful things in our lives that we are thankful for.

Hope everyone has a happy, safe Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My First Annual, Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Grinch Jr.
Have you been naughty or nice this year?

Its that time of year again!  Time to break out the credit cards to do a little shopping for those you love (and for some, those that you can moderately tolerate) :)

There are several photographers' blogs I follow who do a gift guide for photographers every year but the one thing I've noticed is that, most of the gifts they suggest are often a little pricey.  So, for those on a somewhat tighter budget, I thought it would be a neat idea to do a holiday gift guide for photographers with gift recommendations that are a little more inexpensive.  Many of these I own and use, and some of these are items I'd like to have, hint hint.

Hopefully this list will give you some ideas on what to get your photographer loved ones for the holidays this year!  In no particular order, here we go...


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speedlight Modifiers 101

Light Mods 101

Ever wondered how various light modifiers shape the light and how much light they use?  Knowing the quality of light a modifier produces and how much light it consumes can be a huge help in figuring out how to light any given scene.

Hopefully this post will give you an illustrated version of what various speedlight modifiers do, MUCH more after the jump...



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

iPhone Apps for Photographers

iPhone

I know what you're thinking, 'omg another iphone app review!' *eyes rolling*

Well, I have to say, I was in the same boat not so long ago.  I couldn't have cared less about all of the praises and blog posts about the amazing iPhone and all its wonderful apps... that is, until I got one!

For the record, I have never been a "phone" person.  I don't like talking on phones, I have no interest in playing games on phones, don't listen to music on a phone and I certainly was not keen about text messaging.  However I like to think that I'm not one of those dinosaurs that can't adapt to modern technology.  Although I'm usually the last on the boat.

Well, thanks to a little persuasion by my fiance' and a few friends, I finally got to the point where I could text ...a little.  It took a qwerty keyboard style phone though to get me to that point, but once I figured it out, it honestly wasn't so bad.  In fact, I could even justify actually using texting as opposed to voice calls when in business type scenarios, i.e.... not wanting everyone in the room to know that you need to pick up a loaf of bread and some cokes on the way home from work. :)

So I got that far along and it was finally time for me to upgrade my phone (actually, waaaay past time).  Since I'm not a phone person, I never could justify the expense of a $200+ phone to do what the computer at my desk at work and my computer on my desk at home would do.  Then AT&T (or Apple-not sure which) dropped the prices on their iPhones to something that was much more reasonable so I bit the bullet and picked up an iPhone 3GS.  I figured if I'm going to upgrade, I'm going to go ahead and do one that will last me for a while and the iPhone 3GS was at an amazingly low $99 U.S. which fit in to my budget.

Now guess what?  I can honestly say, for the first time in my life, that I love my phone.  It is way cooler than I could have ever imagined and I find myself using all those apps that I previously turned my nose up and thought "I'll never use that stuff".

Being a photographer, the iPhone offers a ton of really cool apps to play with to make your photographic experience with your phone, much more enjoyable.  I'm not terribly familiar with other types of phones, but I can say that I can't imagine a better phone for photographers who want to actually take photos with their phones.

So, long story short, here is my list of favorite photography apps for the iPhone:

1.  My first pick is Lo-Mob.  This app gives your photos a retro look with several awesome film and border styles to imitate old school cameras.  Very cool features and easy to use.

2.  My second pick is Hipstamatic.  This app gives your photos the look and feel of the plastic toy cameras of the 80's.  If you like this look, there isn't a better app out there for this.

3.  The Best Camera app is my next favorite.  This app is the brainchild of awesome-cool photographer Chase Jarvis.  It allows you apply several different features to your photos then allows you to share them with a myriad of online photo applications including one designed just for this app.

4.  Now if you're a photographer, then you obviously have to have Photoshop.  So, you might as well get the official Adobe Photoshop Express app.  It allows all the essential editing techniques for your iPhone photography.

5.  Another favorite of mine is Instagram.  Its similar to the other apps above in that it allows you to add various filters and upload them to the internet.  While its similar to those other apps, its cool enough in its own right to have as an additional app on your phone.

6.  My last pick was as app I was turned on to by my fiance'.  Mostly because she keeps taking these awesome photos with her iPhone and I keep asking her how she's doing it.  She's using an app called Pro HDR for the iPhone and iPad.  If you're in to HDR style photography, this is a cool app that does a pretty reasonable job at giving you that high dynamic range look.  Although I would like to see an option in the future with it to be able to shoot more than two frames to create the final image.

So what are your favorite photography related iPhone apps?

Please sound off in the comments.  I'm still rather new to all this and I know there are still more cool apps out there that I am yet to discover.

EDIT:  oops, I forgot all about the Flickr app.  If you use and like Flickr, this app is essential for your iPhone!

Thanks Christina for the reminder and tips!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Camera Flash!

Yep, occasionally I do use on camera flash, although mostly as a trigger for other lights. However the photo above (as well as quite a few others from this session) was lit entirely with on camera flash.

Long pause for those that know me have time to catch their breath...

Its what you do with that on camera flash that's important.  Part of my work as a photographer consists of quite a few weddings each year.  I've discovered through a LOT of trial-and-error that sometimes there just isn't enough time to take that flash off the camera, mount it on a lightstand, set up an umbrella and compose your shot (especially if working alone).

As a general rule, weddings go fast.  It might seem that in 4-8 hours of shooting that there would be plenty of time to set up lights and what not, but because of the number of photos taken during weddings, that's not always the case.  Every wedding photographer is different, but for the entire time I am at a wedding, my finger is on the shutter, regardless if its a few hours to a full 10 hour day.  That's why its very useful to use some on camera flash techniques to save yourself a little time.

The portrait above was one of my favorites from the day.  While I was busy shooting inside, my very talented assistant (and fiance') :) signaled me to let me know there was a really nice sunset outside and it could be easily reached from a very large outdoor balcony.  I quickly grabbed the bride and groom (they were just getting ready to hit the buffet and weren't exactly thrilled) and guided them out to the balcony.

When we got out there, the sun had just set and was giving off a gorgeous blue tone with just a little red at the horizon line.  So the first thing I did was to nail the ambient only exposure of the scene.  It was pretty low light outside so I had to step my ISO up to 800 to give me f/4 at 1/10 of a second shutter speed.  I normally would never shoot a portrait at such a slow shutter speed but I was banking on the fact that I could hold the camera just still enough, that the flash would be able to "freeze" my couple enough to keep a reasonably sharp image.  The photo below is my ambient exposure only, straight out of the camera.

Now that I have my exposure locked in, I can bring in my couple quickly, and light them.  When the sun is down like this, you don't have much time before you lose all of those beautiful colors, so rather than go try to find my light stand and shoot thru umbrella, I simply turned the head on my flash around 180 degrees pointing straight behind me and angled upward at around 45 degrees.

Fortunately, the wall behind me and the ceiling above on the balcony were flat white, so when I bounced my speedlight off of it, it created a huge wash of soft, white light to light my couple.  I also have to admit that I "cheated" on this and had the flash set to TTL instead of manual.  When working fast like this, I will often shoot with the flash in TTL and just adjust compensation to increase or decrease the flash's power.

A couple that was in the wedding was outside enjoying a little fresh air, and saw me shooting this.  They liked it so well that they asked me to take a portrait of them the same way.  This was a quick and easy shot, taken completely with on camera flash.  I wasn't exactly thrilled about shooting with the really slow shutter speed, but the images turned out reasonably sharp and both couples seemed to really like the images (at least on the camera's LCD). :P

So on camera flash isn't always a bad thing if its just used in the right manner.  Always keep an eye out for light colored walls where you can turn that flash head and bounce the light.  Bouncing off of ceilings can also work, but is my last choice in bouncing flash because if you aren't careful, you can leave your subjects with "raccoon eyes" -deep shadows on the eye sockets, and the light from the ceiling isn't quite as directional.  Another tip is to carry a large, white collapsible reflector with you, have someone hold it for you, and bounce the light off of it.

David Ziser of the blog Digital Pro Talk is a master at this technique!  Check it out!

Also, don't get me wrong, if you enjoy using on camera flash straight at your subjects and are happy with the results, then don't let my babbling dissuade you.  However if you want to take that on camera flash and create softer, directional light, just look for something to bounce that light off of.

Keep your eyes on the blog because very soon I will be posting an article that I think will be very helpful to a lot of speed-lighters.  I did a review of every single speedlight modifier I own, including the quality of the modifier, how much light they use and more!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to: Balancing Flash and Ambient Outdoors

Hopefully this will be the first in a series of "How to's" on the blog.  One of the things that I seem to hear the most from folks is how to properly balance flash and ambient light outdoors.

Well, I can tell you, its not as hard as you think!  If you can take a properly exposed landscape in manual mode, then you can balance flash and ambient.

When balancing flash and ambient outdoors (or indoors for that matter), the first thing to remember is that you are essentially making two different exposures at once; one for the ambient portion and one for the flash lit portion.  So the first thing you want to do is nail that ambient exposure where you want it.  This is highly subjective and can range anywhere from blown out to pitch black, but for starters, lets say you want to balance the exposures as close as possible.

The first thing I do when balancing flash and ambient outdoors, in manual mode, is to set my camera's shutter speed to its fastest flash sync speed.  This varies from model to model so you may want to check your camera's manual if you're not sure.  The reason I go with my fastest flash sync speed is, its going to give me a broader aperture range to work with, and will allow me to shoot with the biggest aperture I can which in turn will stress the batteries in my flash less which equals more pops of light using less power.  Then, I simply dial in my aperture until my background looks how I want.

Note:  when shooting outside in sunny conditions, I will always start with my ISO at 200 or lower to get the best possible quality I can, but may adjust it as necessary based on the ambient exposure.

In the photo below, notice I didn't even bother worrying about whether my subject was in focus or even ready for the shot.  This frame was simply to get my background (ambient portion) dialed in where I want it.


Sometimes, I may even purposely throw my subject way out of focus to give me a smoother looking ambient background shot which I can check on my histogram.  (However, I rarely use my histogram except in tricky lighting situations ...that's what the LCD is for!) chimp, chimp

So in the photo above, my chosen shutter speed, aperture an ISO have my background where I want it and left my subject a little in shadow.  Now if I didn't mind a brighter background, I probably could have gotten my subject properly exposed without flash, but the whole point of using flash is to make the subject stand out from the background.

The next step is to bring my flash in and dial the power up or down manually on the flash til I have the exposure I want for my subject without changing any of my exposure settings for my ambient portion of the photo.  In this particular photo, I believe the flash power was around 1/16th and it was shot thru a white, translucent, 43" Westcott double fold umbrella (one of my favorite light modifiers).

Its important to note that the exact flash power used, isn't that important, that's why I'm not exactly sure about the power setting.  What is important is getting that flash dialed in to where your subject looks the way you want it to.

If you wanted the subject a little darker, you simply dial the power down on your flash, if you want it brighter, just dial the power up ...and that's it!

To be sure, this is not the only way you could have made this photo exposure wise.  However its a good starting point to learn how to balance the ambient and flash to get a properly exposed image ...properly being used loosely here.

Both of these photos were taken with the exact same aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting.  The only difference is in the second one, flash was added to light my subject.  Also, both of these photos are straight out of the camera with only a little cropping done in post.

Hopefully this will clear up some mystery in balancing flash and ambient outdoors, but if you have any questions, please don't hesitate at all to ask any questions in the comments.

For further reading on balancing flash and ambient outdoors, check out these awesome links on the Strobist blog...

Lighting 101:Balancing Flash with Ambient, Pt 2 
Lighting 102 - 3.1 Balancing Light: Twilight
Lighting 102 - 3.2 Balance | Flash/Sun Crosslighting

More to come!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nikon SB-700 Rant...

Nikon just recently announced the release of a new "mid-range" speedlight, the SB-700.  This new puppy is the replacement for the outgoing Nikon SB-600 and a step down from Nikon's flagship, the SB-900.
I have to say, the new SB-700 has some really cool features.  The controls are more like its big brother with easy to access buttons for all the features you use the most.  It also has "smart filters" like the ones the SB-900 utilizes and it has beam spread patterns to allow you to shape the light.  Also a plus for this flash is the SU-4 type triggering method which is basically a highly receptive slave mode just like the ones in the best made flash of all time, the SB-800 and its newer replacement the SB-900.

However, with all the kudos being said, I do have some issues with this flash, and the SB-900.  I can't do a review of the SB-700 since I don't have one (and probably won't be buying one) but I can definitely form an opinion based on available information ...and I hope Nikon is listening!

My two biggest gripes about this new light is:  number one, it doesn't have a PC sync!!!  That means, for all the radio control shooters out there, this is another flash that you're going to have to buy a PC to hotshoe adapter to use your Pocket Wizards, Cybersyncs and most other radio triggers.  I've heard the argument that Nikon did this so that you will be forced in to using the proprietary CLS system (which isn't bad mind you), but as every photographer who's using off camera flash knows, being locked in to one system is a HUGE hindrance and I think by not adding this one, simple piece of technology is going to lose Nikon a lot of business.

One of the things I dearly love about my SB-800s is that I can use it with CLS or radio triggers without having to add another piece of hardware to it.  The SB-800 in my mind is by far the best flash out there and I think its better than the SB-900.  I don't own a SB-900 but the biggest gripe I hear is about thermal lockup.  I have seen this happen and I have to say, it would annoy the crud out of me if I had to deal with that on a regular basis.  I've shot hours on end with an SB-800 and have never had an issue with them.

Another rant I have about the new SB-700 is the power.  I can't confirm this at this time, but it would appear that the guide numbers (power) is even less than that of the SB-600.  If this is the case, then I am completely overwhelmed by Nikon.  Hopefully this is just speculation on the net that I have read.  Will need to do further research to clear this one up.

And one last thing, the PRICE!  Holy smokes Nikon, c'mon and give us a break.  You rob us of a PC sync or any type of jack for radio triggers and you jack the price up.  I'm having a very hard time swallowing all of this, but I guess for my next flash, I'll be purchasing a LumoPro LP160.  At least the folks at LumoPro pay attention to what photographers want.

One last plead, c'mon Nikon, bring back the SB-800 ...with better buttons, a hard sync jack, and a little more power if you please ...for less than the price of a new Porsche 911.

How does everyone else feel about this?  Sound off in the comments, I'd be interested to hear what other shooters have to say.

Check out David Hobby's post on the Strobist blog for more input.

And just so we're clear here, I LOVE my Nikon cameras, lenses and SB-800s ...LOVE them!  I just would like to see improvements in their flashes, not fall backs.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Here in the U.S. its officially Labor Day weekend, and more locally, its the University of Kentucky vs. the University of Louisville college football game ...which is pretty much a small super bowl in this neck of the woods.

This weekend, most people are cooking out, camping and enjoying the weather for this is the last hoorah of the summer if you live North of the equator.  A lot of people are off from work for an extended weekend so I thought this would be a good time to share some links for the downtime between the cooking, eating and watching college football.

First off is a blog called Guess the Lighting ran by photographer Ted Sabarese where he takes well known photographs and dissects them from a lighting stand point.  Its a pretty interesting blog and may be helpful to a lot of lighting photographers out there.  Plus, Ted is an awesome photographer with a great sense of humor.  Be sure to check out his portfolio too.

Next up is photographer Eric Ogden.  I just recently discovered his work and what I like most about his photography is his use of 'motivated lighting' and use of color.  He lets his subjects drive what lighting techniques he will use which is a hard thing to wrap your head around for a lot of up-and-coming lighting photographers.  His lighting doesn't draw attention to itself, and isn't over the top.  Its just enough to convey the mood he's looking for, and to draw attention to the subject.  Check out his work!

Another cool site I visit often for inspiration is Bruton Stroube.  They may have the coolest set of commercial photography for the alcohol and food industry that I have seen.  If you're in to this sort of photography, check them out for a mother lode of inspiration!

Ever seen those cool photos of colored smoke that folks are doing?  If you want to learn how to do this, check out this awesome tutorial over at photo tuts.

Also this week, Photoshop World in Las Vegas has been going on and you can keep up with all the details from Scott Kelby's blog, the Photoshop Insider.

One last tidbit, check out this interview of one my favorite photographers, Platon.

Well, that's all I have for today.  Hope everyone has a great Labor Day weekend.  I'm heading out to a party with my family and friends, and will be rooting for my team, the University of Kentucky Wildcats ...GO CATS!!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stirred, not Shaken

Stirred, not shaken

I have to admit, as much as I love taking portraits, I also have a fascination for alcohol commercial photography.  I'm constantly looking at product shots in magazines, in stores and even on television for ideas and inspiration.  There are so many things you can photograph when you don't have models available and learning to photograph subjects other than what you're used to, can be an excellent learning experience as well.

The above photo was lit very simply with two speedlights and a few pieces of construction paper and cardboard.  I placed a piece of white fabric on a small table, and then laid a piece of glass over it so I could pick up the reflections of the glass.  My key light was an SB-800 underneath the table and pointed it at a piece of white cardboard (which was taped to the wall) for the background.  So my key light isn't directly lighting my martini, its more indirectly lighting it.  By lighting it from behind on a bounced surface, I was able to create much better definition of the glass itself.  If I had lit the glass directly, then it would appear more transparent without as much detail.  I then used pieces of black cardboard on both sides of the glass and a thinner piece just above the glass.  This completed the edge definition.

This light worked great for the glass itself, but you can see in this photo that the olives were still underexposed.  So, to bring up the exposure on the olives, I used another SB-800 up high and camera left with a snoot to just get light on the olives.  The power setting on this light was very low, around 1/64 power, because I didn't want to add too much light to the scene, just enough to highlight the olives.  The piece of black construction paper I was using on top of the glass was also used as a gobo to block that overhead light from lighting the rest of the glass.

With this technique, its also easy to change perspectives and to add a little color to the shot with minimal effort.  In this next shot, I used a gray piece of cardboard for my background, added a blue gel to the key light, turned off the snooted light, and set the glass on a piece of polished back granite.  Its a completely different look, but took minimal effort to create it.

Edit:  (I also used a different martini glass for this shot)

This technique is really useful whenever you're lighting glass objects with or without liquids in them.  You can read more about this technique called "bright field lighting" in the book Light, Science and Magic.  This is not nearly as difficult as it may seem and you can have a lot of fun with it.

If anyone has any questions about this technique, just sound off in the comments!

-mtc

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

B&H Photo Blog!

B&H Photo Blog!


Well, it was bound to happen!  B&H Photo has their own blog now called BH Insights.  They are covering everything photography related, including computer systems for photography, printing equipment, cameras, lenses and everything in between.

B&H has long been my online, go-to photography store and I think its really cool they are joining the blogging world.  If you're a fan of B&H Photo, take the time to check out their blog!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Opulence, I Has It

This pretty much has nothing to do with photography, other than some nice lighting and video editing skills.  That being said, I get a good laugh every time I see this commercial. :)



Thanks Direct TV for making me laugh!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

K.I.S.S.

There's definitely been a lot on my plate lately which would explain my absence from the blog, but I'm doing my best to come up with some juicy posts in the near future.

In the meantime I'd like to talk about keeping it simple (thus the title = Keep It Simple Stupid).  My girlfriend's daughter (which is pretty much my daughter now) is starting to experiment with makeup.  I can't possibly tell you how mixed I am over this.  On the one hand, I think she looks absolutely adorable, and on the other hand, I think she looks absolutely adorable, cough cough.

I know this child is going to cause me a lot of heart break and bring trouble my way as she matures, so I'm getting my knives and handgun out so that I can make sure any little boys with impure thoughts setting foot in my house will be able to see my proud arsenal and my obvious willingness to use it when tempted.  I know this is still down the road a ways, but I like planning ahead.

In any case, since she was all dazzled up I thought this was a good opportunity to snap a few photos of her.  Please understand that this is not a difficult task because Lexi is always ready to have her photo taken.  She's actually quite the model imho.

So being the lighting guy that I am, I quickly tried to think of some nice light to throw on her when I just decided to keep it simple.  In all of these shots (except the one with rainbow---which was a bonus) I used a single Nikon SB-800 in a 43" Westcott Double fold shoot thru umbrella to camera right.  I had the power set to 1/8 on my flash and I set my shutter speed to my fastest, native flash sync speed to 1/250 sec to nuke the unwanted ambient light in the room.  I picked an aperture of f/5.6 just because this seems to be my go-to aperture for portraits indoors.  It gives me plenty of depth of field to hold focus through both eyes, and the larger aperture also allows my flash to work less hard. (I'm certain that's not good grammar, but I ain't no Engrish teacher).  This enables me to shoot as fast as I want and the flash will keep up with me, recycling quickly.

I am constantly experimenting with different types of light and light modifiers but I almost always find myself going back to that shoot thru umbrella.  It creates such a beautiful, soft, wrapping light and its so easy and quick to setup that I have one with me on every single shoot I do.  As a matter of fact, I usually have several.

The shoot thru umbrella won't do everything I want my lights to do, but if I could have only one light modifier with me, that would be the one.

These portraits couldn't be any simpler and I absolutely love the soft light and the highlight-to-shadow transfer area as it falls gracefully across her face.

The last shot of the rainbow was an on-the-fly thing, so I had to use my on-camera flash to fill Lexi in after I balanced my exposure for the rainbow.  There I said it, I actually used on camera flash, my pop-up flash to be precise, set to TTL.

David Hobby would faint. ;)

-mtc

Friday, July 2, 2010

Orbis Ring Flash


Finally! After many, many months (possibly even a year or so) of research and investigating, I finally purchased myself a ring light, or rather a ring flash modifier that I can use with my existing speedlights.

There are several makes and models to choose from which made the process a little more difficult than I expected, but I made a decision based on my shooting style, what would work with what I already have, and what my pocket book could let go of.

I decided on the Orbis Ring Flash adapter for quite a few reasons. Number one, it will work with my speedlights ...all of them. There are a few other ring flash adapters made for speedlights but some of them will only fit specific models. The Orbis is designed to be a universal fit, and it does indeed fit both sizes of my speedlights.

The next reason I chose the Orbis over the other brands is that I like the quality of the light it puts out. It doesn't seem to be as hard of a light source as some of the others, and its soft enough that I can use it off axis as another type of light modifier.

Yet another reason I picked the Orbis is that its small and light weight. I was considering buying a self contained ring flash unit. However, I know me and if its too much trouble to haul around, I simply won't use it. Plus, with a self contained unit, you would need additional power such as A/C or a battery pack, which is pretty inconvenient in most cases.

The last reason I picked the Orbis is cost. Pure and simple it seemed to me, to be the best bang for the buck that I could afford. It cost me $200 which in my book, is more than fair enough, considering the quality of the product, and what it enables me to do. No other light source I have will give me the look the Orbis does.

Now, on to why I wanted a ring flash. I have to admit, I do love the simple portrait-against-the-wall-with-a-ring-flash look, but it seems way over done imho. That being said, I have shot a ton of shots like that just because I've never been able to get that "full-shadow halo" effect before as you can see in this pic. Its very big in certain circles but its not the only trick I want in my bag.



What I'm more interested in with the Orbis ring flash is the ability to create on axis, fill light. When working with off camera lighting, you can create some really dramatic shadows. However, sometimes you might want those shadows to be a little more "opened up" in the darker recesses of your shot. That's where the Orbis absolutely sings! You can light someone with a hard or soft light off camera at a sharp angle, and then where you get those deep dark shadows, like in this photo, you can fill it in with just a wink of light from the ring flash. Its pretty much an effect that can be tailored to your own tastes, but the point is, using an on axis fill allows you to control those shadows and details as much or as little as you want.

Why not just use and on camera flash or the pop-up flash on your camera for on axis fill you say?  Because its just not the same quality of light, believe me I've tried it.  A mounted, on camera flash will throw off a funny angle when shooting portraits and is also pretty harsh light.  The pop-up flash will do the same somewhat and is not nearly as powerful as a separate flash unit.  So the answer is definitely the Orbis!

Another neat thing about the Orbis is, due to the quality of the light it produces, it makes a really cool off axis light modifier.  In this photo, I used my speedlight in the Orbis, dialed way down to just create a little fill light (camera left) to make more of an open, airy feeling shadow side.  Its almost not even there but just enough to make it noticeable.  Sometimes less is more.  The main light for this shot was a speedlight in a 24" softbox camera right.

So in a nutshell, this is my overall impression and view of the Orbis Ring Flash adapter.  I absolutely love using it and hope to experiment more with it soon.  Hope this helps and if there are any questions about using the Orbis or on axis ring fill, sound off in the comments section and I'll try to answer them the best I can.

*******

The Orbis Ring Flash Adapter

I have to admit, mostly what helped me to make my decision about purchasing the Orbis were many different posts on the Strobist blog.  Below are several posts that might help you in deciding for yourself.

Ray-Flash vs. Orbis vs. Alien Bees ABR800 Part 1

Ray-Flash vs. Orbis vs. Alien Bees ABR800 Part 2

Ring Flash Week Intro and Resources

-mtc

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Honl Softbox!


David Honl from Honl Photo has released a new softbox for speedlights called the Traveller8!  Its a small softbox with about an 8" diameter on the face, folds down very easily, and produces a pretty soft light when its used in close.

This softbox is similar to the Lumiquest SBIII except that its round, which will produce nice, round catchlights and doesn't have the extra diffusion in the face like the SBIII does.  However, if you have a built in diffuser on your speedlight, you can simply flip that down to better diffuse the light in the Traveller8.

Below is a short video on how to set up the Traveller8.  I haven't used this yet, but am planning on putting it through its paces soon.  I love the fact that its small, has a nice diffusion face on it, and fits my speedlights.



Also, check out this awesome review using the Traveller8 by David Hobby of the Strobist blog.

-mtc

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Outdoor Photo Gear


You can never have too many resources ...never.  Being a photographer in itself can be a challenge, but even more so, finding a good supplier of all the cool photographic related toys tools you need to pursue being a photographer can be even more of a challenge.  That's why I was ecstatic to find the online store, Outdoor Photo Gear!

Currently they are a web-based store only (hopefully that will change soon--wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and have a HUGE selection of top quality gear at awesome prices, from bags, to tripods, to light modifiers, to clothes and everything in between.  In addition, their customer service is top notch.  I can't tell you how cool it is to call a supplier and talk to an actual person who speaks clear English and seems to actually care about you and your photographic needs.

Another very cool bit of info about these guys is that, they are located right here in Louisville, Kentucky!  SCORE!!!!  Seriously, this town needs someone like these guys so I hope you will do your best to support them.  I for one hope they stick around for a looooong time.

Take the time to check out Outdoor Photo Gear!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Scott Kelby's Third Annual Worldwide Photo Walk and the New LumoPro LP160!

Couple of really cool things happened today!

Scott Kelby announced his third annual Worldwide Photo Walk!  This is a very cool event with thousands of participants around the world taking part.  Basically, groups of photographers from all over get together, walk around and take photos of anything that interests them.  Its a great chance to hang out with other photographers and you can even win prizes to boot!

You can find out more by checking out the Worldwide Photo Walk homepage and for you locals, check out the Louisville Worldwide Photo Walk homepage.  If you think you might be interested in doing this, then sign up quickly as there are only 50 participants allowed for each walk.

Also, the new LumoPro LP160 was just released today!  For those of you who don't know, the LumoPro LP160 is an awesome manual flash that has all kinds of cool features.  It has quadruple syncing methods, a built in slave, a digital slave option (which will allow it to ignore TTL pre-flashes so it can be used with TTL flashes) and its as powerful as the Nikon SB-900 and Canon 580EXII but for a fraction of the price!  I plan on picking myself up one of these (or two) as soon as I get the chance.  I have a feeling though these will sell quickly so if you're interested, you better jump on them.

You can check out David Hobby's review of them here on the Strobist blog and also you can pick these up at Midwest Photo Exchange.

That's all for now, and towards the end of the week, I should have some exciting news about my Off Camera Flash Photography Workshop coming up very soon, so check back!

-mtc

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Modern Vernacular


WARNING!  ...this post has nothing to do with photography!

There, now that we have that cleared up...

At one point in my life I was able to speak and write proper English.  I knew when to use a period, a semicolon, a colon, an apostrophe, quotation marks and even parentheses.  However over time, it seems I have lost that ability; perhaps because other things (like lighting a 50 person group shot with a single speedlight) may have taken a precedence.  In a world where textology is the modern vernacular there is still someone out there who prides themselves in proper English.

The Baltimore Sun's night time content production manager John McIntyre writes, almost daily, a blog entitled "You Don't Say".  I really enjoy reading his posts, especially after receiving a text message from one of my girlfriend's kids or checking updates on Facebook.

If you have a penchant for eloquence in writing, diction and poignant humor, then hop over to his blog and check it out.  Its some goodly grammar.

...oh, and another cool note, I believe he's originally from Kentucky :)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Off Camera Flash Photography Workshop!


UPDATE: Very cool news! The guys at Outdoor Photo Gear will be sponsoring the workshop and providing door prizes!  Don't miss out!


Do your eyes glaze over at the thought of using your flash on camera?  

Do you want to learn how to create directional, beautiful light with your off camera flash?


Are you intimidated by using your flash off camera?

If so, you will definitely want to attend my first, Off Camera Flash Photography Workshop!

Many folks have been requesting for some time that I do a workshop covering off camera flash techniques and with the help of a few friends and some positive motivation, we are finally in the running.

In this workshop we will be covering all of the gear needed to use your flash off camera, how to balance ambient light with flash and how to modify those little flashes to look like the big boys.  Mastering off camera flash is much easier than you think and will help you take your photography to the next level.  Its so easy even I can do it!

If this sounds like something you would be interested in, then check out the details below and I look forward to seeing you there!  If you have any questions about the Workshop, please sound off in the comments sections below or feel free to email me.

Be sure to bring your camera and gear!  If you're new to the new off camera flash world and don't have all the goodies yet, don't be afraid to show up as we will have plenty of gear for you to check out and experiment with.  Also, this is not a gear specific class, meaning that this can be done with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and even point and shoot cameras!!!

Details:

Off Camera Flash Photography Workshop

When:  Thursday June 24th 2010
Where: 
Republic Bank & Trust Co.
9600 Brownsboro Road
Louisville, KY. 40241-3901
(502) 339-2200
What time:  5:30pm to 9pm
Cost:  $59 Cash at the Door

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Precious!

My Precious!

The Nikon 18-200 VR (first edition) lens... I absolutely LOVE this lens and use it more than any other lens in my arsenal.  A lot of people will argue that this lens is not sharp enough or fast enough for their work, but I beg to differ.

I've been using this lens now since it came out.  I've shot everything from weddings, commercial stock photography, senior portraits to everything in between.  Its plenty sharp and has such a broad focal distance range that you can shoot about everything with it.  With an aperture range from f/3.5 to f/5.6 racked out, and the VR giving you about another stop, this lens will cover just about everything you will ever care to shoot.

This is a DX lens so it is geared for the smaller sensor Nikon cameras, but works great on my D300 and my D70.  I have also calibrated this lens to my D300 to ensure maximum sharpness at all focal distances.

My only complaint with this lens is that it has a lens creep issue.  Meaning that if you're pointing down at an object (and it has to be a pretty steep angle) the lens will actually zoom out a little.  Fortunately for me though, I'm rarely shooting in this type of scenario and seldom have issues with that.  However, if you pick up the VR II version of this lens which just came out a few months ago, they have put a retaining ring on there to lock the focal distance.

Will this lens cover everything you need to shoot?  No it won't, but it does cover 90% of the stuff I shoot and is a highly versatile, reliable lens.  I have also noticed a little lens vignetting at the 200 mm range but this is easily correctable in Photoshop.  Some people actually like that vignette so there you go.

I would most definitely recommend this lens, or the newer version to any Nikon (DX) shooter who doesn't want to continuously swap lens out for the right focal distance.  I love, love, love it, and when it dies or I kill it (heaven forbid) I will buy another one.

If you're doubting its sharpness or quality, then take a look at my portfolio.  I'm fairly certain that 90% or better of those shots were taken with this lens.  On a side note, I took the shot above with my nifty 50 mm 1.8 lens, another awesome lens in the Nikon arsenal ...and cheap too! ...but that's another post.

-mtc

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cool Nuggets of Info...

Photographer Dan Winters, portrait taken by photographer Jay Janner

Its been pretty hectic around my household lately, what with buying the new home and nice weather finally rolling out.  We've been doing a lot of remodeling, landscaping and general personalizing our new place, but I've still stumbled across a bunch of cool links lately and thought they were definitely interesting enough to share...

*  First off, a really cool photographer who I have followed on Flickr for sometime, recently started his own website.  If you're in to still life photography and the Dutch Golden Age of painting, then definitely check his work out!

*  Next up, travel photographer extraordinaire, Bob Krist, posted a very cool article on having soft, portable lighting with you all the time, check it out!

*  One of my new favorite photography blogs is The Still Image with Crash Taylor.  In this blog, Crash has guest photographers post some of their favorite shots, then discuss how they took it  This is so cool, I can't possibly put it in words!

*  Why are we photographers?  Well, I can't answer that for you, but Joe McNally sums it up pretty well in this post.

*  Ever wanted to get that high key look with a blown, white background and your subject perfectly lit, but only have one light?  Then check out this cool forum discussion over in the Strobist Flickr group.  Pretty cool technique, but being that its originally from Dean Collins, that's no surprise.

*  Photographing Dan Winters!  Can you imagine, getting a call from your boss telling you that your assignment is to photograph the legendary portrait photographer Dan Winters!!!  Well that's what happened to photographer Jay Janner.  The Strobist sums it up best on his blog and I couldn't help but to re-post this.  Check it out HERE.

Keep checking back on the blog, planning on doing a speedlight modifier review soon, including the Lastolite Ezybox and the Softlighter II.

-mtc

Monday, March 22, 2010

Different Looks, Same Model

Allie No. 2

One of the most difficult things I can think of when shooting a model in a studio, is coming up with different looks.  You want to flatter the model and shoot photos that will work for her/him but you also want to try to be creative and create different looks for your model so they can diversify their portfolio, as well as your own portfolio.  Even if you're just shooting portraits for someone to have new images for their online profiles or just recent images of themselves, its a good idea to mix it up as much as possible.  Having many looks in a single session ensures that you and the client get what you need and is also more fun imho than just having the standard headshots.

In the image above, we were going for a more swanky, non-studio looking shot.  Only one light was used in a small softbox to camera right.  The model's face is the focal point, but also her amazing shoes!

In the next image, we are obviously back in the studio and the model had this really cool dress that had these neat designs on it that we wanted to show.  So after studying the models outfit and makeup, I decided to go with a darker background with just a little splash of color.  This was done by placing a gelled light directly behind the model.  The key light was a boomed overhead softbox and then I used a silver reflector below for fill.



My girlfriend Jenn (also an exceptional photographer and amazing artist) did the hair and makeup for each shot so that we could have just a little more diversity in the looks.  Having a hair and makeup artist really makes the session so much easier, for the model and the photographer.

For this next portrait we decided on something a little sexier, so we went with a simple man's button down shirt and let the model's hair down.  For this image, I wanted a really soft look, so I used the Softlighter II boomed overhead and a silver reflector below for fill.  This created a huge, soft light source that really flattered the model.

This was one of my favorites from the day and I thought the model looked absolutely beautiful!

Now for something a little more fun.  The model had this dress that was made from material similar to a red bandana and it was Jenn's idea to put the model's hair up in pigtails. We just happened to have a teddy bear accessible too (on loan from one of Jenn's daughters) so we threw that in as well.  Sometimes, a few good props can really add a lot character to the image and may even relax the model a bit more.

For this last image, the model had a simply stunning dress that she really loved, so we changed hair styles, adjusted the makeup and went with more of a 3/4 portrait to not only show off the model but that gorgeous dress too.  I gelled the background light to get colors that were present in the dress and I used a small softbox overhead for the key light.  The small softbox was used so that I could light the model independently from the background and have full control over both.

I really love this last image for composition, color and of course the beautiful model.  This was a fun session and I we got a lot of different looks in a short time and in a limited space.  The model also had an awesome selection of outfits for the shoot.  All of these images were shot on either a white seamless or my collapsible gray background and were lit with either one or two lights and a reflector for fill.

So the next time you have a portrait session to be done in studio, remember to try to mix it up as much as possible.  It will be a much more rewarding experience for you and your subject.

-mtc

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Food Photography

Food No. 5


Since Jenn and I have bought our new house, we've been working almost non-stop on making improvements.  We've had a contractor do quite a bit of work, such as replacing windows and plumbing, but we've also been painting, decorating, organizing, landscaping... pretty much everything.  Home Depot loves us!

One of things we've wanted to focus on in the decorating department is displaying our own work around the house.  Jenn is a very talented artist and photographer, and I have a gi-normous collection of prints that I've taken over the years, so rather than go to some trendy art studio we decided to save ourselves some money and decorate our house with our own works.

For our kitchen, we decided we'd like to have some nice prints of food so we set about creating our own.  One nice thing about doing your own work is, you can shoot exactly what you want to see, with the colors, subjects and composition of your choosing.  Another nice thing for me is, I've been able to use all of these shots in my stock photography gallery on iStock ...double bonus!

One thing I've learned about food photography, is that its almost always best to backlight your subject and fill from the front.  This creates wonderful texture and shadows that you can easily manage, giving a more three dimensional look.

All of these photos were lit with a single Nikon SB-800 in a Lastolite Ezybox softbox from behind and I used white copy paper as reflectors up front for fill.  This is a surprisingly easy setup and yields really nice results.  I really like using the softbox for food photography as opposed to say an umbrella or bare light, because it creates a nice, directional, soft, wrapping light which pretty closely emulates window light.  I found I get the best effect by moving the softbox in as close to my subject as I can, then I place my reflectors directly across from the softbox.  In this example where I was shooting chocolate chip cookies, you can see how easy this setup is.

These shots are only a few that we have done so far, and we've had so much fun doing this that we are planning on shooting more.  We still haven't decided which photos to use as prints because now we have even more ideas on subject matter.

Its a fun project though, and is a very cheap way to add nice artwork to your own home.  Plus, it gives you a little sense of pride knowing that its your own creation, and you get the added bonus of being able to advertise your work when friends stop by.

So if you're a photographer and need some art prints for your own home, be sure to consider doing your own work.  Its fun, fulfilling, can be profitable and a cheap way to decorate your home.

Check out more of my food photography HERE!


For more inspiration, tips and tricks on shooting food photography, check out these links:

Joe Glyda
Lou Manna
Food Photography - Strobist

-mtc

Monday, February 15, 2010

Speedlight Studio!

I was recently approached by a friend to do a portrait session for a young lady hoping to appear in a Hooters Swimsuit calendar.  I have to say, this didn't take much convincing, but regardless of the subject matter, I'm always up for a portrait session, especially with friends involved.

The model needed a series of full body and headshots in various solid colored bikinis.  I thought the best solution would be to set up a clean, white background and nice even lighting to photograph the model in.  This lighting isn't very artistic in my opinion, but its appropriate to the subject and will help draw attention to the model, and not the lighting.  "Subject driven lighting ...always remember that."

So I met with my friend (who is also a very talented photographer)  and began to setup our studio in her basement.  My preference over the past recent years was to use speedlights, for two reasons::

1.  I only own one monobloc (studio light)
2.  I like working with speedlights due to their small size and easy portability

Also, since we are shooting indoors, I will have no problems with power or recycle times.  I shot with a 200 second shutter speed so I didn't have to worry about any ambient light contaminating my scene either.

The first thing I did was to decide on my key light.  I knew I wanted a soft-ish light source on my model but also fully even and frontally lit.  I want to show my model in the best possible light.  So I opted with a boomed over head Lastolite Ezybox as my key source, and a Lumiquest SBIII as my fill.  I set these up in an 'over-and-under' fashion (also called clamshell) with my fill light about 1.5 stops lower than my key.  I wanted some shadow on the model but not much.

Then to light my background, I decided to use two bare SB-600s with Honl gobo's (flags) to prevent them from flaring my lens and also to keep them from rimming the model.  I had to dial these up to 1/2 power which is generally more powerful than I typically have them set to, but I needed the power to get a good, evenly lit white background.  These don't recycle nearly as fast at 1/2 power, but plenty fast enough for this session.

I used an SB-800 for the master on my camera to trigger all of the speedlights used in this set.  This light was not contributing to the overall exposure and was only producing enough light to signal the other lights.  I really enjoy this method (the Nikon CLS system) as it lets me dial in all of the individual flash powers right from the camera.  This solution always works well indoors.

Here is my setup for this session:


As you can see, these little lights take up almost no room, and there are no power chords or sync cables lying around to trip over.  The other nice thing about this setup is, except for the white seamless roll of paper, I can bag all of these lights, stands and modifiers up in one bag, and haul them anywhere.  Nice, portable light!

Below are a few more shots from the session.  Shanna was a great model and a beautiful young woman so this was a very easy portrait session for me.



 

 

This was a fun shoot and if you ever need to set up a studio quickly, and have the speedlights available, then don't forget to consider them as a viable option.
-mtc