Sunday, March 25, 2012

Adam, Kim and Annabelle

Getting a chance to combine a number of things that I love is always something I'll jump at.

Studio photography, treasured friends, a new addition to the family, a new light modifier and a fresh idea for a video slideshow - all of these things combined on a recent job that pretty much left me with a smile on my face for the rest of the week.

Again, I am grateful for the privelege of capturing images for 2 very special friends.

The slideshow is something else that I am growing fonder of, as I love new ways of displaying the images I take.
I find it sad that so many gigabytes of our memories get relegated to a hard-drive, never to see the light of day.
This slideshow is something I am proud of in my own way, and it is my hope that you'll view it and understand why.

My favourite images from the shoot after the jump.

Easily one of my favourite client shoots so far.

As always, your thoughts and comments are most appreciated.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting Trigger Happy

I've written this post to tie in with my latest article in D-Photo magazine.
I have been provided with a regular segment in the magazine dedicated to flash photography.

Most of what I intend to do this year will rely heavily on Off-camera flash, and I thought it wise to make flash triggers the focus of my first article of the year.

In the past few years I have become increasingly addicted to the versatility and creative power of Off-camera flash. (OCF)
OCF uses your camera’s speedlight as a light source – a far more affordable and portable alternative to studio lights.

The aim of this post is to provide a succinct source of information on triggering options.
Photography can be a very costly hobby, and buying a pricy piece of gear that does not quite do what you'd hoped is a rather painful experience.

More info after the jump.

Why learn to use Off-Camera Flash?
• Photography with impact depends hugely on the creative use of light.
• Though there are exceptions, the light produced by a flash sitting on top of your camera is mostly flat and lifeless, and does nothing to flatter your subject.
• Being able to move your light source relative to your subject creates magic.
• Most photographers already own a speedlight. The simple act of purchasing a means to trigger it off-camera will open up a range of new creative options.
• Couple that with any one of the many light modifiers available for off-camera speedlights (umbrellas, softboxes, gels, grids, snoots) and you’ll realise that OCF is a tool that can truly unleash your creativity and vision in a big way.
• Learning to control light (and shadow) WILL do amazing things for your photography.

However, it all starts with getting your camera and flash to communicate with each other.

Considerations when purchasing triggers.

Aside from your budget, there are generally only 2 major considerations when deciding on a trigger:

1) Wired vs Wireless
A physical connection between flash and camera can be created using cords/cables, or you can opt for the freedom of wireless triggers (infra-red/radio wave)

2) TTL (Automatic) vs Manual
TTL triggers take a lot of the guesswork out of flash photography, and allow your camera to determine what it feels is the correct flash output no matter where you place your flash.
TTL triggers also allow your flash to retain functions like high-speed sync and second curtain sync.

Triggers without TTL capability require a sound understanding of flash exposure and the variables that affect it.
However, once mastered, they are exceedingly straight-forward to use.

*You may already be able to trigger your flash off-camera and not know about it!
Many digital SLR’s have the ability to use the camera’s pop-up flash to trigger a slaved speedlight.

Each particular method has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Cable/Cord Connection
Fairly inexpensive

Tripping hazard.
Limited by cable length.
Entry level radio triggers are only slightly more expensive.

Infra-Red Triggers
Some units can also trigger studio lights.
Good range

More expensive than entry-level radio triggers.
Line of sight only.
Unreliable when used outdoors in bright sun.

Radio Triggers
Not restricted to line of site.
Some units can also trigger studio lights.

Must have a transmitter on-camera and a receiver on every flash.
Many versions are camera-make specific.

Deciding on which trigger to buy can be a difficult decision, and will be influenced by budget, the need for TTL capability and whether you require an option that will also work for studio strobes.

The list below is FAR from comprehensive, but provides both Wired and Wireless triggers with Manual and TTL options, as well as some options for the budget conscious.

(Please note that as a photographer from New Zealand I have focussed on triggers that are readily available locally.
I have also not included the Pocketwizard Plus II or Multimax units. These are amazing units, and absolute stalwarts in the industry, but not units that I possess.
Anyone seeking information on these can easily find it on the web.

I've included some newer models on the list made by Pixel. These are more affordable triggers that were loaned to me by APIX Photographic in Auckland to assist with the D-Photo Article.
OCF use is blossoming, and this increased interest there is an explosion of new products on the market, the Pixel range being a good example of this

Cable Triggers.
Non-ETTL - PC Sync cord.
-These cords can be obtained in various lengths, and are fairly inexpensive.
-However, they are cumbersome, and unless you already possess one (most likely as part of film photography gear) it would be better to invest in an entry-level radio trigger.

ETTL - ETTL cord
-Brand-specific ETTL cords can be quite pricy.
-These are widely used by photographers who have mounted their flashes on camera brackets and therefore need a means of connecting camera to flash whilst retaining ETTL functionality.

Infra-Red Triggers.
Non-ETTL - IR Transmitter.
-Avoiding these triggers is almost a no-brainer - they are much more expensive than lower end radio triggers.
-Paying less to avoid the disadvantages of Infra-red triggering doesn't take much thinking.

ETTL - Use a Master Flash
-This is potentially a good idea if you have the funds for it.
-Having a second flash is good for redundancy, but also means that at some point, when you do purchase dedicated triggers, you have 2 potential light sources.
However at 4 or more times more expensive than an entry level set of radio triggers, depending on which unit you purchase, it may also end up being a no-brainer.

ETTL - ST-E2 Flash Transmitter
-Being a Canon shooter I have to highlight this unit.
-Nikon's version is the SU800 Wireless speedlight commander.
-A good option to be sure, but once again, the drawbacks of using IR can quickly lead to frustration if you end up doing most of your shooting under conditions where IR transmitters are less than effective.

Radio Triggers.
Non-ETTL - Pixel Pawn
-At present, this is what I would call a useful entry-level radio trigger, and the trigger I recommend to my workshop attendees who are looking to get started with OCF.
-At around NZ$130 it certainly doesn't come close to the +-$800 price range of the Radiopopper or Pocketwizard units.
-It also has the ability to act as a wireless shutter release.

Non-ETTL - Pixel Opas
-A little pricier than the Pawn, these are essentially imitations of the Pocketwizard Plus II units.

Non-ETTL - Elinchrom Skyport
-These were my original OCF triggers, which I already possessed when I got started learning OCF. (They are my studio light triggers)
-Not really much of an option as a first line OCF trigger, unless you already possess them or are considering purchasing studio lights.
-My intention has always been to upgrade to Elinchrom studio lights, and this unit will allow me to adjust the power output of the studio strobe from the camera.

ETTL - Pixel King
-Pixel's imitation of the Pocketwizard Mini and Flex, at roughly a third of the price.
-I've had a chance to play with these units, and they seem to function quite reliably.
-However, the poor English of the instruction manual does little to inspire confidence, though these may be a viable option for radio ETTL on a budget, if you're willing to risk the financial outlay.

ETTL - Radio Popper PX

-These units seem to be loved by every photographer I know who uses them.
-Essentially, it intercepts the signal from the camera that controls the remote flash and transmit this to the remote flash using radio waves, which overcomes the limitations imposed by whatever creates the signal. (Line of sight, distance)
-The downside to this is that you need to have something with ETTL capability on the camera generating a signal. (Usually a second flash or an ST-E2 transmitter/similar)
-Very reliable and easy to use, but more likely to be bought by photographers who possess a second flash or other form of IR trigger.

ETTL - Pocketwizard Flex and Mini
-These units are fairly expensive (+- NZ$800 for the transmitter and the receiver), but allow ETTL OCF without the need for a wireless transmitter or second flash on the camera.
-From experience I have found that the biggest headache initially is learning how to set them up and use them.
-They also don't turn off automatically, and the batteries will run down if they are not turned off after a shoot (Which I forget to do from time to time).

What I use, and why.

My interest in OCF began after I had purchased my first set of studio lights.
I was getting more confident with lighting, but, as I had purchased entry-level monolights, I pretty soon found myself frustrated by the inability to use my strobes outside of the studio.
It was then I started looking at using my speedlights off-camera to overcome this problem.

Initially, I opted to get started with as little expenditure as possible, and as I already had a set of Elinchrom Skyports, these became my first set of triggers.
Truth be told, I was exceptionally happy with them, initially.
But as I've mentioned above, there are certain things that ETTL triggers allow you to do, and it was this functionality that led me to purchase the triggers I currently use - the Pocketwizard Flex and Mini.

Essentially, I invested in these triggers to allow me to use High speed sync as Fill-flash for action photography.
(I've written an extensive blog post on that process here)

My current go-to triggers are still the Pocketwizard Flex and Mini combo.
I have sinced purchased the AC3 Zone Controller, which allows me to adjust flash output from the camera, in either Manual or ETTL mode.

The unit has the ability to control up to 3 groups of lights (A, B and C), which are selected on the receiver.
I then have the ability to use the speedlight in either Manual (M) or ETTL (A) mode. (I can also choose not to fire the flash [0], which allows me evaluate the effect of the other light/lights in the setup)

Exposure compensation (-3 stops - +3 stops) in ETTL, or Flash Power (1/64 - 1/1 Power) in Manual are controlled by a dial on the base of the unit.
The addition of this small accessory has made life so much easier, and I honestly enjoy my OCF work a lot more because of it.

I hope this information has been of value.
Getting into OCF can be quite a daunting prospect, but I guarantee it will yield amazing results once you get started.

Feel free to pop any questions you may have into the comments.

Happy flashing


Saturday, December 10, 2011

4 Generation Portrait

The slideshow below is available to view in 360p and 720p HD.
Select full screen viewing and resolution at the bottom right of the video panel.
The high resolution video (720p) takes longer to load, but will give you an idea of how it will look full screen at maximum quality.

I hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Flashes and Splashes

From time to time every photographer needs to produce an image that reignites their enthusiasm and reaffirms their self-confidence.

Today’s contribution will do just that.

In this tutorial I will show you how to create some very dramatic images with fairly straight-forward equipment.

More info after the jump.

Gear and Setup

Photographic equipment required
• Camera.
• Tripod.
• Telephoto lens. (100mm or longer)
• Flash.
• Ability to trigger flash off-camera. (2nd flash, Cable, Infra Red/Radio transmitter)
• Cable shutter release.

Set props
• Table with reflective surface. (Glass or Perspex work well)
• Wine glass.
• Jug. (for pouring water)
• Towel. (To clean spills and protect equipment)

Room requirements
• White wall. (Surface to bounce light off of)
• Low ambient light. (Set up with adequate light, but dim/turn off the lights before taking test shots and the final image, as this image relies on flash lighting to freeze motion)

Setting up
• Set up your table near the white wall.
• Place the glass on your reflective surface, with the glass near the far edge of the table.
o Light reflecting off the wall needs to effectively backlight the glass.
o This also affects where the edge of the table cuts through the stem of the glass.
• Place your flash on the floor below the glass, aiming the flash head to illuminate the wall just above the glass.
o This will provide backlight for the glass as well as the water.
• Set up your camera on a tripod in front of the glass.
• Compose the shot with enough negative space above and below the glass to allow for the stream of water and the reflection of the glass.
• Once your composition and focus is set, switch your lens to manual focus.

Camera settings. (These were the settings I used. Feel free to use them as a starting point)
• Manual exposure.
• Shutter speed: 1/160s.
• Aperture: +- f11 for adequate depth of field.
• ISO – 400.
• White Balance: Flash.

Flash Settings
• Triggered with pocketwizards.
• Flash Power: 1/64.

Take a test shot (without water)
• Check exposure and make adjustments as needed wrt ISO, flash power and aperture.
• Check focus on the glass.
• Check composition of the glass and vertical alignment of the stem of the glass.
• Check position of the light on the wall relevant to the glass.
Once everything is set, you’re good to go.

Take the image.
Using the cable release in one hand, and pouring with the jug in the other hand, take your final shot.
This image can be tricky, simply because you have one chance to capture the pour as the water hits the bottom of the glass, and timing is a big factor.

Images taken after the glass starts filling (see image below) do not look as dramatic, and taking further shots means drying the set, setting up a new glass and achieving focus and composition all over again.

The images below were taken on my first attempt, and none of them impressed me enough.

Creative options
- Pour faster from higher for a dramatic splash
- Shoot in tungsten white balance for a blue tone.
- Add a colour tone in post processing.
- Add illumination from the front and a little inspiration to create something unique.

Learning Bites
The need for a low Flash Power and low ambient light.
A lower flash power is achieved by discharging the pulse of the light for a shorter amount of time.
If the ambient light is low, the camera’s sensor will only record what is illuminated in that fraction of time that light is discharged.
In other words, lower flash powers will work better at freezing motion in this setup.

Manual Flash power and Manual camera exposure
This achieves consistency in exposure from shot to shot, which is critical in this situation.

White wall
This provides a n efficient surface for light to bounce off of.
Light also picks up the colour of the surface it reflects off of, so using a white wall will keep the light that illuminates the glass and water fairly “clean”.

Take a dry shot before the final image
Firstly, this allows you to check your exposure.
Secondly, if your final image has a number of unsightly drops on the table, you can use your initial image to quickly clean this up using a mask in Photoshop.

Position of the glass
The position of the glass in relation to the edge of the table will have an effect on the amount of light that reflects through it.
Also, it will affect where the edge of the table is seen to pass through the stem of the glass.

Height of the pour
Pouring faster from higher above the glass will create a more dramatic splash, and subsequently, a more dramatic image.
Be careful, as this also means the water will be more likely to splash on the floor near your flash equipment.

I hope this tutorial has been of some use to you.

With a little bit of practice and a fair amount experimentation it can honestly yield some rather amazing results.

Feel free to submit any questions you may have regarding anything that remains unclear.

As always, happy flashing.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Flash Workshop Dates

Just a brief note to announce the next 2 dates for the Flash Workshop.

December 17th 2011 - Saturday
January 14th 2012 - Saturday

Spaces are limited to 12 per day.
$180 for a full day's tuition, meals, refreshments and notes.

Detailed information on the website:

For bookings or further information:
Rory - 021 063 1279

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fireworks over Auckland

New Zealand is currently playing host to the Rugby World Cup, and it seems the entire country has taken on a very patriotic and festive atmosphere.

I witnessed this firsthand last week during the festivities that marked the opening of the tournament.
Part of the opening ceremony was a 12 minute firework display over Auckland City.
Seeing as I have never had the opportunity to shoot fireworks, I opted to spend my night on Mount Victoria (The best lookout over the city) and see what I could come up with.

Planning, thinking and learning bites after the jump.

This particular shoot posed two distinct problms.
Firstly, the fact that I had never shot fireworks before.
Secondly, finding and securing a location which was likely to be swamped with people (given that Mount Victoria was the best place to view the show)

Preparing to shoot something New
The internet is full of little gems of information if you know where to go look for it.
Preparing for the shoot, I was not surprised to find that one of the photographers I respect most, Joe McNally, did a fairly comprehensive post on the subject in his own blog.
Take a look at it here
The blog post is actually a condensed version of a chapter from his last book - The Life guide to digital photography

Seriously good writing by an absolutely amazing photographer.
Well worth the purchase, and at around NZ$20 (and free worldwide shipping) from The Book depository, it's an absolute must read.

The basic take home message for me:
1. Get there early and stake out your claim.
2. Compose the image with a lot more sky than you think you'll need. You can always crop in later, but you can't recover things if you cropped too tightly.
3. Shoot at your lowest ISO and an aperture of around f8/f11. Experiment with shutter speeds and figure out what exposes the static part of the image well.
4. Try shooting in bulb mode to vary your exposure time.
5. Using a black card in front of the lens with a bulb exposure will allow a longer exposure time.
6. Remove the card with each fresh burst of pyrotechnics, and if you time things right you can combine a series of bursts onto one image.

Location Location Location
I've done enough landscape photography to know that location planning is the foundation on which everything else is built.
Where to set up, what time to get there, how to get there and what to pack for the job.
Ignore these questions at your peril.
This shoot promised to be fraught with curve-balls.

Mount Victoria was by far the best place to view the show, but this also meant that I would be one of possibly thousands with the same idea.
This posed a number of problems that I could identify, though with no idea of how much they'd affect the shoot.

Mount Victoria is a long-dormant volcanic mound in Devonport, which is just north of Auckland across the Waitemata Harbour.
Great spot, but with one main entry road.
Timing it wrong would leave me stuck in traffic, lead me to arrive late, find parking miles away, lug gear and refreshment all the way to the top of the hill and then not find a spot to set up (Not a pleasant prospect)

I opted to leave home 5 hours before the show, thinking this would buy me plenty of time.
I'd packed an ipod, book and camp chair, so the wait for sunset would be a piece of cake.)

Despite this, I fouind myself backed up in traffic from the exit of the motorway. My heart sank into my shoes even further when, 30 mins after taking the exit, I arrived in Devonport to find every street parked up. Not looking good.

Luckily I grabbed a spot that must have only recently been vacated.
A brisk 10 minute walk and I was on top of the hill.
Luckier still, there were many unobstructed spots to choose from.
Game on!

Conditions could not have been more perfect, and with the festive atmosphere that existed, it was promising to be a very enjoyable and memorable evening.

I was incredibly fortunate to find a spot beside a really lovely family whose company and conversation made the long wait for 8 o'clock a real pleasure.

So, tripod out and set up, I opted for the 70-200mm.

Took a few test shots, tried a few different framing options, and settled in to await the setting of the sun.

In the meantime, I couldn't resist taking a few snaps of the "neighbours" kids.

Growing up is all good and well, but losing the ability to be completely enthralled by the promise of something exciting is a sad fact of adult life.

I honestly love landscape photography.

The thrill of being out with your camera in that golden hour around sunrise or sunset and actually capturing something special is something that most photographers relish.
I love the vibrance and energy of a city scene, and this particular night was something amazing.
All I had to do was get my focus and exposure right and the scene did everything else.

The time actually passed rather quickly, and before too long I found myself sitting at 19:50 with a cable release in my hand, waiting for the first salvo of light.

I decided to stick with th 70-200mm lens, with the option to change to the 24-70 if necessary. (I reckoned there'd be plenty of time during a 12 min performance)
I was soon to learn that if you want to create magic when shooting fireworks you've pretty much got to get things right at the beginning.
The sky fills with smoke so quickly that pretty soon your scene loses all of its character.
I got lucky with the title shot of this blog, but the rest, apart from telling the story, are not likely to have much commercial value.

All in all, a pretty good night.

As I always do after any shoot, I sat down the next day to do a post mortem and jot down what I learnt, and what I could do to improve things next time.

1. Don't understimate how early you need to get to your spot.
2. ISO 100 @ f11 is plenty good to give a shutter speed that works really well.
3. The black card idea needs a little work. I don't think I created anything with it. Using the bulb exposure made things pretty tricky exposure wise.
4. White/yellow fireworks tend to blow out your exposure very quickly compared to red/green.
5. Get the money shot early on - a sky full of smoke kills a photo.
6. Don't plan on changing lenses.
7. Possibly set up a second camera + tripod.
8. Warmer clothing - Auckland wind on an unexposed hilltop at night for a few hours is no picnic.

The task now is to work at marketing some of the images.
Hopefully a few of the ideas I have will pan out, and that process itself will turn into a worthy blog topic.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by.
As usual, any comments or questions are most welcome.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Flash Photography Workshop

27 August and 9 October 2011

Firefly Photography is proud to announce the resumption of the Flash Photography Workshop series.
The relocation of the business has created a number of obstacles to overcome, and a fair amount of planning has gone into getting things up and running again.

Following the success of the workshop at the Photographic Society of New Zealand's National Convention I have spent the last 3 months researching venues and refining the program.

I am happy to say that everything has been finalised, and 2 dates have been set aside for presenting this workshop in Auckland in the latter half of 2011.

Full details, dates, cost and description of the day's tuition after the jump.

Click the images to view at full size

Much preparation has gone into this workshop, and I guarantee you'll leave it fired up and eager to make magic with your camera and flash.

Places are limited to 20 per day, and are on a first come - first served basis.

Looking forward to seeing you there.