The best photos happen in the worst weather
Or so famous wildlife and landscape photographer, Moose Peterson, says. And ya know what? I think he’s right. It’s certainly be kind to me. Some of my best photos have been taken under adverse weather conditions.
When the weather got bad this past week, I headed out my front door with camera in hand and took a few pictures and it paid off again. One of the photos I took received Flickr’s Explore (their version of Editor’s Choice) recognition. It’s always an honor to be highlighted on a major photography site, humbling as well.
Here are some more photos taken that day under the stormy skies.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Northeast Ohio, Canton area.
The weather forecast was calling for 3-6 inches of snow, the temp hovering around 33 degrees. If you’ve ever lived on the east coast, then you know it can snow even when the temp is above freezing and this can cause you a few problems.
How to Survive Bad Weather as a Photographer
Whether it’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit , or -10 below, the problems dealing with the cold are pretty much the same; staying warm is your first-most priority. The second priority is staying dry if possible. Anything below 20 degrees and this is relatively easy. The colder the air temperature, the less likelihood the snow will melt upon landing on you and your equipment.
But when temperatures get above 20, especially above 32 degrees, snow can melt on contact and ultimately effect your clothes and equipment in the same way as if you were standing in a rain storm. For the event, we would be standing on the ice, over a frozen lake, right in the middle of the action and subsequently, the weather. I took this into account and set up several shoot-through umbrellas attached to light stands to act as actual umbrellas, keeping the snow off of my speedlites and giving me a dry place to stand. When I had to change location to get a better vantage point for a photo, I would take my photo and then retreat under the umbrella and dab-dry my camera with a soft towel. This meant my camera gear was never in any real danger from water damage.
Another issue with shooting in a blizzard is visibility. I had brought my speedlites so I could stop the action in midair, just as these poor folks were about to take the plunge, as well as to help equalize the exposure between the subject and the near-pure white background. Problem is, when the snow is coming down heavily and you shoot with a flash, all you’ll see is the reflected light bouncing off the snow in the air, ultimately overexposing your photo. Because of this I had to work in two modes. One mode was in shutter priority with no flash. I never use shutter priority, like never ever. But here, where I need around 1/600 of a second to get a crisp action shot, using Shutter Priority was the best bet. For this scenario I also had my ISO bumped up to 800 and my aperture around f/11 (+/- a few stops depending on the changing light).
When the snow would let up a little, I would turn back to using my speedlites. I was using multiple speedlites to help spread the load so as not to overtax the batteries. The lights were TTL, unmodified, zoomed out to their max. When using the lights my camera was set at 1/200 of a second, around f/8 and an ISO of 100. 1/200 of a second works here because the flash is stopping the action, rather than raw shutter speed. You could also have used Highspeed Sync in this case, but the burden on your flashes would mean long recycle times and possible missed photo opportunities due to that recycle time.
The was coming down so thick at times it was hard to even stop and look at my LCD screen to see how we were doing with the photos. The snow and water made everything on the back of the LCD blurry and I just had to trust in my own knowledge and the TTL system.
I was very happy to see that the 5D Mark III’s auto focus system handled the heavy snow amazingly well. There were a few hiccups where it would focus on an area of falling snow, rather than the intended subject, but for the most part it cut through the white stuff and found the target nearly all of the time.
We spent 4 hours on the ice, in the driving snow, in the freezing cold and, to be honest, I started to envy the jumpers who only had to spend 10 seconds in the 33 degree water before being whisked off to a heated tent. But the experience was fantastic. I actually like being in the snow, and there, in the middle of this expansive frozen lake, I found the setting very beautiful.
It should be mentioned that it was because of my great friends at the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank that I got the opportunity to come and take photos of this thrilling (chilling?) event. I strongly ask you to support ACRBD and other Food Banks by donating food, time, and money. It’s a great cause!
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait, Event and Wedding Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.
Don’t be fooled. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to be a good photographer. Every day, the world produces some amazing photographs. Some of them are made in studios, by people wielding tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and some of them are made by people with nothing more than a cheap, mid-ranged camera. Certain styles of photography call for varying amounts of gear. I mean, you can’t be a flash photographer without at least one flash, right? But does that flash need to cost $3,000 or more?
The Price Game: How much do you need to spend on photography?
My goal in the next year is to make a series of videos showing the gear I use. Some of it’s expensive, some of it’s cheap as dirt. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that expensive doesn’t always mean it’s good, and conversely, cheap doesn’t mean bad. There are times, however, where an extra few bucks among comparable products can mean a world of difference. So, which items are worth the money and which aren’t? Well, just stay tuned over the next few months and we’ll find out!
Sometimes you just hope the stars align. It can be the talent; are they willing to go along with this crazy idea of mine? Sometimes it’s making the client understand the intricacies of the shot. Sometimes it’s something that’s completely out of your control like the weather.
Dealing with, and planning for weather as a photographer
Weather is the bane of all photographers. At best you can rely on the weather channel to give you the conditions that may exist in, oh, say 2 hours from now. For fairly small time frames, weather predictions are usually in the ball-park of what the reality will be. But, say the shoot is 5 days away, a week, 10 days or more! Well, then you’re stepping into some really iffy territory. Sure, you can probably be guaranteed that it’s not going to snow in the middle of July, but trying to predict puffy clouds against a clear sky at sunset a week from today? Yeah, not gonna happen – most likely. If you’re lucky everything will work out, and if you’re not, you are in for total re-think of how you have to approach your photo.
I’m not trying to get a pretty good photo, I am trying to get THE photo, the one that is in my head. During rainy seasons we’ll often set a primary day and then a back up day just in case the weather is not cooperating at all. This is sort of ‘best-case’ planning for avoiding ‘worst-case’ scenarios. Even then, if your back-up date approaches and the weather still isn’t in your corner, you have to be ready to prepared to make the best of what you’ve been given. Thankfully, bad weather doesn’t mean bad photos. As Moose Peterson says, some of the best photos are made in the worst weather. Even then, however, it’s not a good idea to drag your model into a tornado and just hope she keeps her face to the light as she’s being lifted into the air, on her way to meet the Great and Powerful Oz.
There are also times when a certain type of weather is a necessity in your photo. Your rain jacket product shoot might require a backdrop of storm clouds, or that magazine shoot you’re on depends on a sunny beach while you’re taking photos of surfers. In these cases you have 3 options.
- Take your photo in whatever weather you’re given and then make any needed changes in post.
- Head into the studio and just make the weather you need
- Pay a shaman to keep the bad-weather demons at bay
You wouldn’t be the first photographer who’s had to resort to any of the above options. Personally, in a pinch, I would opt for the studio option if all else fails. But, in my opinion, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
All of this came into play recently when I had a shoot scheduled, several weeks in advance, that called for snow. I wanted the whole sha-bang. Snow on the ground and snow falling from the sky. Why was falling snow important? Well, it would be nice to capture snow falling throughout the image, but more important, nothing beats the look of freshly fallen snow on the ground. So, with my desire for fresh snow firmly in place, so began the anxiety laced waiting game. You know the game, the one where you’re checking weather.com 5 times a day to see if your dreams will come true?
Luck was on my side. As the day approached the likely hood of snow kept increasing. On the day of the shoot snow was forecast to start falling at 4pm, exactly 1 hour before the scheduled shoot – Perfect! We packed up the gear and headed out. Our location was an area next to the Cuyahoga river, deep inside of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Less than 15 minutes from our arrival the snow began to fall, heavily. So heavily in fact we lost control of our car for a moment as it struggled to deal with the inch of fresh snow covering the small, windy road. We made it off of the road and into the parking lot without further issues.
There was a new problem however. Remember all that snow I wished for? Well, there was so much snow falling that it caused a white out. Visibility was no more than just 20 feet or so – not so good for a photo that required a river-scape in the background. Hedging our bets we walked down the trails to our final location and began to set up our gear.
In any situation where you’re dealing with wet conditions (snow is, after all, just water) it’s important to take the safety of your gear into consideration. We took extra shoot-through umbrellas and used them as, well, umbrellas, shielding our flashes from the heavy snow. My cameras, a 5d mark II and mark III, are both weather proofed so as long as I took some simple precautions to keep them from being heavily soaked they would be fine.
By the time we finished our set up, the falling snow had slowed down to a workable level. We got the talent in place and started to snap away. Right away, we knew everything was working beautifully. The snow, the light, the location, the river – all of it was playing together just as I had seen it in my head for all of these weeks. It felt so great to have everything come together at the last moment and, pun alert, just click.
Not all shoots will work out this well. The weather is something you can’t predict with any degree of certainty, at least not 100%, so you have to plan ahead – sometimes weeks ahead. Be prepared to be flexible, and make sure your client understands they may need to be flexible too. If it’s a large budget shoot with a lot riding on the final frame, it’s worth taking the time to get it done right in the right conditions.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait and Wedding Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.
Winter is coming to a close – cold mornings bring snow, all to be washed away by after noon rain, and then draped in snow once again as the sun sets. This transition from winter to spring is often marked by potholed streets edged with slopes of dirty snow, but you can still find some winter-chilled character in landscapes and the people who are interacting with it.
A lot of effort goes into lighting your shots. Controlling the pattern of light is always important, but corralling color temperature and light source also fall high on that list of priorities. Mixing continuous light and strobe is easy enough, but not always desired. A flashes ability to choke out ambient light is one of the strengths of strobe photography – especially when the objective is to freeze motion. There are creative techniques, however, that meld both strobe and continuous light to achieve a mix of motion and stillness.
This application of showing motion can be used for all types of photos. Most often you’ll see this technique in sports photography – it’s always nice to show an athlete in motion, applying their craft. But there are many, non-sports related, uses for mixing flash and continuous light sources. You can use it to imply movement, giving your photo an almost ghostly quality. As the subject moves through your frame, they’ll leave an ethereal trail behind them, this trail is caused by the continuous lighting. At the end of their move they should be frozen in place by the strobe, giving them sharp definition.
The technique uses at least 2 lights (one continuous and one strobe as we’ve mentioned) but you can employ as many lights of each type as needed. Apart from the lighting, there’s some working you need to do behind the camera as well. The first change is fairly obvious – Your shutter speed has to be long enough to allow for capturing motion. Speeds of 1/250 or more are usually required to stop motion, so naturally turning the dial the other way will increase your chances of capturing the movement of your subject. You’ll need to play around with your shutter speed to see what works best for your scenario, but generally speaking a speed of 1/30 is a great place to start, and then dial up or down as needed.
The second piece of work you need to do happens behind the camera. You must switch your camera’s flash sync from 1st, to 2nd curtain (also known as rear curtain). What this does is fire your flash at the end of the exposure, where-as normal flash operation will trigger the flash at the start of an exposure. The reason for this change is aesthetic. 1st curtain flash will make your subject sharp at the start of your exposure, and any motion that happens after the flash will then be captured by the rest of the exposure. The end result is a sharp subject with motion blur moving forwards from the subject. Now, if you’re a fan of cartoons (which I am!) then you’ll know that motion blur should always move away from the subject, leaving a trail of where they have been. 2nd curtain flash does exactly this. With 2nd curtain enabled, the first part of your exposure captures the motion and then, right before the shutter closes, the flash fires, capturing the subject sharply in their end position, leaving a trail of where they’ve been behind them.
Both Canon and Nikon support 2nd curtain flash. To enable this you have to attach a canon (or Nikon if that’s your system) brand flash to your camera. From there you can either set 2nd curtain from your camera menu, or the flash menu – check your manuals because each model of flash and camera does it slightly differently.
There! Now you have 2nd curtain enabled on your on-camera flash! Oh, but wait, there’s a problem. Shooting flash from the camera is OK in a pinch, but for flattering light we know we have to get the flash off the camera. Okay, there we go, now that flash is on a stand and in a better position. But wait, now how to we get 2nd curtain to work? As soon as you take your flash off the camera it stops accepting 2nd curtain as a flash option. How do we work around this?
Well, there are several methods. If you’re using only two lights, one continuous, one strobe, then you can use a sync cable to stretch from your camera to the flash. This will restore communication between your camera and the flash and allow the flash to operate in 2nd curtain. Now, if you’re using several TTL enabled flashes wirelessly you might expect that you could set 2nd curtain operation on your master flash and then use that to communicate to your slave flashes. Sadly, this is not a reality. Canon has stated that 2nd curtain via master/slave communication is not possible, and therefore you can not use this method with an array of wireless speedlites. Bummer!
So, what if you need more than one light, or maybe you need a power output beefier than what your speedlite can produce. Well, I found a work around! Most studio strobes have an optical sensor that will fire the flash the moment it senses a flash from another strobe. So, what I’ve done is take my canon speedlite, using it as an on-camera flash I’ve set it to fire as 2nd curtain and then I bottom out it’s power to 1/128th power. At this power it’s not contributing light to my scene at all. Instead, all it’s doing is triggering my studio strobe at the end of the exposure.
There are other, more expensive options at your disposal too. Pocketwizards, and other transmitters, have their own options for allowing 2nd curtain functionality wirelessly. But, for the most part, the optical slave option works in most situations without any drawbacks.
Below is an example of 2nd curtain flash. For this example I am using a sync cable from camera to flash since I am only using two lights and I’m standing only feet from the subject. My direction to the subject was for her to turn her head as I pressed the shutter button with the anticipation that she’ll finish turning her head by the time the shutters closes and the flash fires. It will require a few takes to get the motion and timing right, but once you reach a working rhythm the photos will start coming in Fast and Furious™.
Another example of motion blur using the same technique. Here I asked the subject to look at the continuous light source for a 1 second before turning 180º and changing his pose. The flash fires at the end of the exposure to capture him in detail as he begins to play the sax while leaving a motion trail from his original position.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait, and Wedding Photographer in the NorthEast, Canton, Ohio area.
Modern DSLRs are amazing devices. Not long after the 5D Mark II introduced the ability to shoot high quality video, the film world took notice and started to use it as an essential piece of equipment in movie making. Not only are DSLRs small, and therefore easy to work with, they are also relatively cheap, and you get the picture quality afforded to you from using your DSLR lenses.
Long before I started taking pictures as a professional photographer, I was (and still am) a graphic designer. One of the many hats I get to wear when I am working for my design clients is that of a creative director. At times this means I am on set, working with a film crew, to make sure the design vision translates seamlessly to video.
I’ve gotten a lot of valuable experience behind the motion picture lens from my time on these types of projects. This has in turn given me a great perspective on how to use my DLSR’s video mode. And now, with everything digitally integrated between a myriad of programs, there’s not much you can’t do with the video you take with your DSLR.
Over the holidays we worked on a little project that called for some video, lighting, visual effects and compositing. I love these types of jobs because they are a great way to extend your artistic vision into several mediums. Below are a couple of stills showing the before and after of the raw footage and final, composited video.
Here is a small, 3 second clip.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Wedding and Protrait Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio region.
Early in November I had the opportunity to photograph a wedding for an absolutely wonderful couple; Jim & Leslie. We met Leslie through a previous job, The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, where she works in the fundraising department. When we first met to discuss if we would be a good fit for her wedding, (We met in mid summer, several months before her wedding date), she expressed how important it was that the wedding photos shouldn’t staged – she wanted a very sweet, intimate, editorial look to her photos — it just so happens that shooting in an editorial fashion is one of my favorite styles for weddings
When someone says, “Editorial”, it can mean several different things. For the most part, editorial means any photo that happens naturally in the moment without the photographer staging or intervening in the photo in anyway. When I am shooting a wedding I’d suspect that nearly 95% of of my photos are shot in an editorial manner. The last 5% are things like formals where the photographer needs to work hand in hand with the bridal party and family in order to get all of the expected photos.
Before any wedding it’s not uncommon for the bride and groom to prepare in different areas or even completely different venues. For Jim and Leslie’s wedding this meant I would be at 3 different places throughout the day. It started in the early afternoon with the groom and the groomsmen getting ready at the Hilton. The day was overcast, and the room was lit naturally with a large window on one side of the room. The room itself was painted a soft beige on every wall, including the ceiling. These types of situations are always tricky when trying to find your white balance. The best bet would be to set your camera to tungsten – this will help immensely since the colors of the walls will even influence the color of your flash into a warm tone.
The second location I visited was where the bride and her bride’s maids were getting ready, The Bertram Inn at Glenmoor estates in Canton. This location is gorgeous. The Inn itself has a wonderful style to it, a very late 1800’s industrial-age-elegance. The room the bride was preparing herself in was a large suite, soft blue-ish green walls, a large white ceiling and several windows letting copious amounts of natural light in. This was the perfect room for pre-wedding/getting ready photos.
For the formals, my first choice was to use the attached Chapel, and while we were promised by the staff that it would be available to us for photos, we were disappointed to find out that it had been filled with empty tables and broken glass – and since it’s not kosher to have your bride walking through broken chandelier bulbs, I had to move quick and find a second location for formal photos. Luckily the front of the Inn turned out to be a perfect replacement location. We got lucky and the sun started to peek out of the clouds in the distance, which added warmth, and there was still enough cloud cover that the light remained even over the subjects. In total this provided beautiful, natural light conditions.
Once formals were done, we headed to the wedding venue; La Pizzaria, a beautiful, upscale eatery here in Canton. While the outside of the venue is fairly nondescript the inside, however, is a beautiful, open space with wooden walls and a concave ceiling, painted and lit to look like a spring sky. Wooden walls usually mean you’re in for a lighting nightmare. Trying to bounce light off of shiny, dark materials can prove near impossible. However, I knew I could use a tall light stand and hoist one of my studio strobes into the channeled ceiling and still get good light coverage where I needed it without having to worry too much about color balance issues.
The wedding itself was an exquisite affair with both the wedding party and guests filling the room with excitement and smiles. It’s always fun for me when I get to live and document a day in the life of wonderful people and this wedding was just such an experience – something I’ll cherish and remember forever.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton and Northeast Ohio region.
All my friends know that Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love the colors, the cooler weather and most importantly — Halloween! So, for this little info-tutorial-lesson I decided to merge both of these beloved concepts.
The defining element of Autumn is the range of colors the season brings. Lush green forests and lawns are replaced by seas of yellow, orange and red when trees begin to drop their leaves as they go dormant for the upcoming winter months.
As photographers with a lot of tools at our disposal, we sometimes spend too much time trying to change the scene so the camera matches what’s in our mind’s eye. When that fails we spend more time changing the scene even more; lighting, gobos, set dressing, camera angles and probably a lot more lighting on top of that. Creating a scene is at the core of what we’re trying to do as commercial photographers – we are trying to make a visual story here, after all. However, one fundamental rule that we often lose sight of early in the process is the practice of trying to get our environment to work with us. What often happens, unfortunately, is we end up nullifying it completely with a bunch of gadgets.
The Fall season is a perfect time for portraits and outdoor photography. The sun sets early, giving us great light and the colors are vibrant. Because of this, when you’re approaching a Fall portrait you are probably thinking of how you can maximum your environment to help create a gorgeous photo, constructed to take advantage of the natural landscape around you. You could probably go with just your camera at sunset and capture a stunning photo, and that would play right into the concept of not-overdoing it with too much equipment. But I think with some very smart choices in gear, mainly 1 flash, one color filter and one corrective flash gel, you can dial the autumnal ambiance up to 11.
First, let’s talk about the colored lens filter. Because Fall is filled with reds, oranges and yellows, I like to use magenta filters. Magenta filters at sunset in the middle of Autumn are a magical device. They shift everything in a deeper shade of red. A warm sunset will explode into an almost fantasy-painting skyline. Cooler, green fields of grass will take on a warmer tone, and the leaves that have either fallen or have started to turn on the trees will become even more vivid.
I recommend the Tiffen 77mm 30 Filter (Magenta). It’s nothing fancy, and at $60 it’s cheap enough to fit in your camera bag without breaking the bank. I’ve used it for a while now and it does the job it’s intended to flawlessly.
The next piece of gear is a color corrective gel that you’ll place over your flash. For this, we’re using a green corrective gel. Most gel sets you buy have a corrective gel for any lighting situation, and for our purposes the green gels normally used for florescent color correction should work well. If your gel kit has more than one shade of corrective green, you may have to test each one out to find which yields the best result.
The last piece of gear is a flash – any flash will do, speedlite or studio will work. Here we using an older canon 430ex II.
The set up for all of this is pretty simple: Place your filter on your camera, the gel on your light, position and frame your subject and start taking photos. The only trick here is that you’re trying to light the subject solely with your flash, and not so much with ambient light. The flash, with it’s corrective gel cancels out the magenta lens filter. The end result is your background will be bathed in a vivid magenta color while your subject should retain their natural skin tones.
Here to the right, as an example (and to fulfill my promise of merging a Halloween theme into this post) is Tim the Zombie. We’re using the set up described above, making sure the light from the flash covers the main focus of our Zombie model. The background, out of reach from the flash’s output, is saturated in a glorious shade of magenta – bringing the colors of the fall landscape to life. My settings for this photo: 1/60 shutter speed, 200 ISO @ f/7.1. These settings allowed me to underexpose the background by 1 stop, thus deepening the effect of the magenta filter even more. The flash has +.6 flash compensation dialed in to expose correctly for our zombie.
To give you a better idea of the interaction between ambient light, gelled flash and filtered lens, here is a series of photos illustrating the effect each element has on your photo.
Here is our Zombie without lights, gels or filters. This is pure natural lighting. Notice the colors of the background. You can tell it’s Fall and the richness of the leaves is evident.
When we put all of these elements together we achieve a much more striking photo – combining great color on both the foreground subject as well as increasing the drama in the background. One great side effect of this technique is that the subject of your photo really lifts away from the background, giving them a strong visual POP from the rest of the photo.
One question that may come up while reading this would be, “Can’t I just do this effect in post?” The obvious answer is yes. But considering that it took me less than 20 seconds to screw a magenta filter onto the lens and even less time to fit a gel onto a speedlite it’s pretty clear that approaching this photo in a more analog fashion will both save you time and give you an authentic result. And remember, this is coming from a guy who lives half of his life in post production.
And don’t forget that you can different results by combining different combinations of filters and gels. For example, a magenta gel with a green filter will push your photos into a realm of deep green – something to consider when shooting in a lush forest setting. A blue filter in tandem with an orange gel will turn your ocean portraits an even deeper shade of blue. So just get out there and play around!