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Monday, October 31, 2011

Two points for Canon

There are a few things that I think Canon does better than Nikon, and they have nothing to do with image quality.

The first is that Canon uses a button combination to change focus modes where Nikon has this three way switch. I am constantly accidentally changing my focus mode with the Nikon switch. I think that Canon has the better idea on this one.

The second is their viewfinder extender, the: EP-EX15. Nikon has the DK-17M, but it is no where near the Canon equivalent. The canon extender sits about ½ an inch out from the camera body where the Nikon equivalent is about ¼ of an inch.

However I have a solution to this. I have modded the Canon EP-EX15 so that it fits onto my Nikon D300. The D300 comes with the DK-23 Rubber Eye cup. This eye cup is made up of three parts: There are two that make up the body of the eye cup and the third is the rubber around the body. You can separate the two parts of the body by removing a couple of small screws.

You then remove the camera side of the Canon EP-EX15 the same way by removing a couple of screws. Once you have the units pulled apart you can take the camera side of the DK-17M and it will fit into the eye side of the EP-EX15. These two parts fit into one another pretty well, but they will not screw together. So how would you fasten these two parts together? Simple: get the crazy glue.

As you place the pieces together you just glue them together from the bottom up and you should be fine.

Once everything is together and the glue has dried you can securely place your hybrid eye cup extender onto your Nikon body. With this easy little mod you can give yourself more room behind the camera and, for me at least, more comfort while shooting.

Just for the record I do prefer Nikon in just about every other instance.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flash Facts - TTL & Manual Metering

For the most part there are two different main ways to meter your flash. TTL metering and manual metering.

TTL stands for 'through the lens'. This type of metering lets your camera make all of the decision for you. What happens is that your camera tells your flash to send out a burst of light. That light is then metered by the camera when it gets reflected back through the lens and into the camera. Once this happens the camera then decides how much power to set the flash to. Then the flash is fired again and the frame is exposed. All of this happens in a fraction of a second. With TTL you will be able to make your decisions about the shutter speed and aperture or you can set everything to auto.

With manual metering you make all of the choices. The easiest way to meter your flash power in manual mode is to use a flash meter. Walk up to your subject and place the meter where you want the brightest exposure at and test fire your flash. You then will get a aperture setting for that exposure. Dial in the settings and take a test shot. Once you have the correct settings dialed in you are good to go.

Both methods have their pluses and minuses. With manual metering you will get the most consistent results. At times the TTL method will vary from frame to frame. Both are good tools to have and I suggest that you become comfortable shooting either way.

If you are just getting your feet wet with off camera flash then I would suggest that you start out in manual metering. With manual metering there are very few surprises and exposure tends to stay put. You can then take what you have learned with manual metering and then give TTL a try and you should be able to predict what is going to happen. Sometime the misses can lead to some fun photography.

All in all don’t get bogged down with the technical side of metering. Give both a shot, make some mistakes and figure out what happened. Eventually you will figure out what works for you and when.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Setting Up the Shot - Trailing Shadow

Camera - Nikon D300
Lens - Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8
Exposure - 1/200 @ f/13
Focal Length - 32mm

Lighting - Nikon SB900
Light Modifier(s) - 60" Westcott bounce umbrella closed over flash
Trigger - Cactus V4

This was shot in studio with the model just about leaning up against a grey wall. I took my 60" Westcott bounce umbrella and closed it around the strobe that was in it. When you do this the light becomes far more focused wile still retaining some softness.

By having the model so close to the wall I could get a nice and strong shadow from the light source. By moving the light from side to side I could elongate or shorten the shadow to my taste.

I was able to get the grey to go more toward blue by adjusting the white balance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Print of the week - Crater Lake

The selected print of the week is available for purchase in many different mediums over at www.redbubble.com. Click on the photo and check out your ordering options.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Setting Up the Shot - See No Scarlett

Here is an example of what you can do with a very basic bounce flash. I placed a reflector over Scarlett's head and fired my SB900 at it.

I was able to let more shadows in around Scarlett by using a fast shutter speed of 1/3200.

In order to get that shutter speed I used a Nikon SU800 as the flash commander which allows you to get as fast as 1/8000 of a second with CLS capable flash units.

See no Scarlett

Camera - Nikon D300
Lens - Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8
Exposure - 1/3200 @ f/2.8
Focal Length - 70mm

Lighting - Nikon SB900
Light Modifier(s) - White reflector and bounce card
Trigger - Nikon Nikon SU800

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mixing it up with Manual focus.

Every now and again I love to bust out my old M42 lenses and throw them on my Nikon. These old lenses have great image quality, are sharp as hell, and are loaded with personality. Beyond their attributes they tend to be very inexpensive as well

To get these lenses to work with any DSLR camera all you need is an adapter ring. I got mine for about twenty dollars on eBay. There are a few different versions of the M42 lens adapters. The one that I picked up is the most simple version. It is one machined piece of metal with a Nikon F mount on one side and then a threaded 42mm female thread in the front center of the adapter ring.

There is only one issue with this set up and that is some of the lenses cannot focus as close as they were designed to on film camera. To overcome this I bought a set of three macro ring adapters. They work by putting the lens farther away from the sensor and increase the minimum focus distance. This works brilliantly and as they are only machined aluminum they too cost next to nothing on eBay.

Most newer higher end cameras will allow you to place manual focus lenses onto their bodies with an appropriate adapter. You will control the aperture manually but most camera functions will work without a problem. On my Nikon cameras TTL will also function with out any problems.

The focus lock light will also work with this set up on most higher end Nikon camera. It is incredibly helpful to make sure that you have your focus correct and as sharp as possible. Just make sure that you check your camera's manual to make sure that it is a supported function with manual focus lenses mounted.

Using macro extension rings with your M42 lenses will allow you to get into macro photography with out the cost of buying a macro lens. Just make sure that you have a good sturdy tripod to keep everything steady. This situation would also benefit by using your camera timer to trip the shutter or any other method of remote triggering your shutter.

By using some old M42 screw mount manual focus lenses on your DSLR you will have a very inexpensive way to freshen up the way that you shoot and have more lens options in your bag.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nikon CLS – An introduction

Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS) gives you the ability to wirelessly control compatible speed lights from your CLS capable camera. The wireless control is done through the hot shoe mounted flash units, the built in flash, or with the Nikon SU800. Compatible flash units (the SB600, SB700, SB800 and the SB900) have a built in infrared receiver on the side of the flash. The Nikon SB700, SB800, and SB900 are all able to be set up as commander units. The Nikon SU800 is a dedicated controller unit. Consult your cameras manual to see if your camera model is CLS capable.

As mentioned above some Nikon cameras have the hardware and software built into them where they use the pop up flash to transmit and receive the IR signals to communicate with compatible flash units. However the top pro line cameras that do not have a pop up flash so you have to use the SU800 or CLS commander capable flash units.

The SU800 is generally my go to method for CLS control. I found that when I used my on camera flash as the controller I would get two sets of catch lights in my clients eyes. It is not that big of a deal to go in and remove one of them in post, but I would rather not have to do it. Also the battery life of the SU800 is much greater than a speedlight in commander mode.

Eventually the IR signal transmits to the flash units the same information it would as if it was still connected to the camera. The signal is line of sight so your camera needs to see the flash units and the flash units need to see the camera in order for the communication to work. If you are shooting in a room the signal can bounce around and will usually find its way to the receivers on the flashes.

One drawback to the Nikon Creative Lighting System is that it does not work the best in bright sunlight. There are photographers out there that have absolutely no problem with the CLS system in daylight and there are those that do. I myself find the CLS system lacking in performance in daylight.

A work around that I have had success with is using the Nikon SB900 as a commander to the other flashes. You can set the SB900 to commander mode so that it is telling the other flashes what to do. To help the signals go back and forth I angle the flash head toward the receiving flashes. The added power of the Nikon SB900 helps the signal punch through the day light. This method of control will also work inside as well. If you are needing to trigger a flash that is not able to pick up the signal from a SU800 then switching to a flash as the controller might just get that signal through.

The Nikon CLS system is quite possibly one of the most versatile flash control systems and it is the reason that I switched from Canon to Nikon. In addition to the control features you also have my personal favorite feature: Auto FP high speed sync. This feature allows you to set your shutter speed all the way to 1/8000 of a second. You are able to do this because the flash will first fire a series of flash pulses that will be recorded by the camera as one image. It is this function that allows me to get such deep shadows around my subjects.

As long as you are able to maintain relative line of sight the Nikon CLS system offers you spectacular versatility with your flash units and opens many more options for your creativity. The Nikon Creative Lighting System is one of the easiest ways to get your flash off camera and maintain complete control.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Two new Apollos from Westcott! Woot!

I am a huge fan of the Apollo softboxes from Westcott, and I am so excited to get my hands on these two new additions to the Apollo family.

Here is the official press release from Westcott.

The 23-year-old Apollo line receives a makeover as well as two new additional modifiers

TOLEDO, OH - October 12, 2011- In 1988, Westcott patented the Apollo product. Now, in 2011, Westcott is excited to announce the re-launch of the Apollo line. With a revamp of a 20+ year-old logo along with the addition of two new products, the Apollo line is still one of the most amazing and portable light modifiers on the market to date. Because of customer requests, Westcott is adding the Apollo Orb and Strip.

The new Apollo Orb (#2336) is a mid-sized softbox that offers soft lighting effect for portrait and on-location photography. With a 36" diameter, the Orb is ideal as a main light as well as a fill. Containing a recessed and removable front diffusion panel, it provides soft, directional light and allows for easy light feathering. No adapter ring necessary, this softbox fits on any standard umbrella receptacle. The Apollo Orb (#2336) sells for $129.90.

The new Apollo Strip (#2337) is a lightweight modifier perfect for controlling the light. Measuring 16" x 20", you will have the versatility of a softbox with practically no setup. Built on an umbrella frame, the Apollo Strip is perfect as rim, accent, hair or main light. The Strip also maintains perfectly even light with virtually no fall off from center to edge as well as providing a soft diffused light with a removable diffusion panel. The Apollo Strip sells for $129.90.

The already famous 28" Apollo (#2334) is also receiving a makeover. The name of the 28" Apollo will be changing slightly to the Apollo Medium. Also, all new Apollo Medium modifiers will have a removable diffusion panel. A few upgrades to the Medium have also taken place such as a more durable fabric, more reflective silver interior as well as some slight rib modifications to insure longer lifespan of the Apollo Medium. The Apollo Medium (#2334) sells for $149.90.

Each of the new Apollo items can be found on our website as well as dealers across the country.

The F.J. Westcott Company is an industry-leading producer of photography and video lighting products. Founded in 1899, F.J. Westcott pioneered the photography light control industry, and today offers a complete portfolio of lighting equipment, light modifiers, backgrounds and accessories to professionals, enthusiasts and consumers. Headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, F.J. Westcott consists of brands including Westcott professional lighting equipment, Photo Basics enthusiast and educational lighting products, and a background rental service RentScenics.com.

For more information, on F.J. Westcott, please visitwww.fjwestcott.com or call (800) 886-1689. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

M-Plate: A Multi-Function Camera Tripod Plate System

I saw this originally on a tweet from @diyphotography.

I am so excited for this product to come out it is ridiculous!

The following is taken from their Kickstarter page. I highly encourge you to head on over there and check it out.

About this project
What is the M-Plate™?

The M-Plate is a camera tripod plate system with universal mounting compatibility, integrated Manfrotto RC2 / Arca-Swiss connections, and modular attachment points.

Features of the M-Plate:

World's first tripod plate to integrate both Manfrotto RC2 and Arca-Swiss mounts. Also compatible with other tripod plate systems.

Quick-attach to any tripod while using your favorite camera strap systems such as our own C-Loop. Also compatible with BlackRapid, SunSniper, Spider Holster and others.

Hand Grip Friendly. Adds hand grip function to cameras that lack the mounting point.

The built-in M-Link port will connect with future photo and video attachments, including flash brackets and video rigs that are currently in development.

How does it attach to the camera?

The M-Plate securely fastens to the base of the camera using a threaded hex head bolt, while a protective neoprene base layer prevents the M-Plate from moving once in position. A hex key will be included to attach your M-Plate.

When will I receive my M-Plate?

The Kickstarter project ends on our chief designer's birthday: December 8th, 2011. At that time we will gather shipping information from backers and process pre-orders as quickly as possible.

Why the funding?

The $15,000.00 funding goal is to help offset the time spent on research and development. The funding will also help produce the initial batch of M-Plates which will be made here in the USA.

Who designed the M-Plate?

The brainchild behind the design of the M-Plate is our chief industrial designer, Ben Wong, who has also designed the revolutionary C-Loop Strap Mount and ergonomic Split Strap Technology.

Patent Pending?

Patents have been filed.

Where do I learn more about Custom SLR?

You can learn more about Custom SLR and our other products at our main website, http://www.customslr.com.

Ask a question

Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

Setting up the Shot - Landon 4

Camera - Nikon D300
Lens - Nikon 50mm f/1.8
Exposure - 1/2000 @ f/1.8
Focal Length - 50mm

Lighting - Nikon SB900
Light Modifier(s) - 60" Westcott bounce umbrella
Trigger - Nikon SU800

This is another shot that uses high shutter speeds with Nikon's CLS system. You can read more about this in my article on the Nikon SU800.

These fast shutter speeds allow the background to be eaten up by shadows, and shooting this way allows you to shoot in just about any location and get this same effect just like this one taken again in our living room.

For the key light I used a Nikon sb900 shot into a Westcott 60" bounce umbrella above and to camera rightpointed down at a pretty steep angle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nikon - Thailand flood update

From Nikon:

Notice on the damage from the flood in Thailand

October 11, 2011

Nikon (Thailand) Co., Ltd., a consolidated subsidiary of Nikon Corporation in the Rojana Industrial Park in Ayutthaya Province located in Central Thailand, is submerged by the flood caused by torrential rainfall since last July.

The latest situations at Nikon (Thailand) Co., Ltd. are as follows:


The 1st floor of all buildings at the premises are presently submerged. Details of the damages are now under investigation. As for the employees, the human damage has not been reported so far. The factory is suspending its operation since October 6.
Estimated impact to our business performance

We are now doing our utmost to estimate the impact of the flood to our group companies and business performance. We assure you to immediately advise the findings once it is judged there will be an important change in our forecast.

We are continuing to investigate details of the damage, but are unable to predict how soon operation will be resumed. We will set up our recovery support system and endeavor to restart its operation as early as possible. We are now requesting drainage of the industrial park to the Thai government, together with the Rojana Industrial Park authority, other companies in the Park and Japan External Trade Organization.

Print of the week - the Dock

The selected print of the week is available for purchase in many different mediums over at www.redbubble.com. Click on the photo and check out your ordering options.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Nikon SU800 – My go to tool when using Nikon TTL.

My favorite TTL control tool is the Nikon SU800. It is a control unit that is part of the Nikon Creative Lighting System. It acts as a dedicated controller along the lines of the Nikon SB700, 800, and 900, but with out the flash capability.

The SU800 is essentially a wireless Nikon speedlight commander. It uses infrared light to transmit and receive signal to and from compatible Nikon cameras and flashes. With this unit mounted on the hot shoe of your camera it has the ability to control CLS capable flashes as if they were connected to the camera. The SU800 can also be used with the SB-R200 flashes for macro work.

If you open up the battery compartment you will find next to the battery a switch that allows you to choose from close up mode and regular mode. You will use the close up mode when you are using the the SB-R200 flash units mounted to the camera lens. You will use the commander mode for when you are controlling flashes not mounted onto the camera.

Like the Nikon SB700, 800, and 900, in commander mode the SU800 is capable of controlling an unlimited number of CLS compatible speed lights. From the rear LCD you can set groups, channels, and select shooting modes for the flash units. The flash modes that you can choose from are: TTL (Through The Lens), AA (Auto Aperture) M (Manual) and – (No Flash). Here is a breakdown of what these modes do:

TTL – In this mode the SU800 and camera make all of the flash exposure choices. It fires out a very fast pulse of light that bounces off the subject and is then read by the camera to determine correct flash exposure.

AA – With this TTL option the camera and flash takes all sorts of data in consideration for setting the flash exposure. The aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and information from the lens will all be taken and used to come up with the correct flash exposure.

Manual – This mode is just as it sounds. You need to set power levels of your remote flashes via the SU800. You have from 1/1 down to 1/128 of a power range.

– No Flash - I think that this one can speak for itself. However I will add a little note or two. When I am shooting in a single group I will set the other groups to – just so that I can keep the setting straight. When I then add in other groups I go in and change the mode to what I need it to be. Just a good habit to get into for some good housekeeping when shooting.

In all of these modes (with the exception of –) you are able to set flash compensation in 1/3rd increments in a three stop range + or – . You can set the compensation for individual groups as needed. If this range does not accomplish what you need it to you can use the global flash compensation on the camera itself for added range.

If you have any flashes that can be optically triggered the SU800 will be able to fire them as long as they are in line of sight. The SU800 fires an infrared signal that is able to trigger optical triggers along with performing what ever control function it is set for. It is just a simple matter of placing additional flashes into the mix with your Nikon’s. I have shot on many occasions with the SU800 as my Nikon flash controller and also placed my Lumopro LP160 into the mix as a manual flash still triggered along side my Nikon flashes.

There are a lot of Nikon cameras out on the market that have essentially the same capabilities through the on board flash as the SU800. One reason that made me go to the SU800 instead of the on camera flash for control is the fact that when you use the on camera flash to control your flash units there is a second catch light in the eyes of your subject from the on camera flash. The manual will tell you that the on camera flash is not taken into consideration for exposure and is not part of the captured light, but there is still just enough light left during capture to show up in the eyes. All in all not that big of a deal, but by using the SU800 you take that catch light away and also have all of your controls right there on the outside of the unit as opposed to having to go through camera menus.

All obvious line of site issues aside the Nikon SU800 is a fantastic tool for both TTL and manual control of your off camera flash. If you are not a fan of having to go into camera menus, and want a faster flash control interface, you should give the Nikon SU800 a nice long look.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Setting up the Shot - Black & White Kira

Camera - Konica Minolta 7D
Lens - Tamron 90mm Macro
Exposure - 1/200 @ f/2.8
Focal Length - 90mm

Lighting - 2 'Brand X' strobes
Light Modifier(s) - 45" Westcott shoot through umbrella, white reflector
Trigger - Pocketwizards

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flash Facts – Bounce Flash

One flash rule to remember is that the larger the light source, the softer the light. The smaller the light source, the harder the light. This means that the larger soft light will have softer edges in the shadows and the smaller hard light will have a more defined edge at the shadows. This technique also works very well with ceilings.

One very easy way to turn the small light from your shoe mounted flash into a large soft light source is to bounce your flash light off of a nearby wall. You do this by having the person you are photographing move near a wall or large solid surface, then you rotate your shoe mounted flash so that it is facing the opposite wall and not directly at your subject.

When you fire the flash it is going to bounce off of the wall that it is aimed at and turn into a much larger light source, thus creating a softer edge for your shadows.

One thing to keep in mind when using this technique is the color of the wall. The color of the wall is going to influence the color of the light hitting the subject. By this I mean that if you have a white wall to bounce your flash off of it is not going to be that big of a deal, but if the wall is, let's say red, then that will tint your light with red.

There are a few different way to counteract this light tinting problem. The two easiest way is by either changing the white balance of the flash, or by changing the light from the flash with a colored gel. The exact color and white balance combinations will depend on the color of the area, the wall, and also by what color you want the light to be.

Depending of the color of the surface I will usually start with the white balance for color correction. When it is warm or cool colors changing the white balance is the easiest. I suggest you correct the white balance in camera during the shoot, but you can change it in post as well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On camera flash

There are a lot of photographers out there in the world that passionately hate on camera flash. I am not one of them. If done right you can add all kinds of drama and motion by using your on camera flash.

If you set your shutter speed relativity slow (1/30 or slower) and then fire some on camera flash you can get some great effects. Remember that shutter speed controls the ambient light and the aperture controls the flash exposure. So you can manipulate them independently of each other. Here are a few examples.

Motion blur by itself is not always ideal, but with on camera flash you can get your subject sharp and everything else in motion in the frame will show motion blur. Your shutter speed and movement in the frame will determine how much motion blur is in the shot.

Burning in color. When you combine flash with longer shutter speeds you manipulate the color saturation and contrast pretty easily. You will use your flash and aperture to control the exposure of your subject. Just like in other situations, your shutter speed controls the ambient exposure. In this instance, when you are using longer shutter speeds, you control how the subject blends with the rest of the frame. The flash will get your subject illuminated and sharp and the longer shutter speed burns in the ambient light. You adjust the shutter speed to choose how the subject and the rest of the frame blend together.

Bounce Flash. This technique is very easy and flattering provided that you have a wall with a neutral color that you can shoot next to. All that you need to do is move your subject near a wall and then turn your flash toward the wall. The light will bounce off of the wall and become a larger source of light which in turn will make it softer.

Another way I enjoy shooting with on camera flash is in manual mode with the flash head zoomed in as far as it can go. I can get the tightest area of illumination without going to a grid or snoot. Then I crank up the shutter speed to let in all of the shadows around the center of light. When you shoot like this your composition gets pretty stagnant, but I like the lighting in this set up so I will change my crop in post to mix it up a bit. I find that my Lumopro LP160 works the easiest with this set up. The manual buttons on the back make changing the zoom and power on the fly fast and easy.

One of the most widely used on camera flash techniques is fill flash. You use fill flash to fill in the shadows on your subject. It is pretty straight forward, but one way to use fill flash is in sunlight. By throwing some flash on a subject when they are outside you control shadows under the eyes so that they do not get lost. You can also turn your subject's back to the sun and use fill flash to balance the shadows with the bright sun behind.

As you can see there are many reasons to use on camera flash. So put a flash in your hot shoe, go out, and light it up.