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Everything can be a light source Part I

One of the most asked questions must be “what’s your favorite light”
One of the most heard excuses is always “I don’t have the gear to do this”

 

In reality the answer on both questions can’t be given 123.
Let me start with number 1.
My favorite light source is something I always have problems with explaining, somehow my mind never thinks about light sources, but in the total image, and I choose the light source that give me the look that I need…OR I use what I have with me. So saying I love light source XXX or YYY doesn’t really make sense because it could very well be that that light source doesn’t give me the end result I have in my mind. I strongly believe that is also one of the problems a lot of “starting” photographers struggle with, and also a part of my workshops where I always tell people to NOT think about lighting as a source but as a means to get the look you want for a certain shot.

 

Now let’s look at number 2.
Nobody will have all the gear in the world, so there’s always something you don’t own or can’t use, so if you REALLY want, there’s always an excuse to NOT be able to do something. However when (see number 1) if you don’t look at gear but only at a final result and work towards that you will very quickly find out that often the most simple light sources (and other gear) are more than enough to shoot your end result. You just have to flip that switch that tells you you need expensive gear.

 

So don’t I care about what I use?
Well yes of course, I love my Sony cameras or iPhone, but not because I can’t get my results with other gear, I can shoot the same images with Canon, Nikon, Medium Format, iPhone etc. It’s just that the quality of the end result will be different, and because I also love quality (and love gear) I’m actually always looking for that little bit of extra quality, which is why I ended up with Sony and still shoot Medium Format.

 

Lighting wise it’s the same story, during workshops I often have to shoot with different brands due to sponsors or organizers of an event, and I think I’m probably one of the easiest instructors out there because I don’t really care if I have to shoot another brand as long as they can do the things I need, and if they don’t I’ll just adjust my program to work with the limits (or extra possibilities) I have. Personally I absolutely love my Elinchrom gear, the modifiers are in my opinion the best out there for the look that I like, and the quality of the strobes is awesome, I’m always very careful with gear but they are in some harsh situations sometimes, especially during workshops where groups of 10-12 people have to shoot in warm or cold weather, and the Elinchroms actually never let me down, so indeed there is a preference.

 

A while ago I started a workshop called “Alternative light sources” in which I actually teach the points I made above.
By making the attendees understand that a photograph is in essence a story or a frozen moment in time and not a mix of gear you will quickly see that their mindsets also change and they start to take risks they normally never do. One of the things for example is shooting higher ISOs, many photographers are often afraid to shoot on that higher ISO mode because there is noise. And indeed there is noise in the shot, but you have to realize that this is something you often see on the screen but not in prints (not even larger prints). Looking at a picture on a monitor 1:1 is in essence something like looking at a HUGE print from a few inches, and let’s be honest… that’s not something you do, you move back. This is actually why I always tell people to just print an image you think has too much noise and I think you will be surprised how good the print looks.

 

As soon as you realize this you will often find out that there are a lot more light sources you can use instead of strobes. You can for example shoot amazing shots with just some Christmas lights and for example a smart phone. And this is exactly what we did as the first setup during the workshop.

 

Nadine is lit by two smartphones and the lights she used in her dress.
Of course it’s a higher ISO shot, but as mentioned before…. when you print it absolutely looks great 😀 (depending on your camera of course, some cameras are indeed very bad above ISO3200, but most will do just fine “enough” up to ISO6400.

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Some misunderstandings about medium format 

With the release of the new Fuji MF camera there are also a lot of “misunderstandings” floating around the internet. Some posted by self proclaimed experts and some by …. well people that probably never held a MF camera.

 
Who am I to post this?

Well I’ve been shooting medium format for years and shoot a mix of phase one/Mamiya leaf for digital but also an RX67proII (also digital) and yashica 124 and some other older cameras. So I think I have some experience. 
So let’s start with the confusions

1. Medium format is slower workflow 

Well this is one where we can agree a bit but not necessary. It really depends on the camera. Medium format just means a bigger sensor now a days. When you shoot with a rz67proII heck yeah that’s slow. But the new phase one camera system (XF) is a lot faster and the new Fuji could actually be just as fast as what you’re used to in a dslr. Remember that technology progresses and the major slowness of older MF cameras was not the sensor size but the focusing and bigger mirrors etc. 

2. Medium format means more light is captured so you need to change your exposure. 

Excuse me?

How would that be possible?

Imagine this. 

IF the amount of light for proper exposure was sensor size related how would a light meter work?

Indeed. There is no difference. If a strobe is metering f8.0 on a dlsr it’s also f8.0 on a medium format camera. Are there exceptions?

Yes. 

If you use a medium format camera that uses a bellows focus it will actually take away light, this is also why those cameras have a scale on the side so you know what to adjust. And of course macro lenses on their extreme settings can take away light. But this is the same on your dslr. 
What they probably mean (part 1) is that due to the larger pixels it’s possible to get a better dynamic range, or in other words a better signal to noise ratio. A bigger sensor is in theory able to capture more light than a smaller sensor. This is however not related to how you set your shutter speed and aperture. It just means that you will see more detail in your highlights and shadows. I say in theory because it’s not just the size of the pixels or size, it’s a part of what determines dynamic range. Especially Sony (who makes most sensors now a days for both MF and other formats) is using different techniques, including backlit sensors, that make it possible to get a better signal to noise ratio. Fact is that is you use exactly the same sensor and exactly the same technique a bigger surface will of course give more dynamic range due to a better signal to noise ratio. 
The other part (2) is the misunderstanding of DOF (depth of field). Due to the larger sensor a MF camera captures “differently” than a FF sensor. For example if you shoot the same subject from the same distance an you want a similar crop you’ll have to shoot with a 50mm on the FF dslr and with 80mm on the MF camera. This combined with the larger sensor size will give you less DOF on the MF camera. Meaning to get the same amount of DOF you will have to shoot on f11-16 on a MF where on a dslr you can shoot it on f8. This however has to be done by using more light on the MF. In other words raise the strobe output or in natural light raise shutter speed (or ISO of course). 

3. You can’t shoot hand held

Oh my. This story has been going on for years. Every time there is a new megapixel record the same story starts. I often think that most reviewers drink to much or have very unstable hands (humor guys). I’ve been shooting as one of the first testers with the 80mp leaf back many years ago and got razor sharp results hand held. I’ve been shooting the new 100mp hand held and got razor sharp results even down to 1/30 of a second. And no I’m not super man. So where does this story comes from?
Well in all honesty with a more heavy camera you have to know how to shoot. Control your breathing and make sure you have enough contact points. Add to this the large mirror and you understand that it’s a different way of shooting. And in this case indeed a slower more careful workflow. Going back to the new and modern cameras mirror slap has greatly been reduced, in fact I could shoot slow shutter speeds with the phase one xf very easily (easier that with my DF+) and seeing the fact the new Fuji is mirror less…… well you know the answer right 😉
4. My computer will explode

Pfffff really?

I’ve been editing 80mp files years ago on my MacBook pro and old Mac Pro. Both machines couldn’t do 4K video (couldn’t even play it) and both machines edited those files almost just as easy as my 16-24mp files from my other cameras. Of course a 50-100mp file is a bit “heavier” but it’s not a matter of a huge difference. Some filters will be slower but on modern machines you should have no problem at all and won’t really notice a difference. Especially with 50mp files. 

5. Ok but my hard drive will explode

Pffff here we go again 😉
The files sizes can look huge but in all honesty it’s not 10x the size as some make you believe. I always tell people that as a rule or tumb you could say app 1mb per megapixel and that’s not 100% true but it comes close enough. 

And in all honesty. Do you really need to save every out of focus shot? If you go through your shots you very quickly can clean up a lot of space. I save a lot of images and during trips we shoot a lot but overall we actually never really pass the 2TB point per year. And again I save a lot of images. 

Now you have to triple all your hard drive space for onsite backup and offsite but hard drives are getting bigger every year and cheaper so in essence the COST to save your 100mp files are just as expensive as your 16mp files years ago. Probably even cheaper. 

6. There are no fast lenses

Ok. This is a bit more technical. And you’re right. With most medium format systems the standard is app f4.0 for a lens although there are f2.8 primes and I even own a f1.8 lens. 
But….

Do remember that with MF you have a much much bigger sensor which translates in a different depth of field. In fact try to shoot perfectly focused portraits with a f1.8 lens is next to impossible, and with a f2.8 you get some very cool DOF effects which you could not achieve on a FF dslr with a f2.8 lens in the same range. 

7. Not many lenses available 

This is actually something that has puzzled me for years now…. how many lenses do you need? In the past most photographers had a wide angle, a medium lens and one or two longer lenses. 

When I look at what I use it’s similar. On my dslr I use a 12-24, 24-70 and 70-400 or 70-200 depending on the look I want (DOF because the 70-200 is a constant f2.8) I do own some fast primes but…. well ….. I hardly use them. 

On medium format I use a wide angle 35mm a 75-150 zoom and a 80mm f2.8. Again I own some more but the first two are actually all I need. 

8. You can shoot up to 1/2000 or even higher with strobes 

Watch out. This only works with leaf shutter lenses. Even a mirror less design will not guarantee a higher than 1/125 x-sync. So don’t just think you will be shooting day to night with strobes without any problems. 

Some other things you have to think about. 

1. The look

Without a doubt medium format has a totally different look from FF35mm sensors. I never wanted a MF camera till I shot some images with one and it was actually when I got home and looked at the shots I was determined I wanted one. At the moment I’m using a leaf credo60 and still think those files are superior to my Sony a7rII even if that Sony kicks my credo silly when it comes to recovering shadows and highlights, the detail and graduations but most of all the 3D look of the MF is just breathtaking. 
So when I have control and want the best possible images I’ll shoot it with MF. If I think I need to recover a lot or I need high ISO it’s the Sonys turn. (But this is the old MF technology. The new sensors are much better)

2. Waist level finders

Don’t underestimate the fun and most of all benefits of a waistlevel finder during portrait or model sessions. You can keep eye contact and still see what’s going on. And shooting under a lower angle is easier. Although with a flipsceen this is also easier. 

Of course there are more topics but I think these are the ones I read the most. 

Remember the expression “horses for courses”. In the past I always advised people to not sell their dslr when they went to medium format. In the past medium formats were great for situations where you controlled the light. But above iso200-400 they were really “bad” now a days the new Sony sensors are awesome and I actually tested a 50mp version a few years ago for leaf and traveled with just that camera and never missed my dslr. Shots up to 6400iso were picture perfect. 
That said you won’t see medium format cameras in sporting events for the simple reason…. they are not build for that. However for fashion, architecture, landscapes etc medium format was always perfect. And now with the smaller Fuji it could even become the perfect street and travel camera. 
Hope this article gives you a bit more info on MF. Please feel free to share this post. 

Tip on angles

One of the easiest ways to improve your shots is by taking some care about the angle you shoot in/under.

As you can see in the samples in this blogpost there can be a HUGE difference.
The problem is that often the images you create during workshops or photoshoots where there is a lot of attention for styling already look really cool when shot from… well almost any angle, so often people are already impressed with the shots and don’t take the extra effort to do more, and why should they? often the responses from the public is also WOW, AMAZING, COOL… etc.

However those same images can be so much stronger when you also play with your angles.
Personally I love the way the images change and would really advise you to also play with these, even if you prefer the eye level shots in this series 😀

As you can see in the following samples I first changed my angle in the horizontal manner, and than I actually started shooting from much lower angles, for me the lines and drama are much more present in those really low angles.

Styling/model : Nadine

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Mixing ambient/available with strobes

A situation most photographers encounter many times is mixing ambient/available light with strobes.
There is however a pretty simple rule you can always use to remember how to influence the look of a scene.

Shutter speed controls the available light
Aperture is the flash
ISO stays the same

If you change the ISO you have to change the aperture (because this is fixed pulse from the strobe).
By changing the shutter speed you can let in more or less ambient/available light.
This way you can make a background outside darker (faster shutter speed) or lighter (slower shutter speed) while the exposure on your model (the flash) stays the same. Do remember this is of course with manual flash with ETTL this works slightly differently.

Also remember that there is a point where the ambient/available light can actually over power the strobe, especially outside when working with fill-in flash this can happen quite easily, that’s why I always advise to setup your strobes on full power first and lower the output by counting (if your system has 1/10th or 1/3rd digital settings and is reliable). If you change the shutter speed you have to remember that if you double or halve the shutter speed this is ONE full f-stop so if you know your aperture and the combination of ambient and flash you actually can very quickly calculate when the ambient is higher that the flash. If for example the setup is f11 on the model on 1/125 and you overpower the ambient with 2 stops, you know that when you shoot on f11 1/60 you are now overpowering the ambient with just 1 stop.

This comes in very handy when you start adding constant lighting to your scene like in these examples.
You can actually (to a certain level) control how much the lightbulbs emit, or how far they blow out.
I love using the Elinchrom ELCs for this because they can go down REALLY low in power, and that’s awesome for mixing them with this kind of light.

For this setup we used one strobe on the model and one blue gelled strobe on the back for the smoke effect. The chandelier was powered by 230V 😀

Mixing light sources can be incredibly fun but also a bit difficult at first. Also take into account that some light sources have a different color temperature (to be exact EVERY light source has a different color temperature, that’s why we use the X-Rite color checkers), you can solve this by gelling the strobes, or…. just leave it and play with it like I did in these shots, I love the cool hues you can get this way.

As a rule of thumb:
Outside light : no correction
Tungsten : Amber colored gels
Fluorescent : Green colored gels

Or find the proper CTO gels, you can of course also stack gels, I always advise to by them not to heavy and get two, this way you can stack them together if necessary.

Model : Danique
Dresses (black) by Sinister

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