Monday, September 29, 2014

Photographing People Outdoors at Sunset with Flash

Shooting a subject outdoors right about sunset?

The light is changing minute by minute.  How do you maintain an appealing balance between the background (ambient) light and the flash on your subject without spending a lot of time playing with settings?

Here's an easy way that will work in most situations.

First, it helps to understand an important part of the process when working with flash photography. And that is: shutter speed will not affect the flash exposure on your subject, only the exposure of the ambient.

How can that possibly be? Everybody knows that a slower shutter speed lets in more light and a faster shutter speed lets in less light.  Right?  Well, yes and no.  Without flash, that statement is true.  A slow shutter speed means the shutter is open longer and lets in more light.  And vice versa. However, when you're subject is lit by flash something curious happens.  The flash duration (the actual time the flash brightens, peaks, and dims to black) is always faster -- significantly faster -- than the shutter speed. The result?  Change the shutter speed (within the parameters of your sync limits [or use HSS]) and, while the ambient exposure will change, the light on your subject appears the same from shot to shot.

So, back to our scenario. It's fifteen minutes to sundown.

One: You compose your shot.  Now, meter (in camera, or with a lightmeter if you chose, but we're talking about speed here) the ambient light. Try to set your initial shutter speed at or near the fastest shutter speed that allows it to sync with the flash (typically 1/250 or 1/200 sec.). Then utilized that meter reading and your own preferences to set aperture and ISO. Take a test shot of the scene, check your histogram or preview, and adjust if necessary.

Two: Set your flash and take a test shot of your subject.  Adjust flash brighter or dimmer (or closer or farther) until you have the correct exposure on your subject.

So, say you now have a lovely balanced exposure at 1/250 sec., f8, ISO 100 and flash at 1/4 power.

You take a few amazing shots.  You're a photo rock star! You take a few more, and whoa.... my background is dimming.  Ok...

Three: take that shutter speed down to 1/200.  Back in business.  Remember, this is now only affecting your background.  The flash exposure on your subject remains the same.  As the ambient light changes you can continue working that shutter speed down -- 1/160, 1/125, 1/100) until you risk subject motion blur.  But then, as you lose nearly all light, you can actually bump that shutter speed down to a crazy 1/15th or even 1/10th (called "dragging the shutter") and you can be back in business for a while.

Note: when dragging the shutter, the ambient light MUST be low enough to not contribute to the subject image. Otherwise you do risk getting some motion blur.

So, in a nutshell, once you have all factors set, all you have to do is periodically lower that shutter speed (a quick flick of the dial in M mode -- you are shooting in M, right?) and your sunset shoot will far less frustrating.

Hope you find the technique useful and happy shooting to you!    ~RW

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Emily & Mark Got Married!

Environmental Headshot

Most of my executive headshot clients request the boring grey or blue backdrop. So I do it. But once in awhile I get to do an "environmental headshot". These often include backgrounds or props related to the client's business. In this case they requested the view out the office/skyrise window. I encourage you to update your headshot and I urge you to consider an environmental shot. serving Oakland County, MI.

Natalie Jenkins/Steampunk Model at Clif Furgison's Studio V

Natalie Jenkins/Steampunk Model at Clif Furgison's Studio V, Sept. 21, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Another Way to Set White Balance

White balance (WB).

One of those little "get it right in camera" things that separates the novice from the experienced.  And, I know, if you shoot RAW you can adjust it later (use the WB eyedropper to click on something neutral, preferably a grey card in your first frame if available).  But that can be a lot of work later, and, if you happen to have nothing neutral in the frame, can be persnickity, anyway.

I recently stumbled upon a new way to set white balance that I thought I'd share.  Like everything photography, I'm sure some of you already know this one, but I've never heard of anyone talking about it, so.....

If you choose to set your white balance while shooting (highly recommended), there are several ways to go about it.  Some rely on Auto White Balance (AWB).  Fine in a pinch, but often a bit unreliable, especially on a frame to frame basis.  Many cameras will give you presets for Sunlight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten light, and one or more fluorescent settings.

There are also usually options for custom white balance as well as setting the temperature by the Kelvin scale.  With custom white balance, you shoot something neutral (white or grey -- preferably a perfect 18% grey -- like a photographic grey card) in the ambient or flash light that will be visible in your upcoming shots.  Then you choose the picture you've just taken as the reference for the camera to set WB.  But what if you left the grey card elsewhere and nothing is neutral?  Or pop an Expodisk over your lens to get your reference.

All good ways that certainly work most of the time.  Kid tested, mother approved.

Lately I've been using the Kelvin scale.  I make an educated guess about the proper temperature to use or set it somewhere around 5000 and take a test shot.  Too warm, I crank it down.  Too cool, crank it up.  Take another test shot.  By this time I'm pretty close.  Rinse, repeat, etc until I've nailed it.

I just found a way to get to the proper number just a little bit quicker if your camera has an option for in-camera RAW processing. First, take a picture in the light you'll be working in, whether that be ambient or with flash, at or near the proper exposure for your scene.  Then, from your menu, find an option for Raw Image Processing -- that's what my Canon 6D calls it. Your last image will pop up -- hit "set". Now Raw editing tools come up.  Use the toggle to work down to the WB option. Scroll through to the Kelvin option and turn that dial until the image looks just right.  Now make a note as to that exact Kelvin number.  Say it's 3600.  

Now back out, go to the regular menu area for setting the WB.  Again select the Kelvin option.  Dial in that number that looked so great a moment ago (in our example 3600).  And voila!  You're ready to shoot until the lighting situation changes.

While this isn't as fast as an Expodisk or grey card, it's a terrific option if those items are unavailable or if they aren't quite getting you to the exact look you prefer (sometimes a TRUE white balancing can be less than appealing if you are in multi-colored lights, say at a concert, or sitting around a campfire, where a certain orange cast is necessary to evoke the correct mood.

I'd be very interested if any else out there is using this technique or if you have another method to set your WB that I didn't mention.

Eager to hear from you!   ~R

Addendum:  Based on discussions with other photographers, some variations came up.  First and foremost, when working in strictly ambient light, you can adjust K live and on the fly by going into livemode.  From there you should be able to access the K adjustment (exactly how/where depends on camera) and dial in a color while watching live how it affects the image.  For straight-up ambient, this is certainly the fastest and truest.

If using flash that overpowers ambient, simply set to the Flash color setting.  However if the flash mixes with ambient, gel the flash to match ambient, usually with 1/4 or 1/2 CTO (color temperature orange gel).  For this method several of the above methods will work, including the onboard RAW processing method.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

doctors, not models

These two lovely humans are a married pair of doctors who came by the ol' studio the other day for headshots for business purposes.  I capture all the beautiful people in my camera.  I'm so lucky!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 is the story I fail to put into words.....

Best Local Wedding Photographers


Review of service/rental equipment from LensProToGo (

Few weeks back, I knew I needed some extra gear to cover a big Sikh wedding.  I had used Cameralensrentals once before (review here: ) but I went with LensProToGo this time because I had some gift cards for them (from winning a Westcott contest last year).

I created an account with LensProToGo and ordered a Canon 5DIII, a spare battery, the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L, and the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II.  My only complaint with the actual order process is that I could not figure out how to input coupon codes from more than one gift card.  I ordered the gear for four days and added on protection plans for everything except the battery.

As a first time customer, they said I would be contacted (presumably to make sure I am legit -- oh, I assure you I am all kinds of legit!).  They never called, but simply emailed me that I was approved and the order would be placed as requested.

On a Thursday at 2:30 p.m., the fine UPS folk brought me a heavy box.  I cracked it open to find a hearty Pelican Case (here is a biggy over Cameralensrentals).  All the pieces plus a battery charger were snuggly bedded down in the case.  Also instructions on returning and a return label.  In retrospect, it might have been a nice touch to include the manual for the camera, but I'm sure it is available online and I managed quite nicely without it.

So.... shot the terrific wedding, placed everything back in the Pelican the way I found it, sealed it up securely and took it to the nearest UPS store.  The hand off, the receipt and off I went.  End of story.... almost.

This past week I ordered more gear for the wedding of Emily and Mark that is coming up in three days!  I placed the order, finalized it, and washed my hands of it, when I realized that I didn't enter a coupon code at the right place.  I called LPTG and explained the situation.  AND.......

Nary a "pssht" and they took care of it and credited my account accordingly.

The verdict:

Unless something dramatic changes in the world of photography gear rental, LensProToGo is my new go-to place.  Maybe I'll rent the crazy Petzval lens for some arty work