PDN Virtual Trade Show Q&A :: Bring Your Questions Here!
Just finished my presentation for the PDN virtual trade show. That was the fastest I’ve ever had to talk! Thanks to PDN and B&H for making it happen!
This post is to answer questions that we didn’t have time to cover during the presentation. Go ahead and post questions here in the comment section. I’ll be working through your questions here on the blog through the weekend.
From what I’m being told… starting today all of the virtual PDN presentations from yesterday will be archived here. You have to register (it’s free!) and Mac users you need to use the latest version of Firefox. If you would like a copy of the PDF I used for my presentation, you can download it here. The PDF link is a link to the actual file. You PC users probably need to right click on that link and “save target as”. If that doesn’t work just his cntrl+alt+del and that should take care of it. ;p
Thank you all for being a part of this! I’m sure I wont be able to get to every single question but I already know that these questions will bring on other blog posts.
Let’s get started on some questions. Check back as I’ll be adding more to this post. I’m adding new replies to the top of the post so you don’t have to keep scrolling down and down and down.
Q :: I wanted to know, how do you deal with over-powering a sun on a clear sky day. If all you’ve brought is a strobe and your 50” Softbox, what would you do?
A :: A small hotshoe flash and the 50″ softbox isn’t going to overpower the sun on a clear day unless the face of the softbox is about three inches from your subject or you are shooting with a D70 or similar camera that has a faster sync speed than 250th of a second. Even then faster sync speeds might not cut it since the softbox sucks so much light to start with. If I am heading out into mid afternoon sun AND I want to overpower a very bright ambient light source like a bright sky then I’m going out with my Alien Bee 1600 and the Vagabond battery pack.
Now then, I’ve been shooting full time for 5 and a half years and I’ve only had the AB 1600 and Vagabond for about the last year. So what did I do?
• I didn’t book shoots that would have me out in the sun at a time that I couldn’t control it.
• If I just had to had to had to shoot in bright sun light then I used straight flash, backed up, and made the shot more environmental in nature since straight flash isn’t the most flattering quality of light most of the time. See the last image of my presentation to see what I’m talking about.
• If shooting straight flash doesn’t cut it, then I shoot available light. Typically backlighting my subject with the sun.
Hotshoe flashes are awesome. They can do SO much but they can’t do everything. You will quickly find their limitations when shooting in bright ambient environments. When I spend money on lighting it isn’t for features, it’s for POWER! Don’t give me TTL and digital this and that. Give me raw stinking horsepower. I buy lights to get the most light per dollar instead of “cool” features.
Also remember that YOU are the pro. You are in charge of making the decisions that will yield the best results for your clients. They are paying you to know what you are doing. If they want portraits on the beach and want to book the job at noon but you know the better images are going to be at 6pm then it is up to you to educate your clients and book that job at 6pm instead of noon. Clients want great images but they also want connivence. If you know the limits of your gear and the images you are wanting to create just can’t be created at noon then it is up to you to drive that boat and get that noon shoot booked at 6pm instead.
Q :: Did you say to DO talk to the model about things like a TV show etc. or just talk to her in the sense of what you’re doing and how many more shots are left and how well she’s doing.
A :: I talk to my subjects about anything and everything! If I’m doing a corporate shoot then I make sure to glance at the business and sports sections of my local paper before the shoot. I’m not a sports fan of any kind but I find talking sports in the corporate arena will keep a subject’s attention off the camera and lights for a little while. I’ll talk about my kids, my dog, a new album I am listening to, etc. I ask a lot of questions as I’m starting a shoot as well. “Married? Kids? Pets? What kind of music do you like? Did you see that movie 7 Pounds? Wasn’t it dark yet beautiful? I’m going to adjust this light. Just sit tight for a second. Are you keeping up with Idol this season?”
I will talk through my thought process as well during the shoot. Things like “I’m going to change this angle, I need you to rotate just a bit this way so I can keep that light pole from growing out of your head.”
The key to all of this is to make sure I’m not worried about the technical aspect of what I’m doing. If I start tweaking out in my head about my gear or about camera settings then I can’t stay focused on keeping a conversation going with my client. I get quiet. I start sweating. I get all up in my head about some technical thing and the flow of the client to subject relationship stops. I avoid that at all costs.
Q :: what would be the essential lighting that you would bring to a wedding? Assuming you are doing both indoor and outdoor photos.
A :: I take 3 Nikon speedlites . 2 SB-25′s and 1 SB-800. I only own the SB-800 because I HAD to have a flash for a job the day after my SB-80dx fried. I had to suck it up and pay $320 for a flash that I don’t use half the features of. I’ve shot entire weddings from formals to receptions with just a handful of these small flashes. I now take an Alien Bee 1600 and a Vagabond just in case I need more power. I rarely do though and it sits unused much of the time but I have it just in case. I have a blog post about what’s in my bag. Just add another bag with the AB head and battery, 3 stands, a 60″ umbrella, a 28″ Westcott softbox, and that is my wedding gear.
Q :: How do you come up with the effect you hope to achieve? Is it all trial and error or do you have an idea when you come into the shoot?
Answer after the jump! ——>
A :: Let me explain some of my gear and then I can answer your question. I have four basic light tools in my bag at any shoot. A 60″ convertible umbrella, a small softbox, a large softbox, and a few grid spots..
Now then, each of these tools has a specific purpose. I’ll try to simplify them.
1. 60″ Umbrella – This is my most versatile light modifier. An umbrella is used to light one person or a group of people. It provides soft light and I can cover a tightly posed group of 20 or more people with one 60″ umbrella or I can shoot one person. An umbrella is also good for lighting the subject and the environment they are in. If shooting indoors your umbrella is going to send light all over the place. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes you want to control the light falling on the subject and keep light off of the environment they are in. That is where a softbox comes in.
2. I use the 28″ Westcott softbox when shooting one to two people only. It is not good for shooting any more than two people. I’ve tried. I know! The softbox is a great tool for keeping a nice soft light source directed to your subject while keeping that light from spilling on to elements of the environment you are shooting in. Now, if you are out in the middle of a field it doesn’t really matter since you are going to light an entire field with any of these environments. I pull out the 50″ Westcott for shooting one to 4 people. The larger your light source, the softer the light. I LOVE the 50″ Westcott. It’s a big beautiful light source but I can still manage to control spill with it more than an umbrella.
I have an old post on the blog about umbrellas and softboxes. You can read it here.
3. Grid spots! Man I love grids. Grids give this great little spot of light with a nice feathered edge unlike a snoot. Snoots have a very hard edge from highlight to shadow. I prefer the softer edge a grid gives. I have a blog post about attaching grids to hotshoe flashes here. I also have a set of Honl grids. The Honl grids are pretty nice and easy to slap on any old hotshoe flash. I used them today for a shoot for Relevant magazine in fact. I still prefer the traditional 7″ grids because they give a cleaner circle of light and Honl does not yet make a grid around the 10º mark. I use the 10º grid a lot. A. LOT.
So… All that said. What was your question? Oh yes… “How do you come up with the effect you hope to achieve? Is it all trial and error or do you have an idea when you come into the shoot?”
Being I know my modifiers inside and out then I know what they are going to look like in just about any situation. I’ve never had a grid look like light from a softbox. I’ve never had a 28″ softbox look like a 60″ shoot through. It comes from experience of shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting some more. Also note that I didn’t start off with all of these. I used a 60″ umbrella for over a year before I got the small Westcott softbox. I then used those two for another year before I got the big mamma 50″ softbox. Somewhere in there I added a few old used grids into the mix. I didn’t buy a new modifier until I had shot so much with the ones I had that I knew them and what they looked like.
When I walk into a situation I can ask myself some questions. “Do I need to light the subject AND the room they are standing in?” If so, I grab the umbrella. “Do I need to keep the light on this one person and keep the light off the background?” If so, I grab the small softbox. “Does this environment blow chunks and I don’t want to see any of it ever?” Grid spot!
Is there a lot of trial and error? Of course. I’ll think that I want to light the subject and the background but then see that it sucks and I have to do something else. Maybe a shadow gets in the way or maybe the paint on the wall is glossy and I can’t control the glare so I have to come up with something different. Nine times out of ten though I can walk into a situation and get an idea for a shot and know how I’m going to light it before the subject shows up because I know how my light is going to act. How do I know? Well, I just made an archive on a terabyte hard drive. I was trying to fit five years of shooting on to the drive and I couldn’t do it. I did manage to fir over 180,000 photos on that drive. It averaged out to something like 74 pictures a day. That’s a healthy amount of shooting. Like I said in the presentation… Go take pictures of your vacuum cleaner if you need to so you can learn what your light is doing.
Q :: If you could use either an Elinchrom setup or a Canon flash setup for location work, which would you rather use?
A :: I was hoping to get to this question during the presentation but we ran out of time. That’s one of those questions that is like, “Would you rather have a truck or a hatchback.”
I currently have Nikon flashes and some Alien Bees. I REALLY want to graduate to Elinchrom in the next few years. Anyway, I use both systems in studio and on location. The majority of my work could be shot with hotshoe flashes but there are many times I simply need more light. I need more power. That is where the AB lights come in. BUT, sometimes the AB lights have too much power. There are times I want to shoot a portrait at f2 or f2.8 but I can’t dial the power down enough on the AB’s so I have to use a hotshoe flash for those shots. So I can’t really say which one I would rather have. I guess I would love to have 4 Elinchrom Ranger kits and I would just have to “make due” with those. I could always stack ND filters on the Elinchrom lights to bring the exposure down!
Q :: I have hated my SB 800 and rarely use it. I do like using my alien bees lights, though. These same principles will apply to all types of flash units… the reason to use a speedlight over studio lights would just be the ease of use when shooting on location, no?
A :: Light is light. Period. If I put that SB-800 in a softbox and shoot a portrait then change it out with an Alien Bee and use the same exact softbox you will not know which flash powered which shot. But as I said in the last answer, the difference lies mostly in the amount of power you are getting from each one. The 800 will allow you to dial the power WAY down and shoot at wide open fast apertures that you can’t shoot with an Alien Bee because you can’t dial the power down that much. The Alien Bee also gives you a modeling light which is nice so you get an idea of what your light is looking like as you position it. And you can plug the AB into a wall and have faster recycle times. That’s nice. At the end of the day though, it’s just light. One just has more of it than the other.