Nikon D750 vs Fuji X-E2 with Sigma 120-300mm

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Nikon SB-900, Nikon SB-800, PocketWizard Transceiver TT5, PocketWizard Mini TT1, AC-3, ISO 10000, ƒ/8, 1/320

The last time I shot this I did it from shooting inside the house looking through a window. This time I am outside shooting.

The other reason I did this again is the weather was incredible at my home today. We woke up to 50º F and it got to about 69º F at the hottest today. Wonderful time to just sit and watch a bird feeder.

Fuji X-E2, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 6400 ƒ/-not sure, 1/180–off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger with flash at 1/32 Power

First I must say I can only manual focus and I never really got the focus perfect with the Fuji. I would approximate where the hummingbird would be whereas with the Nikon I was able to auto focus.

This is the actual setup with the Fuji. The only difference is the flashes were switched out with the Nikon system.

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Nikon SB-900, Nikon SB-800, PocketWizard Transceiver TT5, PocketWizard Mini TT1, AC-3, ISO 10000, ƒ/8, 1/320

I believe the wings are more frozen with the Neewer flash than with the Nikon due to flash duration.

Fuji X-E2, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 6400 ƒ/-not sure, 1/180–off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger with flash at 1/32 Power

Now to make up for the ability to lock in on focus I used a high aperture with the Fuji. To do this I just rotated the Nikon to Fuji converter. I can only guess as the aperture, but most likely around ƒ/16 or higher.

Explore with your subject

Nikon D3S, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/5000

I was asked a couple years ago to make environmental portraits of the students in the executive MBA program at Georgia Tech. I would take about 15 minutes and walk around with the student at the campus and create these photos you see here.

The setup for all these photos is pretty simple and not all that different in each photo.

KISS Method

Keep It Simple Stupid: I think TTL off camera flash is really simple to use. If it is too bright turn down the flash by adjusting the flash compensation to -1, -2, or whatever. If too dark go the opposite direction of +1, +2 or more.

You can make the background darker by underexposing the camera by adjusting the exposure compensation the same way as you did the flash, except this time you adjust the camera and not the flash.

Nikon D3S, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 1000, ƒ/1.4, 1/8000

In this photo I cranked up the ISO a bit to lighten the background and the flash is just winking in just a bit.

Nikon D3S, 85mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

The basic setup never changed and I just moved around to get the three different look. I still wanted some variety so we moved.

Nikon D3S, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/1600

I moved him the street from the courtyard. I thought this caught the “executive” look a little better.

Nikon D3S, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/1000

I like the shallow depth-of-field so that I am helping the subject “pop out” from the background. This is a way to take a busy background and still use it but subdue it.

Nikon D3S, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/1600

One more thing I think is worth noting other than I changed locations and kept the depth-of-field shallow, I kept the camera below eye level. I wanted the audience to look up to him. This is my way of trying to create the sense of authority.

While the flash help add catch light in his eyes and give some shape to his face it also had another benefit. It assured me that I was using a full spectrum of light helping me render the best skin tones.

Take your camera and find a subject and go shoot your own “executive” portraits.

Nikon D4 @ ISO 12,800 still not enough

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ƒ/5.6, ISO 12,800, 1/60

When Available Light Isn’t Enough

My daughter has a favorite band called Late Night Reading. This is a link to their MySpace page where you can listen to their music.  They are a pop-punk band started in 2009 when they were all just sophomores in high school.

I was fascinated at how the bands build their fan base using social media and then going to small venues like Swayze’s Venue in Marietta. This is where they played Thursday night when I went along to help chaperon my daughter and her friend going to the concert.

My wife reached out to see if they mind me shooting some photos. We were doing this as much to make my daughter happy with photos of her with the band as to just have some fun ourselves.

You can see more of my photos here on my PhotoShelter account.

My daughter is in the middle with her friend she brought from school on the right.

The good thing about shooting the headliner is that they always have a few opening acts. Well this meant I could do some test shots and tweak everything so when the Late Night Reading band took the stage I was ready.

As you can see in the first photo I was only getting to shoot at about 1/60 for a shutter speed.  While I had my 85mm ƒ/1.4 to shoot with the problem then became a depth-of-field issue.

Why was 1/60 and ƒ/1.4 not good? This is a pop-punk band. They and their fans move like crazy. I am not sure with all their head banging that they are not moving faster than many of the athletes I photograph.

While the shutter speed was better at ƒ/1.4 I was having a terrible time getting many usable shots unless they paused for a moment.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

I went back to the car and pulled out my hot shoe flashes, PocketWizard and Light Stands.  I used the same lighting gear used in this photo here of my daughter playing her viola.

I put the two lights stands all the way up as high as they go. Pointed the strobes to the stage zoomed all the way out for most of the photos and changed the zoom to a little wider if I moved them close to the stage. The SB800 was zoomed to 105mm and the Nikon SB900 was zoomed in to 200mm.

The strobes are on the PocketWizard Transceiver TT5 and They are on Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stands and the Manfrotto 175F Justin Spring Clamp with Flash Shoe to hold the flashes. I am triggering the TT5 using the PocketWizard Mini TT1 and PocketWizard AC3.

I turned the ISO up to about ISO 5,000 because I didn’t want the background to go totally dark.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

One of my favorite photos is of the bass player. I liked working from the side of the stage because I put the strobes in front like typical stage lights would be placed.  This meant I was getting more cross light from the side and shadows were helping give more depth to the photos than from the front of the stage.

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


  • Shoot test shots of available light before adding lights
  • Always have strobes with you
  • Use off camera strobes 
  • Use higher ISO to open up the background when shooting with strobes

If you are a parent, taking photos of your kids favorite activities and sharing them with them and their friends is a good thing to build long lasting relationships.

Super simple off camera flash portrait

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, 1/8000

The key to any good photo is the old KISS rule, which is simply put Keep It Simple Stupid.

For this portrait of my dad I chose to shoot this outside and use some of the sunny weather we were having down at the beach.  We shot this outside on the balcony of our cottage. The reason for the location was it was the fewest steps I needed to make to get a good photo.

Start with the sun back lighting the subject

One of the reasons I always start with the sun on the back of the subject and not where it is lighting their face has to do with expression. I find it almost impossible for getting a good expression when people are squinting and straining due to the sun being directly in their eyes.

The benefit of the back lighting of the subject is you get a good rim light around the subject, which will help you separate the subject from the background.

Look for a darker background

I like to find a simple background that is not have blown out highlights in the background. I normally look for a much darker background than I chose here. My point is to be careful or your blinking highlights will be in the background and distracting rather than complementary to the subject.

Choose a shallow depth-of-field

I am using my favorite portrait lens for this photo, my Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.4.  You need to be sure that the eyes are what you are focusing on and the sharpest point in the photo when shooting with this lens. I still recommend having the eyes the place you focus even if you choose to shoot this at ƒ/22.

In general if you are doing a portrait of a person and not an environmental portrait, then the background and surroundings is not really that important.  Since this is the case here for this photo I threw that background way out of focus by shooting at an aperture of ƒ/1.4.

Fill Flash

I love to use an off camera flash as my fill/main light outside for portraits. Here is a diagram showing you where the sun was and the off camera Nikon SB-900 speedlight placement for this photograph.

You can trigger the off camera flash many different ways. I often use the Nikon SU-800 which uses infrared to trigger the off camera flash. I chose to use the PocketWizard Mini TT1 on the camera with the AC3 which lets me alter the power of the flash from the camera and not the flash.  Saves you a lot of steps back and forth for tweaking those fine adjustments.

The Nikon SB-900 has the PocketWizard FlexTT5 on it to receive the signal and talk to the cameras TTL system to give you consistent exposures.

I placed the light 45º to the right of the camera and not quite 45º above the eyes.  I am a little lower since my subject has deep set eyes. 

What is the benefit of the flash say over a reflector? If I used the reflector I will be bouncing the sun into their face and often getting the squint I was trying to avoid.

Second, by using the flash I get good skin tones because of the color temperature of the flash will give it that “pop” I like to see.

Third, I like seeing a catch light in the eyes and the flash helps me be sure one is there. I think this helps bring the eyes to life.

Go and try this setup yourself. Adjust it to your conditions and the subject and see what you come up with.

Hot Shoe Flash Lighting

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 200, f/5.0, Nikon SB900, Nikon SB800 fired using PocketWizard Mini TT1 , PocketWizard AC3 and PocketWizard Transceiver TT5.

I enjoying using our backyard as a background. First of all I don’t have to light everything and we love the trees.

For this photo I wanted to tie our daughter playing her viola to the outdoors.

This is a wide shot to show the flashes.  They are on Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stands and the Manfrotto 175F Justin Spring Clamp with Flash Shoe to hold the flashes.

I am shooting in TTL mode and after I take a shot I am using the compensation dials on the camera and the PocketWizard AC3 to adjust my exposure.

In this photo of the PocketWizard AC3 A is set to a +1, B is set to +2 and C is set to a +3 compensation.
The PocketWizard AC3 sits on top of the PocketWizard Mini TT1 in it’s hot shoe.  You can also use the Nikon SU-800 to do the same thing.

In the first photo I have the camera at -1 compensation and the flash on her face at 0 Compensation and the hair light at +2 compensation.

You really just have to play with this to get the results you want.

Here we are shooting more in the woods than in the first photo. Here the camera is -1 1/3 EV.  The flashes are at +1 EV.
She is getting some sunshine from the left and the flashes are lighting the shadow side of her face.

We moved again around the backyard to a different background.  Also changed the lighting a little here as well. The camera is set at -3 EV and the flashes are on the right set at +2 EV and the one on her left at +1 EV.
This is the actual lighting setup for the photo just above it.

I am using an -1 EV so as to not loose the background but just tone it down a bit. The flash to the right is +1 EV and the hair light flash is +2 to help separate her from the background.

The lighting setup for the above photo.

The idea with the two hot shoe flashes was to use them to compliment the lighting outside.  I used one light to help separate the viola player from the background by putting the flash up high and using it as a hair light would be used in the studio.  I am using the other flash as the main light and using the natural light to control the background.

Because I am outside I am using the PocketWizard radio remote system to be sure the signal is reaching the flashes. 

Once you master the use of the one off camera hot shoe flash and you are ready to expand try this exercise yourself. See what results you come up with using your camera and flashes.

Pass the Pen + Walk and Talk

Getting people doing something gives you better expressions.  I have two techniques for keeping people engaged when I have to set up a situation and then help it to become a real moment.

Pass the Pen

Many schools love to show the seminar setting for a class.  When you photograph in a room with everyone around the table Murphy’s Law states the action will be when their back are to you if you are photographing.

I have a few moments with everyone and explain my dilema.  If I shot this naturally it will take ten times longer due to I am on the wrong side of the table when someone starts to talk.  By the time I shift then the conversation has shifted.

I ask everyone to listen with their eyes and not just with their ears.  This really speeds up the number of usable images.

Typical conference table for a seminar class.

I then ask to borrow a pen and then give it to someone and tell everyone this person will talk.  I ask them to tell us what they did the other day or what they are planning to do that is exciting.  No one can interrupt them and they need to continue to talk until I say pass the pen. 

Even if you do not see the pen the person holds the attention of the group and lets me get the photos catching their various expressions.  Usually we get some laughs and good stories in the process.
Even in small groups I use the pen to help the subjects relax. 
This teacher used a similar technique for classroom discussions.  He had a ball of tape that he would toss to a student who raised their hand to answer a question. He tossed it to the student and when they were done they tossed it back to him.  He was quite impressive with his tosses and catches.
You can see as this student tosses the ball back he is engaged in the class. 

Walk and Talk

When you get people walking and talking they forget about you and engage quickly.  If it is just 2 people I have them walk close enough to feel each other bump occasionally.  I have one person talk and the other listen. I stress the importance of looking at each other and not the ground.  It is amazing when people are in a normal conversation they might look at the ground or off somewhere rather than looking at a person.  However, for a photo to communicate they are interested in each other they must have eye contact.

Again in the group situation I designate who is talking and ask everyone to give them their eye attention and not just their ears.  Off to the left my assistant is walking along with them out of camera range pointing a flash to them.  I normally use the Nikon SB900 with the Radio Poppers PX system to be sure the signal from the Nikon SU800 triggers the flash consistently.  The flash is zoomed out to about 28 setting to light the entire group.
Here you can see the tour guide helping tell the student about the campus.  Now for this photo I am using a Pocket Wizard Plus II to trigger the Alien Bees B1600 being fired off to the right of the group.  They are walking towards me as my VALS (Voice Activated Light Stand: AKA assistant) is carrying the light on a light stand and staying with the group out of the frame.
The couple is walking and talking to each other a good 50 yards from me. I like using the zoom lens so as they walk closer I just zoom out.  My VALS is carrying the Nikon SB900 with the Radio Poppers PX system being triggered by the Nikon SU800 on the camera.  I am shooting with the flash at normal setting and zoomed to 200.
The flash off camera really helps clean up the photo.  Often you will have a shadow on one or more of the people.  The other advantage of the flash winking in is it helps draw the audiences attention to the subjects.
Helping keep the dark skin tones with detail is really improved outside with the off camera flash.  I can power the flash up or down on the Nikon SU800.  Sometimes I make it +1 or -1 as compared to the exposure of the camera.  Only takes a second to look at the histogram and the LCD and see what might need adjusting.  By shooting RAW I still have lots of control in post processing, but being sure shadows have detail is really important when the dark areas can be the subjects face in a photo like this one here.
Take notice that we have details in the white shirt and the dark skin of the subjects in the photo.  This is will work in a printed piece easily.  Remember I have one person talking and the others listening with their eyes.

TTL hot shoe Flash vs Manual Studio Strobe

As your VALS is walking along with the Nikon SB900 as they vary their distance from the subject the camera still compensates being sure the power stays the same.  Of course the assistant has to remain pretty close with a hotshoe flash like the Nikon SB900 because it is not powerful enough to be much more than 10 to 15 feet away.

Now when you VALS is carrying a studio flash that means as they change the distance to the subject the exposure will change.  As they get closer the flash will get brighter and when they move away it will get darker.  However, with a studio strobe they can stay further away, since the strobes are much more powerful than a hot shoe flash.  I seldom am shooting with my Alienbees B1600 much more than 1/4 power.  I am usually at 1/8 power.  I do like to use a grid spot so I am not lighting up the ground leading up to the subjects.  I like to hit the faces and let it drop off a little.