Thinking and Shooting Cinematically with Fujifilm X-E2

Fujifilm X-E2, Fujinon XF 18-55mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/8, 1/125

Learning to think “Cinematically” when framing your images is to think about the end user. Today more than ever most of my audience will experience my images on-line through the internet.

Computer displays with aspect ratios wider than 4:3 are also called widescreen. Widescreen computer displays are typically of the 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio. In 2008, the computer industry started to move over from 4:3 and 16:10 to 16:9.

Basically most of today’s audience that is working on a computer newer than 2008 are using a widescreen and most likely with a 16:9 ratio.

Now when shooting for print I am considering magazine covers.

Fujifilm X-E2, Fujinon XF 18-55mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/8, 1/125

This vertical photo would work much better for a cover of a typical magazine rather than the horizontal.

How it would look on a computer screen

Fill the frame horizontally. This is even more true with video. Turn your smartphone horizontal when making movies. If you don’t the image will be shrunken to fit the horizontal limits of the screen.

So two things you are doing to make an inferior photo/video. First the images will be displayed even smaller than if they were shot horizontal, second you give up visual impact.

Fujifilm X-E2, Fujinon XF 18-55mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/8, 1/125

Learn to see not just edges of the photograph, but from front to back of the photo.

How this would look on a computer screen without cropping

Composition Tip

When photographing like a tourist where you want to capture you friends and family at the different locations you are visiting here are some quick tips to compose a more effective photo.

  • Start with the background. Compose first for what your subjects will stand in front of for the photo. Fill the frame to the edges as I have done here.
  • Have subjects closer to the camera and not closer to the background.
  • Move the subjects around to find the best place where you can easily see them and the place. Be careful that they don’t block so much of the background that you no longer know where they are for the photo.
Fujifilm X-E2, Fujinon XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4.5, 1/20, -1EV, flash 0 EV Slow Sync
When shooting at dusk or night here is another tip. underexpose the background by -1 EV. That is one stop under. I do this with dialing the EV dial and keeping the camera in Aperture priority, and Auto ISO. Then just add flash. Here I didn’t compensate with the flash, but you may need to experiment with it.
What this does is pull the subject out from the background using the light value to do so. Because the flash is on Slow Sync the camera will figure out the best exposure without the flash and then the flash will just be added just enough using the TTL function of the camera flash.
If you put your photos into a typical video I recommend filling the frame and therefore you may end up with a little crop top and bottom of the typical 4:3 ratio camera to the typical 16:9 ratio for video.
If you start to crop photos to dimensions other than the 16:9 or 4:3 to something more like a square you will be giving up space on the screen, which for the most part will diminish the impact of the photo.
My suggestion is to learn how to fill the frame of your camera and not rely on post production.

“God gave you two eyes side by side and not top and bottom so learn to compose for the eyes.” Robin Nelson.

Make your photos “DIFFERENT” at events or don’t get hired

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/10, 1/100, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger

I get hired a great deal to cover events. Everyone with a camera could cover these events, but I make my photos look different every chance I get.

Here in these photos I am using off-camera flash to help improve the photos. This first photo the sun is behind the ladies on the left hitting the man’s face. This puts them in a silhouette and the way I fixed this was to have my assistant hold the flash on a monopod up high pointing down at them.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/50, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger

Here the flash is off to my right pointing at the ladies on the left. Here you can see again that without this flash their faces would have been silhouetted. Had I used a flash on the camera I would have flattened the features. By having the assistant hold the light up high I still get some shape to the cheek bones of the ladies.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 640, ƒ/5.6, 1/200, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger

Here the assistant is bouncing the flash off the ceiling inside the room. I am just raising the light level inside so that the outside is balanced and not washed out with no details.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/5.6, 1/40, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash on S2 [slave setting] with the Nikon SB900 and SB800 on Pocketwizard TT5 triggered by the TT1 and AC3 to control their output. 

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/100, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash on S2 [slave setting] with the Nikon SB900 and SB800 on Pocketwizard TT5 triggered by the TT1 and AC3 to control their output. 

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, 1/100, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash on S2 [slave setting] with the Nikon SB900 and SB800 on Pocketwizard TT5 triggered by the TT1 and AC3 to control their output. 

There are three flashes in the room all being controlled by the camera. I have the Nikon SB-900 and Nikon SB-800 working on TTL and triggered by the PocketWizard system. The Neewer TT850 has a 2nd flash setting to work with TTL flashes.  The light in the room was so mixed with different color temperatures that I wanted to clean this up with the flash.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 10000, ƒ/7.1, 1/100, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger 
Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 640, ƒ/2.8, 1/25, off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger

With all these photos the camera was on Aperture priority and I am winking the flash just slightly brighter than the ambient light. Often same light value or +  1/2 stop greater to just clean up the color and give a little pop to the images.

I know that if anyone was shooting with the iPhone or point and shoot camera they would not be getting this quality of images. They are different. This is very important if you want to be hire to shoot, because if my images didn’t look different than what they are able to make with their own cameras then why hire you?

How did your Easter family photo come out yesterday?

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/180, flash is set for -1 EV

If you look closely you will notice another family on the opposite side taking photos.  They get the direct sunlight. By standing on this side of the cross we were not staring into the sun and our faces were in the shade. All I did was to add fill-flash with the pop-up camera flash on camera. While not my preferred placement of a flash did work OK for this family photo after church.

The photo was taken at 12:34 pm. One of the worst times to take a portrait of people outside.

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/5, 1/500

Now last Thursday our family went to the Alive After Five event that we have from April till next fall every Thursday in downtown Roswell. After we ate at Mac McGees went strolled around and found these two Union Soldiers. I took this photo without a flash. The main difference is the time of day I took the photo. This is taken at 7:17 pm and the sun sets at 8:10 pm.  Due to the sun being below the buildings there was no direct sunlight—just tent light effect. This is where the whole sky is lighting the subject with equal light from all directions. Even under the hat the guys face is OK without a flash.

With off-camera flash 

Without flash

Remember that when taking pictures outside, especially during the midday sunlight, be sure and use a flash. Don’t think of flash inside as much as outside.

Want better posed group photos, pick better locations

Bulloch Hall Plantation located in Historic Roswell, GA

Location, Location, Location

Just like real estate, your photos will look better when you choose your location. This is the time of year for holiday parties, school dances and even weddings. While going into your yard and finding a clean background is a great idea, picking a location in your town that stands out may be a better idea.

Here you can see all the parents watching as I am taking the group photos and couple photos. If you look closely you will see my one Alienbees B1600 with the original vagabond battery by Paul Buff. It is to the far right in back [yellow head].

Another tip is to use a tripod. There are a couple of good reasons to do this. First your photos are sharper when the camera is rock steady still. Second if one person in a group photo blinks and then another person in another photo, you can always cut and paste one person into the other photo using PhotoShop.  This way everyone will look good in one photo.

Fill Flash

The subjects are all back lighted by the sun in all these photos. Unless you use a flash you will have a hard time holding the background and their faces to get a good exposure.  I metered the scene which was ISO 100, ƒ/8 and 1/50.  I then set the flash to ƒ/5.6 or one stop under whatever I would have metered for the over all scene.

Here I composed a wider shot to show Bulloch Hall where the grandparents of President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, and great grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady from 1934-1945 lived.

I like the closer composition over the wider shot.  But I did both in case couples preferred one over the other.

Any time my family is with me and I have gone to this much trouble for photos, I always get a photo of them.

Flash or not to flash

Nikon D4, 70-200mm,  ISO 10000, ƒ/2.8, 1/800 with Nikon SB900 on camera flash fired at slow sync

While at first glance this photo is quite acceptable the main light is now my flash and not the stage lighting.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 2500, ƒ/2.8, 1/100

The second shot is available light and shot only 1 minute prior to the flash shot. This is around 9 pm and on one of the longest days of the year, so there is still some sunlight as the sun sets.

There is not as much “Stage Light” as there will be after the sun sets.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 2200, ƒ/2.8, 1/320 with fill flash from SB900.

Here I went to the other side of the stage and shot a similar comparison of the flash and no flash.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm ISO 12,800, ƒ/2.8, 1/400

The one reason I was using the flash to begin with is the singer Marc Broussard’s hat is casting a nasty shadow and most of the time his eyes are hard to see.  You can see the shadow in the second available light shot.

While the flash fixed this issue as long as it was on my camera it just ruined the mood of the stage lighting.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/2.8,  1/100

While I now decided to shoot the rest of the performance with available light I now had another problem the light on the lead singer’s face only looked good occasionally   Most all the time the light looked like this when he sang.  You see a bright spot on his chin and his eyes are in a shadow.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/2.8,  1/80

Now to get the best photos of the lead singer Marc Broussard I had to pick the best moments where the light and the emotion came together. I think I have this here when Marc looked up into the light and also the emotion in his face worked really well.

Now you know why so often a spot light is used to follow the main character on a stage with stage lighting. You also can see why many theaters have foot lights. These are lights on the floor of the stage at the front aimed up at the actors to get rid of the shadows under hats and those with deep set eyes.

When there is still not enough light at ISO 12800

I have been in the darkest places like Swayze’s Venue in Marietta.  Here the punk band moved around so much that I needed flash.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

Here is an earlier post in case you want to see when I do use flash and how I used it off camera:

How I covered Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief

This is just some of the damage to homes by Hurricane Sandy in Union Beach, New Jersey that I saw last week while covering a companies work there.
Ken is one of my mentors helping me with business practices.

My good friend and fellow photographer Ken Touchton, pointed out to me how we are called on day to day to cover the ordinary and make it look extraordinary.

Photographer’s on tour

The camera manufacturers and even our professional organizations often have photographers who create some cool photos doing their “dog and pony show” at seminars and workshops. Many of these photographers create these incredible images which help them to be professional speakers and lead workshops.

My hats off to these guys. They do an incredible job and create some outstanding images. The reality is that in my lifetime I will most likely have very few if any of these types of photo assignments.

Lately those photographers on tour are no longer using dogs and ponies. Now they have elephants, dancers and just find the most exotic people and places to capture. It does make sense that to have a great photograph start with great material.

It would be fun to have the budget to hire a few exotic animals, a few models and fly them all to an exotic location. I also think it would be cool to have all that equipment to light the subjects and make a truly memorable photo.

However, Ken and I are often called on by companies to tell the stories of normal every day folks doing what may visually appear to be mundane, but are truly extraordinary.

This is some of my coverage of Chick-fil-A cooking sandwiches that they do everyday and giving them to people in need.

Chick-fil-A has a food truck that they use to distribute sandwiches at large events. Here it is in Howell, NJ where they were distributing sandwiches to Hurricane Sandy victims, first responders and volunteers.

In total over four days, Chick-fil-A’s food truck produced and distributed 13,650 Chick-fil-A Sandwiches to folks in northern New Jersey and Staten Island.

Eddy Taylor from Chick-fil-A gives sandwiches to workers helping to clean up Union Beach, New Jersey. (Nikon D4, 14-24mm, Nikon SB-900 shot on TTL on camera on slow sync. Camera settings ISO 100, ƒ/8 and 1/250)

My objective was to capture Chick-fil-A personnel giving away sandwiches to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. When in a disaster I don’t get to scout the area and then plan which models to bring in for the photo shoot. I don’t get to come in and light the scene to make this pop as I might do in an advertising photo shoot. This is finding moments as they happen to tell a story. These moments were in short one to two minute intervals of the volunteers giving out sandwiches. It doesn’t take long to give them a sandwich and give a quick word of encouragement.

The hardest part of the coverage was showing people receiving sandwiches that you could tell by the visuals alone they were part of a disaster.  I needed the food distribution and I needed to show this was about Hurricane Sandy. The photo above comes very close to communicating the two in the same photo.

(Nikon D4, 14-24mm,  ISO 100, ƒ/8 and 1/160)

One of my favorite photos from my coverage isn’t necessarily the best storytelling shot, but I love the motion of the Chick-fil-A personnel walking down the street of Union Beach, NJ where there is major damage. You can see all the debris stacked behind them that had to be cleared off the roads for vehicles to get into this neighborhood.

Chick-fil-A delivered free sandwiches to the Union Beach command post where they had setup a dining room in a tent to feed all the emergency responders. Here the State Troopers from all over the country are taking a lunch break. (Nikon D4, 14-24mm. Camera settings ISO 8000, ƒ/8 and 1/100 and AUTO White Balance)

Most of the time in disasters people are in the centers where people can come to get clothing, counseling or information about their homes. While the photo above of food being distributed to the first responders communicates the food distribution it lacks the context of Hurricane Sandy without some text.

While you can put a series of photos together on a page to help tie the communication package into a more cohesive package, the photojournalist is trying to do this with one photo, because often that is all the space they have.

Running and Gunning

In all of these photos I was what I call running and gunning. As a photojournalist I don’t stop people and ask them to do it again. You keep the camera up to your eye a lot of the time and quickly fire shots as they come up.

Now when I shoot for a company where we need certain things to look a certain way it is OK to make changes–it isn’t photojournalism it is advertising or corporate communications. However, my photojournalism background helped me stay focused during my coverage. Chick-fil-A was on a timetable of delivering these sandwiches to people in less than 20 minutes.

They know that food safety is important and also gives the customer the best experience.  If you look closely you will notice they are on the move in giving these sandwiches out to people.

(Nikon D4, 14-24mm,  ISO 100, ƒ/5 and 1/500 No Flash)

I wanted to show how at times the photojournalist will use on camera flash in a fast moving situation to help hold some of the shadow details. In the photo above I was believing this would work OK since the skin tones of the people getting sandwiches was light. When the darker skinned volunteers came up and they were all backlit I didn’t want to risk not seeing their faces so I put on the Nikon SB 900 and using the high speed sync mode and slow-sync was able to pop a little fill flash ensure I was capturing people’s faces.

Another side note you can see how I altered the frame in the two photos. I don’t need multiple shots with just the people changing, I wanted to tell more about the location, but had no time to move around. I just composed to show how the devastation to the left of the house was there in the second photo.

By the way we were in this location for less than five minutes. We had hot sandwiches that needed to be delivered to more places.

(Nikon D4, 14-24mm,  ISO 100, ƒ/5 and 1/500 with Nikon SB-900 on camera fill flash on slow-sync)

The Results

You might wonder how all this went for Chick-fil-A. Here is one person’s response to the call center for Chick-fil-A:

Customer Comments: The customer stated that he and his family are
survivors of Hurricane Sandy. He stated that the Howell Restaurant
delivered Chicken Sandwiches to people in his area.  He informed me that
the Red Cross has not even made it into his area yet but Chick-fil-A has
come two times.  He and his family really appreciate the gesture.

It is due to all my training as a photojournalist that companies need me. They cannot turn the hurricane disaster coverage into an advertising location photo shoot. They need a photographer that can in any situation come away with photos that communicate.

Ken Touchton and I are going to the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar next week the first weekend in December. It is their 40th anniversary and Ken was there 40 years ago.  I am also one of the organizers for the Southwestern Photojournalism Seminar that is March 1 – 3, 2012. Both of these are great places to learn from storytellers and ask them how they handle situations.

Many of the speakers are photojournalists who also shoot commercially. Maybe the reason some of them make great advertising photographers is they know what looks authentic and have a knack for helping creating those impactful moments.

I still advise anyone starting in this industry to try and get a job with a small town newspaper. The experience gained from shooting day to day assignments will help you know how to get the best possible photo in any situation. It will also help you appreciate the ability to plan and do preproduction to get those advertising shots where you are in control.

Studio strobes or Hot Shoe Flash outside

Walk and Talk with Hot Shoe Flash 

One of my favorite shots to do for organizations is doing what I call the “Walk and Talk.” This is where I have two or more people walk next to each other towards me.

I encourage them to barely feel each other next to each other. This keeps them from walking further and further from each other. The closeness to each other also helps communicate they are friends. This is using the body language of touching or almost touching to help communicate their relationship.

Now here are examples I did while teaching in Kona, Hawaii in February this year. These first ones I was showing the students how to use two hot shoe flashes as fill lights.  I have included the assistant carrying the lights for these examples to show you what they are doing as well.

I am talking to the subjects and explaining what I want them to do. No flash went off here.

The photo assistant is carrying a Nikon SB900 and a Nikon SB800.  They are zoomed out to 200mm for the SB900 and 120mm with the SB800.  This helps the light go farther, but also keeps the light mainly on their faces.

Notice the assistant must be pretty close to the subjects for the flash to work properly. In addition to the flashes I am using the RadioPoppers PX system to help relay the infrared signal from the Nikon SU800 on my camera to the flashes.

We switched out the subjects so everyone could experience what it felt like doing this exercise and see it being done.

While showing the class how to use the hot shoe flashes there were a few times where I got ahead of the flashes recycling. By not waiting long enough between flashes (2 sec) the flash wouldn’t fire.

Walk and Talk with Studio Strobe

To help everyone see the difference in flashes I also used an AlienBee 1600 being powered by a Vagabond Mini Lithium battery. I was borrowing the Photo Schools radio remotes, but most of the time I now use Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 Transmitter on my Nikon Camera  and have the Pocket Wizard Plus II transceiver on the flashes.

The MiniTT1 will let me shoot at 1/500 sync speed rather than just 1/250.

Now another thing you will notice that is different in these examples is how far away the photo assistant is from the subjects. 

The AlienBee 1600 has the reflector that comes with them on it. So notice that the flash is lighting more of the subjects.  I can change that by just adding a grid, but didn’t for these photos.

The flash is set at about 1/8 power. I can almost shoot on motor drive setting for these photos. The reason is the recycle time is so short.

When I shot these photos not a single time did the flash not fire. I think that when it comes to getting the best expression you need to be able to shoot at any moment and not just when your flashes are ready. 

I would highly encourage using the studio strobe over the hot shoe flash for this reason alone.

Just like I did above, I talk to the subjects and do a few test shots before I have them walk towards me.

After we did some tests to get them moving I then had the start over where they are talking to one another.

As you can see it doesn’t take long for people to relax and the photos to look pretty natural.  I would have changed one thing in these photos. I would have had the assistant put the light on a light stand and get the light up a little higher to help avoid the glare in the glasses.

This is just to show that the flashes fired every time. 

Now look at the photos where the flashes didn’t fire. Besides there faces in the shade the color on their faces isn’t as good. I think that using flashes helps you get the best skins tones outside possible.

Go out and try this yourself.

Often when I am flying around the world it is easier to carry the Nikon SB900 and a Nikon SB800 than carrying the AlienBee 1600 and the Vagabond Mini Lithium battery.  So, depending on the situation I find myself in I can still get the photo with either system.

Off Camera Flash Examples

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/4.5, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.

Walk and Talk

This past week I was privileged to photograph on a college campus. I was combining two things that give me some of my best photos. By combining off-camera flash and having people moving I get two great results; great expressions and good color.

The very first thing I started with on the assignment was a group photo, but the best results as far as expressions was not when they were standing still, but when they all walked towards me. Now mind you I almost lost my photo assistant a few times. He was having to walk backwards and keep the same distance from the group constant. This was to ensure I had good exposures.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/6.3, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.

Since I had a good group and we finished early with the group photo, I then broke them up into small groups and then had each of those do what I call walk and talks. We assign one person to talk and the others to listen, not just with their ears but their eyes. So, the person talks. The others listen and then they all are walking towards me.

Thankfully we didn’t have the assistant ever fall this week while walking backwards, carrying lights and watching the subjects to be sure the light was on them.

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200, 1/50, f/5.6, Off-Camera Fill Flash with 2 – Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.


I love shooting buildings at dusk. The photo here of the building and the students walking is at 7:55 p.m. and sunset is at 7:58 p.m.  I love this digital camera. You can see all the information, like what time I shot the photos.  While the sky looked better at about 20 minutes after sunset, we had to let the students go to another commitment.

We had them walk through the scene a few times.  The building is being lighted by my two Alien Bees 1600 on full power.  They are being powered by the Vagabond batteries made by Paul Bluff. 

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200, 1/1.6, f/11, Off-Camera Fill Flash with 2 – Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System. The flash sync was set to Rear Sync to get the car lights behind the car and not in front of it.

The photo above was taken at 8:24 p.m. and as you can see the sky is much darker blue, but not black.  I use the Alien Bees to light up the building since this campus didn’t have lights on their buildings at night.

Fill flash in the woods

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 250, 1/80, f/9, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.

One of the ugliest lighting is under trees. You get a green cast due to the light going through the leaves. What I did here is used the off-camera flash with the Alien Bees 1600 to kick in light from the front to mainly offset the green light. I also benefited from having light in their face rather than raccoon eyes. Raccon eyes are caused by top lighting, which you see during the day and gives you dark circles around the eyes.

Fill flash in direct sunlight

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/13, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.

Why use a flash in direct sunlight? You need to avoid raccoon eyes and also if you want you can help drive the audience to the subject by the use of the light as I have done here.

Fill flash inside

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, 1/125, f/6.3, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Nikon SB900 with the lightest green gel that comes with the system. Also, I am using the Radio Poppers radio transmitters with the Nikon SU-800 and Nikon SB900 so that I do not have to be in the line of sight for the infrared to work in triggering the flash.

When I am inside and people are working like this lady on her computer, you are just as prone to get raccoon eyes as outside. Why? The reason is the fluorescent lights above her are acting like the noon day sun. I have the photo assistant hold the flash and direct it to her face. The Nikon SB900 is zoomed to 200mm and therefore is light using a grid on studio strobes.  It is directing the light to just her face. 

To balance the flash to the room lights I used the lighter green gel that comes with the Nikon SB900 system. To get the correct lighting I took a custom light reading by using the ExpoDisc and had the assistant point the flash to the lens when I did this.  I tried both green gels that came with the camera and the lighter of the two gave the best result in balancing the color with the rest of the room.

The sync speed was set to Slow-Sync. I shot the photos in Aperture Priority on Auto ISO with the maximum shutter speed set to 1/100 so I would avoid the color shift that happens with fluorescent lights.

Ambient Light and Flash Combined

Hey Stanley, can you back up and explain this Ambient Light and under 3 stops thing you mentioned in that last post?

Available Light only (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/40, 28-300mm)

I had a few people write to me asking similar questions. So, let’s delve into this subject of ambient light and under or over exposing with a flash.

Without a flash point the camera at the subject.  I have my camera set for Matrix Metering, Aperture Priority and this gives me a reading of f/3.5 with 1/10 shutter speed and ISO 200. FYI this is not what the setting was in the above photo, this just shows you where to find the reading on the camera.

Step One: Get An Ambient Reading

You need a starting place to be your base exposure. Everything else will relate to this exposure.  I took a picture of the top of my Nikon D3S with a 28-300mm Nikkor lens.  I just pointed across the room for this example. With ISO 200 I have a f/3.5 aperture at 1/10 shutter speed. This is my Ambient Reading with no flash.

Step Two: Use your Nikon SB900

You can use whatever hotshoe flash for your manufacturer you have, but it must be a TTL flash or this will not work as easily.

Step Three: Slow or Rear Curtain Sync

You need to set your flash setting as I have done in the above photo to Slow or Rear Curtain Sync. This tells the flash and the camera that please use the Ambient setting on the camera and then add the flash to the exposure without over exposing the photo.

Fill Flash normal setting (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/20, 28-300mm)

Take a photo with this setting as I did in the photo above here.  This will basically light everything up.  I am bouncing my flash with the diffusion dome on the flash for this photo.  It is still getting light from the window, but the flash is filling in everything thing closest to the camera.  The background is brighter, but since it is further from the flash it is not as bright as the statue.

Step Four: Adjust the flash power under 3 stops

The reason I choose to go 3 stops under is this is as low as I can go in TTL mode and the camera figuring it all out for me. 

On the Nikon SB900 you push the button in the far upper left and it will cycle all the way through under and over exposures. Stop on the -3.0 EV.  EV stands for Exposure Value.

With the camera not changing the setting and then telling the flash to underexpose by -3.0 stops you get the results here.

Fill Flash set -3.0 (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/30, 28-300mm)

You can also adjust the camera exposure and the flash exposure and get even more results.



Silhouette and Reveal

Again I must give credit to Dave Black for coining this terminology.  I have been doing this for years, but loved how he made this sound very artistic, by using a french word it really sounds artistic.

Here is how you do this photo.

Step One: Take a normal ambient reading

Very similar to the above example.  Everything will look normal.

Step Two: Underexpose the photo by 2 or three stops

On the Nikon D3S the button to the right of the shutter you depress which lets you stay in Auto setting like Aperture Mode and underexpose or overexpose an image.

When you depress it should look like this if you have never done it before.  If you see something else, this maybe why your photos are under or overexposed.

With it depressed turn the wheel on the back of the camera.  Here it is at -1 stop.  I would shoot -1 stop, one at -2 stops and even -3 stops and pick the one that the subject is best silhouetted.

Step Three: Set flash setting to just the opposite + stops

If you picked three stops under then you are going to set your flash to three stops over.  You see now where the flash hits the subject will give you a perfect exposure. 

[-3] + [+3] = 0
For the photo above I had the Nikon SB900 off the camera being fired by the SU800 on my camera.
Nikon SU800 triggers your SB900 off camera using infrared signal. Here you can control up to 3 different settings of multiple flashes.  Here if I had three flashes and each one of them setup to work on A, B or C then I can control them from the camera individually.  For the above example I used a SB900 and SB800 both going off with +3 Flash setting as compared to the -3 on the camera setting.  It doesn’t matter if I had 100 flashes the camera will only let them fire all together only +3 stops.  I love this technology.


12,800 ISO noise looks different with flash

Dave Black was speaking at a seminar about using his Nikon Speedlight SB900 flashes instead of his Studio heads to light a basketball court and an ice rink.

I was on the edge of my seat absorbing what he was talking about.  I didn’t go out and buy more SB900 flashes and use them instead of my strobes for one reason, clients were not paying for sports coverage as in years past.

But what I was listening to was some of the reasons it was working for Dave Black.

First, by just having his strobes just a little over ambient light level he was able to get better color and avoid the problem with sodium vapor lights. Dynamic range under flash is the greatest light spectrum. Dave Black was shooting his flash just enough over the ambient to affect the color and help shift it to the 5000º Kelvin range.

Sodium vapor lights flicker and when you are shooting above 1/100 shutter speed you can get color shifts to all or just a band through a photo.

Another thing of shooting with the Nikon Speedlights was the ability to shoot at just about any shutter speed.  So in ice hockey Dave was able to freeze the puck by shooting at 1/2000.  The basketball was sharper as well for his basketball.

Available Light only (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/40, 28-300mm)

I began to experiment with using strobes with high ISO since then and found some things that it benefits other than just for sports.

I shot here the same photo three different ways. I have the statue lit by window light.  I shot it with nothing but the window light and any bounce back fill is just from the room.  I shot it at ISO 12,800.

As you can see the highlights look good and it is in the shadows that you will notice more noise. 

Fill Flash set -3.0 (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/30, 28-300mm)

By putting my SB900 with the dome on the camera and just bounce flashing I was able to get a little different results.  I underexposed the flash by -3 stops.  I did this by adjusting the setting on the back of the flash.

As you can see the shadows are now not totally black as in the first photo.

Then I shot also one more photo with the flash at a normal setting which gave me a lot more light.  This wipes out the shadow detail completely.  However, since I am using it in rear sync mode it was still complementing the window light and not over powering it.

Fill Flash normal setting (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/20, 28-300mm)

You really need to zoom in to see some of the noise issues with each photo.The place the noise shows up the most is in the green in the background.  You can see a lot of noise the more it is in the shadow.

Available Light only (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/40, 28-300mm)
Fill Flash set -3.0 (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/30, 28-300mm)

As you add more fill light (-3 stops) the noise diminishes a great deal.

Fill Flash normal setting (Nikon D3S, ISO 12,800, f/5.6, 1/20, 28-300mm)

What I noticed is when you add Nikon Speedlights to high ISO photos like these shot at 12,800 ISO noise diminishes. 

Less Flash output at High ISO

When you raise the ISO setting on your camera, every stop you raise it the flash only needs to put out half as much light as it did.  If you leave a Nikon D3S on auto ISO and the lowest ISO is 200, then the minute you put on your flash and turn it on the ISO will drop to 200.

You will need to manually set your ISO to the high ISO you desire.  Here I chose ISO 12,800.

The amount of light needed by the flash to put out at this setting is 7 stops less than at 200.  This also means your flash can increase it’s distance of throw by 7 times as well.  This means if your flash only would work at 10 feet at f/4 and ISO 200 you can now get f/4 at 640 feet away at ISO 12,800.

Color Temperature affects noise

I have found from my experience that whenever you shoot with flash you have the greatest dynamic range.  Therefore the noise is less with flash than say incandescent, fluorescent or sodium vapor light. 

Slow and Rear Shutter setting 

On the Nikon system, when you have the flash balance with the existing light then the flash only needs to do a little work, because it is complementing the light not being the primary light.

Why do I shoot with Nikon?

The Canon speedlight system is similar to the Nikon TTL Speedlight system.  You can use Slow and Rear Shutter settings, BUT the higher you go with the shutter speed the flash gets darker and not as consistent as the Nikon system.

My point is if you want to shoot with shutter speeds of 1/8000 with your speedlights, then you better have the Nikon.