Okay, so the music is a little loud and the web-cam isn’t the best (oh the irony) but here’s a good tutorial on how to control ambient light and flash in low-light conditions.
TTL versus Manual Show Down - Which One Is The Right Choice?
Whenever I am out shooting in manual mode, I am inevitably asked why I’m not using a TTL solution. Of course, the opposite is sure to occur if I happen to be shooting using my using TTL Canon speedlights. The argument of TTL versus manual has been around since the very first days that TTL was introduced to the market. Canon and Nikon have done a very good job of selling their TTL solutions to photography customers – for good reasons. TTL offers, in a lot of situations, a fast way to get a good exposure in a photograph with very little pre-planning needed with your lighting solution.
However, is one better than the other? Manual is still the default for many products, with Manufacturers like Paul C buff snubbing TTL altogether. Does that mean that TTL itself is a flawed system? Or is it more of a case of a technology whose superiority comes with a cost that many manufacturers are hesitant to pass on to their customers?
I own both TTL and strictly manual systems. And I can tell you with all honesty that I use both regularly. For TTL my use is pretty much restricted to only one speed light at a time hyphen I feel that introducing a lot of speedlights to a TTL system does not always give me the results I am looking for. My use of TTL is also limited 2 photographs where I’m trying to move as fast as possible; trying to get as many setups and styles done in as short of time as possible. In cases like that I find TTL to be amazing. I just hook up a commander to my camera, set my other flash to slave and start taking pictures. Worst case scenario usually means I must dial in minus one or plus one exposure compensation to the flash to get the exposure I am looking for – no big whoop.
But the fact that you often will need to dial in some sort of exposure compensation highlights TTL’s biggest misgiving: TTL is basically just manual flash. Think about it, manual flash means that you must manually set your exposure. With TTL you are often doing the exact same functions: dialing your exposure for the flash either up or down until you get the amount of light you’re looking for. I’m telling you, manual and TTL is really one and the same. The only thing TTL offers is a starting point that it thinks is a correct exposure. You then make your adjustments based on that internal calculation. If the light conditions of your set changes, so does that internal base-line calculation and thus you have may have to change your settings once again. Manual, on the other hand, does not give you calculated starting point. Instead, you take a test shot, and then adjust accordingly.
After having explored flash photography for nearly a decade at this point and working with both systems I have come to this conclusion: Manual gets me to the desired exposure faster than TTL. Heck, sometimes TTL can’t even get me to the desired exposure at all.
It’s hard to explain why TTL can be so hard to work with so I spent an hour and shot some video of myself putting both systems to work under the same conditions. The final verdict is that I was able to get the exposure I was looking for in less clicks with Manual than I could using TTL.
Here are the test conditions we used:
- Shot inside of my studio so all light was controlled
- Canon Speelites for TTL
- Paul C Buff Strobes for Manual
- 3 Lights for each setup in the exact same position using the exact same modifiers
- 2 lights with gels. One with a single gel, the second with 2 gels.
- Static subject (foam head)
- Counted the number of photos it took to get the desired exposure.
In the end I think it took 11 photos to get the TTL photo where we wanted it and only 4 to get the manual picture to the correct exposure.
Why do I think manual is faster?
Being fast with manual solutions comes down to two things, I believe. First is Familiarity — once you understand how your lights work in manual mode and get a feel for how much a stop of power is on your subject you can start to intuitively control your manual lights to get desired effects.
The second is total control. Manual lights are not affected by small or large changes within your scene. This means you can move background lights around have your subject turn from the left to the right, add or remove colored gels, etc in still have your lights out put the exact amount of power you dialed into them. TTL can and will look at all of these changes and produce a new lighting solution which may affect your exposure, requiring more adjustments.
Bottom Line: TTL is great in certain situations, but Manual works in all.
Watch the TTL versus Manual Video
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Akron, Canton, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area.
Winter Landscape Photography
As of writing this we are still 11 days away from the official start to the winter season. But let’s be honest, once the snow starts to gather on the ground we can call it winter for all express purposes. For me, this is a great thing – I love winter landscapes. I love those big billowy, soft, snow draped trees; those massive, pristine snow drifts – ah, so gorgeous. I also like, by contrast, the more dirty, gritty urban snow-scapes. The muddy, frozen over puddles. The old barns, draped with half melted snow, abandoned for warmer locations. After-all, one of winter’s most evocative moods, for me, is that sense of the forgotten, and left-behind. It’s that amazing feeling of loneliness that captivates me.
Finding locations for these lonesome photos is the easy part. If you live in urban and city areas, just go seek out the quiet alley-ways and evening streets. If you live in a more rural area, find an old farm and barn that’s isolated. Sunset/Sunrise and the blue hours are your best bets. Morning or night just depends on your preference. If it has snowed over the evening, then your morning shots will have a more untouched look to them. In those cases it may be better to wait till evening to get that more worn-in look as the day takes it’s toll. Of course, if it’s going to warm up too much over the day then the morning might offer the best opportunities before the snow melts too much.
What to look for
Like I said, finding the landscape is the easy part. The harder part if finding the mood. Much of that is crafted by the light – that is why I suggest golden and blue hours. Composition is important too. Because of my decades as creative director I can’t help but think and visualize in metaphors and feelings. I don’t look for compositions that read like, “Red-barn on a white field”, or “rule-of-thirds”, or whatever else you normally read about concerning what makes a good photograph. Instead, I look for compositions that speak to me in terms like, isolation, alone, opportunity, hope, strength, leadership, melancholy, etc. I do this because if I can craft a photo that captures the feeling and metaphor in my mind, I know my picture will do a better job conveying that emotion to the viewer.
So, in practice, if you’re out in the field and you see two possible photos: Maybe one is a more classical rule-of-thirds arrangement of your subject against the background. and your second presents a different composition but also conjures memories of a time where you felt cold, and alone, or whatever, then I would strongly suggest exploring that second option first. You can always take the tried and true compositionally correct photo once you’re done, but that second photo which elicits emotion will probably be the photo that resonates with your audience.
I’ll be honest, photos like these have a lot more to do with how you think creatively, and much less to do with all of the “rules” you’ve ever learned about photography. To bring emotion into your photos means you have to learn to recognize your own feelings in that moment and know how to capture them for other’s to see. My best advice is just to be open to what you are feeling when you are on location. If you’re feeling uninspired or nothing at all it just means you need to move around a bit and reorient yourself until you begin to feel that flicker run through your chest and down your arms, spine and legs.
Now, put on some warm clothes, grab your camera and prepare to to brave the cold this winter and express yourself through photography!
Benjamin Lehman is an award winning commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area.
Setting up, how to deal with technical issues, comparing ttl and manual, and most importantly, photographing cute dogs!
I thought it might be fun to live stream an attempt at Christmas styled pet portraits. I say, “attempt”, because I didn’t really have a plan going into this. I bought a light curtain and that’s about it. In this video you’ll watch, in real-time, as I place lights, discuss the differences between ttl and manual, problem solve, and of course, take photos of doggies with a Christmas flair! The video runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes, so that should give you an idea of how quickly you can get this up and running in your own home studio! (Hint: the studio doesn’t have to be big!)
It's been a minute, fam
Just wanted to take a quick moment and say, it’s good to be back! For those who don’t know, I am the owner and creative director of a graphic design agency, Emotiv. And, well, it’s been busy over in Design-land for the past eight or so months. Things haven’t really slowed down any, but I am managing my time a little better and finding more opportunities to take pictures.
In short, we’re back and we’re loving it! Let’s start off with some Senior Portraits:
Allow me to introduce Alex – an absolutely amazing and classy guy. This was a fun shoot (as you can see from the photos!). When you are a photographer, you live for gigs like this one. Alex is heavily tied in with his school’s marching band, so it was imperative to integrate that into this photo series. Luckily, we had some connections on the inside which allowed us to, ahem, borrow, the band’s bus for an hour. Next, I whisked him off to a quiet patch of parkland here known as the children’s garden, in Canton Ohio’s McKinley Monument park. There’s this little grove of ever greens that I knew would look awesome in the overcast, late Autumn light. I simply placed him in the trees and, wow, the picture sort of just took itself. That’s the best part about amazing locations, they take a lot of the effort off your shoulders as a photographer.
I shot most of these photos with just one strobe. For the football field and the bus, I used an Paul C. Buff Einstein flash unit as my main light. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but it was 1pm on a very clear and sunny day. I needed the Einstein’s power to allow me to correctly expose Alex against the insanely bright environment. I used a second flash to light the side of the bus. For the portraits at the park I, again, defaulted to use of use one flash; this time opting for a speedlight as my light source.
Quite honestly, this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable shoots I’ve done in a long while – it just makes me that much more excited to be behind the camera again!
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Massillon, Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area.
How do you create those really soft, flowery fireworks photos?
I am gonna keep this short and sweet! The trick to create these flower-esque firework photos is really simple
- Frame your shot
- A good starting point for camera settings are 100 iso, 5.6/f, 1 second shutter
- Turn your focus ring until completely out of focus.
- Press the shutter button once a firework goes off in your view finder
- Turn the focus ring from out-of-focus to in-focus over the course of the 1 second shutter.
- The End!
I’ve even created this little animated gif to illustrate the process
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area.
You don't need a massive studio and an army of gear to shoot great product photos.
I’ve moved 3 times in the past 8 years and have created 5 in-home studios in that same amount of time. Every time I change up my studio I seem to find myself creating smaller, more compact and optimized spaces. The reason is simple – you don’t need a warehouse to take great product photos.
The first step to creating your space is taking inventory of your most used gear – this single step will let you know exactly what sort of space you need. For instance if you rely heavily on natural light then you’ll need windows and perhaps less space for things like studio flashes and light stands. The type of photographs you take will also help inform you decisions on what type of space you need. In my case, I do a lot of portraits and commercial work. I also use studio flash which are often mounted on large C-Stands so that definitely increases both my vertical and horizontal space requirements.
In the end, I utilized a room attached to my house that is 24 feet by 10 feet. This room also has high ceilings, which means I can position my lights above my subjects. After doing some searching online, it turns out that even a compact space like this is pretty large compared to some metropolitan studios out there. I found some studios that are only 8×8, which is impressive!
While my studio is still very much a work in progress (we’re still finishing the walls and ceiling) it was in good enough shape to get things started. When I was contracted to do some product photos we got some things set up in quick order and started taking pictures. Over here to the right you can see what the set up is for this shot. We’re using a basic, plastic, folding card table. These products are shot on white, but we also wanted a reflection, so I used a clean white card with sheet of glass on top of that to help catch reflections. We’re using a two light set up. The first light is above the product and pointed backwards towards the rear of the table. The reason for that is you can highlight the curves and contours of the product without producing the hot, specular highlights you would get if you had the light directly in front of the product. The second light is behind a collapsible diffuser. This adds a little highlight to the edge of the product, but mostly it’s just there to make sure the environment around the product is totally white. I am also using a black flag (the reverse side is shiny metallic in this photo) at the very front of the product to subject extra light from the front of the product to help make the reflections pop out a little more.
After tweaking the lighting and positioning a bit, we were very pleased with the resulting photos. It was nice to see that a little bit of planning could result in a studio space that was refined and streamlined and still produced the quality that we were looking for. You can see the results of our product photo shoot below.
Being taught through inspiration
A wonderful producer who I’ve worked with for years would often joke when we had to copy and paste items from one of our earlier projects into something we were currently working on, “If you’re gonna steal, steal from the greats!”
Now, before we get anything further into my reasoning here, I am just gonna say the following: Don’t steal, or infringe on someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own. That’s just theft, and it’s pretty low. As a graphic designer of over 20 years, I’ve had numerous designs and concepts stolen from me and it’s a terrible feeling to see someone else benefiting from your hard work. As artists, our biggest billable asset is our ideas, innovation and process. So respect other artists’ work as you would like your own work to be respected.
With that out of the way, I do also believe that you can learn a lot by seeing how other people approach their craft. That is, at its very core, the essence of teaching. Recent generations of photographers have been inspired by people like Annie Leibovitz, Joe McNally and Jeremy Cowart, among others. Those photographers were, and still are, inspired by other photographers and so on and so forth. Being inspired by other artists is a beautiful thing and, as an artist, there is no higher compliment than having a contemporary seeing your work and being inspired by it.
I keep a folder on my computer of things I find inspiring. It can be anything from a color study, to a well designed website, brochure, a photo, a poem; it can be anything that catches my eye and stirs some emotion inside of me. In the case of photography, it could be an image that someone else has taken that intrigues me – the way they took it, the lighting, the pose, the setting. Whatever it is, it’s something that has inspired me.
I’ll also use these images as a challenge and a chance to learn. I’ll do my best to figure out what sort of visual trickery and craftsmanship went into the making of their photo and then I’ll set out to see if I can faithfully recreate what it is I think they’re doing. Such was the case for Post Malone’s Twitter profile picture seen here to the right. This photo was shot by Nabil and you can follow him on twitter here: https://twitter.com/nabildo.
I think it’s just a pretty awesome portrait. I like the simple, monotonistic color scheme, the pose, the shadows. Basically, the whole mood of this photo is pretty damn cool. Because of that, I decided I would do my best to try and recreate it armed with only my own working knowledge of cameras and studio lighting.
The first, and most obvious, aspect of this photo is the orange tone throughout. That’s a no-brainer that we’ll need to add some colored gels to the lights in order to achieve the same effect, however we need to figure out what sort of lighting we want to use first. Looking at this portrait a little more I suspected that the photographer was using a beauty dish, positioned directly above and pointing straight down at the subject. This would give the same deep shadows in the eyes we see here in the photo. There doesn’t seem to be any bounce light, so we’ll just move forward on the assumption that one one light was used to light Post Malone.
We will need a second light, however, to light the backdrop. I have a neutral gray seamless in my studio and I suspect that’s the same setup Nabil used in his photo. So, I’ll just take my second light, attached a 7 inch reflector dish so the light doesn’t spill off of the background and hit the subject, and then lastly we’ll put a gel on that to give our gray background an orange tone.
The gels I decided to use were one full cut of CTO on my main light and one theatrical orange gel on the background light. The theatrical orange gel is considerably more orange than the CTO gel. The reason for this choice is because skin tones are already warm-ish, so I don’t need to over drive the orange on our main light – just enough extra orange to kick the skin tones into the realm of our backdrop. The backdrop, which is gray under normal lighting conditions, does need a little more color oomph, so that’s where we use the theatrical orange gel to full effect. See the diagram to the right to see our final set up.
The next step is lighting ratios. I think I got kinda lucky on this one. My camera and lights were still set to whatever they were set for at my last photoshoot was and, as it turned out, they were dialed in pretty well for our first test shot here. In the end, I just had to tweak the main light at tad to get it into the correct range. My camera was set to f/8, 1/125 shutter, 100 iso. The main light was putting out light at f/11 and the background light was f/5.6. So basically, the key light was +1 stop over camera and the background was -1 stop under. Easy-peasey!
And here’s our final image: