Dave Johnson's Photography

Photos & Thoughts

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Experimenting with Speedlites

I wouldn’t say I’ve recently become obsessed with speedlites, or strobism, as the cool kids say, but I have been spending quite a bit of time experimenting with different setups. My experiments with flash started when I was preparing myself for the Wedding of The Year, where I knew I would need to be able to control both ambient and flash in order to get balanced exposures that don’t resemble the deer caught between the headlights kind of shot – normally associated with on-camera flash from compact cameras.

I also invested in a couple of books, one from the master of speed lighting, Syl Arena, and the other by an accomplished wedding photographer called Neil van Niekirk. If you are interested in improving your speedlite technique then I would definitely recommend these books. Out of all the information in the book the one piece that has stuck with me and allowed me to get more creative and achieve better results is that ambient light exposure is controlled by shutter speed whilst flash exposure is controlled by aperture. What this basically means is that by choosing a suitable shutter speed for the ambient light conditions you can achieve wonderfully balanced shots that don’t even look like flash has been used!

The other thing that has got me interested in maximising the use of my speedlite is that my pop-up flash on my Canon 7D can act as a wireless master and trigger external flash units. What this means is that I can now set up my speedlite (in slave mode) off-camera and use my camera to trigger the unit – with or without the pop-up flash firing.

I am going to be brave and post a few shots of some of my experiments to show what I have been up to. Some of these include off-camera flash but a couple are also about using flash to fill in harsh shadows or for taking photos against the sun. Finally, With the recent purchase of some coloured gels I can now play around with some funky effects. As I said before, this is all about experimenting but any comments or tips would be greatly appreciated. Dave

The composite image below was taken in the woods earlier today. The shot on the left was with no-flash and due to the sun coming from the right hand side you can see that the light across the image is quite variable. This made it quite tricky to get the correct exposure of Mummy and Mia without the rest of the highlights in the image completely blowing out. By adding some fill-flash it allowed the ambient light to be controlled a lot better resulting in a more balanced shot. The shot with flash was used with the camera in manual but the flash used E-TTL II to determine the flash exposure.

Woods_fill flash

This next composite is with off-camera flash being held behind Ben by my trusty assistant. As I said, this is all experimentation at this point which is why you can see said trusty assistant (and her side kick) in one of the images. It’s pretty obvious where the flash was placed but the idea would be to soften the brightness of this flash to give a nice backlit effect – as can be seen around Ben’s head. The second of the shots Lou held the flash at a 90 degree angle to the children – as can be seen by Mia waving at the flash!!

Off-camera flash

This composite is of M playing in the bath. The speedlite was gelled and placed off-camera with the Canon 7D pop-up flash firing and also triggering the speedlite. I was using my wide angle lens for these shots and Unfortunately, as can be seen in the image on the bottom, there is quite a considerable vignette being caused by the pop-up flash. In an ideal world a second speedlite would be used, again either on or off-camera which would eliminate this problem.

Coloured gels_bathtime

Final composite is again of M in the bath with the external flash being gelled red. What I am trying to achieve with the gelled shots is to get the subject (i.e. M) exposed correctly but without the colour cast from the gel. The gel is to provide some background interest to an otherwise bland white bathroom. In the final shot the speedlite was placed in the bedroom, triggered by the pop-up flash of the Canon 7D.

Coloured gels_fun


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To photomatix or not to photomatix. That is the question?

The photos below are a mixture of single raw files tweaked to the maximum to get the most out of the data, and a combination of three raw files with an exposure range from -2 to +2 tone mapped using the photomatix HDR plugin for Aperture. I am quite pleased with the photomatix results as the camera was only handheld to capture the images and so any movement would have resulted in a halo kind of effect on the final image. Fortunately the Canon 7D has such a high burst rate on the high speed setting that it enabled me to fire off three shots in less than a second which limited the amount of movement that might have been apparent at a slower frame rate.

As you can see from the images (with the bloomin watermarks all over) the photomatix plugin is running in trial mode. I would like to upgrade to the full version but as I would use it that infrequently I can’t quite justify the $119 price tag. However, now that I know I can good results from shots handheld it might be a purchase to add to the list for the future.

What do you think of the images? The photomatix ones are easy to spot because of the watermark – how do you think the others compare to the supposed “true” HDR images? Comments greatly appreciated!!

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Never ending options

As I move forward with my photography I am always looking at better ways to manage my image workflow. Currently I am using Aperture for organizing and processing my Canon RAW files. Whilst Aperture is extremely powerful, and with an apparent endless array of external plugins, I am always on the lookout for other software that will allow me to showcase my work. Since buying the iPad I have been using a program called Snapseed which is produced by Nik Software. What this piece of software gave me was the ability to upload photos to my iPad and then process them whilst on the go. I was impressed by the different filters and styles that could be applied to an image, however, the only downside was that I was constantly having to synchronize my photos to my main image library. This afternoon, after much reading on the ‘tinternet, I decided to get Snapseed for my iMac. The desktop version works pretty much in the same way the mobile versions do yet I feel that you get a little extra in the way certain portions of the image can be manipulated. One of the benefits of having snapseed on the desktop is that I can send images from Aperture for external editing and then have the changes update automatically back into the Aperture library – HEY PRESTO! no more manual syncing of images!!

I am sure there are many great reviews of Snapseed available on the web so I will only leave you with two images. One manipulated with Snapseed and the other with no modifications (aka straight out of the camera) so that you can see the kind of results you can get with a little jiggery pokery!

Trying out Snapseed on the iMac

Straight out of the camera

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Getting functional with flash

The past few months have seen me delving into the world of flash. I bought a flash unit a number of years a go but never really got round to using it properly. As the days are getting warmer and the sun is getting stronger I thought it would be a good idea to learn how to use fill-in flash properly. I’ve bought a couple of books that have taught me a lot about how to use flash subtly so that it is almost impossible to tell one was fired! My most recent purchase has been the Opteka FS-80 Flash System that is primarily designed to be used outdoors, particularly when there are no suitable surfaces to bounce a flash from. It’s quite a strange looking beast but as my examples will hopefully show below, it does actually work. The unit is supplied with 3 inserts, white, gold and silver, so that you can tint the light being reflected. The technical blurb states that without the inserts 80% of the light bounces off an available surface, whilst 20% will be directed towards your subject. Clearly with the insert the amount of light being bounced is much higher. This is the main reason that when I found myself outside, in a very sunny garden at lunchtime watching the kids play, I thought it was the perfect time to see what this kit could do. Now, I realize that the images I have posted are nothing special, but they were the best out of the bunch that I could use to demonstrate how useful this piece of kit will be when faced wit shooting in full sun or high contrast scenes that do not have a suitable surface to bounce a regular flash unit from.

The results are subtle but really do help bring out dark areas, particularly when the subject is side on to the light source (comparison 1 & 2). The 3rd image really highlights the usefulness of the reflector given that where the 2 small children were playing was completely cast in shadow, whereas the rest of the garden was in full sun. Taking an image without flash would have meant that a sacrifice for either the garden or the children would have had to have been made regarding which would have been correctly exposed. Alternatively, a flash unit pointed directly would have likely resulted in a very unnatural illumination of the shadow area, as it is, in my opinion using this reflector has resulted in a shot with both areas more or less equally balanced. The 4th comparison shows my daughter playing in an area that was completely covered by shadow. Taking a regular shot with no flash would have resulted in the background being completely over-exposed due to the difference in light between the two areas. Using the reflector has allowed me to sufficiently expose the foreground whilst keeping the background correctly exposed.

Clearly it is going to take time for me to fully adapt to using this system but given my brief time with it so far, I am impressed and looking forward to using much more. Particularly at my sister-in-laws wedding (Miss Cakes) wedding in May.





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Testing my new toy!!!

Today my new Canon EF 28mm prime lens arrived- ordered from Warehouse Express yesterday! The more I use prime lenses, the more I like them and the quality of the images over standard zoom lenses is far superior (in my opinion!). I am lucky enough to have a Canon L lens (the 24-105mm) and if the shutter speed and aperture are chosen correctly then I would say the images it produces are on a par with a prime lens.

I have a feeling that over the next few weeks there will be a lot of discarded shots due to autofocus errors etc., but once I have had a good play with it I will post some more photos for you to review!