Birds, Nikon Z9, & Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL

I have preached over and over on my blog about how Flash can improve the colors in your photos.

Flambient is even a new term you will see in photography that was being done long before. This is where the photographer blends available light with Flash.

No Flash [NIKON Z 9, VR 120-300mm f/2.8G, Mode = Manual, ISO 4000, 1/160, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 460)]

This is without a flash shot of birds on the bird feeder. I am shooting from one window of my house, and I put the Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL in another window about 15+ feet away, creating a triangle between camera, subject, and light.

Birds at Bird feeder using the Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL [NIKON Z 9, VR 120-300mm f/2.8G, Mode = Manual, ISO 4000, 1/160, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 460)]

The hard part of doing this is balancing available light and the flash.

Birds at Birdfeeder Using the Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL [NIKON Z 9, VR 120-300mm f/2.8G, Mode = Manual, ISO 16000, 1/500, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 380)]

This, to me, is a little too much flash. What you choose to do will be part of your style and approach.

Birds at Birdfeeder Using the Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL [NIKON Z 9, VR 120-300mm f/2.8G, Mode = Manual, ISO 16000, 1/500, ƒ/8, (35mm = 600)]

Tip Don’t Use TTL

TTL Flash works by the flash doing a pre-flash, and then the camera takes a picture with the second flash. I think you could risk startling the subject and affecting the one with the actual moment.

Another problem is you will drain your battery for a flash much quicker, with it taking two seconds every time you take a photo.

Processed in Lightroom and Topaz AI Sharpen Birds at Birdfeeder Using the Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL [NIKON Z 9, VR 120-300mm f/2.8G, Mode = Manual, ISO 8000, 1/250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 600)] Flash set to 1/16 power.

I think you dial in the best settings to take the photo without the flash and then add the sparkle. I suggest having the flash -1 EV of the location you have before.

Birds at Birdfeeder Using the Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL [NIKON Z 9, VR 120-300mm f/2.8G, Mode = Manual, ISO 5000, 1/250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 600)] Flash set to 1/16 power

Tips to Speed Up Editing in Lightroom Classic 11.0

Adobe finally put some of the tools in PhotoShop into Lightroom Classic. One is Artificial Intelligence that will find your subject and mask it.

As you can see above, I did that with this group photo. I did this because the background is a little hot, and I want to tone it down.

So here is what I started with, as you can see below.

After using the Select Subject mask, I inverted the selection.

Then I just darkened the background and ended up with this final image.

[NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 2000, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 35)]

How long it takes for Lightroom Classic to find the subject has a great deal to do with your computer’s power. It does take a few seconds for it to do its magic.


Using the metadata embedded in your images from your camera can also speed up your editing.

I often will select a lens or camera to edit just those images. The idea is to get all the similar photos in your selection and sync your editing over all those images that have a similarity.

This week I was shooting an event where I shot about half of the photos with available light and the rest with flash. I noticed the color needed a tweak on all the flash shots. I shot them using slow sync, and some available light gave a color cast that I wanted to correct.

I used the pull-down menu to select “Flash State” and picked all those that the flash “Did fire.” Then I selected all the images and did a color correction.

To speed up your editing, group images with similar edits together.

Adobe Lightroom Tip – Correcting Multiple Images


This screenshot is just a simple tip for those editing in Lightroom who want to correct a series of photos simultaneously, but there is a slight variation in exposures. The variations in exposure often happen when your camera is in some form of auto exposure mode like Aperture or Shutter priority mode.

  1. Select All images in series
  2. Make all corrections you need to do in one photo
  3. Go to Settings>Match Total Exposures
Once you do this, if, say, you had bracketed the exposures -1 EV to +3 EV, Lightroom will make all of them equally as best as it can.
After I do this, I just quickly click through the images, and 99% of the time, it is dead on.

“Match Total Exposures” saves time in Lightroom


Use “Match Total Exposures” to save some time in Lightroom.

If you have a similar scene, you can select many images as I have shown here:

Then make all the corrections to the first photo like you would in all your “Auto Sync” situations, and then go to the Settings in Develop module and choose “Match Total Exposures.”

Match Total Exposures lets you quickly adjust the exposure of multiple photos to match a target photo. So now you can go back and select images and select them and choose your “target” photo and then apply the “Match Total Exposures,” You will save a lot of time that you used to adjust exposures.

Peak Action + Exposure/Focus + Post Processing = Great Football Action Photo

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1100, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

If Ansel Adams had shot football games like many photographers, he would have never become famous.

Ansel Adams is not a great photographer because he was able to capture a great moment and compose it compellingly. However, he is a great photographer because he went beyond just the capture and spent months trying to process and print images just right.

Today’s cameras help you capture the zone system with little skill required by the photographer. But unfortunately, this technology can be a problem today. Too many photographers shoot football games, for example, and crop the photograph and then publish the photo.

The same photo as above, but this is with no post-processing other than a slight crop.

Post Processing is Key

You can see the difference between the photo above that I took into Adobe Lightroom and worked on to give me the results above versus the same Nikon RAW NEF file exported from PhotoMechanic to a JPEG after a slight crop.

Here is another example for you to see the comparison.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
No processing other than slight crop

Comparing the Histogram on the top photo


You are not trying to get a perfect bell curve histogram. You are trying to be sure that in the top Histogram, you can see a lot of information on the far right. On the far right of the Histogram are the highlighted details. You are recovering this by sliding your highlights to the left to retrieve that information.

These are just the adjustments I made for the top photo. In the middle of the daylight, faces in helmets go black and white shirts lose details. I am trying to open up the shadows and recover the highlights.

Here you can see the area I then dodged in the photo to be sure you could see the player’s face. Here are the actual slider settings for the dodge here:


I understand that shooting RAW takes more space and more time to process than just shooting a JPEG and using that image. However, I hope I have established this is not the way to make your work stand out.

With the RAW image, you have all the information that landed on the CMOS chip of the Nikon D4. I have a more dynamic range in the picture than can be seen by my computer monitor.

With a JPEG, the camera’s computer makes some assumptions and then tosses out some of that information to save space for your image file size.

If you shoot JPEGs for daytime football, that will become difficult for you to correct later in post-processing.

First, if your white balance is not just perfect and you want to correct it later, the nuances of color shifting this to what is possible is no longer there. So you have tossed out some of that information.

Second, all the information in those blown-out highlights is no longer there. So, for example, your ability to add folds back into those white jerseys will not be possible.

Third, the amount of information in those shadows is also lost. The camera software assumed you wanted black areas, so you have less information to open up those shadows.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Which photo do you prefer? Is this one just above or the one just below?

When it comes to evaluating the two photos, there is one thing that I look for in sports photos that is hard to see in the second unprocessed image—expression. I believe your sports photos are better when you can show the faces of the athletes; you help communicate the effort and competition of the peak action.

Notice the highlights blowing out in the lower photo and how many of the shadows are too dark.

Post-processing matters with your photos. Do more than crop your pictures and add captions; you will stand out from the pack.

Fixing the horizon using Adobe Lightroom

Do your horizons look like this? Mine do when I am shooting from a moving boat. But look at this second photo here.

Does this look better to you? I thought so. Can you believe it is the same photo?

I fixed it in Adobe Lightroom.

Here is how you do it in just a second or two.

While in the Develop Module, click on the letter “R” for the crop mode.

Next, hold the “Command” key, and you will see a level pop-up.

Just place this to the left or right along the horizon and hold down the mouse key until you go to the far right putting a line across the horizon, and let go. Now the software straightens the horizon.

You can also go vertical and get the same results.

I had a lot of photos of a lighthouse near Tybee Island to correct today. The tool made it so easy and quick to fix the images.

By the way, I was out photographing a lighthouse from a boat to see the Dolphins, and we did.

Photographing school plays

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 11,400, ƒ/5, 1/500

Be Prepared

Here are a few tips to do before you actually start shooting the performance.

  • Arrive Early—You need to have some time prior to the curtain going up.
  • Fast lens and/or high ISO—You need to have the gear that will let you take photos is low light.
  • Find a good seat—You might think the front row is the best seat, but sometimes the back row is the best. If it is assigned seating, you might want to go before you buy a ticket to the venue. In general I find the seats in the center to give your more opportunities than from the side.
  • Test Shots—Often you can make some test shots to get your exposure correctly set.
  • White Balance—Shooting on Auto White Balance for a theater production is the worst possible time to use this setting. Often the productions use colored lights and this can have your camera correcting which will give your actors funny skin tones. Custom white balance is ideal and second you can try some presets like tungsten to get you close.

White Balance

Having good skin tones is the number one thing that really separates the hobbyist photos from the pros.

My secret weapon is the ExpoDisc.

ExpoDisc EXPOD2-77 2.0 Professional White Balance Filter 77 mm, 82mm (Black)

ExposDisc goes in front of the lens and then you use it to get an incident reading rather than a reflective reading of the light.
Notice the direction of the light hitting the subject.  You move to the same position to get the light reading below.
Point the camera toward the direction of the light that is falling on the subject.

I have found if the subject is facing me and the light is from the side, I face the camera with the ExpoDisc on it so it is pointing towards the camera position.  The chart above is to help you understand the concept, but you can modify it.

One way you can modify it is as long as the light is the same where you are standing, then you could cheat and take a reading from where you are.  The problem that can arise is if they are lit by Window light and the camera position is in the shade then your color balance will be off if you do not take it from the subject’s perspective.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3,600, ƒ/5.6, 1/400

If it is suppose to be a silhouette and you get a photo like mine, then great. However, if you are suppose to see their faces then you need to make some adjustments.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 4,500, ƒ/5.6, 1/320

There are a few ways to adjust to get a good exposure on the skin tones. First use spot metering if you camera has it. On the Nikon D4 I can choose selective focus and spot metering. I then have 51 different points I can move the focus/spot metering to take the photo.

Using spot metering and selective focus with the Nikon D4 I have red brackets I move to where I want the focus and exposure to be set by.
Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800, ƒ/5.6, 1/320

Waiting for the light

While you are waiting for the peak moments in the scene, you also have to wait for the best light. For example this witch’s hat had her face in the shadows most of the time she was on stage., but when she was singing those dramatic high notes she put her head up and eureka you have your shot.

Post Production is critical

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 1,2500, ƒ/2.8, 1/500

No Flash—That is the rule for stage performances and therefore you are at the mercy of what stage lighting you see. Unless your small town has some incredible endowment for the arts, your lighting on the stage will not look like Broadway or TV shows.  Throughout this production the light value on one person would look great and the other person was blown out or silhouetted.

This is where taking the photo into either Adobe Lightroom or PhotoShop can help salvage a photo. This is one of the rare moments I am having to fix photos in post production. It isn’t because I screwed up, it is because the lighting just isn’t even or at least acceptable for photos.

This is the photo before I cropped it or made changes in post production. Notice that the kneeling actress is well exposed and not blown out. As a general rule you can open up the shadows, but do very little with something that is blown out with no detail.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 2,500, ƒ/2.8, 1/500

Get Close

Don’t shoot the full stage all the time. Vary your images by using really long glass, like a 300mm lens or longer to isolate an actor. The lighting guys do this will spot light to make you look at just one place, but you can do it with lens choice.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 2,800, ƒ/2.8, 1/500

Think Marching 

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 7,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/250

When you see the military marching in formation or see marching bands the photos look great with everyone in sync together.  I usually find that when everyone is in full stride looks better because it creates motion. Closer the legs are together they look like they are standing still, even tho they are moving.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 4,000, ƒ/5.6, 1/250


Arrive early, shoot a lot of photos and plan on doing some post production to get quality like I am getting here. You camera phone will not get this quality. Nor will having great gear. What gets this quality is experience. So arrive early to do test shots so you are not shooting your first images of the play when it is live.

Perspective Correction in Lightroom 4.1

Shooting this on vacation at Ocean Isle, NC.  This is the final after correcting for color, exposure, and perspective.

While on vacation I shot this image off our balcony. Well it didn’t look like this when I shot it.  It looked like this out of the camera see Figure 2.

Can you see how the buildings are not straight and level as in the top photo?  (Figure 2)

Here are the steps I took

In Develop Module of Lightroom 4.1 I went down the to Lens Correction and clicked on Manual Tab. Then I adjusted the Vertical and Rotated the image.

After getting the buildings perspective correct by using the grid to help me, I then click on the Profile tab. I check the box and this is really cool. Each camera lens has some distortion and using the database built into Lightroom 4.1 it corrects for barrel distortion, chromatic aberration and other things inherently distorted with my Nikon P7000.

Now I crop

As you can see the photo now has some black areas that were not in the photo due to correcting perspective. I just select ⌘R (for cropping) and also lock the size of the image to the original and crop.

Now the photo needs some changes in contrast, exposure, color and more which I correct using the Basic menu in the Develop Module.

I often will choose the Auto setting in Tone to see what it gives me. Sometimes I like it and other times I will ⌘Z (undo) and start over. Sometimes I will just tweak the photo after using Auto.

Try correcting some of your photos using this technique.