We here at Benjamin Lehman Photography absolutely adore Burt’s Bees so this just made a lot of a sense!
Product Photography is not just for the realm of large flash - Speed Lights can do the job just as well, here's how!
Product Photography with Speed Lights Part 1
Product Photography with Speed Lights Part 2 (Compositing)
Quick Review: Neewer 36"x26" Umbrella Softbox (Westcott Knockoff)
(This a completely non-paid, non-sponsored post. These suggestions are based purely on my experience.)
First off, let me just start by saying, I don’t believe in the concept of the Home Studio. I think a studio is a studio no matter where it is – Be it your living room or at a high-tech company board room, where ever you and your camera are, that is your studio.
Because of this I believe in flexibility and mobility to a degree. There’s no point in investing in gear that limits your ability to use it under different circumstances. Everything I own can be packed up, stowed away, carried, and set up anywhere I need it.
So, for this list, I am going to suggest gear and items that will let you practice your trade in any location, home or otherwise. Let’s get started!
First, camera. This one is easy: Get whatever camera system you like best.
Sony, Canon, Nikon, Hassleblad; these are all strong brands with decades of experience under their belts. The cameras they make are all great. Obviously, you’ll want a full featured camera — specifically a camera that has all of the features many look for in a ‘pro’ camera. The caveat there is that many pro features now live in lower cost models, meaning you can buy a professional camera at entry-level prices. The Canon Rebels and many of the D series Nikons are great, low-cost, cameras that will give you professional results. As for DSLR versus Mirrorless, that’s a whole ‘nuther consideration and a quick Google search will give you the pros and cons for each. Likewise for lenses; there are hundreds to choose from, but a good first purchase is always the 50mm lens. Every brand has a good, f/1.4 50mm prime lens that is both amazing and cheap.
- Canon Rebel T7 ($750)
- Canon 6D Mark II ($1,300)
- Canon 5D Mark IV ($2,800)
- Canon EOS-R Mirrorless ($2,300)
- Nikon D5600 ($700)
- Nikon D500 ($1,800)
- Nikon D850 ($3,300)
- Nikon Z7 Mirrorless ($4,000)
- Sony a7 ($800)
- Sony a7R III ($2,800)
Next, let’s talk about tripods.
For the uninitiated this can be scary territory. The urge to spend 50 bucks on a small tripod from Best Buy might be too tempting to resist; and without knowing the drawbacks of a cheap tripod, it’s hard to know what you’re sacrificing with a low-cost purchase. You are going to have to spend a little extra money here but trust me, it’s worth it and it’s necessary. Everyone who calls themselves a professional photography will require a tripod at some point — no ifs-ands-or-buts about it. For this, I would suggest going to Amazon and just searching for any Manfrotto tripod. Manfrotto’s build quality is amazing, and for just a few hundred dollars you can get a tripod that will stick with you for years if not decades.
- Manfrotto MKBFRA4-BH Tripod ($150)
Next up, light stands.
Simply put you’re going to need a light stand for every light you buy plus 1 or 2 extra. It’s okay to buy a couple cheap-o, 30 dollar light stands, but you will also want several robust stands as well. Once you’re outside and at the mercy of the wind, a 30 dollar light stand is going to end up costing you so much more in the long run — especially when your lights fall over and bust, yikes! So, buy at least one c-stand for stability and reliability, and then fill out the rest of your kit with lower cost, medium sized stands.
- Neweer Pro with Boom Arm C-Stand ($130)
- Impact Heavy-duty stand ($53)
- Amazon Basics 7ft Stand – 2 pack ($24)
Lastly, we’re gonna tackle lighting.
Personally, I think this is the hardest consideration you’ll ever have to make as a photographer. Where as your camera is a tool that simply captures the light in front of its lens, it’s the light itself that constructs the image you’re taking. Adding to this the many light manufacturers and modifiers available (many more than Camera makers) and the fact that most systems don’t always work very well with each other — let’s just say you have a lot to examine here.
I use two systems in my studio kit. 1 set of larger, ‘studio’, strobes and another set of smaller speedlight flashes. I use them both equally, and I have found that there are just times and places where I’ll need the benefits of one over the other.
For the speedlights, I actually don’t suggest buying the cheaper knock-offs. They will work most of the time, but most isn’t always enough. I use 4 canon speedlights: one 600exrt, one 430ex III, and two 430ex II flashes, and they work ALL of the time. If there’s ever an issue with my lighting, it’s because I am doing something wrong, not the flashes.
For the larger studio strobes, however, it’s a different story. That market is filled with a bunch of manufacturers who craft incredible products. If you have the cash, then of course there’s the industry standard Profoto B1X which does everything under the Sun (with the power to beat the Sun at it’s own game, I should add). However, if you’re like me and need to be a little more frugal, you can find cheaper systems that work just as well. I prefer the flashes from Paul C. Buff. I own 3 of their studio strobes: one Einstein 640, one Alienbees B800, and one Alienbees B400. I can’t say enough great things about these flash units. In the 4 years since my first Paul C. Buff flash, they haven’t let me down – and trust me, I’ve mistreated them at times and yet they still come through for me.
You may not need 7 flashes, like I have, at the start, but you’ll certainly need at least 1. You can pretty much do everything you’ve ever wanted to do lighting-wise with just one flash – it may mean you have to get extra creative with how you stage your photo, but you can do it.
- Camera Brand matched Speedlight ($300-$600)
- Alienbees B800 ($280)
- Paul C BuffEinstein ($500)
- Profoto B1X ($2,100)
- Brand Compatible Wireless Triggers ($50-$200)
And to finish off our chat about lighting, you’ll need some light modifiers.
Umbrellas are the most obvious and ubiquitous choice and for good reason – they are good at what they do. They are also cheap. Maybe less obvious, and also at the low end of the cost spectrum, you can get away with a $20 pop-up diffuser and a light stand clamp to clamp it to that you then fire your flash through to create soft light.
There are also a new generation of soft boxes that pop-up like umbrellas. They are light, cheap, and fold up so quick and easy that they are almost a necessary piece of equipment for any photographer who finds themselves traveling to take portraits.
Perhaps most importantly, light modifiers are going to give you the most creative latitude when it comes to crafting light on your subject. You may want 2 or 3 different modifiers, even if you only have one light. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, modifiers will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of creating beautiful and artist light.
One quick note about my suggestions here – every lighting system is different and so they all use different methods of attaching modifiers to the lights. Do some research and find which modifiers will work with your lights.
- Neewer 32” Umbrella Octobox ($27)
- Neewer 24”x36” Umbrella Softbox ($32)
- 2 Pack, 33” White Shoot though Umbrella ($17)
- 22” Beauty Dish ($80)
- Paul C. Buff 86” White Umbrella ($40)
- Godox 9”x35” Strip Box ($50)
And there we go, a quick start guide to the gear you may consider when setting up you studio, be it at home, or on the road!
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio area.
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!