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 Monday, June 19, 2017
Have you ever wondered what kinds of Lightroom adjustments were made to an image you found online? Now, there may be an easy way to find out.
 
Assuming that the JPEG image in question was saved with all EXIF information intact, a website called Pixel Peeper can display the camera and lens used, exposure settings and exactly what types of adjustments were made to that specific image in Lightroom.
 
I loaded a few images into the tool and it seemed to work as advertised. Give it a try and see what you think. [Sean]
Post Date: 6/19/2017 12:00:58 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, June 13, 2017
by Sean Setters
 
Several years ago when I was first exploring the wonderful world of off-camera flash, radio triggering options were very limited with rudimentary capabilities. It's amazing how much the radio triggering market has changed since then.
 
Now, in addition to the basic triggers of ye olden days, we have radio triggers that can remotely adjust the power levels of compatible flashes or even adjust power levels automatically via TTL technology. In other words, there has never been a better time to explore what radio-triggered off-camera flashes can do for your photography.
 
If your current flashes support radio triggering – like the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT – then you don't need anything else. However, if your flashes or studio strobes don't feature radio triggering, or if you need to incorporate non-radio enabled flashes into your radio flash setup, then radio flash triggers will be worth looking into. And on that note, there are a few things to consider when arriving at your preferred choice of radio trigger.
 
Type of Connection
 
First, it's important to understand how these radio triggers connect to our shoe mount flashes (and possibly studio strobes). Radio triggers primarily connect to compatible flashes in one of two ways, either by a cable connection or via a hot shoe (and most of those triggers featuring a hot shoe can also trigger via a cable connection).
 
The most common type of sync port found on shoe-mount flashes is a PC terminal. These sync ports have been an industry standard for decades, but... they are not my personal favorite type of connection. First of all, PC cables are not very robust (easily damaged) and they sometimes disconnect from the socket when a flash is handled with the cord attached (though locking PC compatible ports mitigate this issue).
 
Impact Sync Cord Male Mini 3.5mm to Male PC 1ft


A select few flashes feature a 3.5mm (1/8") miniphone sync port, which is very convenient as it's the same sync port that's featured on almost every radio trigger with inexpensive 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male cables being easy to find.
 
A far simpler solution, however, for triggering a shoe-mount flash is to use the flash's mounting foot. Many newer radio triggers feature a built-in hot shoe that your off-camera shoe-mount flash simply slides into. In my opinion, this is the best triggering solution as it eliminates the need for cables which can easily be lost, damaged or simply not long enough (or inconveniently too long) for a specific application.
 
Transmitter/Receiver or Transceiver
 
In addition to the type of connection a radio trigger features, it's important to understand whether a specific triggering system is built on separate transmitters and receivers or if a single device can act as both, i.e. is a transceiver. In regards to the separate transmitter/receiver systems (such as Vello FreeWave LR, Radiopopper Nano), a significant pitfall is that is that a single transmitter failure (without a spare transmitter to fall back on) will render all of your receivers completely useless. Alternately, a single device failure in a transceiver setup (such as the PocketWizard Plus/FlexTT* or Cactus V6) means that you only lose the ability to trigger one flash, not the entire group, as any of the devices can act as a transmitter.
 
In some cases, a company may even produce radio receivers that are completely compatible with camera brand master flashes or transmitters, thereby allowing the use of older (non radio enabled) flashes to be used in an otherwise radio-enabled setup.
 
Range
 
One of the primary advantages of radio triggering technology is that it eliminates the line-of-sight requirements for trigging off-camera flashes as well as boosting the range even if line-of-sight positioning of flashes is possible.
 
For instance, Canon Speedlite's optical flash triggering system has an advertised range of 32.8 ft (10m) outdoors and 49.2 ft (15m) indoors. And technically speaking, line-of-sight isn't always required indoors if surfaces are available for the master flash's transmission to bounce off of in order to communicate with slave flashes.
 
Now contrast the previously mentioned optical triggering range with that of typical radio triggers advertising anywhere from 300 ft (91.4m) to 1,600 ft (487.68m).
 
Suffice it to say, most photographers will never need to trigger an off-camera flash from 300+ ft away, but... it's nice to know that your flash will fire when you need to position it in a location that exceeds the capabilities of optical triggering.
 
Brand Longevity and Backward Compatibility
 
Another thing to consider when shopping for radio triggers is the likelihood of the brand remaining in the radio triggering market for the foreseeable future and whether or not they have displayed a commitment to backwards compatibility with previous generation devices. One example, PocketWizard, has been producing flash triggers for more than 15 years with newly released products always being backwards compatible in terms of radio frequency.
 
Basic / Advanced Triggers
 
In regards to radio flash triggers, there are basic triggers and advanced triggers. Basic triggers transmit/receive only one highly relevant piece of information – FIRE! Because they are relatively easy to design and manufacture, there are a wide range of companies that produce these very-easy-on-the-budget triggers. While most of the triggers will work as intended most of the time, you may experience or occasional misfires and you'll likely forego high build quality with flash triggers at the lowest tier pricing level. Examples of basic triggers include the PocketWizard PlusX, Radiopopper Nano, and Yongnuo RF-603C.
 
On the other end of the spectrum, advanced triggers provide a myriad of features that make them more versatile and/or more convenient for those working in a professional (or semi-professional) atmosphere. Some advanced triggers are capable of:
 
  • Flash power levels adjusted automatically via TTL communication
  • Remote manual flash power adjustments
  • Rear curtain sync
  • High speed sync
  • Seamless communication with camera branded flashes
  • Upgradeable firmware
  • Multiple channels to avoid interference
Not all advanced triggers feature all of the capabilities listed above, but most offer at least some of them. The extra features of advanced triggers compared to basic triggers come at a higher cost, of course, but the price differential translates to significantly increased convenience and versatility. Examples of advanced flash triggers include the PocketWizard FlexTT*, Phottix Laso, Cactus V6 and Yongnuo YNE3-RX .
 
Which radio trigger is right for you?
 
If you're just exploring off-camera flash for the first time, it's probably a good idea to invest in a set of basic triggers. Why? Because all of the extra features afforded by advanced triggers can complicate the off-camera flash learning process. Basic triggers require manual flash power adjustments and therefore simplify the "cause and effect" learning process. Once basic lighting principles have been conquered, the value of the advanced triggers' full feature set can be fully appreciated.
 
Then again, nearly all advanced radio triggers can replicate the functionality of basic triggers. So if you're ready to jump down the rabbit hole, but still inexperienced with off-camera flash, you can invest in an advanced flash trigger system and use them as basic triggers until you're ready to explore the augmented feature set.
 
Other Photography Lighting 101 Posts
 
Post Date: 6/13/2017 1:22:13 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, June 10, 2017
When a unique weather pattern arrived with numerous little rain storms showing on the radar, it seemed like a good time to go trail running with the lightweight Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens. After photographing some distant storms from a high vantage point, I took a direct hit from one of them. But, that was good news. Rain storms make rainbows and this one delivered superbly.
 
Also delivering superbly was the Sigma 100-400. While a telephoto zoom may not seem like a first choice for landscape photography, this focal length range is excellent for that purpose (and many others of course). And, using a telephoto lens for rainbow photography is often a good idea.
 
It was a good night for a run with the camera. In addition to some intense rainbow images, I brought home a large number of nice dramatic sky images including at sunset – and got some exercise.
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 6/10/2017 7:15:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, June 4, 2017
I know, some of you are thinking that snakes are creepy and that putting any thought into photographing them is ... completely wasted effort. Even if that is your thinking, stay with me here as you can likely apply the same thought pattern to a different subject, one that you find more photogenic. If you scroll your browser past the snake image, you even won't have to look at it while reading.
 
The story starts with me brushing my teeth (you didn't see that one coming, did you?). I looked out the bathroom window and noticed this cute garter snake lying on top of a weeping spruce tree. While garter snakes are common here, they are usually on the ground and are seldom cooperative. So, it is unusual to have the opportunity to photograph them in such a nice environment.
 
The weather was perfect for this opportunity. It was a very cloudy day, meaning that I had soft light to work with and the camera angle decision was not going to be light-driven. After checking to be sure that I could approach at least reasonably close to the snake without it being immediately frightened away, I decided to move forward with an attempt at photographing it.
 
There was no action involved here, so the frame rate didn't matter and the Canon EOS 5Ds R is nearly always my preference in such situations. For lenses, I observed that I had a limited working distance and I knew that getting too close would send the snake looking for a safer location. Interpretation: I needed a telephoto focal length, but not the longest available.
 
I quickly narrowed my choices down to the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. I decided that the snake would not likely tolerate me being close enough for the macro lens' close-focusing advantage to be a benefit over the 100-400 L II's already very good maximum magnification ability and I wanted to be able to adjust my framing to the positions I was able to get into along with the scene available at that perspective. Basically, I'm saying that a zoom range was preferable. The macro lens' wider aperture would allow me to create a stronger background blur at 100mm, but the 100-400 easily wins the background blur contest overall due to its much longer 400mm focal length and the longer focal length provides a longer working distance at its maximum magnification. I mounted the 100-400 and began working with the scenario available to me.
 
Using a tripod was going to be too great of a challenge due to the in-the-tree location of the snake. Thus, handholding was going to be optimal and image stabilization was once again proved highly valuable.
 
The lighting was relatively constant, but it was changing with enough frequency to make a manual exposure challenging. Also, because I wanted to use a wide open aperture, the variable max aperture of this lens increased the manual exposure challenge. While I still technically used manual exposure mode, I opted to lock in my shutter speed (I was in unstable shooting positions and counting on some assistance from image stabilization) and aperture (I selected f/4.5 with the lens at 100mm and let it auto-adjust to the max available at longer focal lengths) with Auto ISO becoming the auto exposure parameter. Because the colors in the images were relatively neutral, the camera's auto exposure system worked great with the brightest colors, the yellow lines in the snake, being right where I wanted them at the right side of the histogram.
 
When photographing a potentially-fleeting subject, I quickly capture some good-enough images to have the safety shots on the card. Along with having those safety shots, I can quickly check the exposure and other settings before moving in closer. Upon reviewing these images, I immediately noticed that reflections were impacting color saturation on the snake and that meant a circular polarizer filter would, as it frequently does, provide a significantly improvement in image quality. I slowly backed away from the snake and went back inside to get the filter.
 
With the filter installed and properly adjusted, I was happier with the results and began to work the composition more seriously, including approaching closer to the snake.
 
Finding the proper perspective is often the key to creating the best composition and the longer I photograph a subject, the better I can determine what the best perspective is. Moving closer/farther, up/down or around the subject can significantly change the juxtaposition of the subject and its surroundings, significantly changing the resulting image.
 
To jump start the composition process, I wanted the snake's head to be facing in a direction other than away. That factor eliminates about half of the potential camera positions. A sideways-facing head can work well and a slightly-toward-the-camera angle is usually a great choice. That the snake was on top of the tree removed much of the below-the-subject camera position options.
 
The background is always a huge key to good composition and using a telephoto focal length is useful in both reducing what remains in the background and blurring what remains into obscurity. I adjusted my position to take in a variety of background colors and textures and also worked my position around the snake to get different angles on the main subject. Eventually I went for a step ladder and tried some downward angle compositions for some variation.
 
Another compositional opportunity available to me was that, with no discernable horizon or other sense of levelness showing in the frame, I was free to rotate the camera as I desired and that adjustment could change the entire balance of the snake in the frame.
 
Every so often the snake would move slightly and I was able to work with a modified scenario for a period of time. The snake cooperated for about an hour – long enough for my arms and shoulders to get tired from holding the camera in awkward positions. Then the snake abruptly dropped from sight and it was game-over.
 
As so often is the case, the 5Ds R and 100-400 L II proved to be the perfect combination for this purpose. With a bit of unexpected rain occurring during this shoot, I was happy for the camera and lens' weather sealing protection, meaning I could simply keep shooting without worry in that regard.
 
Just an hour of shooting not only gave me some of my best-ever garter snake pictures, but it also provided a great practice session. Simply spending an hour photographing something that interests you around the house can keep your photography skills fresh along with teaching you new ones. So, get out there!
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
263mm  f/5.0  1/200s
ISO 1250
8688 x 5792px
Post Date: 6/4/2017 7:12:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, June 1, 2017
There are many types of off-camera flashes available for consideration, so let's go over the primary options. While the term "flash" could be used interchangeably to describe any of the following options, we'll be using the term "shoe-mount flash" to describe flashes featuring a hot shoe and "studio strobe" to describe the bulkier, more powerful flashes.
 
Shoe-Mount Flash: Camera Brand/Third-Party TTL Compatible
 
"Ok, so I own a Canon/Nikon/Sony camera... does that mean I have to buy all Canon/Nikon/Sony flashes for off-camera use?" The simple answer is, "No," but there are certainly some advantages to building a camera brand specific kit. Camera brand shoe-mount flashes – like the 600EX II-RT – can communicate with each other wirelessly through optical and/or radio means and can automatically calculate the amount of flash necessary to provide the correct exposure as determined by your camera (ETTL, iTTL). Optical triggering requires line-of-sight (each flash must be able to see the master flash or commander unit), and its range is fairly limited (especially outside in bright sunlight). Radio-enabled flashes provide much more range without the limitation of line-of-sight positioning. With an all Canon/Nikon/Sony flash system, you'll be able to enjoy the benefits of high-speed sync (exceeding your camera's max flash syncs speed) and rear-curtain sync (where the flash is coordinated to end with the rear curtain). Note: Nikon users can enjoy the benefits of rear-curtain sync even with non Nikon-branded flashes.
 
There are also some third-party flashes that mimic the capabilities of the camera brand flashes providing full communication with your camera and similar features at a reduced cost. However, sometimes these flashes can be incompatible with older and/or yet-to-be-released camera bodies. If the third party flash manufacturer does not release an updated firmware, or otherwise, there is no way to update the flash's firmware, then you're simply out of luck.
 
Shoe-Mount Flash: Third-Party Manual
 
Third-party manual flashes offer a relatively no-frills option as they do not feature wireless communication and power levels must be adjusted manually. These types of flashes work well in indoor studio setups where the flash is placed in an easily accessible location (they are not very convenient when the flash is boomed above a subject and the power level requires adjustments). Manual flashes typically require a radio trigger to sync the flash with the camera's shutter, but some manual flashes offer optical slaves which can trigger the flash when it sees other flashes fire.
 
The downside to all shoe mount flashes is their somewhat limited power. They tend to work great indoors and in times when the ambient light is not necessarily abundant and bright, but outside of those situations or when modifiers are used, you may find yourself wishing you had a few more stops of flash power at your command. If your photography lighting applications require more power, you'll want to look at the available studio strobe options described below.
 
Studio Strobes: Monolights and Pack & Head Systems
 
The two most common types of studio strobes include monolights and pack & head systems. With monolights like the Profoto D1, the flash bulb, modeling light, cooling system and power supply (requiring AC input) are all contained within the flash head's housing. In a pack & head system (Profoto Pro/Acute/D4) , the power source (often called a generator or power pack) is a separate component from the flash head. As you likely guessed, both these systems have benefits and drawbacks compared to the other.
 
Benefits of a pack & head system include smaller/lighter flashes, the ability to run off of battery power or AC and remote control of power levels via the pack with only one radio device needed for triggering all connected flash heads. Downsides to a pack & head system include a single point of failure (pack) could render all flashes unusable, power cords running from a single location to all flash heads (making positioning lights difficult at times) and higher cost.
 
Benefits of monolights include [generally] lower cost and easier positioning of lights assuming multiple AC outlets are available. Downsides include the need for a radio trigger for each individual light (unless the monolight features a built-in optical slave and your shooting situation allows for that type of triggering), AC power requirements and having to adjust power levels at each light (unless a radio triggering system is available that can perform power level adjustments).
 
Studio Strobes: Battery Powered
 
Relatively new to the industry are battery powered studio strobes (Profoto B1, Broncolor Siros, Interfit S1, Dynalite Baja, Phottix Indra) which offer the power of traditional studio strobes with the flexibility and convenience of a user-replaceable, rechargeable battery built right into the flash head unit. Most of these strobes feature built-in wireless receivers providing benefits such as independent power control (possibly even TTL) and high-speed sync.
 
With benefits of increased power and the inclusion of built-in rechargeable batteries (making them an excellent option for on-location/outdoor setups), the downsides of battery powered studio strobes compared to shoe-mount flashes include increased size, weight and higher cost.
 
Wrap Up
 
While there are certainly products that fall in between these categories offering a blend of benefits and drawbacks, the groups listed above constitute the majority of what's available for off-camera flash use. And with so many options available, it's very likely that you can find a flash/strobe setup (or mix of these products) which can adequately cover your lighting needs.
 
In our next installment in this series, we'll take a look at the wide range of radio triggers available in the today's marketplace.
 
Other Photography Lighting 101 Posts
 
Post Date: 6/1/2017 9:03:41 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, May 31, 2017
by Sean Setters
 
With a moderate temperature and sparse clouds overhead, I set off with the goal of photographing a local marsh with my infrared converted Canon EOS 7D and EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM. I was particularly interested in photographing the dormant trees often found in such locations. After a little exploration, I found an area behind an apartment complex that seemed perfect. The marsh was mostly dry and featured obvious walking paths used by nearby residents.
 
The dry marsh featured dozens of dormant trees which I intended on photographing as my primary subjects, using the wide, flat marsh and blue sky as a backdrop. However, I photographed several trees but was unsatisfied with my results.
 
And then I started thinking about my composition. A good landscape image needs to have a distinct foreground, middle and background, or else it needs an element that guides the eye through the composition. When photographing the trees with an ultra-wide angle lens, the images had a distinct foreground and background, but the lack of an element clearly connecting the two – guiding my eye through the scene – resulted in boring photographs. With that revelation and a fresh set of eyes looking at the scene, I began searching for ways to connect the foreground and background in the composition. The answer appeared just beneath my feet.
 
The curved pathway that snaked through the scene seemed ideal for leading a viewer's eye through the image. If the path had been straight, it wouldn't have had the same effect. But with a gentle S-curve running from the foreground through the middle part of the image, the resulting composition (including interesting clouds) proved to be my favorite shot from this outing. Of course, the image doesn't feature one of the trees I was so anxious to photograph, but... the trees aren't going anywhere, so I'll likely try again another day.
Post Date: 5/31/2017 8:58:18 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Before we address the need for off-camera flash, it's vital to understand why investing in any flash – whether it be an on-camera shoe-mount flash or a studio strobe – is worthwhile. While beautiful, natural, soft ambient light is ideal, many times circumstances don't line up with pre-scheduled portrait sessions. With a flash (or multiple flashes) in your kit, you gain the ability to create the ideal light wherever and whenever you need it.
 
Now let's say you have invested in a shoe-mount flash. However, with the shoe-mount flash mounted to the camera's hot shoe and pointing forward, you find your portraits don't look quite right. There's a good reason for that. Think of it this way – how often do you view the world with a bright, small sized light emanating from your forehead? My guess is... not often (outside of you spelunkers out there).
 
When you view the world day in and day out, light is usually generated from many different sources, and therefore, it comes from varying directions (but as we established, rarely from your forehead). One way to change the size and direction of your camera mounted flash's output is to swivel the flash head and bounce the light off of a nearby neutral colored wall or ceiling. For flash owners, this is the first and easiest step to improving the look of images taken using [on-camera] flash. But unfortunately, bounce flash is not a panacea. Sometimes there isn't a nearby surface suitable for bouncing your flash, and other times you may want more control over the light than this option permits.
 
Now let's consider positioning the flash in a location other than the camera's hot shoe. With the flash off-camera, more natural looking portraits can be created compared to portraits utilizing on-camera (especially bare, pointed forward) flash. With a huge array of light modifiers available, each influencing your flash's light quality in a unique way, the possibilities for creative, compelling and professional looking imagery are endless.
 
In the next installment in this series, we'll take a look at the various types of off-camera flashes and studio strobes.
 
Other Photography Lighting 101 Posts
 
Post Date: 5/30/2017 8:37:18 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, May 28, 2017
My time in Jasper National Park was short and there was no time for on-location scouting. I needed to rely on my pre-trip planning and my research led me to make Cavell Lake one of my early AM location priorities. The prospect of Mt Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier reflecting in Cavell Lake appeared a sure-thing for a keeper image. A beautiful mountain reflecting in a calm lake is a sure recipe for a great image and this location's combination was definitely above average in that regard.
 
The sun hits the side of these mountains visible here in the morning, meaning that the morning timing choice was ideal. The interesting clouds were ... a gift. You just can't plan for clouds like these and being there is what increases the odds.
 
To reach this location, I parked at the Tonquin Valley Loop trailhead (just past the Hi-Mount Edith Cavell Wilderness Hostel) and followed the trail until reaching the foot bridge at the north end of Cavell Lake. The photographic opportunities there could entertain me for ... a very long time. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time and I quickly selected some compositions to capture.
 
While this particular image is on the busy side, I loved the high latitude flora and wanted to capture it along with the scene. For a variation from the same location, check out this Mt Edith Cavell picture captured lakeside the lake just farther into this frame.
 
I had a few lenses with me, but the Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens combination were what I used all morning. They are both awesome.
 
This is a modest HDR blend of two images, primarily pulling the sky down the tone curve slightly to show detail in the clouds.
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/28/2017 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, May 22, 2017
by Sean Setters
 
Off-camera flash and light modifier solutions for studio photography can range from relatively inexpensive to I-need-to-take-out-a-second-mortgage expensive. With more of us able to afford the lower end of that spectrum, it's nice to know that you can get very good studio results with economical gear.
 
A couple of weeks ago I posted an image demonstrating how inexpensive LED lights could be used for creative portraiture. Today we'll be looking at another example of this technique along with an in-depth look at the gear necessary to produce similar images.
 
Let's take a look at the gear I used for a portrait session this weekend aside from the 5D Mark III, 85L II & 580EX speedlite flash (you could easily substitute any camera body, wide aperture telephoto prime and shoe mount flash for similar results) along with some links to gear which will provide comparable results and/or functionality at a fraction of the cost.
 
Lighting & Background Gear Used & Budget Alternatives
 
ItemGear Utilized
Cost
Comparable
Budget Item Cost
Photoflex Umbrella with Adjustable Frame (45")$36.95$14.95
Flash Radio Trigger & Receiver$129.90$29.00
Umbrella Swivel$17.99$21.95
Impact Collapsible Background - 5 x 7' (Black/White)$69.99$69.99
(3) Light Stands$357.00$98.85
Impact 40" Extension Grip Arm$29.95$29.95
Impact Super Clamp with T-Handle$19.95$19.95
Lastolite Magnetic Background Support$82.88$82.88
LED String Lights$19.99$19.99
Total$764.60$387.51

Note that I didn't link to specific versions of some of the gear due to unavailability (some are discontinued or not available at B&H), and I didn't list the white foam core board I used as a reflector (very low cost). Also note that the "budget version" umbrella swivel is slightly more than I paid for my version several years ago and prices are always subject to change.
 
As for the setup, one light stand and the background holder were supporting the collapsible background while another light stand with an extension arm and super clamp were holding the LED string lights in place. As for the main lighting on the subject, the flash was placed camera left and reflected into the white umbrella. The subject's fiancée held a white foam core board camera right to provide a degree of fill light.
 
Hunter Portrait Front Bokeh 2

Now let's consider the equipment I used to support the background and LED lights. Technically speaking, they weren't really necessary (though they certainly did make shooting more convenient). If we were to prop up the collapsible background in another way (maybe lean it against a wall or prop it up by boxes?), we could eliminate one of the light stands and the magnetic background support. And if we simply held the LED lights in front of the lens (or otherwise supported them with a DIY solution), then we could eliminate another light stand, the extension arm and the super clamp from the equation. With the aforementioned gear excluded, the investment cost would drop to $188.83.
 
But how about that background? Is it strictly necessary? While extremely convenient (and highly recommended), you could use a large piece of black fabric, black paper or otherwise shoot in an indoor location with more distance between the subject and the background (leaving the background unlit and, therefore, black at the camera's max flash sync speed). Therefore, if you have a substitute for the background, you can shave off another $69.99, for a total of $118.84.
 
If your DSLR features a master pop-up flash and your off-camera flash features built-in wireless (optical) communication, you can deduct another $29.00 for a ridiculously low final cost of $89.84.
 
That's right; assuming you have a camera, wide aperture telephoto prime and shoe mount flash already in your kit, you could theoretically create shots very similar to the examples above for less than $100.00, or to put it another way, less than the MSRP of Canon's least expensive lens. Of course, more expensive gear typically equates to higher quality and/or added convenience, but... for those on a budget, high quality portraiture is likely well within reach.
Post Date: 5/22/2017 12:11:05 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, May 20, 2017
What is the best bear photography lens? The best bear photography lens is the one you have immediately available when the bear shows up. I know, that was a trick question, but the point is, an available lens is much better than no lens and I was very happy to have had even the cheap Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM kit lens available when this bear showed up. While this lens is near the bottom of my list of bear photography lens recommendation list, when this bear presented itself, the 18-55 mounted to a Canon EOS 77D was what I had immediately available.
 
I am not going to be the only one finding the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM kit lens most-available and there are a number of reasons for this. My reason was because I was evaluating the lens at the time. I'm a bit unique in that situation, but for some, the EF-S 18-55 will be available because it is what they can afford. For others (children for example), it will be all that they are trusted with. And for others, it will be the most expensive lens able to be risked for a lens-dangerous, perhaps even sacrificial, task. With the extremely small size and weight of this lens, the EF-S 18-55 will sometimes be simply what is acceptable to carry for long periods of time.
 
I had been watching the bridal wreath spirea go into full bloom and feeling the need to incorporate them into an image. While they are beautiful alone, they work even better as a background to another strong element. For example, I was thinking that a cardinal would look great sitting on one of the branches. A mother black bear being that subject never entered my mind, but ... I think it works here.
 
I have been encountering bears at an increased rate and have photographed many of them, but never before have I used a focal length as wide as 55mm. However, with the bear sitting at a stone table amidst the flowers (with some petals also sticking to her), a wide-aspect crop from that focal length worked well. She appears to be waiting for her waiter.
 
Do you keep cameras at-ready for whatever opportunities arise? If not, consider doing so. Having an always-ready camera can more-rapidly increase your portfolio. Having more cameras in your kit makes having a ready-to-use camera nearby easier and adding another capable DSLR to your kit does not cost that much. We are always happy to help you make the camera, lens and accessory selection that is right for you.
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
55mm  f/5.6  1/80s
ISO 3200
4940 x 2320px
Post Date: 5/20/2017 6:15:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, May 18, 2017
by Sean Setters
 
While a bare flash can work well in certain situations, more often than not, obtaining the best results will require shaping, restricting or coloring the light coming from your flash (whether it be the shoe-mount or studio variety).
 
Let's look at our Top 10 Light Modifiers to explore all the great possibilities available for crafting the perfect light.
 
Impact 5 in 1 Collapsible Circular Reflector with Handles 42in

1. Collapsible Reflector
 
Collapsible reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and surfaces, and are used to reflect a light source (sun, Speedlite or studio flash) onto your subject. Simple, convenient, inexpensive and easy to pack are hallmarks that have made collapsible reflectors ubiquitous in the photography industry. Popular reflective surface options include white, silver and gold (including combinations of those surfaces).
 
Don't have a collapsible reflector but need something in a pinch? Use a piece of white foam core board or a suspended bed sheet for near-similar results.
 
Westcott 7 Foot Parabolic Umbrella Bundle

2. Umbrella
 
Like collapsible reflectors, umbrellas also come in a variety of shapes (really), sizes and reflective surfaces. The most common umbrellas are white (which can be used in reflected or shoot-through orientation) ranging in size from 43 - 60", though larger and smaller versions can easily be found. Umbrella surfaces mirror those found in collapsible reflectors, mainly the aforementioned white, silver & gold, and oftentimes umbrellas come with a fixed or removable black backing to prevent light spillage (of course, limiting the umbrella's use to reflective orientation only with the black backing in place). Some black backed umbrellas are compatible with removable front diffusion panels for even, softbox-like light quality (more on that later). Mimicking the shape of the sun, a traditional umbrella produces a natural looking round catchlight in the subject's eye(s) unless the umbrella spokes are are clearly discernable (especially a possibility when shooting closer headshots). An umbrella makes a great outdoor flash modifier, with one caveat. Be sure to heavily sandbag your light stands when using umbrellas outside. The umbrella's round, concave shape means that a slight breeze can easily cause your rig to topple over if not properly secured.
 
Surprising to some is that photographic umbrellas can vary significantly in shape. For instance, parabolic umbrellas are deeper than traditional ones and tend to be more efficient at bouncing light with the tradeoff of a more focused projection. Some umbrellas can be made square by adjusting segments of their support frame while other umbrellas feature a rectangular design that makes them better suited for shooting in locations with low ceilings.
 
Considering how inexpensive most umbrellas are, and how easily they can dramatically improve the light falling on your subject, there's little reason not to have one (or several) in your lighting toolkit.
 
Impact Luxbanx Large Rectangular Softbox 36 x 48in

3. Softbox
 
Generally speaking, a softbox is a rectangular, box shaped light modifier with one (or more) diffusion panels covering the face of it. A softbox is typically affixed to a light via a proprietary speed ring, so be sure to select a compatible model when purchasing your softbox. Because of the diffusion panel(s), softboxes generally produce a very even lighting over the entire surface of the front diffusion panel. Softboxes work especially well in studio conditions because they produce a very soft yet directional light (especially when fitted with an optional grid). A rectangular or square softbox creates a catchlight in the subject's eyes that is reminiscent of a window pane, though the catchlight of a softbox + grid combination may appear conspicuously artificial.
 
Not all softboxes are rectangular. A subset of softboxes, called octaboxes (or octagonal softboxes), are more rounded with 8 sides instead of 4. These particular softboxes provide the benefits of traditional softboxes (less light spill) with the round(ish) shape benefits of an umbrella.
 
Standard Reflector and Beauty Dish

4. Standard Reflector/Beauty Dish
 
A standard reflector is a relatively small, metal, silver-lined, narrow bowl-shaped device that is generally included in a studio light kit. Standard reflectors feature a port for simultaneous use with umbrellas (somewhat limiting spill). When used without an umbrella, the standard reflector produces a hard (clearly defined), somewhat harsh quality of light (similar to sunlight on a clear day). While this type of light may not be optimal for most main light portrait needs, the standard reflector can provide a great on-location rim light or background light.
 
On the other end of the studio light reflector spectrum, a beauty dish is a special type of reflector designed specifically for portraiture which produces a circular shaped, semi-hard quality of light with soft edges. Typical beauty dishes are wide bowl shaped reflectors ranging in size from 16-28" (the most common sizes being 20-22"), are silver or white lined and are optimally used relatively close to the subject (a distance between 1x and 1.5x the diameter of the dish). Prices for beauty dishes vary widely, and my particular favorite – the Mola Demi – is not inexpensive, but having owned and used one for several years (with Opal Diffusion Glass), I can say without hesitation that it is a great investment.
 
Vello Ringbox Ringflash Adapter

5. Ring Light
 
A ring light is, as the name suggests, a circular shaped light that is more often than not used with the camera lens shooting through the middle of it. Ring lights can either be specifically designed studio lights, macro lights or ring light modifiers.
 
Because the light is positioned around the lens, a ring light produces a very flat, non-directional type of lighting. If used as a main light, it's generally more flattering than an accessory hot shoe flash pointed straight at your subject, but it really shines (pun intended) as an "invisible" fill light when used with other light sources. By "invisible," that is to say that the fill light doesn't leave tell-tale shadows that indicate its use aside from a subject-shaped shadow (halo) around your subject with an unlit background close behind your subject. Note that a ring light does produce a rather conspicous circular catchlight in the subject's eye(s).
 
ExpoImaging Rogue Gels Universal Lighting Filter Kit

6. Color Gel
 
Color gels can be used to change the color of your flash to a) match the ambient light or b) add a creative color to your image. The former, referred to as "color correction" gels, allow you to calibrate your flash's light output with the color of the ambient light, thereby making simple global color corrections seamless in post processing. Otherwise, if the color of your flash's output does not match the ambient, obtaining correct color balance in post processing can be a tricky and time consuming task (and sometimes, nearly impossible).
 
The latter group, "creative" gels, allows you to change background colors or add interesting color to your subject lighting. Using color through the use of gels is a great way to differentiate your work from other photographers, and considering the low cost of color gels (both color correction and creative), every flash wielding photographer should have a myriad of gels in their lighting kit.
 
Vello 1 4in Honeycomb Grid for Portable Flash

7. Grid
 
A grid is simply a set of tube-like structures affixed to the front of a flash (as demonstrated above) or otherwise attached to the front of another light modifier (such as a softbox). The purpose of a grid is to restrict the light output to a smaller area, allowing for more finite control over the light's spread. Grids with circular tubes like the one shown above will produce a round spotlight with moderately soft edges and work great as subject-to-background separation tools when directed at the background (especially when combined with colored gels). Grids are also great for hair/special emphasis lights when reducing light spillage is a priority.
 
Impact Snoot for Select Impact Bowens S Mount Strobes

8. Snoot
 
Like a grid, a snoot is designed to restrict a light's output to a smaller area. However, unlike a grid, the edges of the light pattern projected by a snoot will have a hard edge. Uses for snoots mirror uses for grids, with the the hard edge being the main differentiator.
 
Flag Gobo and Cuculoris Cookie

9. Flag/Gobo & Cuculoris/Cookie
 
A flag (or gobo) is simply a device (typically black) that blocks light from hitting a certain area of your composition. Flags come in variety of shapes and sizes and commonly feature an arm that is designed to be held by a grip head and/or grip arm making positioning with a light stand an easy task.
 
Don't have a professional gobo handy? Try using a creatively mounted piece of black foam core board.
 
A cuculoris/cookie is a special type of flag which has a pattern cut out of it. When placed in front of a light source, a cookie will create a decorative shadow pattern on surfaces and/or subjects in the path of the light. Cookies are often used to simulate light filtering through window panes or foliage, but abstract patterns are very common as well.
 
Spiffy Gear Light Blaster Strobe Based Projector

10. Projector (Light Blaster)
 
With a lens attached to the front, the Spiffy Gear Light Blaster is able project a scene printed on transparent film onto a surface. The creative possibilities for devices such as these are endless, yet using them effectively takes a bit of know-how. For instance, if using the Light Blaster to project a scene onto the background, optimal results can only be obtained if the light hitting your subject is restricted from hitting the background (using some of the other tools listed above and careful positioning). See our full review for more details on the Light Blaster.
 
You can also find old carousel slide projectors on eBay for similar results, without the ability to vary the light output (unless ND filters are used).
 
So there you have it, our list of the Top 10 Light Modifiers for Off-Camera Flashes & Studio Lights. Did we miss something important? Sound off in the comments.
Post Date: 5/18/2017 11:15:16 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, May 10, 2017
by Sean Setters
 
I often draw inspiration from the educational videos we post to the site, and one video in particular posted last week intrigued me. In the video, Mark Wallace used a small string of LED lights held in front of the camera lens to create an interesting bokeh effect for portraiture.
 
I love it when inexpensive tools can be used to create unique imagery, and the LED lights Mark used for his video cost less than most memory cards. Wanting a little variety, I purchased a set of 4 strings (2 warm white/2 purple) which are powered via AA batteries.
 
After the LED lights arrived, I enlisted my neighbor to sit for a short portrait session. Being a kindergartener, I knew I would only have a few short minutes of optimal attention span for creating the portrait I had in mind.
 
The Setup
 
Intending to emphasize the foreground blur, I used a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM affixed to a tripod mounted EOS 5D Mark III.
 
For the lighting on the subject, I used a radio-triggered Canon Speedlite 580EX with a LumiQuest SoftBox LTp (now discontinued, but available here) camera right. For the background, I used an Impact 5 x 7' Black/White Collapsible Background held up by a Lastolite Magnetic Background Support atop a Matthews Maxi Kit Steel Stand. After a couple of test shots, I decided to add a white reflector (foam core board) camera left to fill in some of the shadow area on the other side of the subject.
 
Camera settings for the shot were f/1.4, 1/160 second, ISO 100.
 
Things I Learned
 
  • In order to maximize the shooting time with the subject, I used a super clamp to attach the LED lights to an extension arm (affixed to another light stand) and draped the lights in front of the lens. The upside to this particular setup was that it allowed me to specifically and easily position the subject within an area of the frame that was unobstructed by the LED lights. The downside, of course, is that there was no variation in lighting between shots. If working with a subject with a longer attention span, simply holding the lights in front of the lens and embracing the significantly varied results would likely work well.
  • When photographing a child of this age, having a medium height wooden stool is a great posing aid. Being positioned higher-up than normal helps instill a sense of importance that helps keep young subjects in a good mood.
  • My initial thought was that the lights would need to be positioned very close to the front of the lens for an optimal effect. However, that didn't necessarily prove to be the case with the 85mm lens I was using. When positioned very close to the end of the lens, the LED lights tended to be too large and distracting for my taste. For the shot above, the lights were positioned about 12" from the end of the lens, and as you can see, the out-of-focus LED lights are still quite large in the frame with the f/1.4 aperture in use.
  • I thought I would have to use a longer shutter speed or a higher ISO to get a bright exposure from the LED lights, but their proximity to the camera and the wide aperture being used meant that I could use a typical studio shutter speed of 1/160 second at ISO 100 for the exposure.
Conclusion
 
For a relatively small investment, a small strand of LED lights will likely be worth picking up for anyone interested in augmenting their creative portraiture capabilities. The lights are small, relatively easy to pack (for nighttime on-location shoots?) and utilize a power source that many photographers have in abundance – [rechargeable] AA batteries.
 
Give this fun and easy technique a try!
Post Date: 5/10/2017 10:15:07 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Saturday, May 6, 2017
I have photographed the beautiful Cathedral Parish of St Patrick (Harrisburg, PA) one time prior, but a clear sky on that day meant sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows created hotspots that were detracting even with HDR processing. With the extreme wide angle Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens in my hands and a rainy day forecasted, I knew where I was going.
 
To get this image, I laid flat on my back directly under the center of the ceiling with the tripod positioned low, just above me, while I meticulously adjusted the camera angle to find the perfect alignment. The low linear distortion of this lens was a great aid in this challenging task.
 
There are currently very few lenses that can replicate this image. None of them are as small and light as the Laowa 12 and none of them have so little distortion.
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 5/6/2017 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, April 28, 2017
As I mentioned in the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens review, a significant March snowstorm simultaneously arrived with this lens, dumping 19" of snow in less than a day. While that snow volume may seem miniscule to those in some locations, the amount was (or nearly was) a 24-hr record for this area. And, after the snow fell, the wind started. Wind of course brings about snow drifting and I knew where I might find some drifting effects to capture.
 
A 1 mile (1.6km) jog/hike in knee-deep snow brought me to a mountaintop field just prior to sunset where I successfully found interesting wind-formed wave-like patterns in the snow. The late-day low sun angle meant the patterns were side-lit, emphasizing their shapes along with some color temperature variance occurring between the sun-lit and shaded areas.
 
One of my favorite uses of wide angle focal lengths is to make close subjects appear large in relation to what is behind them and to keep what is behind them in sharp focus. The 15mm focal length worked great for application of this concept, emphasizing the uneven snow in the field. Note that I had to be careful to keep my shadow out of the frame.
 
A funny story: I took a somewhat different route back to home and unwittingly stepped over the edge of a bank and into a deep snowdrift. After sinking in well over my waist, the angle of the ground (once I finally reached it) caused me to continue sliding at an angle, leaving me strongly tipped and in about shoulder-deep. Any attempt to move caused me to sink deeper and trying to dig out was ... an unusual experience. Fortunately, the camera and lens were in a Lowepro Toploader Pro 70 AW case, so no worries there and after I brushed off, only the humor of the moment was remaining. Remember – photography can be as much about creating stories as it is about telling them.
 
If you do not already have an ultra-wide angle lens in your kit, definitely check out the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone or Firefly Lens. Either version of this lens can add a lot of capability to your kit for a low cost.
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
 
Camera and Lens Settings
15mm  f/8.0  1/100s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px
Post Date: 4/28/2017 9:02:33 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, April 22, 2017
When planning for a big photo daytrip, I usually have a packed-full itinerary carefully planned out and select the day based on the desired weather matching the forecast along with various other factors. But, sometimes even very careful planning does not work out.
 
This particular day had set up perfectly and I executed the plan, making the roughly 6-hour round trip drive to Philadelphia.
 
Upon arrival, I immediately discovered that preparations for the NFL Draft ceremonies, including installation of multiple enormous covered stages, had completely taken over the art museum, including the parking area I was planning to use. The backup plan was implemented for parking and the art museum, one of my intended subjects, quickly hit the questionable list.
 
The morning and early afternoon were forecasted to be cloudy and I drove in rain during much of the trip into the city. While that might not sound like the ideal forecast for city photography, the cloudy skies were going to provide ideal light for interior photography at a large church. Soft light coming in the windows would add life to the interior, but direct sunlight burning highlights into an image would be avoided.
 
Upon arrival at the church, I found the doors ... locked. The church's website said it would be open. The city employees watching over the area contacted their superiors and were told that the church was supposed to be open. Some church employees were even trying unsuccessfully to get in. About two hours later, the church was still locked and I gave up the wait, moving on to scout for later opportunities.
 
A blue hour ultra-wide angle view of the art museum entrance was on my to-photograph list for the day, so this was the next shot to be scouted/planned for. Because this view faces somewhat into the setting sun, the ideal blue hour timing was slightly later than another blue hour photo I had planned. I worked through the NFL Draft construction project and a security worker permitted me to go to the top of the art museum steps (the ones "Rocky" climbed) behind the main NFL Draft stage. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the top of the steps, I discovered more large tents covering most of the main entrance. Scratch primary photo #2 from the list.
 
Scouting the view from the Spring Garden Street Bridge was next on the list. The goal was to photograph the downtown skyscrapers bathed in the warm late day light and a clear sky to the west was needed for that. The skies were forecasted to clear in the afternoon but I was not optimistic of the clearing happening in time. Finally, in late afternoon, the heavy clouds quickly moved past, showing a beautiful blue sky.
 
I arrived at this location quite early and set up two tripods with a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lenses mounted. I waited, watching the perfectly clear sky with highly anticipated success, but alas, just minutes before the sweet light happened, a cloud bank rolled in and shut down the light, erasing major photo goal #3.
 
With three of five planned image series already failed, the day was not shaping up well, but two photo goals remained. Fortunately, the cloud bank that shut down the city-in-sweet-light image did not make it past the city before darkness and photo opportunity #4, the image shared here, was a home run.
 
The ideal blue hour light only lasts a few minutes and the ideal time is often easier to best-determine when reviewing the images on a computer at home, so I simply shoot constantly through that short time window. However, a clue to when the time is ideal is when proper f/16 exposures are between 15 and 30 seconds.
 
Why f/16? Live View with DOF preview showed that I had enough depth of field at f/8 and the images would have been sharper if captured at that aperture, but ... I like the star effect that a narrow aperture creates from the city lights. The straight lines from the city buildings sharpen nicely even at f/16 and I seldom regret this aperture choice for this purpose.
 
Because I was shooting from an elevated bridge, the camera was able to be leveled (for both pitch and roll), a requirement if keeping the edges of the buildings vertically straight is desired. Another takeaway from this image is that telephoto lenses are great for cityscape photography. Telephoto focal lengths keep distant subjects large in the frame and the city skyscrapers were a primary subject, so keeping them large was desirable.
 
With the blue hour past and a good set of images captured on two cameras, it was time to make photo #5 happen. The goal was a nighttime photo of City Hall from the center of S. Broad St. and getting there required a 1.6 mi (2.6km) walk. I had been carrying a heavily-loaded MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods) all day, but ... whatever it takes is the motto of many photographers. I could rest on the drive back home.
 
Upon arriving at City Hall, I discovered huge – you guessed it – NFL Draft banners adorning each side of City Hall. While a photo with the banner may have been good for memories of the event happening in this city, it was not what I wanted. I was tired and opted to simply walk back to car.
 
So, out of 5 potentially great series of photos, I brought only one home with me. While that batting average is not very good, I'm happy with the images I did get and another positive spin is that ... I will not need to do much research to make another day-filled photo itinerary for this city with a hopefully-more-productive result. Alas, the NFL Draft will forever be a memory as there it is, advertised on the large blue billboard near the center of every frame I captured here.
 
A larger version of this image is available on BryanCarnathan.com, Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Post Date: 4/22/2017 4:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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