advice

Self Portrait with the Paul C. Buff Octabox

Self Portrait with the Paul C. Buff Octabox

A photographer’s cheapest model is, as they say, themselves. So I put my cheap model to work utilizing the new octabox I got from Paul C. Buff (detailed here).

List of gear:

  • 5d Mark II
  • Einstein Flash Head 
  • Octabox
  • C-Stand
  • Low-rent model (me)

Below are images of the final result of the shoot, as well as a diagram of the set up.

You can do some pretty awesome photos with just 1 light and a nice modifier!

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer who works in San Francisco, Canton, Cleveland and North East Ohio. 

Must Have New Photography Gear: Umbrellas, Octaboxes and Simple Reflectors

Must Have New Photography Gear: Umbrellas, Octaboxes and Simple Reflectors

I’ll admit it, I am a gear hound. It’s down right thrilling when the UPS guy rolls up with a box full of goodies. But perhaps even more exciting for me is the experimentation phase that ultimately comes when a new piece of equipment is dropped on my doorstep. Cameras, lights, modifiers, stands, doodads, and widgets – every new tool in your digital photography arsenal allows you to explore and expand your style, and finding out exactly how you’ll utilize these new apparatus is 90% of the fun (the other 10% obviously the joy of just opening the boxes and squealing with glee.)

Today’s New Gear: Digital Photography Light Modifiers

If you’ve read my blog in the past, then you know I am huge fan of Paul C. Buff and the gear he has engineered. His Einstein light and Cyber Commander wireless sync trigger play key roles in pretty much every commercial photo I take. But I also have a lot of other pieces from his catalog of products, and Paul C. Buff light modifiers comprise a large bulk of my inventory.

White PLM™ Umbrellas

My first product on this list is the 51″ White PLM Umbrella from PCB. I am a strong believer that you can do amazing photos with very little gear. One light, one reflector, one modifier, one camera; that’s a basic recipe for success, and if you don’t believe just look at what Annie Leibovitz has done with just such a setup.

What more gear does allow you, though, is more flexibility and control over your vision. My current stock of umbrellas is rather anemic. I have one 24 inch shoot-through white umbrella and one massive 7 foot reflective umbrella, that’s it.  My 7 foot umbrella is a work horse and goes with me everywhere, but honestly, it’s just overkill a lot of the time. It’s also hard to work with in tight spaces. Because of this I decided to buy the 51 inch shoot through from PCB and, at $30, it’s sort of a steal. 

 

Medium Foldable Octabox

Octaboxes are magic. They do all of the great things a traditional, rectangular softbox can do, only better. How so? At equivalent sizes, they give off a slightly wider spread of light. They also create amazing catch-lights in the eyes of your subjects. 

They also come with two drawbacks. First, they are usually more expensive than a same-sized softbox. Secondly, they are a pain in the ass to set up. A tension-rod based octabox can drive any normal person to the cliffs of insanity. That is, unless, you spend a little more money and get a foldable octabox! And that’s just what I did. I already had an octabox in the same size range, but the time and effort needed to get it ready meant it spent a few opportune moments in it’s bag rather than on the end of a light stand – that’s a bad thing. Now I am looking forward to using this new foldable version in situations where I may have defaulted to a regular softbox out of the necessity of time and sanity. 

 

7 inch Standard Reflector

Just as the name indicates, this is a pretty standard piece of light modifying gear. Just how standard? Well, one of these reflectors come with every Alien Bees flash head you buy, so it’s pretty ubiquitous with Paul C. Buff gear. However, my Einstein did not come with one. So, where I have one of these for each of my Alien Bees, my Einstein sits awkwardly bare of a reflector and, when it comes to basic light control, nothing quite does the job of blasting light in a particular direction better than a 7-inch reflector!

It’s pretty obvious from my work that how I work with light is more important than which camera I am using. The camera itself is just a tool to capture the information that’s put in front of it. It’s the job of your light, and the tools that shape and modify it, to make that information something that’s intriguing to the person looking at it.

Benjamin Lehman is a professional, commercial photographer who works in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Canton, Cleveland and North East Ohio. 

How-To Photography: Anatomy of an Environmental Portrait – Warrior Beat

How-To Photography: Anatomy of an Environmental Portrait – Warrior Beat

Environmental Portraiture

Also known as, “A face in a place”, is by far my favorite type of picture I am asked to take. The reasons are varied; I like dealing with interesting people, I enjoy traveling to new and different locations, and most importantly I like the opportunity to tell a story with my photos. 

As photographers, we usually go into a new project with a mental check-list, or to-do list, of what we want to accomplish. With environmental portraiture, the most important ‘to-do’ is the part regarding the story telling aspect of the photo I am about to take. The idea here is simple: Take a photo that tells the viewer something important about the subject. Nat Geo photographers are gods at doing this. Annie Leibovitz, someone I deeply admire, is another artist who just knocks her photos out of the story-telling-park every time. 

I used to think the story telling aspect would be hard part of the process, and it can be in some very special circumstances. However, with just a little practical self-control (i.e., just keepin’ it simple) you can turn the story telling phase into something that can happen quickly, easily, and enjoyably.

For my example here, I am going to use the guys over at Warrior Beat as my example. Warrior Beat is a non-profit organization that provides professionally facilitated drum circles to US Military Veterans who are suffering from either mental or physical disabilities. They do a lot of great work and are one of the few for-veteran organizations who use art in healing. (Disclaimer: I not only help and work with the boys and girls at Warrior Beat, but I also designed their logo and act as a co-founder.)

Most of the members of Warrior Beat are veterans themselves, having served over seas, fought in battles, and returned home with scars of their own. They are also an organization who’s public profile is rocketing faster than they expected due to the good, and unique, work that they do. 

When the time came that they needed some updated member photos, the challenge was set; how do we take portraits that will give viewers, (who may also be potential donors to their charity), an at-a-glance idea of who they are and what their message is?

The first step in environmental portraiture is the story.

Ok, so putting that to use here’s what we know about Warrior Beat’s story:

  • US military veteran based service
  • Many Warrior Beat members also have a military background
  • They use drums in a therapeutic setting

With these three simple, but important facts we can start to paint a picture for our photos. We want our story to hit as many of these bullet-points as possible. 

Next Step: Location

The next most important part of an environmental portrait? The environment, of course! So, what better place than a military museum? The MAPS Air Museum to be precise. 

A quick note on securing locations

A lot of locations will be happy to donate their time to worthy causes. A military-based museum will more than likely donate their space to you for photos when your subjects are also military vets. This applies to a lot of locations and situations. To repay the favor, offer to send them copies of the photos for use in their own social media, or print publication usage. Be sure to give them a social media thanks (with a link!). Those types of gestures go a long way into building a rapport with groups who may seek out your services later once they see how awesome your photos are!

We walked around the museum for about 20 minutes, trying to find a good location, and quickly realized our best bet was a Cobra helicopter sitting in front of a 2 story US flag. The Cobra helicopter was used in multiple branches of US military services, and the flag itself was just too good to pass up. It totally reads as military, as patriotic, as veteran; right off the bat we can check off two items on our story telling list.

The last item on our check list, tying our subjects in with their facilitated  drumming service to veterans, would be as simple as just having the Warrior Beat CEO hold up a drum for his portrait. 

Photography Gear and Setup

For my gear I used the following:

The good news was, I didn’t have to light the ginormous flag. There was a bank of windows behind it that would take care of that issue for me. But, what that does mean is that, I now have to light my subjects to work with what’s coming through the windows. 

Luckily, with just 3 flashes and some basic know-how on lighting ratios, I was able to dial it in. Specifically, I used the Einstein and beauty dish as my main light for my subjects. I was shooting slight up at my subjects to give them a little more gravitas and presence within the photo frame. This meant I was able to bring the light down a little more than usual to help keep shadows to a minimum. I didn’t want to remove all the shadows, however, since I felt a little sharpness in the photos would help translate the perception that these guys have seen some sh*t, which they have, and have been changed by it, which they also have.

The second light, an alien bees b800, inside of a 4 foot strip light, acted both as a slight fill light as well as kicker light for the helicopter. I needed to brighten up the details of the Cobra, so I just turned the light little by little until I was able to get just the right ratio of light spilling between the copter and my subject.

The last light was a small Vivitar 285HV on the ground near me that just barely threw a little extra oomph at my subjects. Again, I wasn’t trying to eradicate the shadow, but I did want to fill in a little detail in the darker spots, like under their chins, to help define their faces a little better. 

I used my 70-200mm lens so I could compress the distances between subject and background. The idea here is to give my subject a greater sense of scale so he can compete better between the larger helicopter and flag in the background. 

Once the lighting is all dialed, (remember, we’re exposing for the natural light that’s coming in and hitting the flag), it’s time to take some photos and, hopefully, capture a story!

In conclusion

Crafting a story doesn’t have to be the hard part of environmental portraiture. Instead, use some very basic ques from your subject to help guide the narrative. Sometimes you need to go over board and spend a good deal of man-hours and money to handcraft the perfect story telling photo, but other times you can rely on more modest techniques to conquer the same problem.

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer who works in the San Francisco, California, Canton, and North East Ohio areas. 

 

Me, on the floor. Here you can see how I’ve set up my lights, and my subject, in relation to the background. 

The final frame of our story telling, environmental portraiture. 

Old Favorites and Cheap Gear

Image from Canon's website

The f/4.0 has never done me wrong.
Image from Canon’s website

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am a die-hard fan of the Canon 70-200mm f/4.0. Why? Well, it’s image quality is superb and it’s dirt cheap by comparison. As for the f/4.0’s speed, it’s not that big of a deal if you’re shooting in the studio or using lights of any sort. Sure, it’s not the best action lens out there, an f/2.8 would be better suited for that, but even that’s debatable. If you look up “action shot” on flickr, you’ll quickly notice that almost none of the best photos are taken anywhere near f/2.8 – they are often in the realm f/8 and above. So, again, why spend more for an f/2.8 when you can probably do 99.5% of the photos you want to take at f/4?

Well the time has come for me to try something new. No, I am not going to relinquish my love for the f/4 and trade-up to the 2.8, but I did have an opportunity come in that will allow me to try a 70-200mm f/2.8 from LensRentals for a week. More specifically, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM.

That’s a lot of abbreviations in that product name, but there is one in particular I am really interested in. The “OS”, which stands for Optical Stabilization. The reason for all this is because I’ll be spending a lot of time zoomed all the way out to 200mm and I’ll be hand holding the camera the whole time. I don’t plan to be shooting much at f/2.8, but since I’ll have the chance to do so, you can bet that I’ll do some comparison shots between the Sigma at 2.8 and my trusty Canon at 4.0. Be on the look out for that review!

Secondly, I promised a month or so ago to share some information about being a professional photographer with cheap gear. I’ve always argued that your camera will be the most expensive piece of gear that you’ll own, but does the rest of your gear need to be expensive too?

Well, here is a look at some purchases I’ve made over the past few months and a quick grade on their quality.

Product
(Name of Product)
BlackRapid RSD-1BB Double
Aputure Trigmaster Plus II
Neewer S-Type Flash Bracket
Leaper Multi-functional Canvas Camera Backpack
CowboyStudio Umbrella Mount Bracket with Swivel/Tilt Bracket
ePhoto H6704 Triple Hotshoe Mount
Fotodiox 5 Feetx7 Feet Collapsible Soft Diffuser
XCSource Complete Square Filter Kit
Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens
Price
(How Much it Costs)
$139
$60
$20
$60
$14
$29
$58
$24
$150
Grade
(Is it good?)
A+
A
B-
A-
A
B-
A+
B+
C+

And, uh, just disregard those buttons here at the bottom of the table – I am using a free table plug in and apparently, it has buttons.

The grades are based on one simple principle; Does the product work as I’d expect it to? As you can see, most of these ‘cheap’ alternatives are scoring a B or above, with a couple A+ grades in there. The one exception is the Tamron AF 70-300mm which I bought to use for some experimental photographs. For $150 bux, you get exactly what you’d expect. It’s a good lens for starters, and works pretty well in a very tight studio environment, but other than that it’s not a lens that should be anywhere on your Must Buy list.

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Photographer Gear – Expensive versus Cheap, Good versus Bad

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!