Flash On OR Flash Off

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 28800, ƒ/4, 1/250

To flash or not to flash that is the question? In the photo above this was done without a flash.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 5000, ƒ/4, 1/100–(2) Alienbees B1600s, Pocketwizard TT1 w/ AC-3 and TT5 w/ AC-9

Now I have an Alienbees B1600 behind them and one in front. While technically the one with flashes is better I still am not really satisfied with the flash. Due to restrictions on where I could put the flash I just never could get what I would call a natural look.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 14400, ƒ/4, 1/250

The biggest difference with these two photos is where the minister is standing. The lighting is designed to hit him on the face and not the people on the front row. So here the available light is quite acceptable.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 5000, ƒ/4, 1/100–(2) Alienbees B1600s, Pocketwizard TT1 w/ AC-3 and TT5 w/ AC-9

No question that here I was able to achieve the “natural light look” with the strobes. The major difference between the two photos is the dynamic range appears greater with the strobes.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 5000, ƒ/4, 1/100–(2) Alienbees B1600s, Pocketwizard TT1 w/ AC-3 and TT5 w/ AC-9

While the photos where the lighting can be made to look natural look best with the flash I find the flash is announcing that I am there shooting. This makes people look at me much more and basically limit the number of natural expressions.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 14400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100

I love the moment here with the little girl during a chapel service. The reason for those who are wondering about the blue light, it is from the stained glass window on the right of the frame.

Nikon D5, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100

As you can see from these photos it isn’t always easy to choose to use flash or not. With today’s cameras having such high ISO capabilities you can get more acceptable images without a flash than we could just a few years ago.

To flash or not is often up to the photographer and how it fits into their style of photography.

Capturing the times of our lives

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system [logo from Wikimedia Commons and modified]

This weekend was my daughter’s high school homecoming. This is her senior year where everything is the last time for her class. They commented on how freshman year they all stood around and were afraid to dance at the party. Now as seniors they didn’t care what others thought like they did as freshman.

If you follow my blog then you know my daughter is involved in theater and her group of friends are mostly other theatre geeks. They are not an exclusive group and therefore why I said this was most of her friends, but the theatre kids love most people and are excited to have more people hang out doing life together.

Great Self Esteem = Great Photos

When photographer’s subjects are confident and can just relax and be themselves you spend more time just capturing those moments versus spending so much of your time trying to pull those moments out of a person.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

The key role of the photographer to make this happen is to create an atmosphere where the subjects feel like they are in control.

One way I try to convey this is asking many times throughout the photo shoot is there anything else they would like. I suggest combinations of people and try to keep the excitement going, but the whole time I am really trying to say I am here for you.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

I arrived early and started by picking a location. I setup my lights and my wife helped by standing in as subject so I could get the light set just right on her face and balance it with the background and other light on her face.

For the better part of 15 minutes I was trouble shooting. I had one lens that was not working with my flashes. I finally found the combination of working with my Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 on the Nikon D5 that would work for me. This required me moving back and forth to get the closeup shots and then walking a good fifteen feet back to get the group shots.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

By the way I spent a good hour later working with both my cameras and all my lenses to test them with the flashes.

I believe I have a lens that was just repaired that is the problem. I now know for sure what the problem is that I was having such a problem with when I was setting up for these photos.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

Once I had the lights in place I didn’t change them at all. I just moved closer and further back and occasionally would twist the models a little to the left or right to get a different look. The closeup of my daughter I just twisted her until the strobe off to the back was directly behind her.

Here is the setup for you.

I was so thankful to be photographing my daughter and her theatre friends. They exuded so much more confidence than they did just four years ago.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

What I think is so exciting about taking these photos this weekend is I feel like I captured the traits in these kids who are now young adults just before next year they all either enter the work force or go off to college living their own lives.

I am so proud of who my daughter has become and the friends that she has made in her time in school.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Alienbees B1600, triggered with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 system

In the TV show Friends we watched these six people do life together over 10 years. They dated each other and had to break up with each other. The reason so many of us returned to watch the show was we loved it when no matter what happened they worked really hard to keep their friendships in tact.

What I love about photography over text is the power for it to capture emotions. To capture emotions you need to be prepared. The camera must be set properly. You must have considered the lighting for the photograph. You have been thinking about and taken into account the background. Will you make it razor sharp or blurry and out of focus.

But even more important that knowing your gear is to know your subject. You cannot capture that which you have no knowledge of or understanding.

For me to do great photography that is compelling requires the photographer to be involved in their subjects lives long enough that they let you in to see them for who they really are.

I have watched these kids from when they were really young and had them in my home many, many times which allowed them to get to know me and for me to know them.

While my relationship is different than my daughter has with her friends, there is a relationship. I think that is key to understand as your role as a photographer. I am not trying to be their friends that hang out every day. I want to be like a parent the safe space that they can hang out and be themselves.

Photographing Hummingbirds with Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S & High Speed Sync Flash

Nikon D4, 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 6400, ƒ/10, 1/2000

The hummingbird bird feeder we have is close to the house. I have a door with a lot of window panes that I put the two hot shoe flashes using TTL to control their output.

I kept the camera on a tripod so when the hummingbirds came I had very little to do except shoot.
Nikon D4, 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 6400, ƒ/10, 1/2000
The color is so much better than with just available light.
Nikon D4, 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 6400, ƒ/10, 1/2000
For comparison this is the photo I posted yesterday shot with the Fuji X-E2 and the 55-200mm.
Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/6.4, 1/2000
You just can’t shoot high speed sync flash with the Fuji system that I know how to do. Maybe later.

Mixed lighting assignment comparing TTL Hotshoe to Studio Strobes

Nikon D4, Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/8000—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

Today I taught the students the difference between studio strobes using them outside for lighting and using a TTL Hotshoe flash.

I love the photo at the top with the ƒ/1.8 look.

Now all these are just the test shots to show the difference between the lights. Not so much about finding a great location–which now seeing these I should have spent more time scouting before the class to find a great background.

Click on diagram to see larger

Now before we added flash we took one photo as the light was on the subject.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/1000

So this is where we started with no light, just the available light.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 1/250–Off camera Alienbees B1600 powered by Vagabond.

Here for this photo we took the first photo and transferred the settings to using sync speed of 1/250. Then instead of same exposure we underexposed by -2EV.  I don’t like the background as sharp as it is here.  I do like the shallow depth of field of the first photo.

Now you can see the advantages of TTL Hotshoe flashes and the advantage of the studio strobe is shooting faster [less recycle time]. 

The Big Reveal for Photographers

The Big Reveal

This is just another example of exposing for the sunset which creates a silhouette of a person and then using your flash to reveal the subject.

Most photo books call this Fill-Flash, but the silhouette reveal language that Dave Black coined I think does a better job of describing what is happening. That is because the flash here becomes the main light and not a fill light.

Here is the lighting diagram for the photo above. I also has a CTO +1 gel on the flashes. They were held in place with the MagMod system.

Here is the photo without the flashes. How I wish I had the outfit that is behind him in this photo also in the other photo.

Getting the moment in a portrait with the Nikon D4

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 500, ƒ/5, 1/640—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

I was recently hired by my client to capture her grand daughter. She wanted the best expressions and said this was why she wanted me to do the photo shoot. I continue to help her with her commercial needs and she knew I concentrate on getting the “moment.”

Nikon D4Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 500, ƒ/5, 1/800—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

I intentionally shot these on my Nikon D4 to use the off-camera TTL flash system I have come to love. I am using the off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

We decided to shoot outside on their deck because the little girl was really not happy when I arrived inside. The mother said she loved the outside and sure enough just as soon as we went outside she became another person.

This is where you have to remain flexible. Now I wasn’t thrilled with the railing, but I liked the plants on the deck.

Nikon D4Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 500, ƒ/4, 1/1250—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

While the little one loved the outside she was starting to get a little fussy, so mom gave her blueberries that she just loved, but also gave me many photos with drool.

During some of the time it was sprinkling and the other time it was overcast. So getting a consistent color was achieved by winking in the flash.

Nikon D4Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

While I liked the green in the background I found this oversized recliner that I used for a three generation photo of the Grandmother, mother and child. I prefer the cleaner background and had it not been raining I would have suggested getting off the deck so I could eliminate the railing. This would have lended to an even better background.

While I love the Fuji system, when it comes to nailing the focus and moment, I still prefer my Nikon D4.

When you travel with Super Stars you need off camera flash to make them look good

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/250—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

I am traveling with the famous Chick-fil-A Cow Mascots this week. They are traveling around promoting Cow Appreciation Day this Friday.

Click here to learn more

Dress head to hoof as they like to say at Chick-fil-A and get a free meal. Wear some Cow Attire and get a free entree.

Now let me tell you how I made the top photo. I had two VALS holding the two hot shoe flashes on either side of me. [VALS stands for Voice Activated Light Stand]

Without the flashes the cows would have been somewhat silhouetted and by adding the off camera flash I was able to keep the color temperature on them daylight and then also keep them bright enough to keep the rich colors in the background.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/4—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

Very similar lighting setup, just I am have a subject close to me blocking the light to the left. I dragged the shutter to 1/4 to be sure you saw the photo he was making on his phone.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/4—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

Here you can see one of my VALS holding the hot shoe flash. The other VALS is behind me pointing at the cow. If you look at the Cows eyes you can see the reflections of the two flashes. Notice the shadows on the concrete. This tells you they were all backlighted and the flashes made a huge difference.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/4—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

Here I am behind the flashes and you can see the other VALS here in the foreground. The other VALS is further to the left in the photo.

I don’t generally use these last two photos where you can see the flashes, but kept them to show to you so you can see how simple this is to do.

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?

Photographers: Three ways to direct the audience

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 1100, ƒ/3.2, 1/100 Custom White Balance with ExpoDisc

Composition/Graphics

To help direct your audience through a scene to where you want them to look, you can use compositional elements like leading lines in the photo above. I have the lines from the shirt directing me back into the photograph to the guy talking.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 with off camera flash with Nikon SB-900 with MagMod 1/4 CTO Gel being triggered by PocketWizard TT1 and Flex TT5 with AC-3 zone controller

Light

Now with this photo of the kids watching the balls racing each other down the incline I am using the incline to lead your eye, but I am also now using another element to help direct your attention—Light.

By using an off-camera flash I am able to put more light on the man at the top of the incline and also light the kids. As the light drops off to the background is is slightly darker so your eye doesn’t go there first.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 with off camera flash with Nikon SB-900 with MagMod 1/4 CTO Gel and 20º Grid being triggered by PocketWizard TT1 and Flex TT5 with AC-3 zone controller

I knew that if I didn’t use a light on the subject here holding the weight you may drift to anyone of the people in the background.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 2000, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 with off camera flash with Nikon SB-900 with MagMod 1/4 CTO Gel being triggered by PocketWizard TT1 and Flex TT5 with AC-3 zone controller

Here in this photo you can see my photo assistant being a VALS [Voice Activated Light Stand].  This is helping me pop the subject out from the crowd.

Now on the flash I am using a 1/4 CTO gel that is working well with the available light. I started with 1/2 Plusgreen gel but even with color correcting using the ExpoDisc the color just never looked right on the faces as compared to the background.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 11400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100 Custom White Balance with ExpoDisc

Color

You can also use color to draw your eye into a photo. Here the lady in pink draws your attention because she is wearing Pink. Same photo in Black & White looses the directing quality of the color.

To now make a B&W photo work photographers will burn and dodge to direct your eye with available light photography. Here I have burned in some of the areas of the photo so your eye is directed by the lightest area.

Light is the greatest influence in photography

Photography is writing with light. That is what the word means. Now take a moment later I decided to add light to the situation above. Watch how much I am now directing your eye with the light.

While the lady in pink is drawing some of your attention, I have more light on the scientist here holding a brain model.

In black and white I have now really isolated where I want you to look. I have removed the color influence of the pink jacket and you are now because of the introducing of a spot light on the subject a way for me to influence where the audience looks.

Put it all together

Here I am using the off camera flash and using a longer lens of 90mm to come in close on the two little girls. Most importantly I am capturing a moment where their eyes are communicating interest and this is the second most important part of a photograph—The Moment.

Here I am using the off-camera flash to light the young boy and make the background darker. The mother’s orange jacket is a complimentary color to the blue jacket and I am also using the color to help direct you. I am using the hand of the scientist holding the brain model while the mother’s hands continue to direct you towards the boys expression on his face. This moment of interest is caught by his eyes and mouth expressions showing interest. The mom’s expression also compliments her son’s expression.

Here I am again using the off-camera flash to brighten the people in the foreground and the background is now darker. I am still using composition to help direct you and most important looking for the moment that tells the story. The embroidery on the scientists sleeve almost replaces the need for a caption.

Capturing a moment with a father and daughter is enhanced with the off-camera flash. The photo reads faster than had I relied solely on composition alone.

As you can see in this last photo your eye will wonder if the photographer hasn’t used all the tools necessary to direct your attention.

When you look back at your photos from something you attended and nothing is really standing out, there is a reason. Are you using all the tools at your disposal to capture moments? Of all the tools you can use, off-camera flash maybe the best weapon you have. Do you know how to use one?

Give me a call for a personal class for some one-on-one instruction if you would like to master this technique.

The environmental portrait

Tom Butler, coffee farmer on the Big Island of Hawaii. Tom sells the incredible 100% Kona coffee.
Nikon D4, 28-300mm (300), ISO 2000, ƒ/10, 1/200 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 pointed at the coffee farmer.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is 0 EV and the camera is 0 EV. A second Flash is setup the same way but on different channel at -3 EV pointed at the coffee on the branch.

Before I start this blog I want to thank Tom Butler for letting me photograph him. If you want some great 100% Kona coffee you can go to his website http://paradisefoundhawaii.com.

The environmental portrait is the bread and butter of the working photojournalist.  I wanted to show you three options I did for a portrait of a coffee grower in Hawaii.

I had to really look for the cherry looking coffee berries on the trees. It wasn’t the time for harvesting, that had already been done earlier. This is the season for pruning.

This first choice you see here I tried to tie the coffee plant in with the coffee farmer.

The second choice has the coffee farmer in front of the plant rather than behind it as in the first photo.

The last choice I asked him to pick some of the coffee and present it to me for the photo.

You most likely like one of the three better than the other. However, the professional photographer will give options to the photo editor. The editor knows then that I worked the situation and tried to give them some options.

Which one is your favorite and why?