This week we had our first of the season’s My Photography sessions, Steve Dyer taking us through his studio work including lights, modifiers and some of his post-production work flow. Some fine images, and a sound outline of the equipment he uses to get his preferred evening was an illustration of some of the talent we have in the club. And Steve was happy to state that the club has played, and continues to do so, a strong part in his development as a photographer.
We have looked at light modifiers in the last two posts of 2016, dividing them into soft light modifiers and hard light modifiers. We also referenced the excellent The Strobist website and it remains well worth the effort. These three will form the underpinning of the rest of this post, which will mainly, but not exclusively, be about building an off camera flash on a budget.
Steve has spent the last few years and not a little income in collecting his equipment he uses in his set up. The modifiers can be gained quite cheaply, but the build quality is what you really pay for when you buy the more established branded modifiers. One of the keys here is how core these pieces of equipment are to our particular form of photography. Another is our available budget, of course. It can be done relatively cheaply and here we will be looking at the options from a restricted budget perspective.
So, our mission is to put together a useable off camera flash with modifiers. Keeping within the basic theme we will start with the flash unit. Canon Speedlites start at around £160 and, obviously, are designed to work with Canon cameras (though will work with other makes but might have limited use of extended features) and we can pay over £500 for the top of the range and into four figures for the specialist designs. Nikon is not so very different. But how low can we go? The main thing that we give up on a restricted budget is power, as expressed by the Guide Number.
The Guide Number (GN) is far more than this though. Usually expressed in meters (feet in the USA) the GN is a tool for calculating the light falling on the subject from that unit at a given distance or F-Stop. How does that work? Actually quite simple. I have a flash gun with a GN of 33. I am 2 meters away from my model. The GN = f Number x Distance. The industry standard is 100 ISO but check the flash-gun’s handbook.
So, back to school maths, GN 33 = f number x 2meters.
Therefore 33 / 2 = f number or 16.5. Set the aperture at f16 to f18 according to the capacity of the lens diaphragm.
In an ideal world going to 200 ISO effectively doubles the guide number. Well it would if it weren’t for the laws of physics. There is a thing known as the inverse square law. Double the distance means
four times the light to get the same degree of illumination on a subject. So ISO 400 to get twice the light on the subject from a 100 ISO base.
Now TTL metering will sort all this out if the flash unit and the camera are capable of dealing with it, but that basically doubles the cost of the manual flash. Or we could buy a flash meter (make sure it is a flash meter not just a light meter, and better it is calibrated for photography. as we may waste our money) to do accurate calculations for us. However, dedicated off camera flash meters start at around £175.00. Not within our remit here. This is one area where chimping comes in and getting to know your equipment will really pay off. We can, with practice, get pretty close to right first time but, with the cost per frame and immediacy of digital, test frames consume not a lot other than a little time.
As we are talking off camera flash we will need some way of triggering the flash off body. Basically there are three ways to do this: Fixed cable (if the flash unit will take that, but most modern ones will); light trigger; wireless trigger.
Wired isn’t much, if indeed any, cheaper at the budget end of the spectrum than wireless. Light triggers (Optical) are built into the front of flash units so enabled and are usually encased in a red plastic cover. These can be triggered by other flashed including on camera flash if you have one built in. Wireless triggers are very popular and even the cheaper ones function pretty well, though it is necessary to maintain a line of site to ensure the flash triggers. The cheaper ones will be more prone to misfire, and will have a limited number of channels they can operate over (usually 4). The more sophisticated units cost more money, are better with weaker signals, can be programmed to fire in zones or sequences, even so there are some good units out there for not a huge amount of money.
As an extra and when you have one, essential, piece of kit to complete this summary, a light stand is a good investment. A light stand will take your flash to a higher angle, usually up to about 9 feet, or just under three meters. This gives us a lot more lighting options.
So how much can we do this for? * At 16th October 2017:
Flash Unit, Amazon Basics (made by Godox) £26.
Neewer Light Modifiers for Flash £46
This is a pretty complete set and a good start. Refer to the Soft and Hard Light modifier links above and note that some of these quality of light is determined by their size. This is a good place to start, but by no means the only place.
Light Stand £13.60 (two for £22 also available)
All in around £95.
Thanks Steve, for the entry point. The rest of us, enjoy.
*There are lights, stands and back drops that members can borrow from the club. See Eddie House.
A new season and so the blog returns from its slumbers. We started with a good spread of photographs taken over the summer and it was good to see so much variety. It is the third year that we have been at the Wicklea Academy and it was good to see so many faces old and new.
The programme is pretty varied this year and our thanks go to the programme team past and present. There is a slight change to the points schedule as far as the competitions go, details on the web site. The focus, as ever, is on personal development and learning as certainly been at the heart of the club for many years. The blog is here to support that, based on what we are doing in the club on that particular week. The competition rounds are a chance to celebrate your journey, get some feedback and pit yourself against others in the club. All of us who have been at the club any length of time has certainly benefited from that cycle and the practical evenings are chances to try something different, to discuss and try things with other photographers. Your level of experience isn’t the issue, everyone has something to bring to each meeting. Your questions count. It does not matter what the kit is you use, its brand, its complexity, nor its popularity, as the club motto says it all: For us, it is the picture, not the camera, that counts.
So let’s start with some questions. The “What camera should I get?” dilemma. Most people have access to a camera via their phone these days, so let’s start with what camera have you got? The reason for this is that the number one equipment related solution is the same with any camera, be it a point and shoot, a camera phone or a full blown professional rig. Get to know your camera. Now, I appreciate the most under read document anyone can ever produce is a user’s manual and the camera on your phone doesn’t come with much of a camera manual anyway, by and large, and camera apps with even less, but ……
Yogi Berra (Baseball player rather than a photographer but that doesn’t alter the point) once said, “If you don’t know where you are going you will probably wind up some place else“. If you just point your camera and blast away regardless of what the settings are you are going to find yourself in a place called Disappointment via the town of Meh. This is what most people do with a camera phone. This is not a question of automatic settings v manual (there is an evening based on that on the programme later in the year). You will have options for light and dark, flash (though that might be stretching the term a bit) maybe HDR (High Dynamic Range), a whole bunch of filters. Put yourself in a well-lit position, preferably with a constant sort of light, a set subject and work your way through them until you have a reasonable understanding of which setting does what. Take notes. Actually, a note book has a place in every photographer’s camera bag.
Learning to be deliberate when taking photographs is the key attitude we need to develop. In order to be effective, we need to develop an appreciation of how things change. How our cameras deal with extremes of light and dark and the bits in between, is a good start. Don’t ignore the programme modes, might also be called scenes, as they give you a clue as to what they do relevant to the cameras basic settings (which together form the Exposure Triangle). Used with a bit of forethought you can use these to get the best out of the lighting conditions you are confronted with – pressing the shutter is not only the last thing you do to take a photograph but also the last thing you consider when taking a photograph.
Something else you can do cheaply is to start looking critically at photographs that you like. Identify what it is you like about them, what story is it telling you? How do the shadows fall? What is the placing of the objects in the frame? Pick one. Go practice getting it right with whatever camera you are using. Make notes. Have fun, you are learning. The point is you are recreating an effect, not copying a picture. By doing this you start on the journey from looking to seeing. As for subject, it may well be probably directly in front of you. The trick is to work the angles, you are not looking for a masterpiece you are looking for the most interesting angle. You can still practice this on your phone, any time you have a working camera on you of whatever type and two minutes to spare. The key take-away, as they like to call it in training programmes, is that this is this is a system and you can practise it with very little indeed.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Members report back from the club trip to the Lake District last May.
Your Picture Your Way, Architecture and Artistry last meeting and thanks to all those who took part either showing pictures or from the floor. It was thought provoking and showed a refreshingly wide sensibility within the club as to who takes what and why. A couple of items came up I am going to pursue because they show the broad spectrum within the club and the ways we individually develop.
Firstly lets establish something that is important for all of us to recognise about our development as painters with light. Not every photograph we take is an exam to pass, even if we are doing this as a living. That way we spend more time in revision than in actually enjoying our hobby/living. The difference between the amateur and the professional are the activities that put bread on the table. Increasingly difficult to make a living purely from photography these days because someone with a camera is no longer an event. They are everywhere. It doesn’t mean one takes better photographs than the other, though we do expect the professional to be more competent – which is partly based on the assumption that price is some arbiter of quality.
Every photograph that a photographer takes for a client has to pass their examination if the transaction is to take place (lesson: Always get the money up front), that is to say every image made for a paying audience has to pass an exam. Every photograph we take is an opportunity to add to our development and as such there will be a lot more failures than passes. Looking at something as a straight forward pass/fail doesn’t do our own, regardless of its state or impact on our economic status, development much good. Not every photograph has to see the light of day more than once.
Every photograph we take is an opportunity to learn. We’ve talked about criticism and its role in development before and we will return to develop that at a future date. What we had at the last meeting was a sharing of that opportunity. All questions based in adding to what we know are a good thing. So we had discussions on the difference between JPEG and RAW (JPEG uses data compression for smaller files and white balance etc are encoded in the image at the time of pressing the shutter, the ability to lighten and darken is about a stop and half to two stops based on programming decisions made at the time the software was written, where as RAW has everything left in ); cropping and composition; long exposures and seeing photographs and were amongst the things covered. Also finding inspiration popped up at a tangent to the main conversations, at least the ones I was privy to.
Architecture isn’t really a topic we’ve covered in the blog and it is a subject that brings challenges of its own to the photographer. Most buildings are, well so damned big. I was at Salisbury Cathedral last week and had I not had a 10-20mm zoom on the camera I very much doubt I would have got the magnificent west frontage in (at least at an angle that obscures the tent they have erected for those who cue to see the Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carter). You are going to shoot in RAW (especially when shooting interiors where colour casts and dynamic ranges may be a problem) probably use post production of some kind and use a tripod. Ah, that tripod thing. Well I know that if you want to get the best quality then you should use a tripod. I was told this at great length by a photographer with one a couple of years ago, at Salisbury Cathedral as it happens. Didn’t have the heart to tell him my camera didn’t have a mirror to bounce around and quite how much shake he thought I was going to get hand held at 10mm at 1/640th of a second at F8 I didn’t feel the need to bore myself by asking. As a general rule I see the point, especially for interiors that have tendency to be dark. Best quality low ISO in the dark means a low shutter speed, low shutter speeds are best augmented by steady camera position. A tripods bulk, even the small ones, doesn’t add much fun to the experience, but that isn’t the primary problem I have with them, neither is it that just-another-damned-thing-to-carry.
The primary problem I have with tripods, from experience and observation, is the very thing that we use them for. Immobility. How many good shots are lost by having the camera on a tripod and fixing not only the view before us but the angles, frames and crops that moving the camera left or right, up or down or through an arc? How many of us actually go: This is the view; this is where I set up the tripod; then frame the picture in those up-down zoom in-out plains? The last bit two things a photographer should do is attach the camera to the tripod, not the first. The last but one is fine tune the frame, focus and exposure (I know that is three things but I am trying to avoid a Monty Python Spanish Inquisition re-run here) and the last press the shutter. It is a problem of when the kit gets in the way of the photography, what the French might call an idée fixe, that is, an obsession that dominates other considerations. Iif the building you are trying photograph allows photography and allows tripods in the first place (Do your research to avoid a long and fruitless journey).
Like landscape, or come to that any other form of photography, it is all about the light. Buildings being fixed will have an axis around which the sun appears to travel (it’s the other way round, I know, but , as Father Ted explained, “These are small, those are far away” and in this case far away and small are a convenient confusion) The Golden Hour works for buildings as for anything else in the landscape, even if the relative geography of the area that you are shooting in can make things difficult getting the angle you want.
Symmetry is also a powerful tool in shooting buildings. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines should be actively sought out, they lead the eye and lend proportion to your image. Shapes, patterns and shadows can give you interesting details to shoot when the whole building is too much and should not be overlooked even if it isn’t. Also the use of reflections can add depth to it and other areas of focus. When shooting at night or in poor light, commercial and shop windows often can be used as free soft box if you are utilising a model or shooting portraits as well as adding interest. In fact shooting at night, especially on buildings where the whole or significant parts are illuminated can give buildings a whole other feel than they have in day light.
I haven’t talked about TSL’s – Tilt Shift Lenses. That’s because they are screamingly expensive and for the average hobbyist a waste of time and money. You can always hire one if you really need one. As soon as the camera goes off a flat plane verticals start to converge or fall away. These can be fixed in post production , but you have to leave sufficient room around the building because you will also effectively crop your image in so doing. You can also think about your elevation – get higher up – but this is not always possible. The thing is, with a little forward planning these things can be over come.
So a good evening, with plenty to talk about. next time why don’t YOU bring something along?
N E X T M E E T I N G
AGM – Annual General Meeting. Committee elections and your chance for your say on how the club is run.