Flash technique for sunny days

Last week I shot an engagement session that started earlier in the day than I prefer. Most photographers will try to shoot during the “golden hour” just before sunset because you generally get the best light then and maybe a great sunset to work with. For this session, we started about three hours before sunset with no clouds in sight. Fighting the sun can be a challenge sometimes but it also offers some great opportunities for unique shots.

I’m a wedding photographer in Tampa Bay, FL and these pictures were taken in Sawgrass Lake Park.

For this shot I used a 70-200mm zoom  and a Canon 580EX on  a tripod with a shoot-thru umbrella. The first thing I did was set up the camera for the husband in the back. Right away you have to figure that you’ll be shooting at the highest flash sync-speed possible all day, which for the Canon is 250/th of a sec. So, that’s my starting point. Then I bring the exposure up until I am getting a decent exposure of the husband (in this case, f4).

Now, he’s a little blown out, I know, but that’s what I wanted. I wanted the wife to be perfect and him to be a little sun-blasted. Once I had the exposure dialed in for the husband I set my flash power to match. On a bright day, the flash will be at full power most of the time. I fine tune the settings by moving the light closer or farther from the subject. Notice that both husband and bride are being lit from the same side? That’s the benefit of off-camera flash. It looks like they are both standing in the sun when in fact she is in shade and the flash is filling in for sunlight.


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Shooting Furniture

(and other large products)

At one point in my life I considered being a furniture maker. I had the woodworking bug. I read books and magazines on the subject. I built really, really bad tables with drawers that didn’t work quite right — all of the things we do when we first start a new endeavor, we screw up. After a close call between my finger and a table saw I rethought things. I’m fine with that. But I still really like good furniture. Having tried to do this myself, I have a great respect for those who do it well. Over the years I’ve had several furniture clients, some of whom make great stuff, others not so much. The clients who make great furniture are still around. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Lighting and Composition

Traces of the Ancient Thule
Traces of the Ancient Thule, Danmark Ø, Scoresbysund, East Greenland. I wanted more texture in the foreground, front-lighting and soft light from clouds kept the rocks from being visible. I couldn't move to the side, because I wanted to include the bay behind. I couldn't come back because of the constraints of getting to this location in Greenland. My only option for introducing texture and depth into the foreground rocks was adding some fill flash, which I did with the help of a reflector.

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

A few years back, Frans Lanting said something in passing that’s really stuck with me, I presume it’s an old studio lighting maxim:

Front-lighting for color, side-lighting for texture, back-lighting for form.

This line is pretty much a recipe for how to light an object in the studio depending on what aspect of it you want to emphasize. Got a colorful subject? Start by photographing from the same direction as the light is coming from. Want texture?  Make sure the light is coming in from the side, that way it’ll be raking across the front of the subject you’re looking at and showing shadows on even the smallest bits of texture. And want to show the shape of something? Backlight it, and create a silhouette.

Obviously it’s simplistic (as any nine words of advice must be), but it’s not a bad place to start when thinking about lighting.

In addition to light direction, we also talk about the difference between soft (wide) light sources and hard (tiny) light sources. Hard lighting tends to pick up more texture by creating better-defined shadows than soft lighting.

What does all of this have to do with composition?

While we have a great deal of flexibility in lighting subjects in the studio, many of us who photograph nature, or events, or sports often have a little less room to organize our environment the way we’d like. We might have a couple different objects in our scene, and perhaps we’d like the form of one of them juxtaposed with the color of another and the texture of a third, and the light might be doing something else entirely. (more…)

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Balancing flash with ambient light outdoors

Trying to balance your flash with bright sunlight for an outdoor portrait scares the pants off people. It’s one of those things that seems so hard to do, especially if you are using off-camera flash without TTL. In that case, it’s all math and numbers and my head starts to hurt just thinking about it. Fortunately, it’s not really that difficult to do once you learn a few tricks.

tampa portrait photographer 1


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The Days Inn Diffuser

Let me start off by saying that I don’t necessarily condone this sort of behavior–being the good Catholic boy that I am, I was riddled with guilt afterward, but I need to set up my scenario so hopefully you’ll see my point. Here’s what happened. I had a shoot in North Carolina to cover something that I have always wanted to experience: a soldier’s return home from deployment. I was asked to cover a squadron of Marines returning home after spending nine months in Iraq and I immediately said yes. I flew into Raleigh-Durham the day before and then proceeded to drive almost three hours to my hotel (which was NOT a Days Inn) just wanted to clarify that. When you’ve been flying and driving all day the hotel is always a welcome sight “¦ sometimes.


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Review: The Kacey Beauty Reflector

I was recently given the opportunity to experiment with a Kacey Beauty Dish, so I decided to put together a review/explanation/demonstration.

One of the blogs I read all the time is the Strobist blog (www.strobist.com). David Hobby has been writing this blog for a while now, and I have learned lots from him.

One of the great things he did when he got started was he realized that it was not going to be possible for him to answer every question, or respond to every comment. So, being the innovative person that he is, he started a flickr forum that allows various photographers from all over the world to learn, share and teach one another.

That forum is here:   http://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/

Recently on this flickr forum there was a review and discussion about the Kacey Beauty Dish. Musician/photographer Steve Korn apparently got one to play with, and offered his opinions in a well-written review here.

I was lucky enough to be able to play with one of these beauty dishes (Kacey calls them “Beauty Reflectors”) recently, and took it on several different shoots. (more…)

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Color balance

or, learning to see like your camera, part 2

Let’s start by saying that color is a science. It’s a big science. It’s so big that there are entire institutes full of people so smart it makes my head hurt, all studying color. So I think it’s safe to say we’ll not be comprehensive here. We will cover the basics of color balance and differential color temperatures, as they pertain to shooting. Color management on the back end, calibrations, color profiles are for another time.


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Exposure Basics

or, learning to see like your camera – Part 1

Today’s cameras are pretty smart. They know when you’re shooting outside, or in. When you want to shoot a portrait or a close up. They can tell that you need to use a flash, and in some cases, will even find a smile and shoot it for you. But even with all of the advances in digital camera technology, the smartest camera is still not as smart as you are. The human brain is incredibly adept and nimble, and with a bit of training you’ll begin to see things differently when looking through a viewfinder.


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