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.
Managing disk space when you are a photographer is a major headache - but here's an amazing way that doesn't cost anything but a little time.
Tony Northurp (video link above, please give him a subscribe on youtube!) shows us a pretty easy way to save yourself a ton of hard drive space. I personally deal with this problem about once a year. I have nearly 20TB of drive space attached to my main computer alone. Managing that much disk space (especially when I am running low) is a major pain. Buying new hard drives or, gulp, expensive raid arrays, will always be a temporary solution – drive space is finite and you’re taking pictures all of the time.
So when I ran across this video where Tony shows us the magic of Adobe’s lossy DNG format, I was intrigued. I tested it out myself and I can honestly tell you that I am now, at this very moment, in the process of converting all of my old photos into Lossy DNG (with the exception of some very important ‘hero’ shots taken for clients). Hundreds of thousands of photos are making the pilgrimage to Lossytown over here, and so far I’ve gotten back several terabytes of space. Let’s hope the trend continues!
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Massillon, Cleveland, Akron and northeast Ohio area.
The Last 30 Days In Gear
I don’t get asked a ton of questions about photography, but when I do they are most commonly things like which lens is the best, how much should I bid on a photography job, and which gear do you use the most? The first two questions are pretty subjective; my favorite lens and how much I charge for a particular job can very greatly from job to job based on the needs of that particular assignment. The last question of which gear do I use the most, however, I think is a really good indicator on which gear do I find most valuable across all of my jobs. As it turns out there is a handful of gear that I take with me on nearly every job that I do. I may not always end up using every piece of this equipment on every job, but I think of them as indispensable to the point where I am at a disadvantage if I don’t take them.
I guess the first thing I should start off with are the cameras and lenses themselves since, you can’t really do a photography job without both of these elements.
My two main cameras which go to every photography job are my 5D Mark II and my 5D Mark III. If you were doing professional photography you always, and I mean always, want two cameras with you at all times. If you’re in the field with one camera and it breaks for whatever reason you are, as they say, “shit out of luck.” The client isn’t going to take very kindly when you offer, “oops”, as an answer. So be prepared and take two cameras. If one of my 5Ds should fail, I have a Rebel and even an old 20D ready to jump in to add an extra layer of assurance.
The second most important component is of course the lenses themselves. For this I travel with these three following lenses: 50 mm, 24-70 mm, 70-200 mm. The 24-70 and 70-200 are both 2.8, which means I have some flexibility in low-light situations where maybe my flash isn’t readily available. The 50 mm lens is 1.4 f-stop, which means it both has creamy bokeh and even more leverage in low light situations. I’m sure a lot of photographers would disagree with me, but if you have these three lenses in your camera bag I would argue you have 80 to 90% of your professional lens needs covered.
So now that we have the cameras in the lenses out of the way we can talk about all the little bits and pieces that really help your photographs stand out from the rest of the field. These are of course things like strobe lights, speed lights, studio lights, light stands, light modifiers, and all of the other in between pieces of gear.I consider myself a fairly light shooter by comparison to some other heavyweight professional photographers. By this I mean I rely on a fairly small package of gear to get my photos. Let’s begin with lights.
I use four speed lights, the 600 EX-RT from canon, two 430 EX IIs from Canon, and one 285 Vivitar with an optical slave eye attachment. Along with these speed lights I have 1 Einstein and Two Alienbees flash heads from Paul C. Buff (Let’s just call them PCB from here on out). To control these lights I have 5 Aputure Radio transmitters and one CyberSync Commander and CyberSync Slave for the PCB Lights. Everything else is triggered optically if needed.
My collection of modifiers is something I am fairly fond of, but even with my vast array of light shapers, I really only a handful all of the time. The big 5 light shapers include a 7 foot shoot through umbrella with a detachable ‘softbox’ cover from PCB, a 36 inch Octabox from PCB, a 24 inch speed-lite softbox from Neewer (super cheap, super handy!), and a 22 beauty dish from PCB and 2 Reflector dishes, also from PCB. I have a ton more light modifiers, but these comprise a large portion of what I use on set regularly.
Finally, in my “other” category for gear used on set, I use 2 Avenger C-Stand Completes, 4 twelve foot straight stands, a Manfrotto tripod with ball mount head, one black flag, 1 tri-grip reflector, 2 three by five foot collapsible diffusion panels , a wide assortment of colored light gels, and a bunch of various fastening devices like clamps and gaffer’s tape.
Let’s break that down into list form real quick
- 5D Mark II
- 5D Mark III
- Canon f/1.4 50mm
- Canon f/2.8 24-70mm
- Sigma f/2.8 70-200mm
- Manfrotto tripod & Ball-mount Head
- Canon 600EX-RT
- 2x Canon 430 EX II
- Vivtar 285
- Paul C. Buff Einstein
- Alienbees B800
- Alienbees B400
- 5x Aputure Wireless Triggers
- Paul C. Buff CyberSync Commander
- Paul C. Buff CyberSync Slave
- 7 Foot Shoot-through Umbrella with removable Reflective/Softbox Backing
- 36 Inch Octabox
- 24 Inch Speed-lite Softbox
- 22 Inch Beauty Dish
- 2 Reflector Dishes
- 2x Avenger C-Stand Complete
- 4x 12 Foot Straight Stands
- C-Stand mountable Black Flag
- Tri-grip Reflector
- 2x 3×5 Foot collapsible Reflector/Diffuser
- Assorted Colored Lighting Gels
- Assorted Clamps
- Gaffer’s Tape
Tada! Hey, trust me, that’s not an unmanageable amount of stuff. The cameras, lenses, radio triggers and speed-lites all fit into one carry-on-sized camera bag, and the larger flash heads and tripod all fit into a 4×1 foot rolling light bag. The stands and light modifiers do add a cumbersome element to moving around when on on location, but with one assistant it’s more than manageable.
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and NorthEastern Ohio Area.
Self Portrait with the Paul C. Buff Octabox
A photographer’s cheapest model is, as they say, themselves. So I put my cheap model to work utilizing the new octabox I got from Paul C. Buff (detailed here).
List of gear:
- 5d Mark II
- Einstein Flash Head
- Low-rent model (me)
Below are images of the final result of the shoot, as well as a diagram of the set up.
You can do some pretty awesome photos with just 1 light and a nice modifier!
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer who works in San Francisco, Canton, Cleveland and North East Ohio.
Must Have New Photography Gear: Umbrellas, Octaboxes and Simple Reflectors
I’ll admit it, I am a gear hound. It’s down right thrilling when the UPS guy rolls up with a box full of goodies. But perhaps even more exciting for me is the experimentation phase that ultimately comes when a new piece of equipment is dropped on my doorstep. Cameras, lights, modifiers, stands, doodads, and widgets – every new tool in your digital photography arsenal allows you to explore and expand your style, and finding out exactly how you’ll utilize these new apparatus is 90% of the fun (the other 10% obviously the joy of just opening the boxes and squealing with glee.)
Today’s New Gear: Digital Photography Light Modifiers
If you’ve read my blog in the past, then you know I am huge fan of Paul C. Buff and the gear he has engineered. His Einstein light and Cyber Commander wireless sync trigger play key roles in pretty much every commercial photo I take. But I also have a lot of other pieces from his catalog of products, and Paul C. Buff light modifiers comprise a large bulk of my inventory.
White PLM™ Umbrellas
My first product on this list is the 51″ White PLM Umbrella from PCB. I am a strong believer that you can do amazing photos with very little gear. One light, one reflector, one modifier, one camera; that’s a basic recipe for success, and if you don’t believe just look at what Annie Leibovitz has done with just such a setup.
What more gear does allow you, though, is more flexibility and control over your vision. My current stock of umbrellas is rather anemic. I have one 24 inch shoot-through white umbrella and one massive 7 foot reflective umbrella, that’s it. My 7 foot umbrella is a work horse and goes with me everywhere, but honestly, it’s just overkill a lot of the time. It’s also hard to work with in tight spaces. Because of this I decided to buy the 51 inch shoot through from PCB and, at $30, it’s sort of a steal.
Medium Foldable Octabox
Octaboxes are magic. They do all of the great things a traditional, rectangular softbox can do, only better. How so? At equivalent sizes, they give off a slightly wider spread of light. They also create amazing catch-lights in the eyes of your subjects.
They also come with two drawbacks. First, they are usually more expensive than a same-sized softbox. Secondly, they are a pain in the ass to set up. A tension-rod based octabox can drive any normal person to the cliffs of insanity. That is, unless, you spend a little more money and get a foldable octabox! And that’s just what I did. I already had an octabox in the same size range, but the time and effort needed to get it ready meant it spent a few opportune moments in it’s bag rather than on the end of a light stand – that’s a bad thing. Now I am looking forward to using this new foldable version in situations where I may have defaulted to a regular softbox out of the necessity of time and sanity.
7 inch Standard Reflector
Just as the name indicates, this is a pretty standard piece of light modifying gear. Just how standard? Well, one of these reflectors come with every Alien Bees flash head you buy, so it’s pretty ubiquitous with Paul C. Buff gear. However, my Einstein did not come with one. So, where I have one of these for each of my Alien Bees, my Einstein sits awkwardly bare of a reflector and, when it comes to basic light control, nothing quite does the job of blasting light in a particular direction better than a 7-inch reflector!
It’s pretty obvious from my work that how I work with light is more important than which camera I am using. The camera itself is just a tool to capture the information that’s put in front of it. It’s the job of your light, and the tools that shape and modify it, to make that information something that’s intriguing to the person looking at it.
Benjamin Lehman is a professional, commercial photographer who works in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Canton, Cleveland and North East Ohio.
How-To Photography: Anatomy of an Environmental Portrait – Warrior Beat
Also known as, “A face in a place”, is by far my favorite type of picture I am asked to take. The reasons are varied; I like dealing with interesting people, I enjoy traveling to new and different locations, and most importantly I like the opportunity to tell a story with my photos.
As photographers, we usually go into a new project with a mental check-list, or to-do list, of what we want to accomplish. With environmental portraiture, the most important ‘to-do’ is the part regarding the story telling aspect of the photo I am about to take. The idea here is simple: Take a photo that tells the viewer something important about the subject. Nat Geo photographers are gods at doing this. Annie Leibovitz, someone I deeply admire, is another artist who just knocks her photos out of the story-telling-park every time.
I used to think the story telling aspect would be hard part of the process, and it can be in some very special circumstances. However, with just a little practical self-control (i.e., just keepin’ it simple) you can turn the story telling phase into something that can happen quickly, easily, and enjoyably.
For my example here, I am going to use the guys over at Warrior Beat as my example. Warrior Beat is a non-profit organization that provides professionally facilitated drum circles to US Military Veterans who are suffering from either mental or physical disabilities. They do a lot of great work and are one of the few for-veteran organizations who use art in healing. (Disclaimer: I not only help and work with the boys and girls at Warrior Beat, but I also designed their logo and act as a co-founder.)
Most of the members of Warrior Beat are veterans themselves, having served over seas, fought in battles, and returned home with scars of their own. They are also an organization who’s public profile is rocketing faster than they expected due to the good, and unique, work that they do.
When the time came that they needed some updated member photos, the challenge was set; how do we take portraits that will give viewers, (who may also be potential donors to their charity), an at-a-glance idea of who they are and what their message is?
The first step in environmental portraiture is the story.
Ok, so putting that to use here’s what we know about Warrior Beat’s story:
- US military veteran based service
- Many Warrior Beat members also have a military background
- They use drums in a therapeutic setting
With these three simple, but important facts we can start to paint a picture for our photos. We want our story to hit as many of these bullet-points as possible.
Next Step: Location
The next most important part of an environmental portrait? The environment, of course! So, what better place than a military museum? The MAPS Air Museum to be precise.
A quick note on securing locations
A lot of locations will be happy to donate their time to worthy causes. A military-based museum will more than likely donate their space to you for photos when your subjects are also military vets. This applies to a lot of locations and situations. To repay the favor, offer to send them copies of the photos for use in their own social media, or print publication usage. Be sure to give them a social media thanks (with a link!). Those types of gestures go a long way into building a rapport with groups who may seek out your services later once they see how awesome your photos are!
We walked around the museum for about 20 minutes, trying to find a good location, and quickly realized our best bet was a Cobra helicopter sitting in front of a 2 story US flag. The Cobra helicopter was used in multiple branches of US military services, and the flag itself was just too good to pass up. It totally reads as military, as patriotic, as veteran; right off the bat we can check off two items on our story telling list.
The last item on our check list, tying our subjects in with their facilitated drumming service to veterans, would be as simple as just having the Warrior Beat CEO hold up a drum for his portrait.
Photography Gear and Setup
For my gear I used the following:
- Canon 5D Mark II and III
- Alien Bees B800 Flash Head
- Einstein Flash Head (Read my review here)
- C-Stand with boom arm
- Standard 9 foot flash stand
- Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
- 4ft strip box with grid
- Beauty Dish with Diffusion sock
- Vivitar 285HV flash with optical slave eye
- Cyber Commander wireless flash sync
The good news was, I didn’t have to light the ginormous flag. There was a bank of windows behind it that would take care of that issue for me. But, what that does mean is that, I now have to light my subjects to work with what’s coming through the windows.
Luckily, with just 3 flashes and some basic know-how on lighting ratios, I was able to dial it in. Specifically, I used the Einstein and beauty dish as my main light for my subjects. I was shooting slight up at my subjects to give them a little more gravitas and presence within the photo frame. This meant I was able to bring the light down a little more than usual to help keep shadows to a minimum. I didn’t want to remove all the shadows, however, since I felt a little sharpness in the photos would help translate the perception that these guys have seen some sh*t, which they have, and have been changed by it, which they also have.
The second light, an alien bees b800, inside of a 4 foot strip light, acted both as a slight fill light as well as kicker light for the helicopter. I needed to brighten up the details of the Cobra, so I just turned the light little by little until I was able to get just the right ratio of light spilling between the copter and my subject.
The last light was a small Vivitar 285HV on the ground near me that just barely threw a little extra oomph at my subjects. Again, I wasn’t trying to eradicate the shadow, but I did want to fill in a little detail in the darker spots, like under their chins, to help define their faces a little better.
I used my 70-200mm lens so I could compress the distances between subject and background. The idea here is to give my subject a greater sense of scale so he can compete better between the larger helicopter and flag in the background.
Once the lighting is all dialed, (remember, we’re exposing for the natural light that’s coming in and hitting the flag), it’s time to take some photos and, hopefully, capture a story!
Crafting a story doesn’t have to be the hard part of environmental portraiture. Instead, use some very basic ques from your subject to help guide the narrative. Sometimes you need to go over board and spend a good deal of man-hours and money to handcraft the perfect story telling photo, but other times you can rely on more modest techniques to conquer the same problem.
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer who works in the San Francisco, California, Canton, and North East Ohio areas.
Me, on the floor. Here you can see how I’ve set up my lights, and my subject, in relation to the background.
The final frame of our story telling, environmental portraiture.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am a die-hard fan of the Canon 70-200mm f/4.0. Why? Well, it’s image quality is superb and it’s dirt cheap by comparison. As for the f/4.0’s speed, it’s not that big of a deal if you’re shooting in the studio or using lights of any sort. Sure, it’s not the best action lens out there, an f/2.8 would be better suited for that, but even that’s debatable. If you look up “action shot” on flickr, you’ll quickly notice that almost none of the best photos are taken anywhere near f/2.8 – they are often in the realm f/8 and above. So, again, why spend more for an f/2.8 when you can probably do 99.5% of the photos you want to take at f/4?
Well the time has come for me to try something new. No, I am not going to relinquish my love for the f/4 and trade-up to the 2.8, but I did have an opportunity come in that will allow me to try a 70-200mm f/2.8 from LensRentals for a week. More specifically, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM.
That’s a lot of abbreviations in that product name, but there is one in particular I am really interested in. The “OS”, which stands for Optical Stabilization. The reason for all this is because I’ll be spending a lot of time zoomed all the way out to 200mm and I’ll be hand holding the camera the whole time. I don’t plan to be shooting much at f/2.8, but since I’ll have the chance to do so, you can bet that I’ll do some comparison shots between the Sigma at 2.8 and my trusty Canon at 4.0. Be on the look out for that review!
Secondly, I promised a month or so ago to share some information about being a professional photographer with cheap gear. I’ve always argued that your camera will be the most expensive piece of gear that you’ll own, but does the rest of your gear need to be expensive too?
Well, here is a look at some purchases I’ve made over the past few months and a quick grade on their quality.
And, uh, just disregard those buttons here at the bottom of the table – I am using a free table plug in and apparently, it has buttons.
The grades are based on one simple principle; Does the product work as I’d expect it to? As you can see, most of these ‘cheap’ alternatives are scoring a B or above, with a couple A+ grades in there. The one exception is the Tamron AF 70-300mm which I bought to use for some experimental photographs. For $150 bux, you get exactly what you’d expect. It’s a good lens for starters, and works pretty well in a very tight studio environment, but other than that it’s not a lens that should be anywhere on your Must Buy list.
Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.
Don’t be fooled. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to be a good photographer. Every day, the world produces some amazing photographs. Some of them are made in studios, by people wielding tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and some of them are made by people with nothing more than a cheap, mid-ranged camera. Certain styles of photography call for varying amounts of gear. I mean, you can’t be a flash photographer without at least one flash, right? But does that flash need to cost $3,000 or more?
The Price Game: How much do you need to spend on photography?
My goal in the next year is to make a series of videos showing the gear I use. Some of it’s expensive, some of it’s cheap as dirt. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that expensive doesn’t always mean it’s good, and conversely, cheap doesn’t mean bad. There are times, however, where an extra few bucks among comparable products can mean a world of difference. So, which items are worth the money and which aren’t? Well, just stay tuned over the next few months and we’ll find out!