Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'll be back!

So very sorry, very poor blog running on my part. I had to get a day job (yeah middle management) which has detracted from my photography work some what. But post Christmas I will be back!

Things to look for:

I'm hitting McNally's workshop at Dobbs ferry in Jan! Look for a recap.

Regular shots from me on whatever I can shoot!

I'll do my best to give more lighting how-to's. But I'm no DH and I don't want to rehash strobist content. But I'll try to link to it whenever pertinent to what I'm rambling on about.

Maybe some guest posts!

Gear talk, like we all need more of that, but humor me.

Oh and uh, regular postings.......promise.

But since I haven't put anything up in awhile here you go

This was done in November. Just one SB800 just out of frame to the right. Bounced out of a 43" umbrella up at about 6 feet or so. I think I just popped it on TTL here. A little wide angle to get the streets in. A little post to pump up the color, a little softening, and bingo!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

One Light Wow

Posting has been slow which means I have been busy. Sorry for the lack of regular postings. The entire blogging thing takes time and I really do not just want to throw up any old junk, and waste space on the internet (lord knows there is enough wasted space). Anyways, I also am going to be posting larger images from now on. I figure it is a photo blog right? Make it easier to see.

So without further ado.

This was a really simple shot using one SB800. The setup was easy. The bride saw the window and wanted to get in it, I'm telling you she is a natural at this stuff. So she climbed into the window ledge, and I had my VAL grab a SB800. We tried zooming the flash all the way out and it just didn't look right. So I went totally opposite, zoomed the flash all the way in to 105mm. The flash was popping at 1/1 so I could try and control the late day sun coming through that big window. It worked out well. My VAL was to the camera's left standing in a chair angling the flash down with a little twist as you can tell from the fall off. The fall off is exaggerated with some post processing compliments of Capture NX2 and Nik Software's other cool toy Color Efex Pro 3.0 for NX2. I am assuming most everyone who reads this shoots Nikon. I can't tell you enough how great a program NX2 really is. Even if you are a Photoshop master you should be using NX2 to convert your NEF files to Tiff in NX then open the Tiff in Photoshop. Maybe more on that later.

Not to think that I am the only one using one strobe to do cool things. Flickr user Skunkabilly is doing cool things with his car and one SB800. If you do this, make sure you fasten, and have a safety lanyard on your camera! Check his stream for set-up details and other cool shots.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Great People Deserve Great Things

Some good lighting tips in Joe McNally's Latest Blog. But more importantly a great story. Tom, whom I've had the pleasure of speaking with via email, and Joe both show the strength of the human character.

To Tom, Hold strong brother (and I haven't forgotten the photo just been busy).

To Joe, This is why you are at the top of my list when I look for ideas and how to be a better photographer.

To all the readers, Never underestimate what one person with a vision can do.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I Love TTL Again

After my last fiasco with TTL in the middle of the street I was pretty aggravated. But I decided to have another go of it last night while shooting a couple of bands for the The Dotmatrix Project in downtown Greensboro. Let me set-up the set-up for you! I had a SB800 on camera as commander. Facing the stage I had a SB800 on the left of the stage gelled with a full CTO. On the right of the stage was a SB600 gelled with a Roscoe 2007 Blue. The SB800 was slightly high than the performers heads while the SB600 was considerably higher on top of a fully extended 8 foot light stand. All flashes were used on TTL, Sometimes I used the on board SB800 in TTL some times I did not.

Let me start by showing an example of the ambient levels in the bar. This shot was at Hi 1.0 on my D80 (Approx. ISO 3200) at f/2.8, 1/80s. Pretty ugly since I was shooting with my 70-200 and 200mm at 1/80 is a little, uh...less than optimal. So we see what kind of night I would of have, and if I would have strapped on my Sigma 10-20 which is f/4 at 10mm I would have had to shoot at 1/40 and at 20mm f/5.6 at 1/20. Just not good, and I knew I wanted wide angle and tight shots all night.

The first act up was Tom Beardslee. This is the result of shooting at 1/250 to kill the ambient. I am shooting at f/3.2 (Yes I bumped the command dial I wanted f/2.8, LOL) in order to get the most from the flashes. TTL worked like a charm, the two remote strobes fired away with no correction required from me. The commanding SB800 was set to "--".

The little bit of light that was ambient was provided by the video guys who had two cool little soft boxes with hot light they clamped to the ceiling. I bobbed and weaved every where to avoid getting those things in the mirror behind the performers. Then I decided to use it! Same flash set-up, slowed the shutter speed down to 1/60 to get that ambient hot light where I wanted it, and ta-da instant back light.

Up next Possum Jenkins. This band was great, but more people makes it harder to adjust those lights so teh guy closer to one stand isn't blown out right. Well TTL handles this pretty well. If I had setup using Pocket Wizards I could not have changed the flash power on the units. I would have to shuffle the aperture up and down, which is fine just one more way of doing it. This shot I used the On board SB800 zoomed to 105mm on TTL. The goal was to really throw enough light to make sure the drummers face was lit. The harmonica player is a a little hot on the left, but its OK considering.

Exact same set-up here complete with zoomed on board. The only difference is I rotated around the stage and was directly under the SB800 on stage left, the one with the CTO gel, and I shot in tight.

This could have all been done with the strobes tripped with Pocket Wizards, and adjusting the aperture depending the spot I was shooting at. However CLS and TTL let me focus on my composition. Now this is not to say I didn't keep a check on things to make sure they didn't go wacky on me, because I did. BUt I was very impressed with CLS last night. Other then me positioning myself in spots where I knew the remote strobes wouldn't fire CLS was flawless.

Also, if you find your self shooting in a club, and you have enough strobes, skip the ambient, and light it yourself. And Don't be scared of mirrored walls! Use them, just make sure you keep yourself out of the image.

If you are interested the full set can be seen in my flickr stream now or by visiting THIS SET IN MY STREAM.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Double Header: Part II, Playing In The Street

Last night I had a great time shooting engagement pictures for a couple who are getting married next April. We all headed out for Downtown to get some fun stuff. I had come up with an idea a few days ago that I wanted to do. I wanted the couple in the street kissing at night. The only problem is how do you light people in the street at night with traffic that you can't stop? It's not as hard as you think.

I know when I am in over my head and need help. My lovely wife came along for fun, and to help carry gear (And yes I know I am lucky. i have a great wife.). My friend Kevin came along to play the role of VAL. So I got out an SB800 popped that bad boy on a light stand with a reflective 45" umbrella. Handed it off to the VAL to hold out over the couple from behind me. Instant mobile boom! Thanks Kevin.

Now we all had to practice our choreography to run out into the cross walk when traffic stopped. I had the couple strike a pose on the sidewalk a few times until we got one we liked. this also gave me a chance to check the lighting setup. Kevin Behind me with the light stand/ umbrella combo boomed over head. I had the setup in TTL just to make life simple. A couple of frames, and the world is happy. The image looked good, TTL worked flawless for 5 or 6 frames. Upon looking at the image the couple just seemed to not match the environment of the street. They were lit with too much white light in my opinion. So i popped on 1/2 CTO and left the WB to flash. This was totally a choice made on the feel I wanted. A full CTO and the would have matched the street lights. I could have then adjusted the WB to tungsten to bring everything to the same color. But you know, I like the warm skin tones against the blue sky. I also like the orange glow of the street lamps. I know not everyone likes it, but it's my picture!

So the light changes and we are off into the street. By this point in time we have drawn a bit of a crowd, and the eye of a weary cop. Places, pose, frame one flashes fire wait on the recycle beep, frame two flashes fire wait on the recycle beep, frame three flashes fire wait on the recycle beep, we move out of the street. Check the images.....$%&@$ TTL. Three frames all under exposed. The flash fired on everyone, recycled, and I have no idea. I don't care really. I just go over to manual on the flashes chimp a couple of frames get the flash power set. I end up at 1/16 at f/2.8 ISO400. I then adjust my shutter speed a little since we have lost some more daylight at this point. So into the street. Golden! We do a few more takes, and call it a night.

I made a post in the Strobist group on Flickr talking a little about this shot. There have been some questions lately in Strobist and other groups asking if you can take a good portrait with only one flash. I hope this helps to show you just have to make it happen.

Double Header: Part I, What's Up With My Meter?

I received a Flickr mail from a reader asking a question that I get often enough that it deserves a public response. The question is basically as follows.

When I put my flash on my camera, or have my pop-up flash up in commander mode, or have my SU800 in the hotshoe my exposure meter still says I am way underexposed. What am I doing wrong?

The answer.....Nothing.

This is really pretty simple. Your camera does in fact have a light meter built into it. It is a reflective meter though. Meaning it can only measure the light which it currently can see through the lens. Your flash units are not firing therefore there is no light for the camera to measure. Now comes the follow up question.

But I am using TTL and the camera knows how much power to send to the flash unit. So why can't my meter show that?

The camera does in fact figure out the flash intensity for you. But to understand why your meter can not show this you have to understand how TTL works. So here is a basic break down.

1) You press the shutter.
2) The camera fires a TTL preflash. Meaning it flashes before the shutter opens. This preflash is a known strength. I don't know what that strength is, but for the example let's just say it is 1/16 power.
3) The camera's meter is timed to read this preflash at the exact moment it fires through the lens (Hence the name TTL).
4) Depending on distance and modifiers the light hitting the subject will be a given strength. Your subject may be underexposed or over exposed depending on that factor plus.....
5) Your camera's aperture and ISO settings determine how much of that light reflecting off of your subject reaches your camera's sensor.
6) At this point the camera does some basic math. It says, "I know the preflash was 1/16 the image I now see is under exposed by 2 stops (just an example here). so I need to make the flash power 1/4 to properly expose the subject.
7) The camera then fires the remote flash at 1/4 timed when the shutter opens.

OK, John what does that have to do with the price of eggrolls? Well, your camera only knows all of those variables once you commence the shutter release process, and make an exposure. The camera's meter has no way to know flash distance or modifiers being used until you snap the picture. If you are in manual mode the camera has no idea what your remote flashes are set to power wise on top of the other unknowns.

So what do I do you ask?

Use your meter to set your ambient light levels where you want them. Nothing new here, basic exposure 101. Then set your flash power to properly expose for your subject or let TTL take over if you trust it.

But John, that's the whole point.....How do i know what is a correct flash power?

Practice and learn. You can use charts. But practice makes perfect. Be methodical in making sure you know that if you move that flash twice as far back you know what happens. David Hobby talks about making a cheat sheet for your flash units over on the Strobist Blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lighting a Tent with CLS

SB-800 Tutorial 1
Originally uploaded by image-y.com
Pretty cool stuff from Flickr user image-y.com. He has a cool tutorial going on on his blog at: http://image-y.com/blog/personal/lighting-a-tent-with-an-sb-800-tutorial/

Check it out. many props on some way cool images!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One Light, One Umbrella

Sorry for the delay in posting. I have been busy doing some weddings, and well generally slack about attending to my blog. So I will use a wedding shot as a simple example. Nothing fancy, and pretty basic for those of us with some lighting stuff under our belts.

So this is simply one SB600 in a shoot through 43 inch umbrella on the camera's left in TTL. I am right up against and slightly under the umbrella. The umbrella has a little down angle on it. Nothing hard right?

A couple of observations here. First the notorious under exposure in TTL issue happened here. I had to bring it up in post. And before you ask no the flash wasn't firing on full power. It is just something about shooting through an umbrella that CLS in TTL just doesn't like. Second. I should have feathered the light from the top. There was too much spill going over the bride at the piano. I had to clean it up in post to bring it to black. I am now thinking that I should have used my convertible umbrella and used the black cover over the top half to block the spill. Lesson learned for next time. It goes in the mental reserve. Maybe I will remember to check there next time!

On a completely different note I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Zack Arias' 5 part tutorial on high key shooting on white seamless paper. It is a great read, and really gets you thinking about how well do you control your light. I could be better. i am sloppy at times, light going everywhere. Got to control the light!

Moral of this post...Control the light.

Monday, July 7, 2008

One Strobe and 5 Minutes

Weddings are fast. They move quick during the ceremony, but everything is on a time table. The squeeze, at least for me,comes between the ceremony and reception. In that brief little window you have to shoot the formal portraits, and it is most likely the only time you have the bride and groom together in the church for pictures. So you have to knock out the standard traditional stuff, and some creative stuff, and then if you have time try your new ideas.

Such is the case in the above image. I had taken all the portraits and the "safe" bride and groom shots. But I had an idea for a shot. I asked the bride to do a couple more shots and the response was, "OK, but you only have 5 minutes." No pressure right? New idea, start with what I know.....

I could not back light the windows, not enough strobes and no pocket wizards anyways. So they are lit with pure ambient light from outside at 6:30PM on a cloudy over cast day, not the best but it gave me 1/100 at f/4.5 ISO 100. Now no time for stands. I hand a SB600 set to remote to my VAL (Voice Activated Lightstand). Triggering the SB600 was my on camera SB800. The SB600 was set to TTL. At first we started with the strobe to camera right with the zoom out to 24mm. I new I did not want a lot of light everywhere, but I honestly had a moment of not trusting the strobe to make enough light. So I started wide, and man that little strobe lit the whole place up, sloppy. So I zoomed the strobe head 85mm (as much as the SB600 has) and fired again. Better but the shadows were all wrong. I had the VAL switch to camera left, hold the strobe up, and angle it down some. Let me add a note here: One thing I like to do is turn the flash head vertical when using no modifier to match the upright subject. I picked that little tip up from Don at Lighting Essentials. Don is full of great little tips, and is a real pro with this light stuff you know.

So back to the image. VAL camera left, unmodified SB600 zoomed to 85mm vertical on TTL. Click goes the shutter, and we are done. I would love to say that the image you see was exactly what was on camera, but no. I still had to much spill to the back of the church lighting up some of the walls. I also had stray light hitting the hanging fixtures. I needed a grid for the strobe and I didn't have it; those Honl units are looking mighty nice now. However, I did have the essence of the image, and honestly making things black in post processing is easy. So wrapped it in under five minutes with three frames.

And rest assured this type of shot will get refined at the next church wedding I shoot.

I also would like to ask for a moment of silence as one of my SB600's gave it's life during this wedding. It met a tragic and unneeded end due to an unsecured light stand and wind. It will be sorely missed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

CLS Position Limitations

A recent question by a new comer to the Flickr Nikon CLS group has me visiting an oldie but goody, CLS position limitations. We all have had people tell us, "CLS is only works if you have an unobstructed line of sight." or "CLS will not work if you can not see the remote flash." So I say yes and no. Let's define a little better what CLS really needs.

1) Line of sight- This is not really accurate. What it should say is CLS needs to See the light. The remote strobes only need to see the light from the commanding unit. Remember light bounces, and as such we can manipulate that.

2) It doesn't work outdoors in sunlight- Uh, no there have been many tests by members of the CLS Group which show otherwise. There are fewer things for the commanding unit's light to bounce off of. So you just have to compensate and be aware of.

What do you do then? Use whatever you can to bounce the commanding flash to your remote strobes. Examples of things to use: Walls, Mirrors, Mini-Mirrored Disco balls (You know who you are), Ceilings, Car Doors, White T-shirts, and on, and on, and on.

The above shot was shot with my D80, pop-up as commander, directly in the front center of a 43" shoot through umbrella (poor mans ring flash) with a SB600 on 1/2. I was about 5 foot from the wall. The opposite wall from the model was at least 25 feet behind the camera and painted black, the ceiling was also black but pretty low. The SB600 fired every time behind the camera through an umbrella. So yes it can be done. If I would have had a problem I could have used a small mirror to bounce the flash back over the camera. But the light colored wall worked well enough.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


A little late on the announcement, but seeing as how Nikon did not send me one to test I figure the news breaking is best left to those who are "in the know" a little more then me. The new SB900 has all the bells and whistles anyone could want. Here are a couple of links to the reviews:

David Hobby at Strobist:

SB900 Release a'la Strobist style

Joe McNally's Blog has some nice examples of Joe putting his daughter and her friend in front of the SB900. Joe is the first to get to play with the new strobe, and will be having more images shortly.

SB900 Joe McNally Style!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Pop-Up Flash Is Evil, Or Is It?

The portrait at left was lit entirely with a pop-up flash! O.K. not really, but it was the most important piece of the puzzle. For those of us using bodies with a pop-up flash I would hazard to guess that 99.99% of us set the pop-up to "--" and never look back. Why do we do that? We were taught that 1)the pop-up flash is a worthless underpowered auto mode users crutch and 2) on camera flash is to be avoided like the plague. So what happens when you run out of remote flash units? Most of us do not own an unlimited supply of speedlights. I would dare guess that most readers own an average of 2 speedlights. Because let's face it they are not the cheapest things in the world of photography.

Let's take a look at the picture. The first thing is to notice that I shot at 1/200 at f/8 in order to bring down the ambient daylight in order to get the nice blue sky (Saturation was bumped a bit in post). So as we know that leaves us with a mostly dark subject. The main light is coming from camera right, in front of the subject and just a little higher, from a SB600 on 1/8 with no modifiers. The fill is camera left slightly behind the subject via unmodified SB600 at 1/16. So here is the problem. I only owned two SB600s at the time, and while the subject was mostly lit the bottom of his boot and the front chrome were way under exposed. What to do?

Now you see it, huh? I set the pop-up flash on my D80 which was commanding the two SB600s to manual at 1/16. I couldn't even tell you how low of a power that actually is. I mean think your pop-up flash has a GN of something like 30. So 1/16 is pretty weak, but it works perfect here. It lit the bottom of the boot showing the tough tread and Harley logo. It also had the added effect of putting some catch lights on that nice polished chrome!

A theme which I will be repeating not just in this blog, but in the group discussions as well: "Know how to use all of your tools."

When your back is against the wall you will know where to reach.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Semi-auto TTL mode

I argue, and push, and reiterate at least 10 times per week to others that CLS does not mean TTL. It is not a set it and forget it system unless you make it that way. You have to use the best tool you have. The one on your neck.

To folks who are new to the world of flash and off camera flash the thought of having to figure out flash power, f/stops, and just how the crap does one balance flash with the ambient are all overwhelming thoughts. Ah, then here comes CLS with promises of TTL so we don't have to think. So bang set it to remote, point it at the subject and you let the camera take over. And less then desired results ensue, much like a lot of auto modes. So how do we get folks who are shooting full bore TTL to take the first steps to learning how to control their light? Enter the friendly variables of EV Comp and the TTL settings in your commander menu.

So let's take a look at the above image of my lovely wife who will kill me when she sees this on the net. This was shot on a relatively bright beach later in the day heading into sunset. I set my camera to A (aperture priority) to let the camera figure out my exposure. Let me add here I generally have Auto ISO set to OFF. I set the metering mode to matrix. This is an important step. If I had been set to spot or center the camera would expose for my wife's nice midtone shirt. The result would be a blown out sky. So I took a test shot. The camera was still trying to expose somewhat for my wife resulting in a slightly blown out sky. I dial in -1.3 EV comp simply by pressing the +/- button and turning the dial. The result was a dark beach, dark wife, and a nicely rendered sky. With my ambient set to where I like we can now deal with lighting the subject. I had one SB600, no modifiers, no gels set to remote group A channel 1 hand held camera left. I set my D80's pop-up flash to commander mode. In the commander menu I set my pop-up flash to not contribute by setting the mode to the two dash mark "--". I then set group A to TTL. The next setting was to set the TTL compensation. This is important because setting the EV Comp to -1.3 overrides flash power settings. If I left TTL with the compensation set to 0 in the commander menu the result would be an underexposed subject. That's just the way Nikon did it, accept it, live with it, embrace it, curse it only in secret away from your camera. So I set the TTL compensation to the inverse which is +1.3. Result, properly lit subject. The last step in this picture was to zoom the flash head in some. I don't remember exactly but it was some where around 50mm probably. Why? Well I did not want her legs to be lit which keeps your attention on her face. Control your light!

This is not as complicated nor is it time consuming to set up. And the beauty of it is the flexibility it gives us. If I had been shooting portraits on this beach or models I would be changing my flash power, aperture, and shutter speed trying to keep everything in check. With this type of setup I could have shot for 30-45 minutes under ever changing lighting conditions without ever touching a setting, and just focusing on my subject and composition. So long as I wanted this type of look. I know the die hard full manual folks will still not want to do this, and that is fine. Just remember it is one more tool. Even the most experienced shooters using this system over full manual could squeeze a few more frames out during the shoot. And to everyone shooting TTL scared of the manual world. Look at this as a stepping stone towards learning how to control your light, and make it work for you. Take the concept, extrapolate, and repeat.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Easy Creative Shots

I think we all are looking for something that ads a little style and creativity to our work. Sometimes we forget the tools which we actual hold in our hands. Take the case of when your flash fires. Who....what you say? Well I think most people keep their flash firing when the shutter release is first pressed, and to be more specific when the shutter first opens or first curtain sync. So why not change it up a little bit? Just hold down your flash button, rotate that command dial until it says "rear". The results are at the left simply shot with an on board SB800 with the diffuser cap on and pointed at the ceiling.

So what is really going on here? Well, obviously there is some motion blur but why? well we are mainly exposing the available ambient light and creating the blur. The flash then fires just before the shutter closes. This freezes the subject in the last spot creating a sharp image of the subject with the motion blur. You can go over board, over expose the ambient and just end up with a big bright mess of blur!

You want to see what a portrait of a stationary subject is like with rear sync? Check out Joe McNally's Blog for a pretty creative environmental portrait. How do we know Joe was using rear sync? He says in the post
The shutter was dragging pretty good for the ambient backlight, but she stays sharp cause the strobe dominates the foreground.
Plus if you read his book you know he pretty much leaves his camera on rear sync!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Start Of Something New

Welcome to the start of the new Nikon CLS blog on Blogger.com. I hope that this blog will be a gateway into the world of Nikon's Creative Lighting System. I will be bringing you the basics, how-to's, tips, tricks, and things I fine interesting on a daily basis. Over the next few weeks I will be constructing the pieces of this blog to provide quick links to the information you are looking for. It will start with equipment descriptions and journey into basic usage. Hopefully along the way I will be able to bring you some videos of actually using CLS gear ranging from how do I turn it on to getting into remote mode menus. This way everyone from the newest newbie on has the same base to work from. From there I hope the videos progress into how to get the most from your CLS strobes. I'm excited and I hope you are too as we build the internet's premier CLS usage blog.