Taking fewer pictures.

As 2008 winds down and we begin another year, we get to do the whole “new years resolution” thing. One of my resolutions for the upcoming year is to take fewer pictures

[wait, what?]

Yup, that’s right – *fewer* pictures. I’ll explain – Digital cameras make us lazy. When I pick up my camera, I have (for all practical purposes) an unlimited number of shots available to me. It becomes far to easy to simply point the camera at something vaguely interesting and “spray-and-pray” hoping an image turns out. Now while I don’t think there’s inherently anything *wrong* with doing this, I feel that it definitely makes it easier to adopt a lazy attitude – thinking less about composition, form, nailing the shot, and just relying on sheer number of images to produce the end product.

Consider the following account of Drew Gardner, a photojournalist covering a firefight in Kosovo with a single roll of film. (I guess when getting a second roll means potentially getting shot, you make do with what you have!)

Talk about making every shot count! The point is that back in the days of film we were limited by the amount of film we could carry. How many rolls did you carry around with you on a daily basis? 4 or 5? Maybe 10 if you were going heavy? That’s 360 frames at the most (less if you shot 120/220). Heck, I know photographers now who shoot 360 frames in 10 minutes! Imagine if you knew you were limited to 50 or 100 frames for an entire day of shooting. Would you consider each shot more carefully? Of course you would. And in the end that makes us better photographers. Refining our eye, *really looking* at each composition, considering each subject carefully and critically. These are skills that may be in danger of going extinct as machine-gun-gazillion-frame-per-second SLRs take over. Sure it may be useful for somethings (sports, and well… sports) but when I see photographers on the forums with galleries full of cat and baby pictures arguing how they absolutely cannot use camera X because it is *only* 3fps and they *need* 10fps, I just have to laugh.

Further there seems to be an attitude that if you *aren’t* taking gobs of pictures you are somehow “shortchanging” the client or yourself. My attitude is that if I get “the shot” on the first frame, why am I going to waste 100 more on images that I know will simply sit in a dusty corner of my image library, never seeing the light of day.

Anyway, the point is that my resolution is to make *more* images, but take *fewer* pictures – I want to make sure that every frame that comes out of my camera is deliberate and considered. Each image should be thoughtfully arranged, deliberately composed and have a considered subject.

Why not try it? Go out for a day of shooting with an old memory card only big enough to hold a few images (128/256mb or so). Or even an old 35mm or 120 film camera (holgas or lomos are cheap!) and 1 or two rolls of film. After doing this a few times I gaurantee you will notice yourself composing more carefully and considering each shot – making it count. Much like my old post about why I love prime lenses, the principle is the same – imposing a creative restriction on your photography forces you to adapt to the situation, stretching yourself creatively and improving your skill. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Anyway, happy new year to you all from all of us here at Ed Z Studios (meaning, well… me) and wishing you all many great images in the year to come!

Chiaroscuro with Maureen…

I love playing with light and shadow in my photos, so when Maureen dropped me a line wanting to shoot, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to play with a technique I had been kicking around.   In short, I set up a background light to the right, close to the backdrop and flagged it to creat a hard line of light/shadow (I was working at f/16 to totally kill the ambient)  Then I put Maureen about 8′ in front of the backdrop and lit her hard from the left, using an apollo 28″ softbox.

The end result was to have the lit side on dark, and the dark side on light.    Kind of Noir-ish, kind of chiaroscuro… not sure what to call it, but I like it 🙂

The nuts and bolts of off-camera flash

Just to make it easier for reference, I’m collecting all 4 parts of this piece together into one post before they get lost in the black pit of the “blog archive”!

PART 1 – Intro/basics

PART 2 – Manual flash

PART 3 – TTL wireless

PART 4 – Syncing/sync speed

So there you have it!  all the nitty gritty of off camera flash in one convenient package for your bookmarking convenience 🙂

Buying knowledge…

I’ve been a big fan of the “Strobist” flickr forum, been following it pretty much since David Hobby started up his little blog 🙂 It was always a great place to pick the brains of some great photographers about lighting concepts, techniques, and yes even gear (although the slogan used to be “*less* gear, *more* brain…” hmmm). Recently though, it seems the focus of the group has shifted from discussions on controlling speculars and bright field lighting to “hey I have an xti and a 430ex and I want to do strobist stuff (whatever *that* means) what should I buy?”

To opine on the topic in a more general fashion, I would like to propose the following answer to most any “what should I buy” question.

Buy Knowledge.

when I look back at the evolution of my own skills as a photographer I cannot think of *any* instance were a particular piece of gear made a quantifiable difference in the quality of my photos. I can, however, directly attribute each and every improvement in my photography to *learning* or *understanding* something new.

To that end, the money I have spent on photo classes/seminars or even just having out watching more experienced photographers work has been exponentially more beneficial to me than any piece of gear. Sure the whole “it’s not the camera it’s the photographer” is cliched, but just look through flickr at the amount of absolute crap coming out of cameras like the d3 or 1ds… Folks are dropping 10k on gear who would make exponentially better images with an xti and spending the other 9k on a semester of photography classes at uni.

The bottom line is if you have a camera, you can make a picture. if you have a light you can light it (whether it’s a 20 year old vivitar or a profoto 7b). But you have to *know what* you want to make and *know how* to light it first. Once you do that, you will *know* what gear you need. Believe me, spending a weekend at a seminar with a serious photographer will improve you images so far beyond buying a 1D or set of profotos, it’s amazing.  It may not be as sexy as the latest toy, but when it comes down to it you just have to ask yourself – is it the gadgets, or is it the images? (and don’t get me wrong, I’m as much of a gadget-head as the next guy!)

If you *think* you need more gear to make better images, you don’t – you need more knowledge.  If you *know* you need a specific piece of gear for a specific application, well then by all means go crazy 🙂

end rant.

I love it when a shot comes together…

Last week Shari DeAngelo and I got together with model extraordinaire Maureen Haley for a faux “bridal shoot” for some portfolio building. The shoot was great, and when we finished up on location we went back to my studio to recoup/start packing up… we were supposed to finish around 6:30, and it was almost 9pm at this point. Now I had this idea kicking around in my head for a while… The first floor landing of the exit stairs in my building has this great grungy look – crumbling brick, peeling paint – the whole 9 yards. I had this vision of just tons of light streaming out the cracked door, and a model peering around, maybe a little curious or a little scared at what might be on the other side… kind of an “Alice in Wonderland meets Poltergeist” kinda vibe.

Of course Maureen, being the champ she is, was up for it!  Luckily I had tried out a few lighting setups a while ago when I first had the idea, so I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to light it – I need one big light for behind the door to make the light pouring out, then a 2nd snooted light to illuminate the face , and a 3rd for just a touch of foreground light (the cast shadows were an extra benefit).

We got everything set up and started shooting. Of course about 20 frames into the shot I realized I had flipped my camera into MF mode, and they were all out of focus (it was too dark to tell through the VF but I was wondering why my focus confirmation points weren’t lighting up). Luckily I realized early enough and was able to get a couple of good frames. Of course, about 3 frames after getting the shot the Vagabond powering the AB800 behind the door gave up the ghost!

Some processing in lightroom and the final result was just as I pictured it. Like I said, I love it when it all just comes together in the end 🙂 (link goes to larger image on flickr)

The Other Side...

Quick and dirty radiopopper mod for Canon strobes (that won’t void your warranty!)

I love my radiopoppers. They are just super-awesome and make doing off camera strobe work sooo much easier. The only problem is that (by virtue of design) they are rather clumsy to use – you have to position the bead in front of the sensor, have some way of holding it there (tape? ugh…) and then affix the actual receiver body so that it won’t jiggle the bead off the sensor etc…

I’ve been playing around with a few different mods to affix the popper without drilling holes in the case or covering my flash with tape/velcro. So far this is the best I’ve come up with. It works extremely well, allows you to attach the popper super quickly and securely, and is dead easy to do (no actual “modding” of the unit required.) The one compormise is that it involves putting a little velcro on the flash body, but there is even a workaorund for that 🙂

So without further ado:
you will need the exact same materials described in my DIY snoot/bouncecard

  • velcro wrap (the kind that is hooked on one side and looped on the other (so it can stick to itself, often used for wrapping computer cables)
  • a small piece of self-adhesive velcro (loop side, this will form the mount points for the
  • “Foamies” craft foam (thin sheets of flexible foam, available at craft/art stores (pearl etc..))  If possible get the sheets that are self adhesive on one side, which allows you to skip the next ingredient 🙂
  • glue (optional, if you didn’t get the self-sticky foamies)

the procedure is simple.  Cut a strip of velcro wrap long enough to reach halfway around your flash body, with a little extra.   Take 2 small pieces of the self-adhesive velcro, and mount them on each side of the flash, these are the “mounting points” for the popper/strap.  Cut 3 pieces of foam with an x-acto, the width of the velcro strap, and long enough to go across/cover the IR sensor.   On one of the pieces of foam, cut a “channel” about the width of the radiopopper bead, splitting it in two.  Now stack the 3 pieces together and glue (with the “channel” piece on top obviously).  Hot glue works well for this, or if you got the self-adhesive foamies that will work too.   Once done the whole assembley should look like this.

And that’s basically all there is to it!  Now simply slap the body of the Popper on the still exposed loop side of the velcro, and loop the fiber optic over placing the bead in the channel.  Position the whole shebang on top of the sensor on the flash, and attach the loose ends of the strap to the velcro mount points on the side of the flash body.  The channel in the foam hold the bead securely in place, while the thickness provies a “cushion” that makes a flat/secure surface for the popper body to mount on.  I find that this is a very stable/secure method of mounting the poppers – once on I don’t have to worry about the bead coming loose or the body flopping around.  (I cut the fiber optic in half to make it “neater” but you dont have to)

a few caveats:

  1. because of the position of the IR sensor this will really only work for Canon strobes (nikon has the sensor on the side of the body, not the front).   I use it on a canon 580exII and a 550ex – it may work on others or not depending on the location of the sensor, as always YMMV.
  2. when mounting the poppers this way, make sure you rotate the flash head around 180deg.  (pointing “backwards” from it’s normal orientation)  The RadioPopper folks have pointed out that the electromagnetic pulse from the front of the flash head can damage the RP units if it is in direct proximity – as long as you turn it around it should be fine.

Hope that helps all you RadioPopper folks out there.  I’ve been very happy with this mounting system so far!

I hate the 24-70/2.8

…Ok, so that’s a bit of a sensationalist headline.  I don’t really hate it.  But I’m going to offer a bit of a contriarian view on the much venerated “fast zoom” type lens.   On pretty much any photgraphy fourm/discussion a question that pops up all the time is “I’m looking to upgrade from my “kit” lens, what is a good choice”.   Invariably the responses will point toward the traditional “fast normal zoom”, ie a 24-70/2.8 or the like.

I, on the other hand prefer a slow zoom (high quality and still constant aperture, such as Canon’s F/4L lenses) and a fast prime.

Point 1: f/2.8 is one stop faster than f/4.   In other words, the difference between bumpring your iso from 200->400 (or 400-800 etc…)  Us digital photographers sometimes forget how spoiled we are… back in the day we needed every bit of speed we could get out of our glass, as film speed was often the limiting factor.  Anyone remember shooting film past ASA400?  got grainy pretty fast didn’t it 🙂   These days I will shoot my 5d at 3200 without even blinking.  And it’s only getting better from there!   Considering that an f/4 zoom is a)smaller/lighter b)greater range (24-105mm vs 24-70), I would much rather bump my iso one stop than carry the extra bulk/weight of a 2.8 zoom around all day.   Not to mention that when using strobes/lights, I’m generally working at f/4-5.6 maximum, it’s only available (low) light that demands fast glass which leads me to my second point.

point 2: in my experience, when I need low light capability *i need low light capability*, and in those cases even f/2.8 won’t cut it.   A f/1.4 lens gives you a *3 stop* advantage over an f/4 zoom (and 2 stops even over a 2.8!) – that’s the same as going from 200-1600ISO, not insignificant! or consider the low light potential of a 1.4 lens on one of the new bodies capable of doing ISO12,800 or even 25,600 – now we’re getting into the “EV -crazydark” territory.  Not to mention that at f/2.8 the prime is already stopped down two stops, while the zoom is still wide open, which will generally give you better edge to edge quality.

Ok, so maybe I’m a bit biased, as I am a “prime guy”, but I think a lot of folks underestimate the potential of the humble fixed focal length lens.  The classic 50/1.4 is a surprisingly flexible lens that can yield a huge variety of perspectives simply by taking a few steps forward or back.

Some will respond that it’s the combination of flexibility and speed that makes the 2.8 appealing, but to me it seems like you sort of get shorted on both ends – it’s not fast enough to be *really fast* and not flexible enough to preclude frequent lens switching.

(and before the hate mail starts, yes I’ve used the fast zooms plenty. Yes they are great lenses, and yes, maybe if I were a dedicated wedding shooter I’d change my mind.  All I’m saying is that there are other alternatives!)

Eye dominance and photography

I recently read this article on “eye dominance” and photography, and it made me curious.  Even since the first time I picked up a camera I’ve instinctively used my left eye for the viewfinder- I never really thought about it.  I’m primarily right handed, but I find I do a lot of things “lefty” (play hockey, bat, shoot etc…)  Anwyay, I did the little “eye dominance test” and lo and behold it turns out I am right-eye dominant!

Now I’m wondering if I should try shooting with my right eye.  I tried it and it felt awkward at first, but Most likely that’s just because it is unfamiliar.  I might give it a  go for a few weeks, to see if I get comfortable with it.  Might releave eye-fatigue from long sessions in the VF 🙂

The Nuts and Bolts of off-camer flash – part 4, miscellaneous topics

Note: this is the final part of a 4 part series –
PART 1 – basics

PART 2 – manual flash

PART 3 – TTL wireless

Let’s talk about sync speed.
Sync speed is probably the most misunderstood topic for folks starting out with off-camera lighting, and for good reason.  There is a ton of seemingly contradictory information out there, misinformation, disinformation and downright wrong information… but really it’s not all that complicated, so let’s break it down.   First off to understand “sync speed” we must first understand how an SLR shutter works.  SLRs (whether digital or film) all (generally) use a type of shutter known as a “focal plane” shutter –

Obviously the job of a shutter is to expose your film or sensor for a prescribed period of time (usually less than a second).  The way a focal plane shutter work is by using 2 “curtains” that travel across the film plane.  The first (or “leading”) curtain starts by moving outward, exposing the film plane, and when it is done the “trailing” curtain follows it closing off the exposure.  Now what happens when the shutter speed gets faster than a certain point is that the 2nd curtain starts its travel before the first curtain has cleared the film plane.  In other words, the film/sensor is *never completely exposed* as a whole.   As the exposure get faster and faster, there is an increasingly narrow “slit” created by the two curtains that kind of “paints” itself across the film.  While this poses no problem for a shot using a continuous light source, for flash this is quite problematic.  Since normally the actual duration of the flash burst is much faster than the actual exposure, if one of the curtains is in front of the film plane when the flash “pops” it will partially block the light, yeilding the dreaded “black bars” across part of the image.

(Ben Mathis of the Lighting-Practice blog has a great animation of this here)

So in essence when you talk about “sync speed” this is what you are referring to – the maximum shutter speed at which the film is completely exposed at a point of the exposure.

Now if you think abou thtis process, it is a actually a hard physical limit.  There is physically *no way* to change how the shutter curtains operate, or the maximum speed at which they are fully open.  In other words, when folks throw around the term “cheating” or “hacking” the sync speed, it actually has *nothing to do* with the physical x-sync per-se, which is a common point of confusion.  What they are talking about is actually different ways of manipulating the flash burst to “work around” they shutter limitation.

*of course having said that*, let me first point out the exception to the rule 🙂

Invariably, during any sync speed discussion, someone will inevitably chime in with “you must be wrong since I normally at up to 1/2000 or so all the time with flash”.    They are, in fact, correct but it is a special case – they are generally using a Nikon D70/D40 when they report this.   There is a unique feature on some Nikon DSLRs (and a few other cameras), which is that they actually don’t use a purely mechanical focal plane shutter – they use what is called a “hybrid” Electronic/mechanical shutter.   This works similarly to a regular focal plane shutter, in that there are the normal first and second curtain, however after a certain point (usually 1/60th) any exposure faster than that does *not* precipitate an increase in the physical shutter speed – the curtains still open/close at 1/60th, however the camera merely “grabs” a smaller and smaller “slice” of the exposure recorded by the CCD.  In other words, even at 1/2000, the shutter is still opening for 1/60th, and then a tiny slice of that exposure is recorded.  The practical ramifications of this is that in essence the shutter is *always*  fully open for the eposure (for all practical purposes) – you never have to worry about the curtains blocking the flash.
Now for those of us who don’t have one of these cameras, we need a different method if we want to use flash with shutter speeds higher than the sync.

The first, and most common is known as HSS (High Speed Sync), sometimes also referred to as “focal plane sync” (FP sync).  Remember that at speeds higher than the max sync speed, the shutter curtains are essentially creating a “slit” that travels across the film plane.  In HSS, the flash will “strobe”, firing a series of superfast bursts (instead of one single burst) that are timed to match up with the shutter movement, ensuring that the whole frame is exposed uniformly as the “shutter slit” passes across each part.  HSS works great, although there are 2 major downsides.

1) it is proprietary – because the flash needs to “talk” to the camera in order to ensure that it’s pulses are timed properly with the shutter movement, HSS is limited to the manufacturers TTL capable flash units, so manual flashes and studio strobes are out :-).  This also means that triggering solutions like cables/pocketwizards/any manual triggering will *not* work (remember they only provide a “dumb” fire signal, no communication which is needed for HSS).  This means you are limited to using the manufacturers wireless ttl triggering if you want HSS off camera (and Radiopoppers potentially) with the associated drawbacks)

2) because the flash has to fire a bunch of little “pulses” across the entire exposure from a single charge of the capacitor (as opposed to one big burst), the flash output is *drastically* decreased.  HSS really eats the output of your flash (hence Dave Hobby & Joe McNally’s desert shoot using *7* SB800s 🙂

That being said, if you are using system flashes with something like radiopoppers (or in an indoor/studio situation) HSS is probably the easiest way to sync past the max sync speed of your camera.

Another (and much less optimal) method actually involves turning the flash into a conitnuous light source!!

Consider:  even though the flash may seem to be an instantaneous burst, it still takes time for the burst to occur.  (this depends on the flash and the power, but often in the range of 1/4000-1/7000 second) that is the time that the flash is physically “on” putting out light.  Now consider if your shutter speed is faster than that, the sensor “sees” the flash output for its entire exposure!  in essence the flash has become a continuous light source as far as the camera is conernced.  Now this isn’t a particularly flexible solution (requires very specific parameters from both camera and flash in order to work), however in the right circumstances in a pinch it will do…  (one thing to remember if you are doing this as that as a “continuous light” the flash contribution to the exposure is now affected by shutter speed just as ambient is!)

I personally shoot with a Canon 5d which has a max sync of 1/200. for faster, I generally use HSS with radiopoppers, or in a pinch the Canon G9 has a hybrid electro-mechanical shutter as described above (similar to the D70/D40) which allows syncing up to 1/2000 or 1/2500 pretty reliably.   Between those 2 methods, I cover all my bases pretty well.

Anyway, that about wraps it up for “the nuts and bolts of off-camera flash”.  I hope this series has been informative, and I may add/refine/clarify it as time goes on 🙂

-Ed Z

The Nuts and Bolts of Off Camera Flash – Part 3, TTL wireless


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 – Manual Flash

Ok, now that we’ve talked about getting your strobe off camera, and triggering it manually, lets talk about the other “main” option for firing it – wireless TTL

In simplest terms it means that your camera and flash “talk” to each other to automatically determine the proper exposure.  Just like the automatic metering modes for your camera (where it calculates the exposure based on reading the light of the scene) TTL flash does the same thing – lets your camera automatically calculate the amount of flash needed for a scene.  Generally the way this is done is that the camera fires a “pre flash”, a small burst from the flash to “test” the scene, which is read and exposure/amount of flash is calculated.  The shutter is then opened, and the actual exposure is taken with the flash firing to the degree calculated by the pre-flash.

Now bear in mind that although wireless TTL and manual flash both achieve the same end result (firing your flash off camera, they are very different beasts.  Remember all that hardware we talked about for firing your flash manually?  (pocketwizards, cables, ebay triggers etc…?)  None of that will work for TTL.  Remember that all those devices are doing is carying a “FIRE” pulse to the flash.  they are essentially “dumb”.   TTL requires actual communication between the flash and the camera.

The good news is that if you have a modern dslr and “system” strobe (meaning the manufacturere’s dedicated strobe, designed to work with TTL)  you may already be able to do wireless TTL with no additional hardware.

Now as mentioned, modern TTL implementations rely on a preflash to meter the scene, and the the flash fires based on this meting calculation.  When the flash is on-camera this is no problem, since the strobe can “talk” to the camera directly (notice the several other pins on the foot of the “system” flash vs. the manual flash?  those are used for ttl communication)

<- TTL flash foot vs. manual flash foot.

But what happens when we want to take that TTL flash off camera?  Somehow it needs to be able to recieve the metering information to “know” how to set it’s output for the exposure.  Most current camera makers solve this problem by using an optical TTL signal.  In other words, the camera/master uses a series of quick flashes that are “read” by an optical sensor on the strobe, and these tell it the metering/TTL information.  There is a “master” device, usually an onboard flash either built-in or mounted on camera which sends out the preflash communication, and the wireless flashes are the “slaves” that read the flashed signal given by the master and pop accordingly.

This method of communication is actually quite sophisticated.  Most of the current optical TTL systems can control multiple groups of flashes at independent power levels, and power output/ EV compensation can be set directly from the master (it transmits this information to the slaves).  In practice what this means is that you can set flash power level & ratios directly from your camera/master device without having to adjust each strobe manually.  Cool huh?

In terms of a master: Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax all have DSLRS that allow you to use the built-in (pop-up) flash as a master to control slaved TTL strobes, while canon requires you to actually have a strobe mounted on camera (or use the ST-E2, which is a dedicated wireless TTL controller) to control your slaves.   I’m not going to go into the actual setup and configuration of each TTL system, as that is *way* beyond the scope of this article.  Suffice to say, RTFM 🙂  In short, you switch your strobes into slave mode, your camera/master into “master” mode, and then are able to control your slaves from the master, setting ratios and such.  The master tells the slaves how to fire based on the preflash metering information, and Bob’s your uncle…

Now given the advantages of wireless TTL flash, you might be wondering why not always use it and forget about manual?  There are a couple of big downsides to TTL flash:

1 – it is proprietary. The pre-flash ttl protocols that each manufacturer uses to communicate between master and slaves are specific to that manufacture.  What this means is that you are locked in to using that manufacturer’s strobes that support it’s TTL protocols.  Want to use 3rd party? out of luck.  want to mix in studio lights? No dice…  (actually it is possible to do this, but we’re not going to talk about it here 🙂

2 – (and this is the biggee) line of sight (LOS) is required. Since the TTL information is sent optically (by superqick pre-flashes), the camera and strobe have to be able to “see” each other in order to “talk”.   In practice what this means is that you are limited as to where you can place your strobes off camera (since they have to be able to see the signal flashes) and also that these systems become, shall we say, less than reliable in bright ambient conditions or outdoors (since all the ambient light makes it difficult for the sensor to see the signal flashes).   This is a generally “game breaking” limitation for working pros in the field who need to be able to depend on their strobes to fire every time without fail?  (remember I said that rock-solid reliablility is the reason to pay $200 for a pocketwizard over a $20 ebay trigger?  same deal here.)

Enter the RadioPopper…

Much in the same way that a pocket wizard or ebay trigger acts as a “bridge” for the “fire” signal in manual flash setups, the radiopoppers act as a “Bridge” for the visual signal flashes required for TTL communication.

Basically they way radiopoppers work is you have a transmitter and receiver – the transmitter sits on top of your “commander” unit (either an on camera strobe or dedicated commander unit – st-e2 or su800) and “reads” the magnetic pulses created by the master’s signal flashes (apparently the signal flashes generate a magnetic field around the flash head as well).  The transmitter then sends this information via an RF signal, much like a PW (but in this case it is more than just a “fire” signal) to the receiver which has a tiny little LED light inside.  The reciever decodes the RF signal and uses it’s little IR LED to replicate the same signal flashes right in front of the sensor, giving the strobe the exact same optical TTL signal it would have gotten from the commander unit regardless of how far away it is (or around a corner etc…)!  It’s a rather clever setup.  The fact that it is simply tranlating the signals from the master means that it is not system specific – the RadioPoppers will work with both Canon and Nikon’s TTL systems (other systems are not “officially”  supported, but reports have confirmed at least basic functionality with Sony/Minolta and Pentax).

The beauty of Radiopoppers is that since they are essentially just an RF “bridge” for the system’s optical TTL signal, they support all the TTL functionality that the system does, inclusing HSS (High Speed Sync), without the limitations of line-of-sight or range that the optical system imposes.    I personally have a set of radiopoppers, and after using them for a few weeks, I have no idea how I ever managed without them.   Even when I am setting my flash power manually, the ability to do wireless HSS without the limitations of optical TTL is a beautiful thing.  Plus for a lazy slob like me, the ability to control levels/set ratios without walking to each flash is just worth it’s weight in gold.   I really can’t say enough great things about the radiopoppers.

The only downside to the radiopoppers is that they only do TTL.  In other words if you just want to trigger manual flashes or studio lights, the radiopoppers are useless (since they are just an RF bridge for the optical signal) you still need pocketwizards or the like.

Anyway, in conclusion, while off camera TTL is somewhat complex, the hardware needed for it is quite simple – in general it is just a matter of having a compatible master and slave unit – either the onboard flash or hotshoe mounted, along with line of sight to trigger the slave flashes.  If youare limited by the shortcomigns of the optical signaling system, Radiopoppers will give you RF reliablility/capablility while preserving the TTL functionality of the system, so in essence you have a choice between using the built in capabilities of the system or radiopoppers, and that’s about it!  Wireless TTL is a very useful feature (albeit with drawbacks) and in my opinion belongs in the repitoire of every strobist! (If it’s good enough for Joe McNally, it’s good enough for me 🙂

Stay tuned for the 4th and final part, when we talk about the little oddities of flash triggering, notably sync speed and ways to “cheat” it!

Continue to part 4 – syncing and misc. topics!

quick and dirty seamless backdrop for small subjects…

Just a quick tip if you do a lot of product/small object shots and want them on a seamless background.  Instead of rolling out a whole huge backdrop, just use a piece of matboard.  If you do your own matting/framing, you’ve probably got some on hand.  It comes in nice 30″x40″ sheets, and it is rigid enough to stay in place on it’s own when propped against a vertical surface like a wall or chair pushed up agains a table.  It gives a nice smooth curve under it’s own weight, and provides a non-wrinkly insta-seamless-backdrop.  and when you are done, you can mat your pictures with it 🙂

post processing…

I have a confession: I’m not a post processor.  I guess coming from a B&W film/wet printing background, to me the concept of “post process” means: “adjust exposure/contrast and dodge&burn”.

and it’s funny that even now when I shoot 99% digital, in my head post processing still means “adjust exposure/contrast and dodge&burn” 🙂  Oh, I do the plenty of b/w conversions, and skin touchups/etc… when shooting a model, but I really havent explored too far into the territory of *creative* post processing – using photoshop and lightroom to actually alter the picture to realize a specific creative vision.  Even my “sunshine in the rain” series (which generally evokes the reaction “wow was that photoshopped?”) was done 99% in camera.  The only adjustments were, you guessed it: exposure/contrast adjustment and some selective dodging and burning!

However, I’m going to change this.  Frankly I’m not one of those grumbly “it’s only real photography if it’s 100% in camera” purists.  In my book, any tool that helps you realize a creative/artistic vision is fine by me.  so to that end, I’ve resolved to work on my “creative post processing skills”.  I’ve started building a texture library, and plan on playing with incorporating textures into some of my work.  I’m also experimenting with cross-process and split tone effects in lightroom, as I have always loved that aesthetic.  (for some really cool cross process work, check Brian Auer’s blog, particularly this: 10 reasons to love cross-process film) Here’s a new split tone preset I have been playing with in lightroom.  I like it’s aesthetic, particularly in this shot: