photography

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.

 

Why I love my f/4 lenses

I‘m a big believer in depth of field, also known as DoF. It’s a great way to give your photos a professional, artistic atheistic. It also had a practical function that it helps set your subjects off of the background by making them the main focus, (pun totally intended), of the picture.

Larger apertures, such as 1.4 and 2.8 are masters of soft fuzzy background, and a lot of photographers will only shoot portraits with their apertures wide open, even in well lit environment. I don’t have a problem with this, as I use my 2.8 lenses all of the time, but I think photographers will often forgo an equally good, (or even better in many situations), option of shooting with a f/4 lens.

Why Shoot With an f/4 Lens

There’s more than one reason why f/4 is just as good or better than f/2.8 or 1.4. First is the simplest reason: f/4 is cheaper. You can buy a canon 70-200mm f/4 lens for $1,300 or less, whereas the f/2.8 version of that lens is over $1,000 more expensive. Right off the bat you can save yourself a grand and spend that money on other things, such as a speedlight or maybe even a f/1.4 50mm for those times you feel like you an extremely shallow DoF.

The second reason is the lenses are just as good as their more expensive counter parts. I’ve been using my 70-200mm for over 8 years and the images it produces are spectacular. A larger DoF doesn’t mean better image quality, it just means softer backgrounds and better use of available light.

But wait! The third reason negates that whole, “larger aperture means more light,” argument all together. If you have a modern digital camera, say one that’s been released within the last 3 years, then you are reaping the benefits of decades of research and development spend on camera sensors.

My 5D Mark III can shoot at 6400 ISO with out any noticeable noise. I’ve shot at higher ISOs as well, and just a little post processing in Lightroom will remove what little noticeable noise there might be. Even my 5D Mark II, now 7 years old, can still handle an ISO of 6400 without an issue when using my f/4.0 lens with the help of a little noise reduction in post.

The last reason f/4 is great is because it has nearly the same DoF blur as a f/2.8 lens. And, in my opinion, I like the way DoF is handled at f/4 better. At 2.8 you’ll often notice that your background is turned to soup with shapes lost completely and colors bleeding together, muddying up what’s behind your subject. With f/4.0 you can keep a little of that color and shape separation in the background while still being soft and pleasing.  Yeah, the difference is noticeable, but barely.

One more bonus with f/4 — sharpness. The smaller the aperture, the more over all focus you gain and when you’re taking pictures of people, animals or anything else that has a tendency to move. This extra focal depth could make the difference between landing the shot, and just missing it.

Illustrated below is just how similar f/4 and 2.8 really are.

aperture-example

So, don’t knock 4/f, embrace it!

 

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

 

Bow Wow Beach, Stow Ohio Dog Photography

If you have a social, water-loving dog, then there’s no better place to be than Bow Wow Beach in Stow, Ohio.

Being the proud dog-dad of an Austrialian Cattle Dog and yellow Labrador, we decided to take our dogs to this dog park and wow, were we blown away by what a great experience it is. It’s large, (7.5 acres!), fenced in and features a lake at it’s center, complete with sandy beach. We’re asked constantly for pet portraits and Bow Wow Beach provides the perfect backdrop. No prim and proper dog-wearing-tuxedo photos here. No, this is a place for your dog to run around, get wet and jostle with the other natives.

If you want a photo of your dog with a genuine smile across his or her face, then plan on taking them here. You’ll have a blast too, watching your four-legged friend run around, diving in the water, and chasing the other pooches.

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Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait Photographer in the Canton, North East Ohio area.

My work with the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank

Near the end of winter I was approached by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Their request was simple – help them document the people and neighborhoods that rely on the foodbank’s assistance for food. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

I’ll be honest, a photo essay project like this is a photographer’s dream. We all want to capture real people living in real moments. It’s why street photography is so popular. It’s why photo-journalists will risk their lives in war torn countries. There’s a deep need for us to expose the emotions of people, and those emotions are best found where they are near the surface. Sadly, that often means areas of homelessness, the victims of war, disease, and people struggling with poverty in general.

I thought I knew what I was getting into. When describing my photographic approach to the Foodbank I insisted that I wanted to take the pictures that were given to me. At the time that meant to me I would be taking a lot of photos of people with faces labored with burden, bodies that bared the weight of the world. My first day on the job took those expectations, tore them up and threw the pieces into the wind.

Where I expected to find sadness, I found strength, optimism. I thought I would find shame, but instead I encountered honor. It wasn’t the dark emotional alley I expected it to be. Instead it was cohesive community working together to make everyone’s lives better.

Let’s talk about the Foodbank for a moment. The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank (ACRFB) serves 8 counties in Ohio. They distribute over 24 million pounds of food each year, with 65% of that food given to their member agencies at zero cost. If those numbers sound impressive, they are. The ACRFB was named Food Bank of the Year, which is the highest recognition achievable among the Feeding America national network. The people who work for the Foodbank are the typification of first-class. They tackle the problem of hunger tirelessly and employ innovation for improved fundraising, problem solving and program services.

You can see their efforts at work the moment you walk into any of their sponsored agencies. Time and time again, I was told, “No one leaves hungry. No one is turned away.” Walking around one of the Foodbank’s agencies it doesn’t take long to see that those words are an iron-clad promise. The first location we shoot at was an old church. On Sundays the halls are filled with parishioners, but on that day it was filled with volunteers and the people they serve.

The volunteers were also not what I had expected. I figured that the average volunteer force at a food shelter would be made up mostly of younger, college aged kids. Instead I found many of the volunteers had once, or still were, the same people receiving assistance from the shelters. They felt so strongly about the work the Foodbank and shelters had done for them that they wanted to give back and be part of the solution. Our first subject was one of those people; a lady who had received assistance for years who now served the folks she once stood in line with.
Our next location, a shelter out in the middle of Amish country, was the same. As was the one after that, and after that. Each shelter greeted me with smiling faces – not the sadness I was prepared for. And in those moments are where I became swept up in just how amazing these people were. Mothers with small children, fathers, families, even the wonderful lady who was fighting MS while relying on the Foodbank, turned out to be nothing short of the some of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

Hunger and the people who suffer from it belong to no stereotype. They are individuals with unique reasons for needing assistance. Many of the people we talked to and took photos of worked at least one job. Some of them worked two.

All of them shared one commonality, and that was the gratefulness they shared towards the Foodbank and its shelters. One such person was a man named Mark. He has relied on food assistance from a shelter aided by the Foodbank. Now he spends free time at the shelter, manning a wagon he uses to ferry groceries to the cars of other shelter clients. He was kind enough to take a few moments out of his day to let me photograph him, but the whole time I was clicking the shutter I could see he just wanted to get back to work, to the people he cared for.

Once all was said and done, I had visited shelters in the middle of country fields, in the woods, and in the middle of urban America. I had taken my camera, ready to take pictures of people overcome by circumstance and instead I found smiles and pride as far as my lens could see. This job destroyed any misconceptions I ever had about hunger and the people living with it, and this will stay with me forever as one of the best jobs I’ve ever had the honor to work on.

 

Special thanks to Kat Pestian, Michael Wilson, and Melissa Link. You can follow the wonderful work of the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank here.

 

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

4th of July

Fireworks and photography goes hand in hand. We use sparklers all of the time in wedding photography for when the Bride and Groom are leaving their ceremony or reception. Once a year, however, we get to take a picture of something a little larger than sparklers and party poppers. The 4th of July gives all photographers a chance to turn their cameras to the sky and capture airborne shows of fire and light. In the past I’ve been tasked with photographing large fireworks displays put on by cities and event planners – this year I was in a beautiful rural setting with a dark, starlit sky serving as the background to the fiery fair.

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Brian Lisik – Musician

In addition to working as a writer, his work appearing in commercial campaigns and local news papers, Brian Lisik also enjoys his time on stage as a prolific musician. Brian’s music is heartfelt and melodic, appealing to many types of audiences while dodging categorization.

When we talked about working on a photo campaign for an upcoming project we both knew the photos had to be just as unique. Brian lived near a location, an old auto repair shop, that was just dripping with visual personality. When he recommended that we might want to shoot there, we raced over to scout it out. It didn’t take long to realize that this was a gold mine for photographs. It was so great, in fact, that it served as a backdrop for another local artist’s photos I had taken.

With permission from the owner of the repair shop, we arrived on a Saturday around 6pm, ready to take pictures. Because it was the end of spring when we took these pictures, that meant that the sun was still high in the sky, even around 6pm. After snapping a few frames and reviewing our work we realized the location needed a little more drama from the lights to help bring the location to life.

Brian-Lisik-Small-23I was shooting Brian with a large 5 foot octa acting as his key light. We decided to try to keep things simple and add a second light. I really wanted to add some color to the light as well and our final decision was put a full cut of CTO onto an unmodified speed light. Unmodified meant the light would be small and harsh, and the CTO gel would give it a warm glow.

We got everything in place, reset ourselves and started snapping a few frames. Instantly we knew we had nailed it. The single, extra light with it’s orange gel was giving the photos the unmistakable sense of sunset, and that little detail made the difference. We would spend the next 2 hours on location taking pictures against many backdrops; cars, an old wall made up of tire rims, and an old office door.

Normally as the sun gets lower in the sky, photographers will push their subject into it, using it as a beautiful backlight. Because we were getting such great results out of our own little artificial sun we made the choice to avoid the actual sun and continue to use our flash as both main, and artificial sun/kicker. Because the speed light was so easy to move around it gave us a lot more flexibility to set the scene however we wanted it and I think the photos speak for themselves as to it’s effectiveness.

Due of the nature of the project, I can’t share our favorite photos until they are released with the project itself, but keep an eye on the site and I’ll start posting photos as the roll-out begins.

Cheers!
Ben

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Advertising and Wedding Photographer based in Canton, Ohio.

The Importance of Scouting

Scouting is as important of a component of photography as hitting the shutter button itself. Scouting, for me, is a time to plan. It’s thinking about possible compositions, lighting set ups and just the overall mood of the photo I’m trying to capture. In planning, scouting helps you over come any number of unexpected problems that tend to crop up when you’re setting up your day’s shoot. Bad weather on the horizon? Look around and formulate a plan B. Mid-day Sun beating down your subject? Again, it’s the process of just looking around that will help you find a better location with a bit of shade to offer you some respite from harsh over head light.

I’ll even re-scout locations I’ve shot at before. It’s good to have a few go-to spots where you know you can get what you need out of your photo, but it’s also a good idea to keep things looking fresh especially if you’re shooting in a familiar locale. Tomorrow is just such a day for me. I’ll be shooting a portrait in two days time at a location I’ve used twice before. The good news is it’s a large area. I’ll re-scout the spot tomorrow to make sure that when I show up on set the day after I’ll have a good idea of where I want to shoot.

Don’t be idle! Keep moving and looking!

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

Water Works Park for Wedding, Engagement and Senior Portraits

Water & Sun

Water & Sun

Here in Canton, we have have a great park known as Water Works Park. The park is actually a chain of parks including Stadium Park, McKinley Memorial Park and City Field Park in addition to the aforementioned Water Works Park. Through this park chain there are a multitude of locations for photography. Some areas are great for fitness photography, some are great for high school senior photos and some are perfect for bridal and engagement photo shoots. The landscape of the park changes dramatically along it’s length so you should never be left wanting for a change of scenery. Along side the park runs the Nimishillen Creek, which is actually classified as a river. This sheet of running water can also serve as a backdrop for photos shot near its banks.

One of my favorite places to shoot is in an area known as the Garden Center & Children’s Garden. This area is filled with trees and all types of wonderful flowering flora, changing dramatically depending on which season you visit. A small creek runs through the gardens off to the side through a series of stone walled water falls. This is another great area to shoot along. This side of the garden also offers a lot of shade to help photographers who have a shoot scheduled in the mid-day sun.

Brides can be photographed in both the Garden Center and the Children’s Garden easily from almost any angle, although you do have to be careful in some areas since the background can be cluttered with structures. With some careful planning you should be able to work around this easily.

Place you subject on a hill and shoot up at them to convey confidence and strength.

Place your subject on a hill and shoot up at them to convey confidence and strength.

For Business or High-School Senior portraits there is a wonderful trail that winds alongside another smaller creek on the western edge of the park. One of my favorite places here is a small waterfall with steps where you can take both standing and sitting portraits against an interesting backdrop of either water or trees. If you get there at just the right time (around 7:30-8:30 pm in the spring/summer) you can actually catch the suns light peeking through the arches of the waterfall’s bridge. The McKinley Monument, only 100 yards or so west of this point, also serves as a strong backdrop for those moments when your photo may need to convey strength or longevity. Try placing your subject’s back to the monument and shoot down the wall towards them with a shallow depth of field.

Because the park winds around with the river you should be able to move to a new location to effectively change the sun’s impact on your subject. Evenings after 5pm are best since the morning day sun rises over a row of houses instead of the trees that line the western side of the park.

Photographers in larger cities often have a ton of go-to locations for photography while those of us in slightly smaller cities really need to dig deep to find of those over looked gems. While Water Works Park is no secret, it’s not used nearly enough, in my opinion, as a backdrop in photos. In an upcoming article I’ll talk about how photogs in smaller cities can scout out promising locations that offer both easy access and unique looks.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, High-School Senior Portrait and Advertising Photographer based in Canton, Ohio.

First Look – Aputure Trigmaster Plus II 2.4G

Aputure Trigmaster Plus II 2.4G

Earlier this week I added a new piece of gear to my already hefty camera bag – the Aputre Trigmaster Plus II 2.4G. Up until now, I haven’t had a lot of uses for good, reliable wireless triggers. For my studio lights I’d usually lay out a long sync cord attached to a separate power adjuster. When I used my speedlites I had to rely on some very cheap, and actually very unreliable, wireless triggers. But recently, I’ve been working on shoots that are larger in physical scale, and that increased distance meant it was time to find a trigger that would be reliable at greater range.

If you search the photography forums you’ll see that most photogs will recommend the PocketWizard brand time and time again – and for good reason, I should add. They didn’t earn that loyalty through shoddy quality. But PocketWizards can be a bit on the (very) expensive side and as the number of lights in your photographic arsenal grows so will your need for triggers. This is why I decided to give the Aputure brand of triggers a go. The reviews for these things so far have been pretty stellar and even though I’ve only had the chance to use them on one shoot so far I certainly got the feeling that these are every ounce as professional as their more pricey counterparts.

Like the PocketWizards they do cool things such as channel selection so you can run your triggers near other photogs without interference. You can also set triggers to zones, so you can fire only specific strobes individually or all at once (useful at things like weddings where you may have several flashes set up in an area and only want to target specific sections of a room). The advertised range is fantastic as well – up to 500m, although I haven’t truly tested it any anywhere near that limit. They feel sturdy and hefty too, and in no way cheap. The only downside I have found so far is the styling. While PocketWizards tend to look like next generation stealth aircraft, the Trigmaster Plus II looks like it comes from a pre-Chernobyl era.

Oh, and then there’s the price. These things are less than half the price of their rivals. For that you’re getting nearly all same features and build quality for half the cost. Feel free to compare the prices on Amazon when you get the chance.

 

Free Custom Photoshop Skin Retouch Brush

A Custom Brush for all Your Photoshop Skin Retouching Needs

It's easy to load in a new brush!

It’s easy to load in a new brush!

Retouching is an important part of any portrait, whether it’s a wedding, engagement, or high school senior’s photo. Most people are used to the airbrush technique, and since in the early days of photo retouching an artist would use an actual airbrush to do this, it’s no wonder why people still use the default airbrush tool in Photoshop today to pretty much the same effect.

Photoshop is great in the respect that you can use your own custom brush in addition to it’s default airbrush preset. I made my own custom brush, using a more organic pattern, to achieve much better results. This brush is great on any type of face, or body part as it replicates the random nature of skin, such as pores and other surface textures. The trick when retouching is being careful not to smooth your subject’s skin out to the point where they look flat and plastic. Using a textured brush like this allows you keep the skin looking real while gently painting away imperfections. Also keep in mind that some imperfections, especially in men, are defining features and should be only diminished in strength rather than removed completely.

You can download the file HERE and then load the brush within Photoshop under the brush menu.

Here's an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

Here’s an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

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