benjamin lehman

Wedding Photography – Leslie and Jim at La Pizzaria in Canton, Ohio

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.

Using colored lens filters and light gels to enhance your photos. Fall/Halloween portraits!

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.

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A magenta filter can help add vibrancy to a fall landscape, or make your blood stained shirt look even more amazing!

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.

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Tim the Zombie

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.

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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.
0X5A0255This is the result of adding a flash with a green corrective gel. The background color remains the same, but our zombie takes on a greenish color
0X5A0252We remove the green gel from the light and in its place we add the magenta filter to our lens. When we take the picture we can see the background suddenly comes to life with very saturated colors – thus becoming more dramatic. Our zombie, however, looks like a mess.

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.

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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!

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

Recent Portrait Work – Benjamin Lehman, Photographer. Canton, Ohio

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some fantastic people over the last month. Here’s a quick peek at some of the faces I’ve captured in the last 30 days!

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

Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement 2014 Photographer

I was tickled when the Hall of Fame asked me back this year to cover the events of their 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement. Enshrinement week covers a lot of activities and from start-to-finish, but the total event last nearly a month. It starts with several smaller festivals in the Canton, Ohio area – fairs, hot air balloon lifts, food-festivals and fireworks all happen throughout the month. The last week covers the events directly related to the Enshrinements. Those events are dinners, activities for families and visors to the HoF, ceremonies, and the Hall of Fame game that kicks off the year’s preseason. My task was to cover the events that happened inside of the Hall of Fame and the VIP parties. It’s a wonderful job with thousands of opportunities for photographs; portraits of football stars, photos people having fun, and landscapes of beautiful events.

Below are a handful of photos taken from this year’s event.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Event, Portrait, Wedding, and Advertising photographer in the Northeast Ohio Area.

US FMX Championship Series

Shooting action shots, at night, with available light used to send photographers to the highest ledges – talking them down could be a tricky proposition. We all know that low-light and action photography don’t really go hand-in-hand.

Modern digital cameras have opened up the field for low-light shooting, but a lot of photographers are reticent to push their ISOs above 800, let alone 1600. The noise you have to deal with once you reach ISOs of 1600+ can make you feel like the picture won’t be worth it in the end. Labeling a noisy picture as worthless, I think, is a misnomer. Noisy pictures (we’re talking ISO noise here) are as good as any other picture you could possibly take given the circumstances of available light and the speed of the action in front of you. There’s never a reason not to resort to turnin’ the dial up into the thousands if that’s the only way you’re going to get the picture you need to take. Along with camera sensor improvements, there are wonderful new software tools that can reduce noise and turn a grainy picture silky smooth – ready for print.

Not to mention a little ‘grunge’ in your photo is a bit en vogue at the moment. Think of how many photos you’ve probably taken at 50 or 100 ISO that you later processed with a little film grain to boost its mood? A little noise is a good thing, and when it’s your only option, embrace it.

Below are a few photos I took at a stunt bike show. It was so dark out that the riders had to move some lights around so they could see their own ramp. Regardless of the low-light conditions I was still able to snag some moody and sharp images by balancing my shutter and ISO, (aperture was wide open, obviously). What about the noise? Well, you should be able to tell in the photos below that it wasn’t much of an issue.

One trick to remember is that ISO noise lives in the mid-tones and shadows. If you overexpose by a stop or 2 you’ll actually reduce overall noise, even if it means you’re actually dialing up the ISO a few more notches to achieve over exposure.

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

Location Scouting – Magical Photography in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

 

I’m always looking for beautiful, ethereal places to take wedding, engagement or fashion photographs.

While I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio for nearly 5 years, I am still amazed by how little of the area I’ve explored. Because I am a rather restless person, this is works out in my favor — I love exploring new places for possible photographic locations.

My most recent scouting excursion was to an area within Cuyahoga Valley National Park known as the Virginia Kendall Ledges. Formed millions of years ago when much of Ohio was a great inland sea, the ledges were most likely the walls of a large island formation. What’s left now are beautiful ledge and cliff faces made up of a sandy, rocky material known as “Sharon Conglomerate.” What was once a scene of fast moving rivers is now a serene and tranquil forest with a thick canopy and graceful hiking trails.

I arrived a few hours before sunset, when the sun was starting to get low in the sky. The result was a forest floor with a gorgeous level of ambient light and equally wonderful spots of deep red, dappled sunlight peaking through the tops of the trees. I can’t overstate just how red that sun light really was — the areas where the sun’s rays hit the ground were lit up with a laser-pointer red that was so unnaturally vibrant it took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t something else just laying on the ground and was, in fact, the sun’s setting hues.

It didn’t take much imagination to realize this would be the perfect backdrop for gorgeous, empyrean photos. A wedding, engagement, or any other type of portrait session here would instantly take on a ghostly, magical quality. The surrounding area has no end of possible backdrops. There are small patches of open ground looking up at the cliffs, areas on the cliffs that look over the forest, and still more areas with stone stairways carved out of the rock face itself. Everywhere you looked there was a photograph waiting to happen.

I look forward to suggesting this area to my clients in the future, and I know when they see it, they will be overcome with how exquisite the location is.

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

How to Photograph a Live Band in No Light Conditions

Some conditions are better than others when it comes to photography. In mid-day sun, open shade is your friend. In your studio, or a portrait situation, you have all of your lighting gear at your disposal for crafting a gorgeous photo. Night time land scape photography offers you the ability to take long exposure, giving your sensor all the time needed to soak in what available light there is. However, there are times where you’ll be presented with a situation where all of the fail-safes have been removed. Every crutch has been kicked out from under you and you’re left on the floor wondering, “How do I get back up and take an actual photo that’s worth the effort?”

70-200mm lens, 600ex-rt flash on camera, and a 430exII inside a flashbender would be my equipment for the night.

70-200mm lens, 600ex-rt flash on camera, and a 430exII inside a flashbender would be my equipment for the night.

That was my issue yesterday when I was asked to shoot a live band performance for some friends. It’s a venue that I’ve shot at before, and I remembered it really wasn’t a great place for photos. First off, it’s cluttered and the stage is small. There’s no place to swing your lens where you won’t catch some sort of unflattering background element bleeding into your pictures. That told me right away that I would be shooting tight. No fisheye, or 24-70mm here. I would be shooting long all night, 70-200mm and I would be focusing on individual performances to tell the story.

Next, because I knew the light was limited (read: non-existent) I would have to bring some of my own lighting solutions to help me out if I wanted to shoot anything other than frames of pitch black. The venue, while not too small, is usually packed to rafters, or drop ceiling as the case may be, so I also had to pack mobile and take equipment that wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. I choose an on camera speedlite (600ex) and a second flash on a small stand (430exII) with a Rogue Flashbender modifier.

I’d use the on camera flash as a bounce light. I could take just the one speedlite and point it directly at the subjects but we all know what that looks like – mugshots. Add to that the fact that people sweat on stage and they would look like mugshots taken after a high speed chase – not a good choice, so bounce flash it is. I’d use the flash on the stand in many different ways; I’d use it as a fill, a kicker, back light, rim light – pretty much anyway I could to squeeze out a good looking photo.

When I arrived to the venue any small hopes that I had left for the shoot were quickly thrown out of the window. The stage light, which I were told were, “Totally awesome, man.”, were turned in such a way that they only lit the audience. THE AUDIENCE! I don’t know who made that decision but it wasn’t me. There’s was nothing I could do about it either. The lights were so bulky, their foot print so huge, that moving them was completely unrealistic.

So, now I literally have no light pointed at the stage, my speedlites were going to be doing all the work. This also forced me to make an important decision about the artistic direction of the shoot. My first thought was I could slip out the back without anyone noticing me and just go home where I could make up a story about a falcon stealing my gear earlier in the day, but these guys were my friend and they were relying on me to take some photos. Also, the story was pretty lame and I am sure almost no one would believe me. So I soldiered on and came up with a realistic solution.

The effects of shutter drag, on the left side of the picture, where the ambient light let's the motion draw through the photo.

The effects of shutter drag, on the left side of the picture, where the ambient light let’s the motion draw through the photo.

My final plan was to portray motion. I’d use my speedlites to stop the action, but then I would drag the shutter (slang for using a slow shutter speed) to let the action trail through the frame. One great side effect of a packed house means that people would be using cell phones to shoot their own videos. And since it was so dark, all of those cell phones would most likely have their little LED lights blazing, and that’s exactly what happened. Those little LEDs gave me just enough ambient light to let me use the slower shutter speeds and actually capture some movement. You can see in the photo here just how this works. The on-camera flash (zoomed to 200mm and pointed straight up at the ceiling) freezes the action on the right side of the photograph, while the ambient-only lit left side of the photo makes motion trails as the musician plays. The final effect is pretty cool and gives the viewer the sense of what the subject is doing in the frame. Here, with D.J. Kob, we can see that his arms are all over the place during his performance. Note the thin orange outline of light around his face and arms – that’s my other speedlite on a stand with a full cut CTO gel positioned right behind him to help him pop out of an otherwise black background.

The last hurdle was focusing. We’ve all come so reliant on auto-focus that it can really throw you off your game when no-light conditions render it useless. There are some tricks you can use to manually focus. First tip is simple – shoot a lot more frames. Without auto focus your chance of getting a razor sharp picture drops through the floor, so shoot a lot and hope for the best. The next tip is to look for small reflections on your subject that you can manually focus off of. Glints in eyes, sweat on foreheads, jewelry. Anything that catches light is your friend. Just focus on those objects, turn the focus ring until you can see that they are sharp and start shooting. It’s all you can do. If done right, you’ll have a set of compelling, artistic photographs that tell a story and convey motion.

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

Jackson Belden Foodfest, Hot Air Balloon Liftoff, and Hall of Fame Fireworks – Benjamin Lehman Photography

 

Edit: 7/23/2014 – More Awards added for my Balloon Liftoff Photograph!

When I moved from San Francisco to Canton the challenge was made to find things, people and events to put in front of my lens. San Francisco is a feast for your camera. In most areas of the city, every direction holds a great picture waiting to be captured. Canton, and Northeast Ohio is a different type of beast. There are pictures to be found here too, you just have to seek them out, rather than having them come to you. San Fran taught me to love photography, but North East Ohio has taught me how to be a better photographer.

Smiing faces abound at the Jackson-Belden, Hall of Fame festivities.

Smiing faces abound at the Jackson-Belden, Hall of Fame festivities.

One of these photographic searches lead me to the Foodfest, Balloon Lift Off, and Hall of Fame fireworks that’s held every year at Kent State University’s Stark county campus. It’s the perfect event for photographers. It has a slight carnival feeling to it. Food vendors line the streets and field. People from all walks of life mill around the attractions. There are VIP venues that hold smiling faces and wonderfully prepared food. As evening starts to creep in, one of the large fields there becomes home to hundreds of trucks hauling their cargo — hot air balloons.

The Balloon Lift Off is the highlight of the weekend’s festivities with balloons from all over the nation converging to celebrate the kick off of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s larger enshrinement celebrations. In the 5 years I’ve lived here I’ve never caught an actual lift off – the weather has always been to windy or wet for safe balloon flying. With the weather this year being a little windy and very cloudy I feared I’d have to wait another year for a chance to actually see these things soar. So I was rather caught off guard, left scrambling back to the car for my tripod, when I noticed a balloon lofting over a hill – ack! Time to move!

Flickr's Explore/Picture of the Day

Flickr’s Explore/Picture of the Day

I got my tripod and raced back to the field, where to my relief, most of the balloons were just now being unfurled. Thanks to that one balloon’s early liftoff I knew which direction they would be traveling, so I set my camera up and just waited for the moment when the sky would start to fill with airships. The moment came near the end when many of the balloons had already drifted off into the distance. I framed my shoot and hit the shutter. BAM! I was so happy with the result, and apparently others were as well. Earlier today I noticed my inbox was filling up with new friend requests from Flickr. On closer examination my photo had been selected as the explore/photo of the day honors, wow! The comments left for me were both flattering and humbling and stood as a wonderful cap to an exciting and delightful night.

The celebrations end the next evening when the Hall of Fame hosts a fireworks show on the same field that held the balloons. It’s always a wonderful way to cap off the weekend and it’s something that I’ll always look forward to shooting in the years to come. It’s one of those times where searching for a photo can lead to a new, unique experience that will leave you smiling, and a better photographer.

On the field as the balloons take to the sky

On the field as the balloons take to the sky

A more traditional fireworks photo (right) and a trick of focus fireworks shot (left)

A more traditional fireworks photo (right) and a trick of focus fireworks shot (left)

Pixoto adds a Photography award to the list

Pixoto #1 of the Day

Pixoto #1 of the Day

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

Can Lightroom Compete with HDR?

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

Note: This is a subjective article about photography, adobe lightroom and hdr . Take whatever I say as you wish.

I use Lightroom all of the time, as I suspect many of you do as well. It’s a great tool which has gotten better and better with each iteration. Lightroom 5, with it improved Shadows and Highlight sliders can really make the difference in a photo where, for whatever reason, the exposure got out of control. A master craftsman like Joe McNally would probably just tell you to take a better picture to begin with, but when I am running and gunning it’s not always an option for me to spend 30 minutes to an entire day making sure every zone of a photograph is properly exposed.

One of the bonuses of Lightroom’s Shadow, Highlight and Clarity slider is that you can start to get into the realm of HDR photography with just a single photo. Traditional HDR requires at least two bracketed photos. I’d say 3 would be the average, but I know some people who claim to use as many 11, to achieve better overall zone exposure in their photographs. I guess if they need 11, that’s fine. HDR programs like Photomatix makes merging multiple files into an HDR file fairly easy and straightforward. Even Photoshop has a Merge to HDR function, although I find it’s results to be less than optimal.

Only a few years ago, Photomatix was practically the only game in town; there were and are still other options, but Photomatix seems to be the most widely used. So, when I would take a series of photos for HDR purposes that’s the program I used. Then one day, while playing around with my merged file in Photomatix, I decided, eh, maybe this photo wasn’t a good candidate for HDR after all. So I went back into Lightroom, grabbed my 0.0 exposed photo out of the batch and started to play with it there. What I found was that I was readily able to create an HDR-ish image that kept in line with what I was originally looking for. Then I thought, what if went back into my library and found other images that I had originally merged into HDR? Could I use a single photo out of a series to create a photo that closely matched the file that Photomatix had output? The answer was, yes… sort of.

First off, I was impressed that I could use Lightroom 5’s sliders to change the global tonality as much as I could. And while it never recovered the shadows or highlights as drastically as a true HDR process could, it came close enough and the results were actually more to my liking.

HDR’s main function is to compress the over all exposure in such a way that the tonal quality of the image is pretty much the same across the entire image. The result is a dramatic, if not sometimes flat, image that reveals all types of details from highlights and shadows. The problem with that is the story and the mood of a location are often rooted in those highlights and shadows. It’s great to bring more depth into your photos, but too much is, well, too much and we’ve all seen what too much looks like. Do a Google image search for HDR and you’ll be blitzed with clown vomit colors and images so normalized that they almost hurt to look at it. A great HDR artist, (see my friend Neil Kremer’s stream here on Flickr), puts a lot more work into his HDR images rather than pressing a button in Photomatix and posting the result. He spends a lot of time in Photoshop dodging, burning and blending to make sure his images are both real and surreal. And, honestly, if you’re going to do HDR you should be doing it Neil’s way.

But I think there’s a great middle ground hiding within Lightroom that let’s you bring out these extra details without losing drama — all with a single, well exposed image. The image above is an example of a 3 bracketed photo. merged and output from Photomatix, and then a single photo (the 0.0 exposed photo from the batch) processed in Lightroom. There are differences, no doubt, and some people may still prefer the look of the Photomatix image over its Lightroom cousin, but you can see that there’s a great possibility there in Lightroom to create some dynamically ranged photos that still retain character.

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

My New 600ex-rt Speedlite – Benjamin Lehman Commercial Photography

I‘ve always been a studio strobe kind of guy. My feeling was that studio strobes offered me more flexibility. It gave me more power output when I needed it, it gave me better coverage when I needed and I felt, since they have external battery packs, that I could put them anywhere I would ever need to. It also seems like the best light shaping modifiers were always available for the larger lights. These, among other reasons, always made me feel like if I was going to drop a wad (<-super technical term) of cash on a lighting system that it would be safer spending it on a larger studio strobe. Basically, I thought I had all my bases covered.

But over the past few years I found that when I was setting up my lighting schemes I would often relegate my studio strobes to background tasks, like lighting the environment or using them as large light washes to bring up ambiance a stop or so. Meanwhile, my old, smaller 430ex and 285HV flashes were being used as focused key lights and kickers. Without realizing it I was relying on my smaller flashes for a lot of my precision work. As time progressed I started to use them more in the field and not long after that came an awareness that I had actually been limiting myself by relying so heavily on studio strobes in a lot of situations.

Studio strobes have their use, and that use is big light. When I say big light, I mean any situation where either coverage or sheer energy is needed. When I was working on my project for the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, where I was often shooting in the noon-day sun, I needed their large power output to reign in the ambient sun so I could put more flattering light on my subjects.

But noon-day photo shoots don’t happen that often. The Foodbank job was very run-and-gun, but usually when you’re contracted to take photos you have a lot more control of your shooting schedule and thus you can take your portraits in more forgiving situations. It’s in these controlled situations where a set of speedlites can easily provide you with the power and flexibility that you need.

Where Can You Use Speedlites?

Canon's new flagship speedlite, the 600ex-rt

Canon’s new flagship speedlite, the 600ex-rt

Pretty much anywhere you could use any other type of light except for maybe the scenario I mentioned above (and even then a large bank of speedlites can do the job, as illustrated by Joe McNally). There are unique properties shared by all speedlites that make them a good, defacto go-to choice for photographs. Their full-featured; even a ‘simple’ speedlite like the vivitar 285HV Zoom Thyristor (who comes up with these names!?) has all the basic  control that the more expensive speedlites offer. Another bonus is the size – these things are small. I can fit 3 or 4 of these speedlites into my camera bag and still have room for my two main cameras, gels, extra lenses, wireless triggers, and batteries.

Anyway, if you’ve used speedlites before none of this is news to you, and so this brings me to the point of this post: Canon’s newest speedlite, the 600ex-rt which I recently purchased.

No ceremonial unboxing for this light. I got it in the mail at 12, and by 1 o’clock I had it pressed into service. In case you’re unable to read between the lines here, that’s a testament to just how easy it is to use this speedlite. I was able to put it on my camera and start shooting, full featured right away, without having to read the 40,000 page manual that comes with it. I had an event I was contracted to shoot. It took place in a large outdoor venue and this meant my main issue was controlling the ambient light from the sun. Most of the event took place under a large, unwalled tent. The ceilings of the tent were anywhere between 12 and 40 feet tall. I found I was able to point the 600ex straight up, zoomed to 200mm at full power and fill the entire tent with soft, flattering light. More than that, I was able to slave my older 430ex II to the 600ex and use it as a kicker to give the event photos an aesthetic more usually found in wedding photos. Where event photos are usually flat, and rather mugshot/driver’s license looking, I was able to use the 600ex to take the quality light and thus the quality of the photos up to a much more professional level.

A little about the flash itself. It’s larger than it’s predecessor, nearly half again the size of the 430ex II. But that extra size means it’s more powerful and versatile. The back of the flash has a lot more in common with the 530ex II that it does with the stripped down 430ex II. However, users of either of these older flashes will still be able to pick up the new 600ex and put it to use without any frustration. The controls are laid out logically. The buttons feel responsive when you interact with them. With the old 430ex II, it often felt like you had to press the buttons nearly through the front of the flash in order to to get it to register, not so with the 600ex. Button presses are easy and precise. The dial is also very reactive, although it is a little hard to turn if your fingers are sweaty or wet during humid days.

Switching from ETTL to Manual (the two modes I use exclusively) is as easy as pressing the larger MODE button twice. Other modes included are Multi, for action/sports shots, and EXT.A and EXT.M for in flash metering.

The back of the 600ex-rt

The back of the 600ex-rt

Turning your 600ex into a master for group flash control is just as easy. Simply press the Wireless/Linked Shooting button to cycle through the modes that best fit your situation. The 600ex-rt has a radio transmitter built in (thus the ‘rt’ in 600ex-rt) for use with other 600ex-rts. Because I only have one 600ex-rt at the moment, I used the optical slave mode to control my 430ex II. From the menu you can control all of the functions of your master 600ex as well as the functions for your slaved speedlite, such as exposure compensation. While radio transmission would be the go-to option if you have multiple 600exs, the optical method worked fantastically, blowing away my expectation. When I had the 600ex pointing straight up into the ceiling, it was still able to control the 430ex II which was often all of the way across the room – some 40 to 60 feet away.

The 600ex II also comes with a nice plastic gel holder, although the flash only comes with tungsten balanced gels, no florescent gels – hrmmmm. I also noticed that the flash seems to have two little electric “eyes” under the area where the gels snap on – these are used to transmit color correction information to your camera based on the gel you are currently using. How cool is that?! No more dialing in kelvin numbers to get white balance!

In an effort to keep a long post from getting longer let me just sum this up by saying if you are a studio strobe purist, like I was, take a chance on a speedlite like the 600ex. You’ll find it has its uses in the studio and that it’s indispensable in the field.

Key Features Summary

  • Easy to use right out of the box
  • Great power output
  • Intuitive, if not a little clumsy at times, LCD interface
  • Good button and dial response
  • Slightly large, but very sturdy
  • Great master/slave functionality
  • Gel system with built in color correction technology
  • Optical and Radio Transmission master/slave modes
  • Flash zoom up to 200mm
  • Power range from 1/128 to 1/1
  • Produces a beautiful throw of light
  • Works just as good as a studio strobe in many situations.

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