Stuff to put into the Think Tank Airport Security case tonight for tomorrow's shoot. 
Two Yongnuo flashes, one Cactus RF60 flash, one Metz flash, 
three Cactus V6 Transceivers, lots of rechargeable batteries and (top left)
my trusty Sekonic light meter. 

Out of the blue, about a month ago, I got a nice note from someone at the company that makes Cactus products and he offered to send me some of their products to test. I thought about it for a couple of days because I've found extended loans of cameras for the purpose of reviewing has the effect of making me subconsciously feel that I should alter my approach to photography by learning a new, different, weird interface or menu or handling characteristic. Also, when testing cameras you tend to become locked into whatever lens the camera company might send you. Would I enjoy testing an Olympus camera if the company was hellbent on sending me only a 14-42mm kit lens? No! I would not. Did I enjoy working with the Samsung NX-1 and the lesser kit lens? Not really. So the camera you use is an essential driver. Do I feel the same way about lighting? No really. I think of flashes as more or less interchangeable as far as the light they put out and the way they handle. For most work I am a manual setting user and not a TTL geek user. I don't spend a lot of time figuring out every little way a flash could work and I don't like to leave the metering of multiple light set ups to the camera or flash's discretion. A flash is a flash is a flash. If they put out the same power and they recycle quickly then I'm pretty happy.

I decided that I could compartmentalize the way I work with lights and I decided not to try and press the test gear into every shoot. And I further promised myself that I wouldn't change the way I work just to investigate features that I might never want to use in real life. With that all in mind I sent back an e-mail and agreed to accept and test the gear.

A couple weeks later I got a box from Fed Ex that came all the way from Hong Kong. Inside the box, and beautifully packaged, were three Cactus V6 Wireless Flash Transceivers and one Cactus RF60 Wireless flash. I pulled out the user manuals and started reading. The transceivers are radio triggers; they can be used on camera as a master to trigger other transceivers or they can be used as slaves to trigger attached flashes. The transceivers are set up with 16 channels and four groups. A master can control certain flashes by changing their power levels. The transceivers are programmed with some of the most popular Nikon and Canon flash profiles and they control the flash power levels through hotshoe contact communication. You can change power levels separately for each group of flashes and transceivers. So far so good.

For my uses I can stop right there. I can put one of the V6's on the camera and use the other two V6's to trigger attached flashes. I can also trigger the RF60 flash with a V6 on the camera. And that's mostly the way I end up using my flashes for most work. I am so old school with this stuff. I want to set the levels on the flashes and make a test frame---then adjust. But the V6s can do more. You can assign each V6 a channel and you can enable or disable each channel or any combination of channels from the master in the hot shoe. Wanna see what one set of lights looks like? Turn off the other channels and blaze away.

With approved flashes (Nikon users will find SB-800, SB-900 and SB-910s on the list) you can increase or decrease the manual power level for each group. That mean if I use the RF60 flash as a master and hook up three compatible flashes on three V6s, and then assign  different channel for every V6 I can, from camera, control the power levels of all three slaved flashes from the camera location individually. Nice.

If you are using a compatible TTL flash (say an SB-900) you can put the SB-900 in the V6's flash shoe and take advantage of their TTL "passthrough." Your flash will communicate directly with the camera in the normal TTL mode with all the usual stuff and you will still be able to trigger and control flashes connected to other V6s remotely.

There's one more thing about the V6s that's pretty cool but I haven't played with yet and that's the ability of the transceivers to "learn" new flashes. Someday soon I'll get around to writing about it but for right now I'll just extol the virtues of the V6s. They work. They are easy to set up. The flash shoe on the unit is a great flash interface. I like that the V6s take two double A batteries. I used the V6s as triggers pretty extensively while I was shooting the annual report project for a public utility back in April. I used them indoors in industrial spaces, and outdoors in electrical substations and they never failed to trigger.

Using the battery powered flashes and the transceivers on several recent jobs that required moving quickly and setting up and tearing down just enough stuff to get the job done reminded me that I've been so intrigued by new technologies like LEDs that I'd skirted using the tried and true tech like flash for too long. Practically speaking, this is the stuff we learned on and it's like riding a bicycle--you really don't forget how to set up and execute with flash.

I'm packing up to do a shoot tomorrow and I was looking through the light inventory trying to decide what to use. My first thoughts were about LED panels because there is a certain charm in continuous lighting but then I thought about how easy the job would be with a Think Tank rolling case full of shoe mount flashes and I decided to go all in on that methodology.

I'm only taking four flash units. Two are inexpensive Yongnuo flashes, one is the Cactus RF60 and the third is a Metz flash. The Yongnuo flashes have built in optical slaves while the Cactus and the Metz require external triggers. I'll take along a bunch of Eneloop batteries, a small softbox and a few collapsible Westcott umbrellas and I should be set. We're going to attempt to make portraits on location with very, very shallow depth of field. I can't use the ambient light. I scouted it yesterday and it's not photograpy friendly. It's all ceiling fixtures with florescent tubes. Not pretty tubes either.

I want to bring lights to leverage the ability to create light direction and light quality as well as color purity. I chose the flashes over LEDs in case I want to shoot with windows in the background. A couple of stout flashes and some sunscreens over the windows gives me more than a fighting chance at overpowering or matching existing exterior light. Especially with the cloudy weather we're having lately. The beauty of this plan is that everything; cameras and flashes, will fit in one case with wheels. A bag of small, light stands is the only other luggage I'll need to get through an entire day or portrait shooting.

But it's not like this is all new to me. I did actually write a bestselling book about lighting with small lights. It's a bit dated now but I think it's still a good read and the foundational concepts are still right on the money even if the gear has changed a bit. Here's a link to my very first technical book on photography:  Minimalist Lighting.

And yes, it's still in print!

engagement photo sessions: posing, lighting & context

I love this photo! I also like how it came together. This was within minutes of meeting DaWeon and Toban for their engagement photo session in Philadelphia. We had only chatted on Skype before. Embarrassingly enough, I arrived late to the meeting place for their engagement session through my misunderstanding about the address. No excuses there. But it did mean I had to work fast – the setting sun was lighting up the Philadelphia skyline, and I had to nail a series of photos very quickly.

DaWeon and Toban had said they wanted the city to feature in their engagement photo session. And of course, I am always under a self-imposed instruction that the photos have to look great and have to please and even surprise my clients.

More than pre-visualizing a shot, you have to be able to immediately recognize what needs to be done to get the photograph that you know is possible.

Everyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, would know that my approach is one where I work with a structure – an algorithm that will make sure the shot works technically. But I also want to be open to surprises. Chance.

That idea of allowing serendipity and change to influence a photo session, has been a regular topic lately:

With clients though, I am more inclined to favor my chances of success by working with structure to my photography technique. The images need to work! There needs to be a solid yet fluid baseline from which I can be creative and look for opportunities and play off the couple’s playfulness.

A few things had to come together to make this photo (and the entire series of photos) successful:
– lighting,
– composition
– context,
– posing.

And these are things I have to control. No time to wait for luck to favor me with some random goodness.

camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used for the main photo

  • 1/1000  @  f/3.2  @  100 ISO  … with Profoto B1 off-camera flash


lighting & posing

I want to discuss two of those specific elements – lighting and posing:


The Profoto B1 flash has proven to be a game-changer for me for several reasons. Most obvious, the ease of use and setting up, as well as the sheer power for a portable unit. But the way that the B1 has changed things for me, is that I can now confidently go to high-speed flash sync (HSS) mode.

Previously, with speedlights, I always went to HHS mode conservatively when working in very bright light. I would first make sure I was able to get proper flash exposure at normal flash output (at maximum sync speed). Then I would find the necessary aperture and then add that much flash. If I could get correct exposure in bright light with a speedlight at max sync speed, then I knew I had a chance that HSS might work for that distance and aperture.

If we look at the camera settings I chose –  1/1000  @  f/3.2  @  100 ISO – will show that the late afternoon sun reflecting off the buildings were quite bright. Not too far Sunny 16 even!

I wanted to create that separation between the couple and the background. The city could just be context. A pretty backdrop.

With the Profoto B1, I can now comfortably deviate from my usual algorithm when shooting in bright sunlight with flash. Instead of first going to max sync speed, I can now immediately go to my chosen aperture – in this case, f/3.2 … a wide aperture for shallow depth-of-field. Then I find the appropriate shutter speed. The inverse of how I would approach this with a speedlight! Better yet, I now have much softer light than a speedlight because I can use a softbox – in this case my usual narrow Profoto RFi 1’×3 softbox– and still have a wide aperture.



I don’t often rigidly pose people – I prefer a more “organic” approach to posing where I adjust and correct someone’s pose very quickly before taking the photo. This way their pose or stance is still natural for them, but has been improved for the camera. It can be subtle – the way they shift their weight or place their hands. Check the various articles on posing for more tips and suggestions.

There’s one thing I’d like to point out about DaWeon’s pose in the image at the top (and here on the right):

Notice the way she has her front knee bent. She naturally fell into this pose, so there wasn’t anything for me to adjust with how she placed her feet and her legs. But notice how her front knee is bent forward. This creates an inverted triangle from her waist and to her knees. This naturally looks more slender. Not that DaWeon needed a pose that looks more slender, and less bulky – but this is how I would pose any woman as a starter pose.

The opposite of this would be with your subject’s rear leg cocked forward, creating a triangle shape like on the right. This immediately looks larger and more bulky. You can try this yourself in a mirror to see the difference in what happens when the other knee is bent forward.


related links


video tutorials to help you with your photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


more images

The post engagement photo sessions: posing, lighting & context appeared first on Tangents.

Photography 105 – how to be successful in your photography business

When days are dark, these slivers of light shine extra bright. Yes, I received a check for $1.05 … clearly I need to raise my prices … or something. (Actually I have no idea why this company would just throw more money at me.)

Seriously though – the reason for this blog post is that I want to put in a proposal again to speak at WPPI 2016 in Las Vegas. (WPPI takes place March 05 – 09 next year.) The previous four occasions where I presented a masterclass at WPPI, the topics had been about flash photography and lighting. So I feel I have mined that subject well enough – I need to have a wider scope.

I would like everyone (whether you’re going to WPPI or not), to give suggestions as to what topics you’d like to hear me touch on in a presentation. (The title – how to be successful in photography business – is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the riches that flow in.) What would you like to hear more about on the Tangents blog, and during presentations? Post your suggestions in the comments section.

To make this interesting, I will make two random-number drawings on Friday (by comment number), and each winner will get a complimentary copy of one of my Craftsy classes on photography.

The post topics for photography workshops? appeared first on Tangents.

It's another shop vac day in the neighborhood. We live up in the hills so nothing is ever going to be underwater (unless it's the end days) but with lots of elevations and grades along with super saturated soil the floors were not immune. We've had 23 days of good rain in a row, effectively curtailing the worst of the severe drought (for now).

I've spent hours today vacuuming up water and dumping it outside the studio. Nothing was damaged or destroyed inside. We have everything up on shelves and the foam mats on the floor are very helpful. All the cameras are snug in their cabinets and far from the floor.

In the downtown Austin area entire businesses are flooded and the recovery from the wide spread water damage will take time.

We're safe and sound here. My prayers go out to all the Austinites who live around Shoal Creek and other flood prone areas. I hope the worst we get is property damage and that no lives are lost.

Staying dry. Hope you are too.

This is the way I have my camera set up for shooting video on a tripod. If someone else was handling the sound it would less cluttered. If I was shooting solo I probably wouldn't use the monitor either...

This is the set up I used to shoot the video I talked about in the previous blog post. The box on the top left is the Beachtek DXA-2T which is a passive microphone mixer. I can combine both channels into one or keep the signals in separate channels. The important thing is that the Beachtek box allows me to control audio levels as needed. Always going down, never up; because there are no active preamplifiers in the box. But it also does a great job of impedance matching between the professional XLR connected microphones and the consumer level, mini-plug inputs.

Next to the blue Beachtek box is a Sennheiser receiver which is one half of the wireless microphone support set. Note that its output is connected into the mixer. 

I can add more utility shoes to the top bar of this "cage" in order to add more stuff but at a certain point more stuff makes the whole rig top heavy, plus it's already starting to look messy.... Don't try this with a little weanie tripod and head!

The Marshall monitor is a cheap one but it does a nice job. People can watch what I'm shooting without breathing down my neck and I can click on the focus peaking and see if what I'm shooting is really in focus or not. The headphones serve the same purpose only for ears. I will need to add a little hook to one of the tripod legs to hand the headphones on when we're between takes.

If I'm going to use a tripod it's really nice to have all the stuff I need right there, clustered around the camera. These are all simple and effective tools but they make a difference in the shooting. You can imagine that on bigger sets with multiple monitors and digital recorders sucking information out of the camera's HDMI socket and with the camera rigged with a follow focus mechanism and a matte box things get complex, crowded and more and more unwieldy. 

When I shoot with the Olympus stuff I don't want to wire it up like so. I want to shoot with them handheld and use the EVF finder. The D810 doesn't seem to mind the add-ons. 

Cost of stuff: The Beachtek box is about $170, the Sennheiser system, with lavaliere microphone is $700, The monitor is $349 and the grippy/cagey thing was a little less than $100. Not bad at all for stuff you can really use to make video projects work.

A screen grab from my video project at Zach Theatre.

I have a really, really fun job and it amazes me that I can still get excited about things like getting the lighting on a subject just right, or getting the audio perfect. You would think after almost thirty years in the business that one would get a bit jaded. A bit complacent. In a short length of time yesterday, in the early evening, I had the wonderful feeling that I lined up everything correctly. Please let me share.

Zach Theatre is doing a play called, Mothers and Sons, and they cast Michael Learned in one of the starring roles. For those of you who don't know Ms. Learned she is the actress who played Olivia Walton (the Walton's mom) in the Waltons. She has been in numerous movies, is very active on the stage and has won four Emmy's for Best Actress. You've often heard people talk about someone who lights up a room by just walking in? That would be Ms. Learned.  

The production team at Zach wanted to do a thirty second TV spot featuring Ms. Learned against black, in character, for the upcoming play. The team got in touch and asked me to do the project. I immediately went into pre-production mode and got as many details as I could. We would be shooting the principal part of the spot with Ms. Learned against a black background. She would be speaking directly into camera and the audio was critical. They wanted the lighting to be natural and non-clinical. I would need to be totally set and tested by the time Ms. Learned appeared on our set as we would only have a limited amount of time to get what we needed before she had to get to another commitment. 

The first thing I needed to lock down was a black background. I checked pricing for a roll of black seamless background paper, nine feet wide. It would be $55. I checked on getting a black muslin in a 10 by12 foot size and at Amazon it was $29. Since I pay for the Prime service shipping to my studio door was free. I went with the muslin option and it was delivered in the pouring rain on Friday; just in time.

I experimented with lighting and devised a different way of lighting this video than I had used before. I also went back in time and selected one lighting instrument from antiquity that acquitted itself very well. 

I wanted a soft light that was directional so I used a 72 inch, soft white (with black backing) Fotodiox umbrella as my main light, just to the left of the camera. I lit up the umbrella with an old (very old) Lowell Tota-Light that a friend had given me years ago. When the whole combination was used as close as I wanted it to my subject to get the right balance of softness and detail I got the exposure I was looking for into the bargain. A 750 watt tungsten light is still (relatively speaking) a powerful source. 

Just to my subject's left (right hand side of the frame) I put up a very big white reflector. It's just out of camera range but it tamed the lighting ratio and added additional softness and fill to the overall image. The final piece of lighting was the chameleon in my case; the Fiilex P360 LED light. I dialed the color temperature dial all the way to tungsten (to match the main light) and used it high up and about twenty feet behind the subject, on her left side. The Fiilex makes a great backlight and is one of the few, very high quality LED products that can be used as a spot. 

In order to assess the effects of the lighting set up as we worked, my producer, Michael Ferstenfeld, acted as the stand in and was very patient as I moved lights around and finessed the subject to camera to background distances. 

I used the Nikon D810 as my video camera setting the camera to its highest quality setting and, after consultation with my editor, set the rig to 29.97 fps. The exposure was 1/60th of a second with my 85mm f1.8 G Nikon lens set at f4.0. The ISO was 320. Since the entire set was illuminated by tungsten halogen bulbs (of the equivalent) I was able to use the tungsten preset for WB. 

I had the D810 hooked up to my 7 inch Marshall monitor, via HDMI, to provide focus peaking during  set up and shooting and to provide a big monitor for the artistic director and the producer to watch as I filmed. The bigger screen, in combination with focus peaking made it easy to manually focus the 85mm and I paid close attention to both the screen and the subject's relationship to her mark on the floor while I was shooting. 

The final step was to get the audio set up and zero'd in. I wanted to use two microphones on this set up, just to cover myself. The primary unit was a Sennheiser wireless rig and you can see the mic placement on the subject in the screen grab above. This is a great wireless mic set up and one we use all the time but every once in a while an actor will get carried away and get loud enough to blast out of the safe levels and distort the audio. I wanted a second "safety" channel with a different mic set about 12 db down from the main microphone; just in case. 

As a back-up I chose the Rode NTG-2 shotgun microphone. I wired it up with an XLR cable and put it on a Gitzo microphone boom and secured that to a stout light stand. The microphone is about 18 inches above and in front of Ms. Learned. Both microphones were running through a small, passive mixer and into the camera's audio input. I use the mixer because it gives me physical knobs to twist for each channel. After we do several rehearsal takes with our actor I can quickly set the levels that work best without having to menu dive or get finger-traction on a small, rear screen. The difference between the channels ended up being about 6db as I dialed down the input from the main microphone by a bit during rehearsal. I always wear headphones when shooting speaking parts in video so I can hear anything that make make the recorded sound unusable. 

Ms. Learned came in trailed by the costumer and the theater's make-up person. She instantly memorized her lines and walked over to the mark. We shot six or seven takes but honestly, she nailed it on the very first take, everything else was just in case. Her whole time investment on set was a bit less than 15 minutes. We all reviewed the product, couldn't figure out a single way to improve it and so we wrapped up and started packing. 

The editor was on set so as soon as my gear was packed and stowed in the car I handed him the SD memory card and he downloaded the files to his laptop. I mentioned that he would have 24 hours to make back ups but I was (mostly) kidding. I'll back up anything I liked shooting....

I played the segments on my computer for the first time this morning and got that warm and happy feeling of having nailed something as well as I possibly could. Another step forward.

EM5.2 Video Test 2 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This video is about Untitled Project

Click through to Vimeo using the links above if you want to see the test video at full res. The embedded version is limited to 800 pixels wide.

I bought the Olympus EM5.2 cameras because I am convinced that the image stabilization in those cameras will really work well with the way I like to shoot video. While some people may be able to sit down, read a review on the web or watch a YouTube video and hit the ground running, getting perfect video every time, I am not so lucky. I seem to have to work through a camera and try it in every setting before I really understand how the camera will give up its best images for me.

The EM5.2 is a classic case in point. It's a great still cameras that is both blessed and cursed with ultimately flexible configuration possibilities. But for everyone who likes to shoot video there might be a combination that makes their work look better than any other collage of settings. For me it's all about rejecting what doesn't work and focusing on what does.

My first experiments with the camera weren't bad, they just weren't as good as what I was getting out other cameras, like the Panasonic GH4 and the Nikon D810, and I had an inkling that I could do better.

The video above is my attempt to tune in my camera and make it work of the primary task I envisioned; walking around with the camera and getting wonderfully smooth, handheld footage with good sharpness and detail.

I am happy now to say that I am finally very happy with the video in the EM5.2. In the experiment above I can see lots and lots of detail in my face and hair and the overall appearance of sharpness is just right. That's a good thing. But how did I get there?

I set up the camera to record in the All-I setting. This means every frame contains the full image file and this makes editing easier even though it increases the size of the in-camera video files. It's the highest quality in-camera setting but you can get even more serious and buy an external recorder and take a clean, uncompressed video file from the HDMI port if you really need more quality and control.

My camera was set up to do 1080p video at its highest quality ISO, which is 200. The frame rate was set at 24 fps and the shutter speed was 1/50th of a second. Finally, the aperture on the 45mm f1.8 lens was set to f3.2 which should be in the optimum range of apertures for that lens. I metered myself with a Sekonic light meter which has a cine scale and used the meter's recommended settings.

Here's where I changed direction (happily) and where I think I was able get footage I liked today. I had the feeling that the noise reduction in the camera was just too strong and was killing fine detail so I set it to "off." That was one step too far and I could see noise in the mid-tones when I played test footage back on my desktop monitor. I stepped back one step and set the noise reduction to "low" and that seemed
Read more »

promotion: Craftsy video tutorials

Craftsy has all their photography classes on sale as a special for this weekend.
There are a huge variety of topics covered with these classes. Check them out.

The post promotion: Craftsy video tutorials – discounted sale appeared first on Tangents.

we'll have a revised test up shortly.

There are two groups of people (generalization) who write camera reviews: 1. People who are mercenary and writing in hopes you'll click through the ads sprinkled through and around their camera reviews and indirectly reward the writers with money. 2. Happy amateurs who are writing because writing is fun and owning cameras is fun and it's nice way to feel connected to other camera owners on the internet.

But to camera makers there's only one group that counts in the business world. That would be the group of writers that has accrued a large and loyal an audience who frequently act on the presentation of a review and proceed to click through and buy the gear that gets reviewed.

Which group am I in? I like to think I straddle the two groups a bit. But the bottom line is that I started writing the blog many years ago to help sell my technical photo books and have continued mostly out of habit. It's also a nice way to connect with astute readers from around the world. But I do have to admit that I like being able to push my books, and the novel, from time to time and I appreciate the small income stream I make from the affiliate income I earn through links in reviews.

When it comes to cameras and lenses the dirty little secret is that no one, other than professional photographers, really needs this stuff and that makes all of it both a luxury purchase and a highly discretionary expense. The real competitors for dollars that might go to a new camera (that usually features a very small improvement over the last generation of basically the same camera) are not just the other camera brands but the new gas grill for the back porch, a new hunting rifle, a recreational (as opposed to commuter) motorcycle, a lavish dinner at a one, two or (god forbid) three Michelin star restaurant, classic bordeaux wines from good vineyards---harvested in noteworthy years; a cool, long weekend vacation, a new pair of cowboy boots, a new laptop computer, a custom-made bicycle, a new, 4K television set for the media room, new speakers for the surround sound, a personal trainer, a hot girlfriend, or even this semester's dues for your masters swim program.

Nobody really needs one of these little, black or chrome gems and once they have a good one there's never much reason to immediately replace it with something marginally better. So, why do we break down and buy the new cameras over and over again? It's those damn reviewers.

I imagine that many readers (at least based on the comments I read on various forums) assume many things about reviewers. They assume that the reviewers are far more gifted photographers than mainstream practitioners. I've come to understand this because both Ming Thein and I released our Olympus EM5.2 reviews on exactly the same day. A commenter on DP Review immediately called the reviews into question and gave, as one reason, that Ming's images (while perfectly crafted, color correct and sharp!!!) were "cold and soulless." They dismissed my images (sprinkled through the review as visual rest stops for the eyes) as "underwhelming." I assume "underwhelming" means that I didn't go to the trouble of hiring a national level swim suit model to pose nude and a lighting crew and smoke machines and lasers to do my usual walking around shots. I find it strange that while we are both testing whether or not we like a camera and whether or not it works for the things that we like to do, the quality of our casual images, written out at 1200 pixels and statistically viewed mostly on iPhone screens, seem to be vital proofs of concept to the reviews. These people who believe this are, of course, insane.

They assume that reviewers should pick a brand to be loyal to and never wander from their chosen brand. Trying out new gear (something you'd think would be helpful in developing context) is also heavily frowned upon unless it is new gear from the ecosystem of the one true brand that you need to swear undying allegiance to. Nikon users can only review Nikons and so on. I learned this by reading a commenter who dismissed my input about the Olympus EM5.2 because I had previously "liked" the Nikon D810, the Samsung NX1, the Panasonic GH4,  the Sony a99 and others. Everyone reading (he stated) must not take my reviews seriously because I might, in the near future, also like something else.

I have a newsflash for the moron who wrote that. There are a lot of good cameras out on the market right now. In the hands of even a middle-of-the-road photographic talent any one of those cameras is fully capable of taking professional caliber shots or shooting usable video. Of course I liked the Samsung NX1 camera. The files were sharp, detailed and had very acceptable color. The video was damn good (once transcoded...). Of course I liked the Nikon D810. The files were sharp, detailed and had very acceptable color. And the 2K video was very good. What a terrible quandary for a reviewer; that any review must be his only review, or, at the very least, he will be constrained forever to writing only about his ONE brand.  That he or she is only allowed to "like" and use one camera at a time.... Of course this is nonsense. Like having to choose between your children.

The cliché definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. I would modify this definition for photographers and say, "the definition of churlish insanity is to use one camera over and over again and expect a different point of view, or to learn something new about new cameras and new technology while doing so."

Then there is the presumption that camera tests and reviews have to done in technically advanced labs with white coat technicians and reviewers who have multiple, advanced degrees. One degree in electrical engineering (so we can understand the underlying technology of imaging sensors). One in optical theory (so we can understand the ins and outs of lenses =  Yes, Yes, Bokeh is everything!!!! I read that on the web!!!!). One in mechanical engineering so we can understand the resonance profiles and torsional anamolies of the shutter mechanisms based on their composition and velocities. Sadly, they never expect a background in aesthetics, art history, or criticism. On those points they practice the idea that everyone's taste is equal and everyone gets a trophy. Except for reviewers whose own work must have both soul and pizzazz. It's not enough just to pick up a camera, use it for the kind of subject matter you normally use it for and then give a wholly subjective appraisal of how that particularly juicy bit of kit ended up working out for you...

For the white coat junkies we have two (actually) valuable resources to depend upon on the web. One is DPReview (which is strange because it is ground central for rampant misinformation on its forums) and also DXO. But DXO is tricky because you have to be smart enough to read about and understand their testing procedures and the parameters that they use to measure performance.

But that's okay because it seems that many out in reader-land already understands all the concepts of alloys and carbon fiber composites and their role in camera design. They even understand all the advanced math and physics---which leads me to ask what the hell they are bothering to read these reviews for anyway?

That's one part of the reviewing conundrum---but it gets better. It's now common knowledge that all well known and well followed reviewers are on the take. This means that the camera companies are coming to the reviewers with gift baskets full not only of shiny (and performance tweaked) new cameras and all of the juiciest lenses but also chubby envelopes filled to bursting with hard cash. Every good review is the direct result of an unambiguous quid pro quo. Cash for gushing rhetoric.

The obverse is also common knowledge. That any negative review (or, for fans of the brand, neutral review) is the direct result of the reviewer not having been paid for the review and not getting to keep the whole catalog of gear the company makes. No payola = no kind words. This, of course, is unmitigated bullshit. While we unrepentant and slimy reviewers would be all over this gold mine like ants on a dropped lollipop the FTC or FCC or whomever makes this a bit, well, illegal. Any gift or payment sent to reviewers would have to be fully disclosed in any discussion of the products being reviewed from any company.  And even if we as reviewers were unscrupulous enough to accept $$$ or product without disclosing it the manufacturer would be taking a risk that far outweighed any advantage.

Notwithstanding fines and sanctioning from the federal government one can only imagine the uproar of outrage from prospective buyers if these arrangement became known. It would be a credibility nightmare of wonderful proportions. The press would have a field day with it. But people from the photo forums think all photo commerce is rife with larceny and nothing reviewers or camera makers say will dissuade them.

I can only presume that many of the people who think this way reside outside of the U.S. and Canada and don't enjoy quite the freedom we do from graft and payoffs. Rule of law does have value when it comes to honest commerce.

I am happy to write reviews about the cameras we buy and play with because I think my regular readers like it and it gives me a chance to think out loud about gear. I am sad to write reviews about cameras because it brings all the crazy people out of the woodwork with their paranoia, insecurities and conspiracy theories. I'll keep doing it just to keep them riled up and frothing. It's kinda fun to watch.

But in case you are wondering about our review process it goes something like this:

One day intrepid photographer woke up and, still bleary and sleepy, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down in front of his computer to see what might be new in the world of photography. He visited all the usual sites only to find that something interesting happened while he tried to sleep. A major camera maker has just announced a brand new camera. This makes Kirk sit up and take notice. He rushes to DPReview to read the press release. Goodness, the P.R. agency for the camera maker sure makes this new camera model sound great. Some of the new features might solve some of Kirk's little peevish problems he experiences when using his current cameras! Sometimes there's even a genuine advancement that might make his business a bit more profitable and a bit more interesting to his clients. 

He remembers fondly when he first learned about Panasonic launching the GH4 with fully operational and high quality 4K video. All the information sounded great although he suspected there might be some hyperbole involved. Regardless, he gave it a shot and bought one of the bodies. At first he got used to it by using it on paid photographic shoots where the file sizes and features were appropriate. As he got more and more used to the camera he started shooting it more and more frequently because it was new and fun and, so far, all the images he got from the camera looked great. 

After a great deal of studying and practice in the studio he introduced the camera to his clients for video and, over the course of the year, was able to do six or seven video projects which returned profits equal to twenty times the original investment in that piece of gear. He thought this was a good return and liked the look of both the video and image files and so he wrote a review which talked about these things he learned from hands-on experience.  A 20X return on investment in one year is pretty cool so he was happy and wrote as much. In fact, he still reveres this camera as one of the best on the market. 

But he is not a purely linear, process driven, robotic, cube worker and thrives on change and experimentation; and has like minded friends. He hears great things about the video and the still images of the Nikon D810 and decides that this camera might also provide a fun shooting experience and a good financial return. It also offers a new style of image with more control over depth of field. He buys one and goes through the same process of experimentation and professional use. And then he writes a review that is his subjective narrative about having used the camera over time, in different types of projects, for different types of clients. 

According to Kirk he wants his reviews to work the same way things would work if you were a personal friend of his and you sat down with him at a local Starbucks over coffee and the two of you decided to discuss a camera that he had been using, and in which you were curious. He might give you some background, fill in with a few stories about using the camera in real situations and then proceed to tell you (truthfully---because you are friends) exactly what he liked about the camera and the various things he didn't like about the camera. Just friends over coffee. 

Kirk and his friend enjoyed the give and take and could talk about operational features in general terms. They did not need to grab cocktail napkins and sketch out flow charts or spreadsheets of technical details. At the end of the conversation, after the coffee got cold, the friend would know enough to decide whether or not it was worth his time to try out the camera under discussion. Maybe head to the store and handle it for a while. Or to just walk away and be happy with the miracle camera he already held in his hands. 

In many ways I am a privileged photographer. I live in a lively and very affluent market. I have carefully selected well funded and generous clients who seem to understand the value of photographs to move their businesses forward. I have made some smart investments over the years. I can make money with the cameras I buy. I can quickly resell the cameras I am no longer interested in. Since my business offers a range of styles and services it's easier to justify owning several different kinds of cameras and that allows me to have multiple favorite cameras just as you can favorite more than one tweet at a time. Some cameras I buy for their video capabilities and some for their still image quality. Some I buy for both. Others I buy when my brain tells me that I can engage in photography as a hobby.

I like to think that writing reviews is a way of sharing what I learn as I play with and experience, over time, brilliant and not so brilliant cameras. If you don't like these kinds of reviews you needn't read them. But instead of being petulant and derisive why not grow a pair and write your own reviews?
it might put the various reviewing processes into perspective for you.

Thank God for my daily VSL readers. Writing a popular review and getting the backsplash makes me appreciate you more and more.

Once again Ken Rockwell calls it just so.....

flash photography tutorial: balancing flash and ambient exposure

This topic – balancing flash and ambient exposure – seems to one that many newer photographers struggle with. The big hurdle seems to be the basic starting point – how do you decide on the exposure for each?

I’d like to explore this topic a bit with this post.  The trigger for this was a question that someone emailed me regarding an image in one of my books on flash photography. Instead of answering the question directly, I thought that a wider answer might be more illuminating. We’re still on that perpetual quest for more aha! moments. So let’s see where we head with this. (I’ll come back to the specific question and answer at the end of this.)

Why do we even want to add flash to our subject? The answer is that with flash we can control the direction and quality of light, and create a more dynamic image.

We don’t necessarily just use flash to avoid camera shake and / or poor exposure in low light. We use flash to create better light on our subject. We can ‘clean up’ the light that falls on our subject. Or to create more dynamic and interesting light. It’s about control. We decide. So where do we start?

The simplest approach for me, as shown in this image, is when I work in fairly flat and even ambient light, is to under-expose the ambient light by a certain amount. Then we add flash for correct exposure.  So how much do we under-expose the ambient light by?  Well, it depends. Usually a stop is good. Two stops can also work. If you’ve seen some of the images in fashion and music magazines where the subject is in a pool of light .. yet, the sunlit cityscape is darker, then that is because the photographer under-exposed the ambient light by 2-3 stops. Even in bright sunlight.   So we have some leeway.  That should ease some of the anxiety.

Under-exposing the ambient light by a stop, and then adding flash …  is but one scenario, and one recipe. This approach won’t apply to every possible situation you might encounter .. but it’s a good starting point in grasping that Big Question – where do we even start in balancing flash and ambient light.


Now let us look at an example where the previous method wouldn’t work:

Here’s a reference image without flash at the same camera settings:

Then we add off-camera flash – a speedlight in the Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24″ softbox (affiliate)

As we can clearly see here, without flash providing light on our model, she would be completely under-exposed … for the settings we chose.


With this image shown at the top, I positioned Anelisa so that she would be in the dark relative to the brighter background.  This is purposely done, so that I can use flash without much concern for the ambient light giving weird color casts.  In deciding on my basic exposure, I simply needed the background to appear bright enough.

I don’t know how you’d use a handheld meter for that. The simplest would be to check your camera’s built-in meter against a portion of the background that doesn’t contain too many dark areas or overly bright areas.  We just want a general idea of our settings.  Then we take a few test shots (without flash), and check our camera’s preview until we’re happy with the way the background appears.  It’s an iterative process with the starting point given to us by our approximate camera readings.

Then we add flash. We needed f/2 @ 100 ISO amount of flash. (The lights around the Times Square area are quite bright at night)
We have two options here:

  • manual flash, and then we’d use a handheld meter as the best way to meter the flash exposure. From experience though, I had a reasonable idea already what the exposure would be for that speedlight & flash combo, for that distance. This is explained in this tutorial: an essential two-speedlight setup for on-location lighting
  • TTL flash, where we allow the technology to get us close to correct exposure, and then we nudge the exposure up or down, according to what we see on our camera previews.  It might be less consistent than using manual flash and a flashmeter, but it works and gets us to correct exposure fairly fast. It might also be a more flexible way of shooting than using manual flash, if we want to change position and angles often.

Simplicity itself.

There is a range of settings for which we’d get images that work.  If 1/160 @ f/2 @ 100 ISO worked in this instance, we would’ve had success with images where the background is perhaps one stop brighter, or perhaps a stop darker.  We really have a wide margin here as to what would work … because our model is in the dark / shade compared to the background.  And we have a wide latitude as to what would be great exposure for the background.

You decide what you want to do and want to achieve.  You have options here.

In all these examples, our starting point was the available light, and how we decided to expose for it.


camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used for the main photo

  • 1/160 @ f/2 @ 100 ISO



video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


back to the question which triggered this article.

Angelo in Australia wrote:

Greetings Neil

I must first say what a well written and technical book you have released regarding on-Camera Flash. Like many of your readers, I have read the book twice. On each and every occasion I have learned something new about flash. My question points down the technical side of “how did you do it”. Step by step process !!!

I understand the theory in what you are trying to achieve, however become lost when trying it out practically. By this I mean, how did you meter for the background light (ambient light), as far as its correct position on the meter scale. Under/over by 1.7 stops (canon)

Lets use the example of being in a church for a wedding or christening. The church has various colored plate glass windows (ie: yellow, red, orange etc), which allows both colored and natural ambient light. Add some tungsten bulbs also.  When you indicate you meter for the ambient light, how is this done. Are you underexposing by 1-2 stops and then bouncing flash from a wall etc. I know this seems vague, but let me further pick your mind.

In your book, page 42, plate 7-3 and was to use this as my example location.
Do I …
* meter for the brides dress, face, wall, brightest relevant area ?
* dial in 1-2 stops under in exposure ?
* adjust FEC ?
* test shot and chimp ?
* re-adjust FEC and chimp ?

ok, I think we’ve thoroughly covered the first part of Angelo’s question.

Now, about the specific image in the book that he refers to:

This was to illustrate the how the shutter curtains affects your choice of possible shutter speeds to sync your flash at.  It’s partially discussed in this article on understanding the effect of maximum sync speed.

Angelo, the reason for the round-about way of getting to your question, is that you asked about the image as if it was shot using TTL flash, and possibly using bounce flash techniques.

When I photograph the wedding formals, the flash is always in manual. In this example – a simple lighting setup for photographing the wedding formals – I used two flashes in manual mode.

So I had to answer your question explaining how I would normally go about balancing flash and ambient light .. but it doesn’t directly relate to that image.

With a set-up like that image – using manual flash with the formal photos at a wedding – I would mostly rely on my choice of shutter speed to allow the available light in.  With manual flash, shutter speed becomes your only independent control for ambient light.

So with that, your questions should be thoroughly answered, even though a few dots might still need to be connected. See if it all makes more sense now.


related articles

The post flash photography tutorial: balancing flash and ambient exposure appeared first on Tangents.

I'll start with the typical disclaimer: I am not an Olympus employee. I have never been an Olympus employee. I have never received free or discounted equipment from Olympus. I have never written a review of an Olympus product in exchange for money or equipment. I currently own two Olympus OMD EM-5.2 cameras and a smattering of lenses, all of which were purchased at Precision Camera for the same retail prices everyone else pays. If I link any of the products I review to, and you click through and buy, it a small amount of money, based on the item and pricing, will be paid to me from  It's not enough money to cover the cost of a review or to make a dent in the ever declining college fund for the boy. Don't worry, I can guarantee you that your purchases are not making me wealthy. But it's nice to get enough in affiliate fees from my writing to be able to buy premium coffee instead of the older, surplus stuff we were getting from the ship channel salvage company in Houston.... 

My Review of the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras

Chrome EM5.2 sitting on the Manfrotto Hybrid Fluid Head.

A bit of history. The first Olympus product I owned was a used, black Olympus Pen FT, half frame film camera. I still have it along with four other copies, one black and three chrome, that I collected over the years; usually for less than $100 per body. I also have an almost complete set of the jewel-like half frame lenses that were made specifically for that system. The lenses, with the right adapters, work remarkably well with the current micro four thirds systems and this makes me very happy. It's wonderful when a new product can bring renewed usefulness to an older product line.

The original Olympus Pen FT. This is the one that started it all for me.
Smaller and lighter than the full frame cameras of the day it featured an 
optical view finder, a vertical film frame and a titanium rotary shutter
that sync'd at all speeds from 1 second to 1/500th of sec. 
72 half frame images on a roll...

At any rate I bought my first Olympus micro four thirds format camera, an Olympus Pen EP-2, in 2010 specifically with the intention of using with the older Pen FT lenses. That experience started my off again, on again relationship with the Olympus mirror-free system.

Apples and tangerines. One thing you need to know if you are on the fence about buying an interchangeable lens camera in 2015 is that they are all good enough for most of what most people do but there are reasons; good reasons, for such a wide range of cameras to be offered on the market. While the Olympus EM5.2 is a very, very good camera there are some things that bigger, more expensive cameras can do better. Conversely, most of the time people will be much happier with the smaller, lighter and more entertaining OMD system than they will be toting around a big, full frame camera like the Nikon D810 and the assorted lenses that allow it to shine.

Trying to compare the OMDs and a camera like the D810 is just a bit odd in that they have totally different strengths and weaknesses. One is the ultimate resolution machine (at the moment) while the other is the ultimate, take everywhere, shoot everything and don't break a sweat over the amount of freight you are toting camera. Any comparison that doesn't take the photographer's use and goals for the camera into consideration is like car nut trying to tell a mother of five that she should buy a Porsche 911 or telling a needy, divorced industrialist that he could really do well driving a nice Chrysler mini-van while hitting the dating scene.

I think we'll do this review in a straightforward way and just make comparisons with cameras in a similar niche rather than making sweeping comparisons. If we do make comparisons with full frame cameras we'll also note the disadvantages of the bigger cameras.  While I may be spoiled by having two different systems I think it does help me write, objectively, about valid differences between them, and in a way that also looks at the strengths of each camera type.

One of the improvements on the new version of the EM5 is the inclusion 
of nicely machined, big fat dials that move well.

What's it all about? The OMD EM5-2 is the fifth generation of interchangeable lens, micro four thirds, mirror-free cameras from Olympus. The first being the EP-1 launched back in 2009. That first camera was a disaster for me and I never would buy one. The issue? It didn't have an eye level viewfinder or even the option to add one via a camera port and accessory finder. No matter how good the camera might have been at the time that lack of usability made it the ultimate non-starter for me. If you have to hold your picture taking machine out in front of you, grab for your reading glasses and use one hand to shield a rear mounted screen image from the sun ( and any manner of intruding light )you might as well use your iPhone to take your shots. The EP-1 set the first body style (based on the original half frame Pen) and introduced a decent, but not great, 12 megapixel sensor that stayed in the Olympus camera line-up for three generations.
Read more »
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2015
This is a book for photographers. Non photographers are not apt to appreciate the descriptive text which is 
emphasizes the quality of light and color much more than history, mood and ambience. Nor are they apt to 
appreciate the improvisation of the photography equipment to miraculously escape life-threatening encounters. 
Kirk Tuck is a professional photographer and this book draws upon his experience as a photographer and 
husband and father. Photographers will enjoy reading a thriller written by a photographer.
Was this review helpful to you?YesNo

(for those of you who are new readers of the blog: Kirk Tuck wrote a novel about a photographer who has 
adventures during an assignment in Lisbon, Portugal. The novel was launched on last June
and is available as a Kindle book or in paperback. All purchases of the book go to support his
lavish lifestyle...).

creative portraits on location – allow opportunities to happen

There was an interesting challenge for me during a recent individual photography workshop in NYC – Don (who arranged the workshop), already knew the essentials of lighting techniques, and said what he really wanted was insight into the way that I see a photo before I take it.  How do I know something will work or not. Don was particularly impressed with the series of photos of Anelisa that I shot for the review of the Profoto B2 Flash. The shallow depth-of-field images was a particular draw-card.

Serendipity – I love that word. A bit of chance favoring you. When a tiny bit of serendipity comes your way during a photo shoot, you have to be open enough to see it and then run with the idea. In effect, you have to be open to opportunity and allow it to happen to you.

There are a number of examples on the Tangents blog where I stumbled on interesting found light, and used it for effect:

These are the kind of opportunities that you need to allow to happen, and not get fixated on the ideas you had in mind. Grab what is happening and work with it. Here is one example from the workshop in NYC:

We were photographing Anelisa against some of the colorful doorways in this area. As we walked past this shopfront that was being renovated, I noticed that with the brown paper covering the inside of the windows, the street scene was now reflected with muted but warm tones. This might just be ideal for a retro look! It also helped that some of the paper was crumpled to give a slightly surreal effect on first glance. I liked this!

This is the test shot to get to my basic exposure, based on the background – the reflected scene. Then the next step was to add flash to bring the exposure up, but mostly to control the light – something dramatic and flattering. This helped etch Anelisa against the muted background.

Trading the simplicity of the color backgrounds of the doorways for this more complex background. This works because the background is out of focus, and the lighting helps pull attention to Anelisa. It was pure coincidence that her coat matched the background colors.

Then finally the image (at the top) which I liked the most, to which I added some post-processing flavor to enhance the retro look.

camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during these photos

  • 1/250 @ f/4 @ 200 ISO



Even with the Profoto B2 review photo shoot, I had a tentative route planned for the day, but in the end we didn’t go to any of the places I originally had in mind. As I mentioned in the comments section of the video clip of the Profoto B2 review photo shoot, the plans for the day were somewhat different – I had this idea that we could walk down the 5th Ave area, and use f/1.4 and HSS flash with the Profoto b2, to throw everyone else out of focus (and under-expose them), and thereby making Anelisa the high-lighted subject in the frame. On our way to pick Anelisa up, we drove past Columbus Circle, and I immediately said that this would be where we should start. From there we adapted and changed the plans for the day … doing nothing we had originally thought we had roughly planned.

By being flexible, I allow the unexpected to happen. Perhaps this is just a luxury I have when shooting for myself, and not to a client’s brief. Still, I do believe this is a big part of creativity –

The good thing is that it isn’t all that esoteric. There is a loose pattern or formula to this. As mentioned in the related post: candid portraits on the street – applying what you know, I immediately look for certain things, whether a candid portrait on the street, or posing a model during a photo shoot.

  • 1. Complementary or uncluttered background – look for lines and patterns. Or just a neutral background. Or throw it out of focus. Whatever you do, be specific about how you use the background.
  • 2. Framing / Composition – check what you include, and what you exclude in the frame. Change between horizontal and vertical. Shoot wide & tight. Crouch. Do off-center compositions for negative space.
  • 3. Flattering or interesting light – control the light, and how you position your subject.
  • 4. Posing – how you pose your subject, and the direction of the light, are inter-linked considerations.

Doing so creates a certain structure to any photo session. There has to be a baseline. There has to be at least the intention to create solid work. I like that word too – solid.

We have to know our photography technique, and then not stress about camera settings and such. Then the creativity can “ride on top of” that understanding of our technique and our gear, without us having to get too caught up in technique and gear. That’s where we can spontaneously respond to what we are seeing, and to our environment and our subject.

Keeping to that loose formula allows you to get photos that are solid, while also freeing you up to embrace those moments when things fall together in unexpected ways. Then change one thing up, or two things … or three. Surprise yourself.


related articles

The post creative portraits on location – allow opportunities to happen appeared first on Tangents.

The new Panasonic G7. My next 4K video camera.

(please, please, please have a headphone jack)

Here's the U.K. customer page for the new camera:

I have owned and extensively used a number of the Panasonic cameras, including the GH3, GH4 and the G6. The G6, while it used an older sensor (GH2 vintage), was a remarkably good little camera---especially for 1080p video. The G7 looks to be a very nice update to the G6 and provides 4K video in the camera. The package of the body and the 14-42 lens is priced under $900.  I can only imagine that some traditional video makers get a bit nervous about stuff like this because at that price these things are almost expendables for production companies.

If the sensor is the same one the GH4 is using I'm sold. It would make a nice video brother to the Olympus EM5.2 cameras. All in the extended family....

I'll circle back when I've got more information.

Another image:

« Previous Entries