Saturday, August 27, 2011

Organizing Speedlite Gels

If you use gels on your speedlite(s) you have likely discovered that they can be hard to organize and it seems that the one you need is the one you can't find.  I have had this frustration once too many times so in 15 minutes I transformed by speedlite case for $3.00 into a simple holder for all my gels.

Supplies needed

  • Velcro
  • glue gun
  • scissors
I simply glued parallel strips of velcro inside my otter box and attached the gels to these strips of velcro.   My speedlite's  and the otter box have soft velcro on them and the gels have the hard velcro.  Simple and effective and best of all very inexpensive.

In this photo you can see the inside of my case with 4 speedlite's and accessories

In this photo you can see how when the foam liner from the lid is pulled down it exposes my gels

Strips of velcro glued to inside of lid

Gel attached to speedlite with velcro

If you have a different way to organize you gels I would love to hear about it in the comments section.

Happy speedliting!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Speedlite Gang Lite

After reading the Speedliter's Handbook I was keen to build myself a gang light and I came up with a rather simple design that required very little new material.

To build this you will need.

  • Multiple speedlite's (obviously).
  • An umbrella bracket for each speedlite.
  • An Umbrella bracket for holding the rod.
  • One spigot and a bolt for the spigot.
  • A 5/8" aluminum rod cut to the length you desire, I made mine 5' long.

In this photo you can see how I mounted the spigot to the aluminum rod with a bolt through the aluminum. I mounted it in the centre for good balance.

Here you can see the Manfrotto 026 bracket I used for holding the rod.  You need a strong bracket for this part because it is carrying the weight of all the speedlites so don't skimp here.  Manfrotto 026 Swivel Lite-Tite Umbrella Adapter - Replaces 2905Photographic Light Mounting Hardware)

The brackets that hold each speedlite should be a lighter weight bracket to keep down the overall mass of the gang light.  I used the Opus umbrella mount which is a sturdy plastic bracket that can accommodate the aluminum rod from the side.

And here you can see the finished gang light.  Four Canon 580 EXII speedlites are easily held on this Manfrotto boom.

Let me know if you have built a gang light and how you made yours!

Happy Speedliting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Speedliter's Handbook

I can't resist picking up every photography book that is within my reach, unfortunately most of them don't engage me for very long.  I have in my possession a book that has not only held my attention from cover to cover but it is a book I know that I will come back to many times for reference.  This book is titled "Speedliter's Handbook" by Syl Arena.

As a photographer Syl clearly knows a lot about light and how it is used in photography and he manages to put down this knowledge in a clear easy to read format.  Don't be mislead by the title, although the books focus is on creating beautiful light with a Speedlite Syl also gives the reader an immense lesson on light in general.  The book is broken into 5 parts, each part with it's own theme.

If you shoot Canon and you use or want to use speedlite's then walk (make that run) to your nearest bookstore and buy this book immediately, you won't be disappointed.  If you shoot another SLR brand and you want to shoot Speedlights then this book still has a lot to offer and you will learn a lot about creative lighting techniques with off camera flash.

This was my quick answer to buying "Speedliter's Handbook" but if you are still unconvinced or you simply want to know more about this fabulous book then read on.

  • Chapter 0 Quick Start Guide to Speedliting
This chapter gives you just enough information to give you an idea of what the book is about but it also makes you want to jump right in to find out the answers to the questions that no doubt are now swirling in you mind.

If you are an experienced photographer this chapter will just touch on a few key concepts that you already know about and you might be thinking "big deal" but just keep reading, because the book will teach you some new things guaranteed!  If you are new to photography this chapter will leave you with more questions than answers but don't worry, the answers will be explained in beautiful detail throughout the rest of the book.

The book is broken into five parts and a total of 25 chapters.  I will give a brief overview of these parts and then you should have a good idea if this book is for you.

  • Part 1 Before Speedlite's, There Was Light
Part one contains chapter 1 through 5.  This section of the book teaches a lot of concepts of how light works and most photographers will learn from this chapter even if you only shoot ambient light photographs.

Chapter 1 Learn to See the Light
This chapter covers a very important aspect that eludes many photographers (sometimes even experienced photographers) and that is simply learning to see the difference between good and bad light. Syl covers such characteristics as contrast, colour temperature, intensity, angle and more.  You will learn about these characteristics and the difference between how our eyes see the light vs. how the camera sees the light.  I can't overemphasize the importance of learning this chapter.

Chapter 2 Exposure Exposed
This chapter covers how you and the camera control the exposure with the exposure triangle.  For new photographers this chapter is a key piece of the puzzle.

Chapter 3 Mechanics of Light
In this chapter you will learn more about the science of how light works as opposed to chapter one which covered the more artistic aspects of light.  At the end of this chapter you will understand the difference between additive and subtractive light and the inverse square law and more!

Chapter 4 Light of the World
As the title suggests, ambient light is the subject and you learn the difference between mixing the ambient with your speedlite(s) and eliminating the ambient with your speedlite.

Chapter 5 Think Globally Light Locally
The entire subject in chapter 5 is the angle of light.  If you think there isn't that much to talk about on just angles then you really need to read this book.

  • Part 2 Speedlite's Fundamentally
Part 2 contains chapters 6 through 12 and this is the only part of the book that is Canon Specific.  If you shoot Canon then this chapter is worth every word in here, if you shoot another brand of SLR then this is the only section that you may want to skip.

Chapter 6 Meet the Speedlite's
Learn all about Canon's different models and their strengths and weaknesses.

Chapter 7 Control your speedlite
The mechanics of how your speedlite works from Manual vs. ETTL to Zoom and Bounce.  I feel that this is information that should be in the manual when you buy the flash.  This chapter is a primer for the next few chapters.

Chapter 8 Flashing Manually
Everything you need to know about using Manually controlled flash power with a Canon Speedlite.

Chapter 9 E is for Evaluative
ETTL broken down for the reader to understand how to best use this powerful technology.

Chapter 10 Move Your Speedlite off Camera
The real exciting part of speedliting is how you can use them off camera for some very impressive lighting effects.  This chapter will get you started by outlining the various ways to control your speedlite's while they are out of reach.  Syl does an excellent job of giving a basic overview of the Canon Wireless, ETTL Cables, Radio Poppers, Pocket Wizards, Optical Slaves, Infrared Triggers and Manual Radios.

Chapter 11 Wireless Speedliting the Canon Way
If you are ready to delve into wireless speedliting then this is the chapter to build the foundation.  Syl goes into great detail about how Canon's speedlite's work in wireless mode.  Have you heard of "Free Agent Wireless"?  Me neither, but I learned about it in this chapter.

Chapter 12 Mixing Canon Speedlite's With Other Lights
If you work with Mono Lights, Studio Packs or other brands of Speedlights then this chapter will help
you sort out the details.

  • Part 3 Gear for Speedliting
Part 3 covers chapters 13 through 16.  Syl talks about why you want to use a light modifier and shows excellent examples of what each mod does.  After the modifiers are out of the way he talks about batteries and chargers which you will soon realize is very important advice.  How to mount all these speedlite's is also covered in a chapter on Grip!  This chapter is a very exciting one to read because it makes you start to see how your humble Speedlite is transformed into a powerful lighting tool.

Chapter 13 Go Ahead, Mod your Speedlite

With the rise in popularity of speedliting there is now a large selection of accessories designed to modify the light coming from your speedlite.  Syl covers not only what is available from Dome diffusers to Grids and Ring Lights but he also explains why you would use these accessories and how to attach them.

Chapter 14 Those Big Modifiers Always Get In The Way
If you want a larger modifier than what is covered in chapter 13 then this is the chapter for you.  Syl talks about using full size studio light modifiers with your speedlite and offers some advice on which one to choose.

Chapter 15 Get a Grip
Booms, Stands, Clamps, multi light clamps etc.  This chapter gives you everything you need to know about mounting your speedlite just where you want it.  If you are handy with tools you may even be inspired to try building some of these Grip items!

Chapter 16 Keeping The Energy Up
What is a Speedlite without batteries?  In this chapter you will learn about different types of batteries and chargers and when to use which one.  Definitely read this chapter BEFORE you go buy batteries.

  • Part 4 Speedliting In Action
Part 4 will get the creative juices flowing in any photographer!  This series of chapters 17 through 25 shows beautiful examples of lighting scenarios with different numbers of speedlite's and modifiers but it doesn't stop there!  Syl also talks about how your speedlite can be used for effect!  Hold on these chapters will have you itching to pick up your camera!

Chapter 17 Lighting Portraits Classically
In this chapter you are shown the most commonly used lighting techniques.  Syl shows an example photo along with a lighting diagram of how to create this look.  This chapter is the foundation for portrait lighting.

Chapter 18 Portraits With One Speedlite
If you only own one speedlite don't despair, Syl shows you how you can create stunning lighting scenarios with one Speedlite.  Syl shows you 9 different beautiful portraits that he took with one speedlite and he shows you the details on how he did it.  It's an amazing learning tool.

Chapter 19 Portraits With Two and Three Speedlite's
If you are lucky enough to own several speedlite's or if you want to know what additional options open up to you if you buy more speedlite's then this is your chapter.  Much the same way as in chapter 18, Syl shows you 10 portraits done with multiple speedlite's and shows you the details on how he shot it.

Chapter 20 Gelling For Effect
A Gell is a piece of translucent plastic that you shoot your speedlite through to change it's colour.  In this chapter you'll learn how to use these to correct colour or to use them for effect.

Chapter 21 Slicing Time With High Speed Sync
The info in this chapter is exciting because it shows you how to use your speedlite to do something you can't do with studio lights, shoot at shutter speeds all the way up to 1/8000 of a second!  Syl carefully explains the technical side of how this works and then moves on to give examples of when you would use this.

Chapter 22 Dimming The Sun
Continuing with the High Speed Sync from the last chapter Syl shows you how you can darken mid day sun for effect.

Chapter 23 Smashing Pumpkins with Gang Light
If you own multiple speedlite's then one option that is not immediately apparent is a gang light.  Syl shows you how to make a gang light and shows 5 different photo shoots using a gang light for different reasons.  As always full detail of how the shoot was accomplished is disclosed!  I loved this potential so much I am making a gang light right now!

Chapter 24 Speedliting Events
One of the greatest advantages to using speedlite's rather than studio lights is their incredible portability and ease of set up making them powerful tools for event shooters!  Syl covers the use of speedlite's in the event business.

Chapter 25 Strobo, Strobo, Strobo
Stroboscopic flash is a creative lighting technique that Speedlite's are capable of.  While not something you will use every day it is something worth learning because one day you will be looking for a new way to light something and this just may be it!  This chapter explains how it works and shows 3 photo shoots using this technique.

  • Part 5 Appendices
There are 4 appendixes in the back of the book but I'm not going to go over them, not because they are not worth talking about but rather because if you are still reading this then you really just need to buy this book for yourself.

I have very few photography books in my possession that are as well written and useful as this one.

I would like to personally thank Syl Arena for writing this book as I have learned a lot, I also find it inspires me to try harder.

Now I'm going to go set up my Gang Light.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Distance to Subject and it's visual impact on the photo

When you pick up your camera do you twist the zoom ring until you have the framing you want?  Maybe you shoot with primes and you do the foot zoom to get the framing you want rather than change the lens.  If one of these scenarios sounds familiar to you then you should learn to ask yourself why you do that.  

Let me explain what I'm getting at.  DISTANCE TO SUBJECT.

I think this is a very underrated tool.  How many times have you been told that if you want to create compression in the photo to use 85mm FL (focal length) or if you want a lot of compression use a 200mm FL?  Maybe you have heard over and over that if you want the photo to have more depth even exaggerated depth then use a wide angle lens.  

What if I told you that focal length plays absolutely no part in this characteristic of the photo!  Don't get me wrong focal length can have a lot of influence over the look of a photo it's just that it has nothing to do with compression or lack of.  

You have likely heard that you should use between 85mm and 135mm for portraits so that peoples faces look natural.  The advice is sound enough because using an 85mm lens forces you to stand further back creating a pleasant compression on the face but it leads you to believe that there is some magic in these focal lengths but in reality the magic lies in the distance to subject.  There is nothing wrong with using a 24mm lens for people as long as you are aware of the effect of distance to subject.  If you try to use a 24mm lens to create a tight head and shoulders shot by getting close you will see an unnatural representation of the facial features, but if you stand back for a more environmental portrait with the 24mm you will get the same compression as with the 85mm.

A lens on a camera is not all that different than the one in your head (I'm talking about your eye in case you haven't had your coffee yet).  So you can test this theory without a camera.  Sitting at your table put your eye down low to your cup of coffee and look at the sugar bowl sitting just 30cm away.  If your eye is low and close you'll notice that the coffee cup is large an ominous compared to the sugar bowl which makes the sugar bowl appear far away.  Now step back as far across the room as you can and line up your site on the same two objects.  You'll notice they appear to be closer together than when you had your nose in the steam of your coffee and they will also appear to have a more natural size between them. 

This is the very simple principle used in photography to give a photo it's depth or it's compression.  Let me explain further.  When you select a 28mm FL and get very close to an object such as I did with the stone below with the church in the background,  you'll notice that in the image the stone appears very large and is clearly the main subject and it somehow is more ominous than the church.  Select a FL of 85mm and move back  to get the same image framing and you'll notice that the church now overpowers the stone and the church seems to be right there on your lap.  This is simply a function of distance to subject not 28mm vs 85mm as many believe.  

In the next two photos you can see that his is very true.

The photo on the left was taken with a FL of 85mm and the photo on the right is taken with a FL of 28mm at the same distance and cropped to match the framing of the 85mm lens.  As you can clearly see the effect of compression is identical with the 28mm as it is with the 85mm.  The un-cropped photo from the 28mm is shown below.

There is good reason to select a wide angle for adding depth to a photo but it's not magic as many would have you believe but rather that it simply has a wider field of view that allows you to get very close to the subject while still fitting in a lot of background.  By all means choose a telephoto when you want compression but just remember that it is your distance from the subject that is giving you that compression and using a wide angle from the same distance would give the same compression but would require a lot of cropping!

So now you are asking why is this important to understand?  Do you remember my first questions at the start of the article?  Next time you see an object you want to photograph don't just pick up your favourite zoom lens and start twisting the ring until you get the framing you want but rather look at it with your eyes for a moment, then move closer then further and think about how your distance will impact the relative size of objects in front of and behind the subject.  Once you have given that some thought then choose your focal length based on how far away you want to stand (or sit).  This thought will prevent you from being disappointed by the photo of a person with the mountain in the background and everyone says "that mountains looked so much bigger in person"!  This is a good example of where simply changing the distance to subject could have had a huge impact.  By moving way back and just selecting whatever focal length gives you the framing you want the mountain would be as big as everyone remembered.   Try this very scenario by taking a full length portrait with a mountain in the distant background from 2m away and then take another full length portrait from 10 or 15m away, and just choose a focal length that gives you the framing you want.  You will never forget this lesson once you have experienced it.

Don't fret over small changes in distance but rather just pay attention to what is changing and ask yourself if these changes are what you want.  I use prime lenses for most of my work so I use the foot zoom a lot so I just pay attention to what is changing in the photo when changing my distance.  If changing my distance changes my vision of the photo then I probably need to change my focal length rather than moving.

Once you have done this for a while you will no longer need to think about it you will immediately know what FL you need for any given shot and you will be a better photographer for it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens Review

The Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 must be one of the most harshly criticized lenses I've come across, in fact the reviews are so bad that I dismissed the possibility of buying one after reading several of these reviews.  But after continuing my search for a lens faster than f/2.8 with a focal length shorter than 35mm I quickly discovered that the choices are slim!

I shoot Canon so I started looking at the offerings from Canon and the EF 28mm f/1.8 is the only lens fitting both the sub 35mm and sub f/2.8 criteria for under $1000.00, in fact it is less than half the price of the EF 24mm f/1.4.  

What about lenses offered by manufacturers other than Canon?  The very good Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is the obvious competitor to the EF 28mm f/1.8.  The Sigma does not work on full frame digital or film so this was a huge blow to my interest in the lens but I continued to consider it despite this major drawback.  The Sigma is of a stop faster and is sharper in the centre of the frame but the EF 28mm f/1.8 is a better performer near the edges of the frame.  I did not have access to both lenses to compare for myself so I relied on advice of those who had tried both and it seemed to be a draw.  Would I be better off with Nikon or Sony?  Nope Nikon and Sony don't even make a lens equivalent to the EF 28mm f/1.8! so Canon is starting to look good.

So I started to ask myself "why is this lens so badly reviewed?"  I stopped reading lens reviews done on test charts with no regard for real world conditions and apparently with no regard to budget and turned my focus on the advice of owners of the EF 28mm f/1.8.  People who own the EF 28mm f/1.8 are almost always satisfied or very satisfied with their purchase.  

So after much reading of technical reviews and owner reviews I decided to purchase the EF 28mm f/1.8.  My rational for buying this lens was that I could not afford the 24mm f/1.4L and the Sigma 30mm seemed to be about the same optically but it is crippled by it's APS-C format only. 

So I'll offer some of my experiences with this lens along with some photo samples for you to decide for yourself if this lens is for you.  This is not a "technical review" but rather a review of my experience as a photographer with this lens.

This is a shot taken at f/1.8
While I agree that the lens is a little weak wide open
I don't thinks it's as bad as many would like to believe.

The lens improves dramatically at f/2 and I use this
Aperture a lot.  This shot is f/2 with the subject away from 
the centre of the frame and I'm happy with the lens's performance.

Here is another f/2 shot that shows the bokeh.
Bokeh quality is subjective but I usually find that
I like the results with this lens.

Low light is where this lens really performs.
This one is f/2  and it's a dark theatre performance.

In this shot you can see that the lens provides a nicely
blurred background at f/2.2.

f/2.8 and close this lens provides excellent detail and depth

Here you can see how the lens performs in brighter light.
f/8 and wonderful colours.

So there you have a sneak peek into one of the most controversial lenses in Canon's lineup.  It offers full ring USM focus technology that is as quiet as any lens I've ever used and it focuses fast and accurately.  It is much smaller and lighter than the L Primes and is less than half the price.  It has a very nice build and handles perfectly.  If you are a landscape photographer (I'm not) then this lens may not fit your bill but for Photographers who shoot environmental portraits, street photography etc and who want a fast lens that works in low light then this lens may just be the best one in it's price bracket!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Homemade Speedlite Bracket for softbox

If you have access to a softbox designed to be used with a speedring and you want to mount your speedlite(s) inside of it then you have some commercial (expensive) options or you can make one yourself for minimal cost.

You will need-

  • 2" x 3" aluminum angle (length is dependent on your speedring but mine is 5" long
  • 1 spigot 
  • 1 bolt to go through aluminum and thread into spigot
  • drill and bit
  • 1 or 2 speedlite cold shoes (depending on how many speedlite's you want to put in the box)
  • 1 or 2 bolts to go through aluminum and bolt the cold shoe in place
Combine this list with some spare time and you can build this bracket for next to no cost especially if like many photographers you likely have some of these parts already on hand!

Completed bracket showing spigot

Bracket showing two cold shoes

Bracket with one coldshoe and one ETTL Cord

Bracket inside of softbox with the back open

View of the back of the softbox with speedite's firing 
inside and ETTL cable going to camera

This setup is light enough to use on a boom and works very well!  If you want to even out the light even more you can use StoFen diffusers on the speedlite's.

Good luck and please comment.