Monthly Archives: February 2012

The stormy shallows at sunset

Hmmm, thousands of misspent dollars of photographic gear, a crappy trolley, some bungee straps, a beautiful model and lots of sticky sulphurous mud made for a pleasant evening at the old oyster farm. Sadly a vicious storm prevented us from taking the necessary time to enjoy the place to its fullest….for example the thousands, no; hundreds of thousands of blue soldier crabs that seemed almost curious about their bipedal overlords doing silly things with light boxes. But there’s always a next time if, that is, we’d risk the mud, sand, and salt that can turn a nice bit of gear into something nasty very quickly…..

Wee bit contemplative: what drew us to the location was, well… the location. Also a desire to show something pretty in a place where prettiness doesn’t usually belong. That’s one of my minor inspirations for shooting, to show contrasts, sometimes even quite pronounced contrasts. The model was quite exploratory which suited the feel I was looking for. Shallows remind me of my favourite  times as a child; being left to explore rock pools away from the blabbering adults. The hermit crabs, squishy squirmy things are a glorious delight for children, and exploratory people. Perhaps if we didn’t have the pressure of an impending storm I would have loved to focus a bit more on ground level where all the delights are. Sometimes we learn more about story telling by realising what we missed telling!

Wee bit technical: I was a bit surprised at how underexposed the outcome was, almost a bit perplexed. Personally I don’t like to fix exposure too much in post, my camera although sensitive, is quite prone to blowing out highlights. It’s a downside of a limited dynamic range sensor (though it does force one to think about these things, consequently and hopefully become a better photographer). I’m not sure if it was the feeling of overcast weather or some technical trick (like forgetting to rely on the histogram under changing lighting conditions), but the result was a bit darker and more sinister than planned. There was a storm however, a killer that dumped half an oceans worth of water in a few minutes. So it kind of fits.

A place to sit and watch the petroleum flow

There’s I place I keep coming to, not only for the photographic privacy, but also because one never knows what the ‘tide’ washes in each day. Like a near new chair to sit on and keep dry as you watch the trains go by.

SB900 Modification

The good guys at Nikon Rumours recently tested an SB900 and SB910, to evaluate the improvements in the later on the overheating problem the original model had. There’s a simple solution to the whole problem of overheating, and that’s to 1) remove the power source to outside the flash unit 2) provide a high current (capable) power source. And this can all be done for AU$30, with a connection of an external Sealed Lead Acid battery.

Modify you flash at your own risk, but it works well!

Under the Bridges

Sir Leo Hielscher lived for the sole purpose of having lovely models photographed under his bridges. We just missed the Sun Princess as she steamed under the bridge. I kicking the sand for having missed a big ship, and waited for the sunset to used a 43-inch shoot-through umbrella to create another lovely rendition of my favourite model. A second speedlight was used from the rear left as a rim-light, and a third provided much-needed fill on the grass in the ‘foreground’.

The two bridges are so high and expansive, I found that a 14mm lens was a lot more pleasing than 35mm, though as I often find with this focal length, several shots distorted the models face. 14mm (on full-frame) is challenging to use just for that fact that it distorts so much in the edges of the frame. As a developing photographer, the hardest lesson I learnt was that people don’t like having their body parts (or wholes) distorted. What looks novel and artistic to the photographer can look disturbing to the subject! So the lesson with ultra wide is; distort objects not people so place models close to the centre if they’re close, and point body bits inward. Then just enjoy the lovely results your models give.

Poor Man’s Flash Meter

What’s this all about? This article is about setting remote flash exposure correctly using a seldom utilised method: distance priority. It works when you can’t use a hand-held flash meter and the flash is off-camera. It’s also my preferred method for ‘metering’ a single flash with or without an umbrella.

First, the equipment

To use a flash without metering (i.e. TTL, or a hand held flash meter) or chimping (taking a photo, reviewing and adjusting manually), we need to be able to measure distances and calculate flash power. All adjustable flashes come with a table of distance vs power for a correct exposure, either in the manual (boo) or digitally stored in the flash computer itself as a lookup table (hooray). In the later instance, this is called the distance priority mode – dialing in the measured distance, along with ISO and f/stop, automatically sets the flash power for the correct exposure. Magic!

Most people measure distance mentally, and quite well. But I completely suck at this. In fact, I recently had several conversations with some work collegues about this. I asked them to guess the distance of certain walls in our work place. Most were close, some were uncannily accurate, but some, like me, had not even an inkling. So this is why I bought a laser distance meter, and have never looked back. Simply point at the subject and I know exactly how far they are from the flash.

So here’s the workflow:

1: Visualise your photo, subject and flash placement, and set everything up as you wish. It can’t be neglected to mention that this part is the actual art of photography, and therefore the most important bit. The rest is just technical stuff which usually detracts from the ‘art’ if you like.

2: Visualise and set the desired ISO, apeture and shutter speed. This is normal stuff, shutter affect ambient, f/stop affects the depth of field (at this stage it actually doesn’t affect flash power as that hasn’t been set yet) and ISO affects the exposure range as always. Note all the settings and we now switch out of ‘art mode’ to ‘lighting engineer mode’.

a quick note: If you’re using a shoot thru umbrella, and who wouldn’t, take all measurements from the flash head as if the umbrella didn’t exist.A good umbrella will only loose 1 stop of light as it passes through it. Take note of this, though it’s a good idea to test yours. Set the flash to distance priority mode, or manual flash power and

3: Measure the flash to subject distance. I use a laser distance meter as I’m hopeless at guessing and tape measures are too time consuming.

4: Dial in the distance, ISO and f/stop chosen in step 2.

5: Set the compensation for the flash power. Here is where you add your personal flash power compensation to that which you need to compensate for your umbrella. So I usually like a -0.5 compensation to darken the flash a little, and I add the  1 compensation required due to the loss through the umbrella, resulting in a  0.5 compensation.

Shoot and enjoy the fruits of correctly exposed flash! Hooray!


The benefits of this system are many, and there are a few drawbacks. Firstly, the smarts in the ditance priority mode of my flashes show not only the dialed in distance, but also the flash range of power of the particular unit. This changes based on the f/stop, ISO and zoom of the head, and is expressed as a dark line on the LCD with the min and max distance displayed. You can see this in the left diagram with the flash ‘zone’ being between 0.9 mtrs and 1.1 mtrs. Remember this will change according to the other settings I’ve dialed in, but it is extremely useful to know that my desired distance (expressed as the big 1.0 mtrs in the left example) is within the range. If I was below the range, the image would be over exposed as the lowest power the flash is capable of firing would still be too high. Conversely, if I was beyond the 1.1 mtr distance, the flash would underexpose no matter high much positive compensation I dialed in, as the flash would simply not have the power. So as you can see, a lot is happening automatically, freeing me up to not focus on the technical too much, as it’s all just calculated for me.

A drawback is the need to choose f/stop and ISO before setting up the flash. This means if you’re changing setting  at the camera, you’ll need to walk to the flash again to reset. There’s no way of getting past this unless you have an assistant, use iTTL remote flash units (very expensive) or TTL cables (very limiting in distance). One thing to remember is that most situaltions dictate certain ranges of f/stop. For example, I mostly shoot in f/2 for portraits in umbrella photography, so this problem is not so pronounced. And don’t forget, shutter speed (within the sync speed range) does not affect the flash exposure, only ambient. This gives you further latitude in selecting settings without affecting the flash exposure.

Lastly, and this brings me onto the promise of my next post, is the issue of using this rig for multiple flashes. I’ve yet to work out a ‘rule of thumb’ for adding a second or third flash. Stay tuned!