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.

Creating the promotional poster for a theater production

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1250, ƒ/8, 1/50

Just the other week I teased you with some test shots. These are some of the final shots from our shoot.

Editorial Note: Due to the contract signed to put on the play we cannot promote the name of the play until February 23rd. Another theater company is putting it on right now and has rights to PR and Advertising in our market.

Now to give you a feel for the before and after here is a shot my wife took on her phone.

Yes we are shooting during the daylight. So you cannot get this photo with your smart phone or for that matter any camera.

This is about lighting and controlling it.

This is me earlier setting up 3 Alienbees B1600 flashes with CTO gels on the lights. The camera is white balanced for tungsten. This means wherever the flashes orange light hits will be neutral tone and give good skin tones. All the available daylight will now be blue.

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

For the individual cast member shots I just used one Flash off to the side about 45º right of the camera and about 45º above the cast members head.

You should notice the the shutter speed is 1/8000. To make this work I am using the PocketWizard TT5 on the flash with an AC-9 adapter plugging into the phone cord connection on the Alienbee B1600. This will let me shoot at any shutter speed. This is call high speed sync.

I have the PocketWizard TT1 transmitter with the AC-3 which lets me control the power of the flashes from the camera remotely. I just turn up or down the power from -3 to +3 in 1/3 increments.

There are three groups A, B, C and two Channels 1 & 2. Each flash was on a different group setting and all were on the same channel to fire at the same time.

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/5.6, 1/5000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/7.1, 1/5000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/6.3, 1/8000

Now we moved the group around in our backyard trying different locations and lighting.

Nikon D4, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1600, ƒ/5, 1/8000

Now the biggest changes from my test shots, which you can see in the earlier blog post was 1) Costumes, 2) Makeup & 3) smoke machine.

As you can see here we had to really work to get the right shot with the smoke. Often it was overpowering the photo.

Here is a view of the photo without the strobes going off.

Now you know how sometimes they film those night time scenes in so many movies.

Pocketwizard AC9 a Game Changer with Alienbees High Speed Sync 1/8000

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 125, ƒ/1.8, 1/1250

Today for the very first time I was shooting with my Alienbees outside with shutter speeds above 1/400. That is all I could sync before using my Pocketwizards and plugging into the Alienbees with an 1/8 plug.

I bought the Pocketwizard AC9 to combine with my Pocketwizard TT5 and then using the phone cord plug into the back of the Alienbees B1600.

With this combination I could shoot up to 1/4000 on my Nikon D750 and up to 1/8000 with my Nikon D4.

Nikon D750, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 1000, ƒ/1.8, 1/4000

As you can see here is the D750 with Flash @ 1/4000.

Nikon D750, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 1000, ƒ/1.8, 1/4000

This is with no flash outside. So you can see how much the flash really helps.

Now with the AC3 on top of the Pocketwizard Mini TT1 you can control the power of the Alienbees.

Here is the chart of how that would work:

  • +3 = Full Power
  • +2 = 1/2 Power
  • +1 = 1/4 Power
  • 0 = 1/8 Power
  • -1 = 1/16 Power
  • -2 = 1/32 Power
  • -3 = 1/32 Power
You also have the 1/3 increments also to use in between. 
So here is the basic setup I was using. Here is the list of gear:
  • 2 – Alienbee B1600s
  • 2 – Vagabond Mini
  • 2 – Cowboystudio 7’ 4 Section Portable Adjustable Stand
  • 2 – Westcott 2001 43” Optical White Satin Collapsible Umbrella
  • 2 – Pocketwizard AC9
  • 2 – Pocketwizard TT5
  • 1 – Pocketwizard Mini TT1
  • 1 – Pocketwizard AC3
  • Nikon D4
  • Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8
I pack the lighting gear all into this Seahorse SE-920 with padded dividers. This is a really super basic kit that I can fly with to jobs where I need something a little more powerful and now capable of still shooting at ƒ/1.8 to get that great BOKEH.

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.

How to add HSS Sync to the latest cameras using PocketWizard Flex system

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

Getting this type of photo of the hummingbird I used the PocketWizard Flex system to help trigger my Nikon SB-900 and SB-800 flashes using TTL HSS.

I started to shoot this with my Nikon D750, but it wasn’t working. I quickly realized the PocketWizard system wasn’t working with the Nikon D750. That was easy to fix.

I fired up the Macbook Pro and plugged my PocketWizard TT5 and later the mini TT1 and updated the firmware to the latest version.

In case you wonder what is up with the green tape, I use it to help me know which channel is assigned to that PocketWizard.

I have the small Mini TT1 on the camera with the AC-3 on top. I have A Channel marked Orange and C Channel marked Green.

First thing I had to do was update the PocketWizard Utility to the latest 1.58 version.

While on the website to update the Utility I noticed the list of all the hardware and the latest firmware. You can click on the release notes to see what they improved.

Once I downloaded the software I then had to install it.

Then the PocketWizard Utility alerted me to download the latest firmware. I had the PocketWizard TT5 plugged in so it knew which firmware I needed.

After the update the Utility shows you a picture of the device you have plugged in with serial number and gives you all the specs including which firmware version is installed.

Now I can easily use the system with my Nikon D750 which was newer than the PocketWizards, thus the reason for the need for a firmware upgrade.

PocketWizard’s newest firmware platform taps into the camera’s digital communications to enable an entirely new level of remote flash capability through our proven radio system. ControlTL allows remote i-TTL for Nikon CLS / i-TTL systems as well as Manual Power Control.  ControlTL firmware is configurable and upgradeable for “future-proof” continuous improvement.

TIP

Go to all the websites of your camera gear and be sure all your gear has the latest firmware. If you are not sure on how to do this just use Google and search for your camera gear and also add the word firmware.

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.

Cleaning up background by Panning

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/5

I was taking some photos of the band Farewell, My Love when I realized the background wasn’t really what I wanted.

I thought for a moment and decided that since the shutter speed was already slow just pan the shot to blur the background and use the flash to freeze the band.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/3

In hindsight I would have changed one thing. I would have changed the flash from Slow Sync to Rear Sync. This would have sharpened the band and put the blur behind them.

I will just have to wait and try this again and try the Rear Sync flash.

Capturing a “Moment” helps to build a brand

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 560, ƒ/5.3, 1/80

I was covering a meeting where Dan Cathy the president of Chick-fil-A was talking about Daddy Daughter Date Night events. He then put this image of mine up on the screen to talk about how every daughter would love to have her daddy looking at her like this and giving her this type of attention.

This is one of those really rare moments when people are talking about the work I produced and I am getting to hear it.

Nikon D3S, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/320

This is the actual photo here. I am guessing that the photo on that stage was 45′ x 30′ big. I was really impressed that the Nikon D3s ISO 6400 image looked that great projected that size.

The client was comfortable enough to use the photo by the president of the company to talk about one of the most important things their brand does–emotional connections.

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 3200, ƒ3.8, 1/25–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. 

My job is to look for those moments where the emotional connection happens and be sure the brand is part of those moments. Here I was capturing a Father & Son Camp Out at a local Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A is creating events to help bring families closer together. What better way to capture these moments than with a photograph.

Remember while you need to technically have a good quality image you also need a “moment.”

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].