Sunday, October 27, 2013


First I need to give credit where credit is due.  I mentioned in my last post that this blog would be following my journey through Lighting 102 and the Lighting Boot Camp on   

I’m fairly new to this blog but it has been a great resource for me.  They focus pretty much exclusively with off-camera flash, which is perfect since that’s what I want to learn.  Their Lighting 101 course blew my mind with the amount of good information.  I started this blog the day I finished the Lighting 101 course.

Another source of knowledge that I frequently use is  They have loads of good information about taking great photos, recommended gear and techniques.  Most of my off-camera flash equipment was purchased based on their recommendation.  My wife loves me but spending thousands of dollars on photography equipment isn’t her idea of fun.  They recommend good quality accessories that are less expensive than the brand named gear but still produce great results.

I now find myself with a bunch of new off-camera flash gear and pretty much no clue how to use it.  Well I shouldn’t say that, I know how to trigger the flashes and how to set up the stands and umbrellas. With the recommended gear this was amazingly easy. So I should rephrase that to not knowing how to use them properly.  That’s really what got me to this point.

The first assignment in this endeavor of mine is to take a good headshot.  The obvious first question is, what makes a good headshot.  Anyone who can hold a camera can take a photo of someone’s head, the trick is to create something interesting.  My goal in this assignment is just that.  I don’t want to take another blah photo; I want to create something interesting and practical.  Practical?  Yes, my wife actually needs a headshot for a work profile.  Perfect!  Not only does it give her a reason to sit for me but it also gives me a good framework to work within.  This photo is going to be used in a professional setting which should keep my creative ADD in check.  I’m thinking that it should have a simple background, classic lighting and a simple pose.  I think I can try to do that.

Following the Lighting 102 lesson we’ll start with a simple snapshot with camera mounted flash then work into some off-camera speedlite work.  For clarity I want to let you know that throughout this blog I will use the terms flash and speedlite interchangeably.  They're really not but when most people think of a flash they think of a speedlite (or speedlight) or a built in flash and at this point I don’t want to get into technicalities of the differences of these terms (maybe later).  For this assignment I’ll try to keep the basic setup the same and change only the type of light and lighting setup so we can see can see the differences between them.

Built-in flash
First shot.  This shot was taken utilizing my camera’s built in flash.  Not to trash on decades of work to create this fine precision crafted little machine but sometime I wonder why the bother building these things into the camera.  That little flash popping up (especially if its unexpected) is foreshadowing of a future bad photo.  Beginner tip, to keep that ugly little monster from popping out of its home unexpectedly keep your camera out of those auto modes.  If you have a Canon DSLR keep it in P for pretty darn good results (or the Nikon equivalent). It gives you the ability to use some of the cameras features but selects aperture and shutter speed combos to achieve good exposure.  You should also venture into Aperture priority (Av) and shutter speed priority (Tv) modes.  These will give you a lot more flexibility but still use some of the built-in brains to help you achieve good exposure.  Not only do I dislike the quality of light in this shot but it was also really hard for my subject to keep her eyes from squinting due to it’s harshness and the location of it. I think it’s fairly obvious why this isn’t my favorite shot, if not, I urge you to read Lighting 101.

External flash aimed straight on
This second shot was taken with a hot shoe mounted flash with a Stofen light diffuser attached.  First difference of note is that her eyes are finally open, woo hoo!  The external flash helps even when attached to the hot shoe.  It elevates the flash slightly and the diffuser eliminates the squinting reaction.  In my opinion this is a fine snap shot.  Put this on a milk carton and your loved one could be found.  The diffuser also spreads the light out so her face is more evenly lit. It’s slightly better than the first shot (at least she eyes are open) but still pretty blah.  We can do better.

External flash bounced off ceiling
Now we’re starting to talk.  This was taken with that same flash but to achieve a much softer light it was bounced off a light colored ceiling.  This has been pretty much my go to technique for indoor photos when I’m on the move.  You've also undoubtably seen wedding photographers doing this (especially around the dance floor).  Her face now has definition and depth, her skin tone is improved, the shadows behind her are gone.  This technique can have a raccooning effect though caused by the brow casting a shadow over the eyes. It will also typically cast a shadow under a subject's chin. It's a trade-off that I'll gladly take compared to the previous results.  Just aiming that flash up makes a world of difference.

Time for a funny story (ADD I know).  I recently showed someone this technique, after all it is pretty simple, Mode P, flash in the hot shoe, flip it up to the ceiling, take the shot, lesson over right?  Well, I noticed that same person a few weeks later taking outdoor portraits with the flash aimed up again...just like I showed them...but now into the sky…Houston we have a problem (blame it on the instructor).  This technique is called a bounce flash because you are bouncing the flash off a surface. You use that surface to reflect the light onto your subject.  You can bounce it off ceilings, walls etc. but the surface must be relatively close.  Even on a cloudy day the clouds are just a bit out of reach of your small speedlite.  (To get the full impact of that statement you must in your head read that with the announcer's voice from the movie "Major League".)  In this case, without a surface to bounce off of, you are basically just shooting the flash into outer space (not scientifically accurate but you get the point).  Also, it's important to keep in mind that if the bounce surface is colored, that hue will be cast over your shot.  That's not to say that a colored surface can’t be used for some creative shots but for the most part I love seeing white (or white-ish) ceilings.

Now to start fiddling with these new speedlites and lighting gear of mine.  For this headshot I want to use soft light so I already know that I’m going to get a chance to try out my umbrellas.  An explanation of hard and soft light can be found here:

One light setup, 45 degrees left
I shot this photo with a one light setup to camera left.  I'm new to this and I think there are some issues with this photo.  I don't like the shadow caused by the nose and I also lost most of the highlight on the left side of her face from a distant window.  You can most notably see this highlight in the first shot with the built-in flash.  It was a partly cloudy morning some one minute I'd have great light coming through the window but it would be gone the next.  It was driving me more than a little batty.  Solution, make your own good light.  

I really think this is the coolest thing in the world.  Don't like the light, change it!  Can I do that?  Sure can!  This is when we really began having a good time.  The exact thought in my head was, "I'll make my own damn highlight". 

Instead of waiting on the sun that wanted to pop in and pop out with blatant disregard for what we were trying to accomplish I set up a second speedlite in front of the window.  The final lighting setup then was then one flash shooting through an umbrella, slightly elevated, around 30 degrees camera left and a second flash unmodified 90 degrees camera right.

Two light setup
The end result was a little better than I had anticipated.  Once I had the light setup how I wanted it we could really begin to have some fun.  We shifted her pose slightly to get her shoulders off plane and I was able to create that highlight on her left side that I was looking for.  This was definitely a trial-and-error process but we had fun.  I can't stress that enough, fun.  It was really the most important factor.  If you can capture the model's beauty they'll sit for you all day.

You'll notice that the key light (the one camera left) was shot through an umbrella giving a nice soft light.  The shadows on the left side of her nose and under her chin have a long transition between shadow and highlight.  In contrast, the light camera right was unmodified (hard).  Look at the shadow caused by her hair on the left side of her face.  The transition between highlight and shadow is super small.  This was intentional as I was attempting to recreate natural light coming through a window.

What do you think?  I love compliments and constructive criticism is even better.  If you like this post, have questions on how the shot was done or have suggestions on how it could be improved, please leave me a comment below.  It'll also let me know that someone out there is actually reading. :)  

My next assignment I believe is backgrounds.  I've resisted the urge  to read ahead because I wanted to focus on the task at hand so don't trash me if my next post isn't about backgrounds.   I'm hoping to publish posts every couple weeks or so.  I may need more time for more complex assignments but I do have some other topics that I can hopefully use as fillers if I get stuck.

Thanks for reading and again please leave me a comment below.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Where to begin?  I’m not an avid blog reader but I suppose that I should start off by stating the intent and subject of the blog.  My intent is to record my personal progress in a series of exercises/ assignments regarding photography lighting techniques.  The idea of doing a blog to accomplish this was simple, I’m inherently lazy and by starting a blog I hope to give myself some motivation to continue this “class” in lighting.

That leads into the question of why.  I’m a photography hobbyist and I want to learn more about lighting techniques.  The subject of this blog is, surprisingly, photography.  More precisely, the subject of this blog is to chart my course through Lighting 102 on also has a Lighting Boot Camp that I will be investigating and blogging about.  The Lighting Boot Camp was done back in 2006 and the Lighting 102 course was published back in 2007 so instead of trying to participate in courses that were done half a decade ago I thought I’d trek out into the world of blogging to “participate” in my own way.

 As stated above, I’m merely a hobbyist.  I was “into” photography while I was in high school but didn’t really do much in the way of photography since.  (I actually won an award for a photo back in those days that I’m not too ashamed to mention.)  What stopped me back then was quite simple.  I had a film camera that my mother was gracious enough to let me borrow and I broke it.  I was hiking through the woods one day and slipped in a creek while holding on tightly to the camera.  Instinctively my hand went down to break my fall (of course it was the hand with the camera) and I broke my fall and the camera in one fell swoop.   For the next 10+ years I lived camera-less.

A few years ago my wife encouraged me to finally get a new camera.  She probably thought it was fairly ridiculous to have a hobby without the tools to participate in it.  That’s all the motivation I really needed.  I credit my mother for first getting me into photography and my wife for bringing me back.
For the past few years I’ve been poring over Internet articles about photography and reading my manuals in an effort to continually improve my skills (not to mention taking photos of anything and everything).  From time to time I’d want to learn a new technique and need to purchase the gear to accomplish it (flash, tripod, lenses, etc.).  For example, when I wanted to take indoor photos of my niece and nephew I needed to get a better flash than the little pop up one.

My nephew - photo taken with 270EX II bounced off the ceiling
When I wanted to take some photos of Niagara Falls I needed to get a tripod. 

Niagara Falls - slow shutter on a tripod
When I wanted to dabble in some macro photography I needed to get a macro lens.

Found this guy in my back yard one day - taken with EF-S 60mm Macro
What really got me to this point was lunch with my wife one day.  Her company was having a holiday party with Santa himself and they needed someone to take photos of the children sitting on his lap.  After the shock of being signed up for something like this wore off I gladly agreed thinking that this could be a really cool experience.  Now I could easily take some snap shots with my external flash mounted on top of my camera but what I was really thinking is that I could get a couple off camera speedlites mounted at 45’s with shoot through umbrellas and really make it look nice.  Whoa, that escalated quickly.  In reality I had been thinking about working with off-camera flash for a while.  I could even do some with my 270EX II but I found it to be fairly limited in its capabilities.  I used this as my excuse (with my wife’s permission of course) to really get into it.

Hopefully that covers the basics of who I am, what I’m doing and perhaps even a slight glimpse into why.  Pretty much I’ll be following the Strobist Boot Camp and Lighting 102 blogs on my future entries.  So without further ado…I’m gonna start my homework! 

First assignment:  Headshots