benjamin lehman

Jarrod & Ben

Cheap Gear: Light Modifiers from Neewer.

More great, cheap gear

Today’s cheap gear update is on two light modifiers from a company called Neewer. Neweer is a company similar to CowBoy Studios in that they make cheap, knock-off photography equipment. Because it’s cheap, not everything you buy from them is going to be worth it in the long run, but there are some gems hiding in their catalog that are worth picking up.

The first is a strip box with grid: NEEWER® Softbox with Grid Mount 35X160 cm / 13.8″ X 63″ Beehive for Flash, Speedlight (NOTE: The photo on the amazon page is very deceptive – It’s not a wide softbox, as depicted in the image, but rather a very long and narrow strip box.)

I bought this strip light so I could have a light weight solution for when I am using my speedlites. Again, you never know what you’re going to get for about $40 but I figured it was worth the gamble. As it turns out, it was. Actually, I have been pleasantly surprised by the build quality of this strip light. It’s built just about as solid as my much more expensive studio soft boxes and has a couple cool extra features that I wasn’t expecting. First, it has a secondary, interior light diffuser. Most cheap softboxes do NOT have an interior diffuser. Secondly, it has two little port holes that Velcro shut on either side of the strip light so you can reach in and apply things like gels to your light quickly without having to disassemble half of your rigging.

The only tricky part is that you’ll need to buy a special bowens mount to get this thing to work with your speedlite. I bought the Neewer S-Type Bracket Holder with Bowens Mount for Speedlites. Again, I wasn’t expecting much, but in all honesty, this is a pretty bad ass mount. It has one feature that I think is really cool – the speedlite clamps into the mount, rather than cold shoeing in. That may sound silly, but trust me, it’s awesome. Because you clamp the head of your speedlite in, that means the base of your speedlite is free to rotate around and face any direction. If you use optical TTL like I do, then you’ll immediately recognize the benefit of being about to twist your speedlite’s sensor around to face you. For the record, I ordered 2 of these.

The last item is another softbox, the NEEWER® Softbox with Grid Bowens Mount 70X100 cm / 27.5″ X 39.4″ with grid. When I do two light setups (which I love doing) I like to have a striplight for dramatic lighting and a larger, equirectangular softbox for more traditional light coverage. Either one of these lights can play the part of either key or fill light, it’s just up to you to figure out what’s needed for your shot. At $40 for this softbox, there’s no reason to pass it up.

All told, if you buy these two soft boxes and two mounts, you’re looking at a total of $120 and that’s dirt cheap. Especially when you consider how good these products are for the price you’re paying – You’re photog friends with poor budgeting skills will have paid several hundreds, if not a thousand dollars, for similar set ups.

 

 

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.

Benjamin Lehman Takes Daily Top Honors on Flickr

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.

Polar Bear Jump in Akron, Ohio. Photography in a Blizzard.

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.

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!

 

Weather or Not

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.

The scene at the Cuyahoga River on a snowy day. Because of the low light conditions, the entire scene took on a blue hue - meaning we wouldn't have to mess with color balance to give the final image an over all cool feeling.

The scene at the Cuyahoga River on a snowy day. Because of the low light conditions, the entire scene took on a blue hue – meaning we wouldn’t have to mess with color balance to give the final image an over all cool feeling.

My wife and assistant, steps in front of the camera as we set up the flashes so we can test the quality of light. Notice how the bluish hue of the background helps her 'pop' out of the background. Cool background colors vibrate well with warm skin tones.

My wife and assistant, steps in front of the camera as we set up the flashes so we can test the quality of light. Notice how the bluish hue of the background helps her ‘pop’ out of the background. Cool background colors vibrate well with warm skin tones.

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

 

Mixing Lighting Sources and using 2nd (Rear) Curtain Sync Flash

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™.

Head Turn 2nd/Rear Curtain

2nd/Rear Curtain will give your photos dreamy, ghostly motion.

 

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.

Motion blur achieved through mixed lighting.

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

Becoming the Director – Turning your DSLR into a video/movie/film camera.

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.