high-ISO bounce flash photography

The last wedding of the year just behind me, I want to use one of my favorite images to touch again on the recent topic of high-ISO bounce flash with on-camera speedlight. I want to show that the results aren’t a fluke – but that with a consistent approach to bounce flash photography, you can get consistent results. However, since we shoot under various scenario changes, we have to adapt a bit.

The venue was this hotel reception room with massively high ceilings … but with the walls closer by. Easy enough to bounce on-camera flash off. The one challenge here were the huge mirrors along the walls. This caused unpredictable reflections. It also flattened the light too much when shooting towards the shorter width of the room. So I ended up shooting as much as I could towards the longer end of the reception room.

Yes, the photo above was lit with a single on-camera bounce flash, shooting at a high ISO.

camera settings and photo gear used (and equivalents)

  • 1/125  @  f/3.5  @  2500 ISO
  • on-camera bounce flash, full power in manual mode.

This photo above with no flash, shows the ambient light levels at those settings. There’s just no chance to pull something coherent out of that with any consistency. It would need additional lighting of some kind.


Here’s an example of where I had to follow the movements of the crowd, and had to keep shooting fast – and the flash hit one of the large mirrors. With fast activity, there’s no time to stop and re-check settings and direction of the bounce flash with each photo. You have to keep shooting, and when there is an image which might work, but has parts over-exposed or at a different white balance. Then you have to rely on the latitude of the RAW file. Using the Local Adjustments brush in Lightroom / ACR, you can paint back certain sections of the image to a different exposure or white balance. (Or Contrast or any of the other adjustments.)

This is the screen capture of what the image looked like at default settings in ACR / Lightroom.

The areas covered by the Local Adjustment brush.

On the left, the overall adjustments for the entire image. Note that the mirror really affected the overall exposure, and I had to bring that down first. On the right, the settings for the Local Adjustment brush. Note that the white balance was adjusted. and the exposure brought down even more for that middle section.

The rescued image. It can still be finessed further, but this is a solid start to take this image to the proofing stage.


camera settings and photo gear used (and equivalents)

  • 1/125  @  f/3.5  @  2500 ISO
  • on-camera bounce flash, full power in manual mode.

An essential part of my gear in using flash like this, is a battery pack. It ensures that the flash recycles fast enough that the following exposure will be good too. Meaning, I don’t have to wait those extra few seconds between frames. In that way, the battery pack actually helps with getting to correct flash exposure. Not because it actually improves the exposure accuracy, but because it allows the flash to be refreshed faster and be charged proper for the next image.

I would highly recommend a battery pack for any kind of event photography where shorter recycle times are important.


video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then this video tutorial 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.


related articles


a little bit of homework

Why did the white balance change between the “normal” bounce-flash photo and the photo where the flash hit the mirror?

The post high-ISO bounce flash photography (part 2) appeared first on Tangents.

review: high-ISO performance – Nikon 750 vs Nikon D4S / D4 / D810 / D610

With the initial quick test of the Nikon D750 high-ISO noise performance, I was quite impressed. But it really is only in comparison to other cameras that we can see how good it is. With that, I took 5 of the current full-frame Nikon DSLRs to compare them against each other to see their high-ISO noise.

The Nikon D4s (vendor) is currently the high-ISO king, so it was specifically interesting to see how the 24 megapixel Nikon D750 (vendor) would compare. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to wait until the end of this review, then here’s the good news: to my eye, the D750 is comparable to the D4S in terms of high-ISO noise. Maybe even a squeak better! But you don’t have to take my word for it, there are RAW files you can dowload and check for yourself.

details about the image at the top

I used the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (vendor) with the cameras, with the lens mounted on a tripod.

Lighting was with a Westcott Spiderlite TD6 and 3’x4’ shallow softbox

Using continuous lighting allowed me to change my ISO and shutter speeds (and eventually aperture), without the hassle of hitting maximum flash sync speed. If I had used flash, I would’ve had to change my flash output for each sequence. Less simple than just turning a camera dial. Also, with this, the lighting stayed exactly the same for each sequence, with exactly the same light output.


high-ISO noise comparison

To compare the cameras, I shot repeated sequences of Melanie in more or less this pose, changing it as little as possible.

Comparing image quality between cameras with different size sensors isn’t easy. For example, the 36 megapixels of the Nikon D810 might print differently than it appears at 100% view on your computer. This is why the I show a 100% crop and 50% crop here. So I am mostly side-stepping diligent side-by-side comparison, by making the RAW files available with the 5 cameras shot at different ISO settings. Download the RAW files if you want to play around with them yourself to compare.

I checked the exposure for each camera via the histogram, holding up a white paper kitchen towel to give us a spike of white. The histogram was perfectly matched for all 5 cameras.

I started the sequence at 800 ISO. I only went up to 51,200 ISO … which excluded the D610 since the D610 only goes up to 25,600 ISO

Past that, only the D4 and D4S were the only contenders, but the images were so noisy that I don’t think that those ISO settings would be of much use to the vast majority of photographers.

D810 at 36 megapixels showed noise in the dark areas fairly quickly. But again, this will print differently than you might anticipate from a 100% view on your computer, and might compare very well with the D4 or D4S.

The D610 didn’t fare as well as the other cameras.

Please note: the image softness you see in the D810 photo at 800 ISO is camera shake due to my sloppy technique. It’s not the camera being less sharp at 800 ISO than the others.



Here are 100% crops of similar images shot which each camera. The crop is of part of her shoulder, into the dark background.

I am showing the 6400 ISO images here, and should give you a very good idea of the relative merits of each camera at higher ISO settings. And make sure you marvel at how the $2,300 Nikon D750 compares to the $6,500 Nikon D4s.

I added a 50% view of the Nikon D810 file so you can see how the noise changes with the change in resolution.


about the Nikon D750

The Nikon D750 really performed surprisingly well here, especially considering that the D750 has higher resolution.  Also, the D4S is still a very recent camera!

The comparison shown here above, is typical for how the cameras stack up against each other across all the ISO settings.

To my eye though, there isn’t that much to chose between the D4, D4S and D750. They are on par with each other. Nikon D810 is an entirely different beast again with its very high megapixel count.

All of this makes the Nikon D750 a very desirable little camera.


related articles

The post review: high-ISO performance – Nikon 750 vs Nikon D4S / D4 / D810 / D610 appeared first on Tangents.

Of all of the wonderful things that have happened since I began writing Strobist eight years ago, certainly the best is the steady parade of creative people I have met as a result. And few are more talented (or insan motivated) than London-based photographer Drew Gardner.

We grew up in the same era, both working for newspapers in our respective cities. We left the papers and graduated to second careers. Drew moved onto a mix of editorial, commercial and art photography. And I, well, sometimes I'm not sure how exactly to describe what it is that I do.

So it was with equal parts curiosity and abject fear that I accepted his offer to come to London to be the lighting advisor for what would be the culmination of his Descendants photo series.
Read more »

Austin is growing. Mostly up. 

Nikon camera. 50mm Lens.

One of the sentinels of Barton Springs.

In a previous blog I wrote about buying a used Nikon D7000 and returning it because the back focus was sooooo bad it couldn't be fixed with the in camera focus correction tools. plus or minus twenty were both equally ineffective. But I really did want a back up camera for the D7100 for those time when I want to use that body commercially. You see, I am incapable of leaving the studio for a paying job without a backup camera that will take the same set of lenses and generate images of the same basic image quality. The best case scenario is two identical bodies (or, if prices fall low enough, four---as in my collection of EM-5s) but the next best scenario is the previous model having most of the same control interface and (importantly) the same batteries.

I'd read a lot since 2010 about the Sony sensor that found its way into the Nikon D7000, the Pentax K5s and various other cameras that shifted the way we thought about high ISO performance and dynamic range. I'd made a mental note to try another used one if it became available for and advantageous price. I found my next one for under $500 in very, very nice condition with about 14,000 cycles on the shutter.

The first thing I did was test the focus accuracy by shooting various Nikon lenses nearly wide open (which, coincidentally) is the way I like to shoot most of the time. I'm not really an "f8" kind of guy.
The camera absolutely nailed focus with everything and I was happy. But I wanted to see what kind of operational differences there were between the 7000 and the 7100 so I took the older body out for a walk around the lake.

Most of the buttons are in the same place and the finder is very, very similar. As Ken Rockwell would say (paraphrasing) "One shows information in green the other in white. That and the different density sensors are the only real differences."  I think I have to agree with him except for one thing. At the sizes I use the files the older camera has a greater impression of sharpness in the files.

But none of this has anything to do with the core message of this post and that is that cameras need to get, for want of a better phrase, zero'd in. I find nearly every body I shoot with has tiny differences to identical models. Little things like the way the shutters sound or the way the shutter button feels. When you accept a new camera you need to "wear it" for a while and shoot it until it becomes second nature. Only then are you ready to take it out and shoot commercially with it. If you don't shoot for money then the goal is to feel comfortable enough to use it for a "once in a lifetime" experience.

It may sound funny but the previous (defective) D7000 felt off. That's one of the reasons I checked it right away. The new one felt almost immediately comfortable. Again. It's just a hand, brain, feel kind of thing and not a series of magic metrics that I can measure on an instrument here in the studio. But it seems as obvious to me as f11.

Into the Nikon bag this one goes. Ready to leap out and soldier on should the D7100 falter or fall.

Interestingly, of the four EM-5s I have from three different sources, all with lower shutter counts, each one feels a bit different in action from the others...shutters sounds, hand feel and even the finders. I guess even in this age of ultimate automation there's still enough variance to notice.

GH4. 35-100mm. 

Yes. The Novel is still available.  You are not too late!

here's a link -v-

I love to play with cameras, dissect them, push them and coddle them. They are the bling of photography. Especially the digital ones because they come out with new ones at about the same rate that the fashion industry changes direction. Surprisingly, the cost of keeping up in both camps is pretty much the same....all of your paycheck. The lenses are like fine watches. If you know a watch collector who is into a certain niche, like automatics (non-electric, self-winding) chances are they have just about as many different watches as we might have lenses. And they've got a great rationale for each watch, just as I have for each jewel-like lens we buy.

If all it took to be a commercial photographer was a sick love for camera bling and lens jewelry I would be in the hallowed ranks of the superstars by now having plundered just about every camera line except for the new Fujis and Pentaxes.

But as I was setting up my studio just now to do a portrait this evening I took a good hard look at all the stuff we use every day to do our work and started to realize that cameras have always been a net money losing proposition for me while the gear that keeps the business alive is the stuff that can't be worn around my neck on a fancy strap.

So let's break it down by what we paid the least for, used the most and for the longest amount of time. Face it, it's the infrastructure that makes the whole deal work. A building without plumbing and electrical is just going to wind up being a mess!

Last or first on my list, depending on how you look at it, is my motley collection of light stands. I use light stands for everything from holding up lights (duh!) to holding up the suits and dresses of my subjects when they need a place to hang alternate wardrobe. They hold up light blockers, light reflectors, nets, and various umbrellas (with and without lights attached---nice to have an umbrella on a bracket on a sun baked outdoor shoot in the Summer. Instant shade). The sexiest thing my light stands do it hold expensive strobe heads with expensive soft boxes while they pal around with the sandbags draped over their "feet."

I have twelve or fifteen light stands. The least I've paid for a light stand is zero. Someone exiting the photo business in 1978 gave my first two for free. The most I've ever paid for a light stand would be the $139 I spent a few years ago for a heavy duty, high rising Kupo Century Stand. Big C-Stands are something you'll only need to replace if they are unlucky enough to be hit by a meteor the size of a bus. Nothing else I can think of would break them. So, if I total up the cost of every light stand in the studio I still can't scrape a thousand dollars. Less than a grand for tools that I've used on almost every shooting day for decades. Damn. What a deal!

And when I become an available light only shooter (hmmmm.) I'll still keep them around for hanging stuff over windows and using angled shiny boards in the sun to make interior available light----more available. I have a warning for you though. My friend, Frank, showed up for coffee last night with a box in hand. It seems that with all the profit wrung out of everything else in photography light stands might be the newest innovation. Frank showed me a ProMaster ultra light, carbon fiber light stand that has multiple leg positions and weighs about 2 pounds. It's about eighty dollars. To me what it means is that the lowly light stand is about to be decked out and tech'd out and that means once they add the hood scoops, the fins and the shreddingly cool heat sinks the big manufacturers should be able to propel the lowly light stand into the fashion arena and attach price tags to match.

Next on my list is the lowly photographic umbrella which is already undergoing a gentrification process at the hands of Profoto, Elinchrom and several others. I've bought a fair amount of umbrellas but again I'd say in all the years of buying them I'm still under the $2,000 threshold. And you've got to consider that I've been doing location assignments for nearly three decades. That's a lot of wear and tear.

Umbrellas aren't as tough as light stands though. Sometimes they blow over and the metal ribs get crimped and the umbrella is never the same again. I have one favorite 46 inch Softlighter umbrella that I liked so much I tried to fix it when the metal ribs got damaged. I taped pencils as splints around the weak areas of the ribs with white gaffer's tape ( on the theory that it would be inconspicuous ) and I still use that umbrella. I try not to use it too much in front of new clients because I don't want them to get the wrong idea. But then maybe saving money by rescuing injured umbrellas is the right idea. I can't figure it out.

I've lost a few to mortal injuries. One 60 inch softlighter kissed the tarmac of a windy little airport when I was in north Texas photographing the private jet collection of a law firm a few years back. It had to be thrown out and I did so with incredible sadness. It had done years of good service for me. I almost felt as though I should have brought it back to Austin and buried it in the back yard.

I've found a source of Westcott collapsible umbrellas that will fit just about anywhere and I've got matched sets in silver interior/black exterior, shoot through, white interior/black exterior and also silver matt interior. They collapse down to about 16 inches but they spread open to 45 inches. Miracle modifiers---and cheap as dirt.

Yes, I've bought many an expensive soft box and I do understand the mild light quality differences between the boxes and the umbrellas but for my money you can get 95% the way there with a good umbrella equipped with a front diffuser for a lot less money and you won't get stung in the wallet for good speed rings or stung on the hand by one of the sprung, high tension rods that hold the boxes together.

Every single soft box I've ever owned does three things: 1. They all start to rip at the seams sooner or later. 2. Every box will meet a temporarily unsupervised assistant who will take it upon themselves to "quickly" assemble the box and the fiberglas or metal rod you need most will be snapped in half or bent out of shape in a way that is unrecoverable. And, 3. They will each, in turn, become unevenly yellowed and stretched out of shape.

Now that the Chinese have entered the soft box race the penalty for melt down and yellowing is less severe but I remember too many times when Chimera was the only game in town and a big box could set you back six or seven hundred pre-inflated dollars. I'll gladly take five or six (or ten ) umbrellas instead. Learn the theory, save the bucks. Go umbrellas! If you pay over $100 these days for an umbrella, even a 60 or 72 inched, you've been had. My current favorite? A huge Fotodiox (chinese made) 72 inch white on the inside opaque black on the outside, deep umbrella that I think I paid $69 for. And that includes a white, nylon diffusion sheet for the front. Light modifier nirvana.

You already know how I feel about soft boxes and I am still stinging from the Profoto days when each speed ring (and we had a half a dozen) was about $120 each. And I may be remembering that price too optimistically..... Get em if you need em but be sure you really need them and it's not a question of just not learning how to feather an umbrella or "barn door" it with a piece of foamcore.

Moving up the list and down the overall value chain we come to an equivocal part of the inventory, the mighty tripod. Now, most of my wounds here, as with cameras and lenses, are self-inflicted. But a good tripod isn't all things to all shooting situations. I think you need at least two and one of those is bound to be frightfully expensive. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that if you don't feel nervous guilt while buying one (especially if you are a parent and your kids need things like shoes and lunch money) then you probably got one that just isn't good enough or won't last long enough.

It's crazy but the tripod that has stood the test of time and vibration the longest in this studio is an ancient (and I mean early day of film ancient) Gitzo 500 series Studex. The thing cost a fortune and weighs so much that assistants cry when they see it on the location gear inventory. But it's been run over by tanks, set on fire, used to hold the garbage crusher on an imperial cruiser open (which saved our lives) and it still works smoothly and with a benign grace. I have stood on it, used it with 8x10 and 4x5 inch view cameras, super long lenses and so much more. It is immovable during an exposure and I will never let it go. But it did cost me a fortune. And, of course, over the next thirty years I've bought lots of other tripods in the constant but ultimately frustrating search for anything both better and lighter. I've wasted money on carbon fiber and basalt and titanium and except for nicely and primly filling a corner of the studio they have all been for naught. They are all overshadowed by the 500 Series Studex.

But that doesn't prevent tripod flirtation which raises the over price of owning that class of good. My advice to you? Vibration reduction. But if you drink coffee or have a need for prints bigger than 4x6 inches with high sharpness just do yourself a favor and buy a big, bruising, heavy Gitzo and be done with it. Not nearly as cost effective as light stands, I'll tell you that right now.

I mentioned two. The big tripod is most important but there will be times when you will be weak and unmotivated and ultimately unwilling to carry the weight of perfection around with you. For these times you will need a smaller tripod. Not a mini-tripod, just a smaller one. I can't advise you on the mid-range as I am lost in the same thicket. Just grab one that goes up high and feels as stable as it can. Try to stay away from plastic leg logs----they'll come back to bite you.

Now we're moving up near the part of the list that causes most of us to hemorrhage money. But we're not at the camera and lens part years. First we have to go through the valley of the shadow of file life and death known as computers.  Yes, if you are under 40 you'll shake your head and think, "Oh, I can just get a crappy Dell machine for $700 and be done with it." And for the most part, if you are willing to do endless self help-desk you are correct. You can get a prettier machine with a better operating system elsewhere but in terms of just cranking through PhotoShop a decent (basic?) computer will work for the price of a decent sports coat.

But if you were around when they were first inventing this stuff you would have already spent at least as much as you would have on a nice car, over time. And to really do it right (optimally? Comfortably?) you'll still need to spend a hell of a lot more than the price of a couple of exemplary tripods or a couple hundred workable light stands (which you will use just as often).

I've owned and used computers in the business since the days when a 10 megabyte hard drive (not gigs or terabytes. Just megabytes) was about $2700. That doesn't include the computer to run it. Over the years I'll guess we've dropped about as much as a nicely equipped Honda Accord V6 but it never stops with the price of acquisition. There's all the software and, as our camera files get bigger and bigger there's the open door to nearly monthly hard drive replacement/augmentation and RAID care and feeding. Oh the joy of it. Tell me again how film and processing was so expensive? I bet even in this day and age it really would be a wash.

That brings us back to square one. The bling. The cameras and the lenses. The fashion and the fantasy. I know why it appeals. You can wear it. You can wear more than one.  You can take them out to show your friends. They go with anything. It's the portability and the show. Just ask anyone in Manolo Blahnik boots why they paid what they did to wear uncomfortable footwear for a few months. It's the same investment class. Really.  Here's a pair you might like CRAZY SHOES!!! So tell me again why getting the Panasonic LX100 or the Sony RX111 isn't exactly the same thing....

Which brings me back to light stands. I'll be sad when they succeed in coming out with designers light stands. And even sadder when the photo cognoscenti change out stands with the season...Someone on a web forum will pedantically explain that clients won't hire people who don't have the latest gear. And, after all, don't they deserve it?

Wanna save money in photography? When buying any gear always remember the value proposition of the light stand. The only real, long term investment in all of photography.

Best gear ever? My typewriter....    


It was such a wildly excessive portrait week last week. All portraits all the time. Exterior portraits in the wind. Fluorescent lit portraits. Flash lit portraits. HMI lit portraits. Even little flash portraits. So, after additional time in the post processing/retouching trenches I emerged this morning ready to shoot just about anything else.

One of the problems with doing lots of portraits for group medical practices or high tech companies is that even after you've carefully explained all the steps to your direct contact you still end up administering more than you should. For example, I make it really clear that when it comes to portrait selections for retouching I'd like to have everyone's selection on one list before we get started. If you've done a job with 10 or 20 different people for one company you know that they are looking for consistency. After all, these portraits are generally going to sit right next to each other on the website. And the best way to ensure consistency in a project is to sit down and edit all the images at once in one long, clean session.

When too much time elapses between edits you start to go "off the ranch" (at least I do) and toss in the results of experiments in processing that you might have done in between batches of erratically delivered file numbers. You might think to automate the process so all the retouching looks the same but you'd be barking up a strange tree as almost every face needs its own combination of fixes and enhancements. The major things to get right when you're looking for consistency are getting the color and density of the background right, hitting a pleasing and reproducible skin tone, and keeping the contrast and sharpening/noise reduction all in the same ballpark. Toss in cropping as well because you really should be matching head sizes. If you leave that up to some web designers you run the risk of getting a really rocky checkerboard of images in the final layouts.

Another issue we come across on a lot of shoots (and something I hear from other photographers) is that clients just can't make up their minds. I had one client recently who was supposed to select one image that would be used in an ad. His admin sent me a list that included selections from: His wife, his two daughters, his business partner and, of course, his admin.  In all there were nine different image files selected, and on one his admin wanted to know if I could change the color of the man's tie...

So, how do you pare it down and make it manageable? We lay a lot of stuff out in advance of the job. If we're doing a directly commissioned portrait; and by that I mean the person we're photographing is hiring me and paying my bill, I'll offer three to five variations which are included in the price of a session. If it's part of a larger set of people and images or it's part of an advertising project I'll cap the included file retouching at two images per person and then charge a set fee per additional file retouch. In the new year I'm moving to a stricter policy of doing one great selection retouch and then charging $25 per image for each additional file selection. When I say "basic retouching" I'm talking about doing basic color correction and tonal correction, making sure the skin is right color and hue, that we have taken out normal pimples and blemishes, dealt with normally bloodshot eyes and soften rough skin. If we need to do more stuff or more complicated stuff then I'll hand it to an outside retoucher and mark up their fees or do it in house on an hourly rate.

If you've been working with PhotoShop for a long time and you've been shooting portraits for a long time you should be able to do a "standard or basic" retouch on a file in five minutes, ten minutes tops. This does not include clipping paths, masking out backgrounds or any other graphics/production work.

With the rules firmly in place when a direct client comes back with a laundry list of files they "might" want it's easy to add the number of files all up and present a price before you begin the retouch process. If that list of ten means adding $250 to their final bill, and they are okay with that, then you win---kind of.  I think it's better to help your client narrow the list down a bit and keep the charges in a comfortable ballpark but at the same time you have to be wearing your business hat right under your artist hat so you don't give away your time. It's pretty much all we've got...

So last week I just went overboard on portraits. Like a customer in a Mississippi buffet line. Earlier in the fall we (assistant: Amy Smith) did a giant shoot with 100 portraits done over two days. This past week was a bit more difficult because of the daily change of landscape, usage, locations and style expectations. On several jobs we were trying to match previous work (which I hate because I dislike doing anything the same way twice) and sometimes I no longer have access to a distinct background or a quirky lens that I thought I hated and sold only to realize I liked and couldn't replace it.

The counterbalance to spending full days with people right in front of your face is to go out for a long walk with a different camera and no people anywhere near your face. I did that this morning. I was dragging around a Nikon APS-C camera with a 50mm lens and just banging away whenever I saw anything I liked. Nothing moved, blinked, squinted, flinched or frowned. Everything just sat there begging me to photograph it. I spent a couple hours in the brisk morning air having a great time with a mundane and unimpressive camera. But it did a nice job.

The final part of the walk took me past the original Chuy's Restaurant. The chain is pure Austin Tex-Mex food but the owners have a flare for crazy decor. There's an assortment of drive in intercoms and reflective balls out front. All of these images are from a space of about ten square feet in front of the restaurant. Sometimes shooting stuff in Austin is like shooting fish in a barrel.

I've polished the reflectors and light stands in the studio and wrapped cords with an unusually graceful touch. I've sent invoices and thank you notes. I've been on the non-portrait cleansing walk and now I'm ready to jump back into making portraits. Good think I've recharged, we've got one coming up tonight and three more before the end of the week. It's nice to be back in balance. Now I'm waiting for chance, luck and destiny to send me a really great annual report....  That should keep the fates (and the studio) busy for a while.

My latest book is now available!
Lighting & Design for Portrait Photography

A follow-up of sorts to Direction & Quality of Light, this new book is now available on Amazon and bookstores. It’s a slightly eclectic mix, showing and discussing the thought-process with portraits. The examples use available light, bounce flash, off-camera flash as well as studio lighting.

The idea is that in every one of the 60 sections, there is something to be learnt and applied, regardless of your level as a photographer or where you shoot.

Some of the material has appeared on Tangents before, but has been shaped to form a cohesive narrative arc throughout the book. About 50% is new material.

Order directly from Amazon USA or Amazon UK.

Alternately, if you want, order an autographed copy.

The post photography book: Lighting & Design Portrait Photography appeared first on Tangents.

The post promotion: huge savings on Nikon pro glass appeared first on Tangents.

The rumors are starting to swirl like a light dusting of snow. The people who divine such things are pointing to a February announcement of a new camera from Olympus to replace the three year old EM-5. It's important to note that the EM-5 is, in many people's opinions, the prime driver of acceptance for high end micro four thirds cameras. It upped the ante in image quality, image stabilization and physical downsizing in smaller cameras aimed at professionals and advanced enthusiasts. This make the introduction of its successor seem more important to me than just another upgrade.

I know that a lot of people will point to the EM-1 as the logical successor but they are really two separate products; the EM-1 being bigger and fully equipped with chubby handgrips while the EM-5 is svelte and can be configured to taste. My hope is that they'll keep whatever the call the successor to the EM-5 equally svelte and allow users to add just the right combination of grips and extensions to personalize the camera for the customer's individual hands.

I'm expecting to see the following fixes and upgrades to the new model:

1. The eyecup. While the EP-11 (the bigger optional eyecup) fixes the "random falling off" problem of the stock eyecup it's not that great. The original eyepiece works well for me when it's on the camera. I hope Olympus has figured out how to reliably keep it in place.

2. I fully expect to see a new EVF that's as good as the one in the EM-1 and also adds more processor speed to the mix to cut down even more on any perceptible, visual delay. While they are at it they could slightly widen the entire faux pentaprism hump to make the EVF bigger and get a greater eye point stand off for people who wear glasses while shooting.

3. Since the EM-5 was introduced Sony has made much headway with the one inch sensors that we current find in the Sony RX10 and the Panasonic fz1000. I would like to see more pixel density in the EM-5. A step up to 20 megapixels while keeping the same high ISO noise performance would help ensure that users aren't as tempted to migrate to higher res options outside the brand. And we'd all welcome an increase in resolution as long as it doesn't come with any performance hits. 

4.  I don't necessarily want 4K video in the body but it would be nice to change the current codec to something like the XAVC-S codec in some of the new and firmware upgraded models, like the RX10. The new codec would go a long way to solving the less than stellar look of video from the camera and the newer processors should be able to handle the increased throughput with no problems. While some might feel like we need the addition of microphone and headphone ports I'm thinking that a new SEMA-type attachment that fits into the current accessory port (and could spill up into the hot shoe) would be the logical place for those attachments.

5.  I'm certain that whatever new sensor ends up in the EM-5x will have phase detection AF points. At least it should...

6. Finally, I'd like them to change the exterior wrapping of the camera to something thicker and rubberier. The camera is small, which is good, but I still want to keep a good grip on it. 

Push this camera out at $999 and maybe we can see Olympus profit and loss numbers at least start trending back into positive territory for their camera division.

The icing on the cake for me would be one more lens. I'd like to see a 38mm f1.4. Close to the 75mm Summilux that I enjoyed shooting with back in the Leica film days. Olympus made a manual focus 38mm f1.8 back in the days of the film Pen cameras and it was a great focal length there as well. It would nicely fill a certain hole that I keep stumbling across when I take the system out for shoot.

The rumor was mentioned on DP Review so I do give it a bit more credence than usual. I'm not sure about the February introduction but it certainly would spice up a boring time of winter and might make just the right Valentine's Day present.....

Paris, the latest installment in The Traveling Photographer series, has just posted to Lynda.com. Photographed this past May, the hour-long episode includes lots of practical, real-world advice for anyone who may be considering traveling to Paris with their camera.

In addition to all of the city-specific travel advice, much of the episode explains how to make the most of your time there as a photographer. There are segments on where to go to get the best cityscapes, street shooting and even a section on shooting in Paris through a specially adapted toy camera lens.

If a trip to Paris is in your future (or you are just open to being talked into the idea) you'll find this episode of The Traveling Photographer to be time well spent.

Like the rest of the Traveling Photographer series, the Paris episode is available here on Lynda.com. You can find out more about the series itself in this earlier post.

More photos from this episode:

After a tough workout at the pool this morning Belinda and I headed over to our favorite burger joint, P. Terry's. We were being sybaritic so we split an order of French fries. But P. Terry's fries are no ordinary fat sponges pulled out a deep freeze. They cut them by hand from fresh potatoes and dunk them in hot canola oil. Healthy? Maybe not but nowhere near as toxic as the run of the mill, fast food fries... I brought along a camera. I'd chosen it for the day.

I'd played with all my other cameras last week so as we left the house in a misty, forty degree midday I grabbed the Samsung NX30 out of its drawer and put an interesting lens in the front of it. This is a lens that Samsung sent me along with an NX3000. I passed that camera along to a retired from work swim buddy who needed a good, all around camera for art projects and I swapped out the lens that came with the NX3000 with an 18-55mm kit lens I'd been playing with since the Galaxy NX days. I'd heard good things about the new lens, the 16-50mm f3.5 to 5.6 collapsible power zoom so I kept it around. I would have loved a black version but I am growing fond of the zany whiteness of the copy I have. It gives the ensemble a zebra look.  So I put the 16-50mm on my pick of camera and decided to use the combo as my shooting tool for the rest of the afternoon. 

Freshly fueled by a double burger on whole wheat with the works and a more than equitable share of the above fries I dropped Belinda back by the house, conferred in a serious manner with Studio Dog, and then headed out to see the world through the fifth or sixth model of camera I've used this week. I was not disappointed. While the weather could have been cheerier I was happy for the coolness and the clouds, and the camera and I decided to ignore the whisper light micro rain that was a constant companion for the afternoon. 

I've been in a black and white mood for the latter part of the week and it was my intention to shoot all day in black and white. The NX30 has a mode that they call, "classic" and it makes the frame black and white. It does a few other things like popping the contrast but I haven't really stopped to figure it all out. I just like the effect and it's so much of a "one stop" thing when shooting Jpeg compared with bringing color raw files back to the office, converting them to Jpegs and then using another program to make them artistically monochrome.

But of course the first place I dropped by was the giant graffiti walls with its riot of colors so my initial intention to be a black and white artist was shot all to hell. I switched back to the standard color profile, set the white balance to "cloudy" (because it was) and went back to shooting in non-monochrome. The best of intentions sabotaged by a cinder block wall smeared and sprayed with pigments.

I snooped around for a while and looked at the new art and played with the camera. I was a bit harsh on this camera when I first got it but that wasn't completely my fault. It wasn't the fastest performer in my collection and I had issues with getting the EVF to match the LCD and other problems getting the EVF to switch quickly and with assurance from the LCD when I put my eye to the finder in bright light. A recent firmware upgrade has turned the NX30 into a very, very usable camera for me. The addition of the 16-50mm lens gives me a little bit more on the wide side than I'd had before and, while there is some geometric distortion at the wide settings the lens is sharp enough wide open and very sharp one and two stops down. I hope it is marginally water resistant because I did have to wipe water off the camera and lens from time to time. 

Also, for the first time since I got the camera I played with the tilt-able EVF. I didn't see the value to it when I first got the camera but I was enmeshed in another system at the time and probably not paying attention. At any rate, the ability to use the EVF in a 90 degree fashion was really pretty great today. Everything at the graffiti park was wet and muddy but at the same time all of the art that I wanted details of was painted down near the ground. It was great not to have to "put a knee down" to get the head on angles that I wanted. Later, when shooting quickly on the street I came to realize that I could shoot with the EVF at a 45 degree angle, kind of like a prism finder on a film-era Hasselblad and that was a very quick and interesting way to shoot as well.  I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm shooting portraits with the 85mm and I want a lower camera position.

The NX30 body is smaller than I remembered. I have it here on my desk next to one of my Olympus EM-5 bodies wearing the top half of its battery grip. They are almost the same size when the EM-5 is used in that configuration. The 16-50 power zoom is small and light as well. Especially small when collapsed and closed. The one thing I've always liked about the Samsung cameras is their sensor tech. Different than their competitors. Not better or worse, just different. And as you know, I like different.

One thing I tried to do today was to check in and pay attention to what I think about when I'm walking around taking images. I know I am a sucker for contrasting colors, especially deep reds next to lighter blues. I also love pure greens. But today I was trying to figure out why. I can only say that color is like music for the eyes. My brain and eyes seem to love to find patterns based on shapes  and colors although I am not consciously looking for either. It's all running on some sort of brain sub-routine. I just end up responding by pointing the camera at the stuff I like and wrapping a composition around it. Someone wrote in last week to suggest that I should shoot in a more symmetrical and balanced way. I think the ceiling shot of the Alexander Palace bothered them. 

I could not disagree more. I can't stand to look at very balanced images because they seem static to me. I'm always a fan of a little tension in an image. Whether that tension is supplied by the emotional quality of the content or a little twist to the frame is inconsequential to my enjoyment. I just like stuff that's a little off. 

As I walked down the streets today I thought of the jobs I'd just done and what I might have done differently in each instance. Was I too concerned with the wind on Monday and not concerned enough with the finer points of subjects' expressions? Should I have used different modifiers on Tues.? I could have metered the studio portrait more accurately on Thurs. and I could have fine tuned my location and composition a bit more on Friday. I should have already made a custom preset if I'm going to use Nikon raw files in Lightroom. I have to remember to build in more test shots at the beginning of shoots and not rush to get started. Once I go through all the post op review I forget it, resolve to do everything differently the next time and then start fantasizing about the ultimate way to actually do the business.

Practically speaking though, there is no "right way" to do the business because that would mean shooting the same stuff in the same way over and over again. Trying desperately to have the most efficient and repeatable methodology I could construct. Figuring out the intersection of cost/client acceptance and profit by commodifying everything. Then I would be nothing more than a template of a photographer. An accountant's dream. And I'd quit in a week. I love the challenge of shooting differently nearly every time I go out the door. I've come to believe that if you aren't a bit nervous, not just going out to shoot paid jobs, but every time you go out to do your art then you aren't doing it right. The whole circus is nothing without the stimulation of uncertainty and the thrill of discovery. The challenge is the challenge. The fun part is hitting the wall of fear and anticipation and going over the top to the other side. And I'm sure that's what the folks were also thinking when they painted this dumpster:

And this re-bar.

Next week I start all over again. It's almost like starting from scratch. I have some clients who are knee deep in an ongoing campaign. I've changed cameras systems during the project twice but no one seems to notice. I guess as long as we keep the images in the same aesthetic ballpark no one should care. 

So the NX30 was a delightful surprise today. With the unobtrusive 16-50mm f3.5 to 5.6 it was almost weightless and near invisible. I hope it dries out well. 

Commodification / differentiation. It's a choice. 

high-ISO bounce flash photography

One of the misconceptions about bounce flash photography that many photographers cling to, is that you absolutely need a white wall or ceiling near you. While it does help, this shouldn’t stop you from trying to be a little adventurous with on-camera bounce flash to see if it gets you the results you want. There have been several articles on the topic of bouncing off various other surfaces, or, not any particular surface nearby:

Let’s step through another recent example: Gaby and Michael’s wedding reception was at a winery, with the reception venue a huge area with stone and cement walls. It was a beautiful venue, but dark. The top-heavy lighting didn’t help either.

Sometimes … actually, very often … you just need to add additional lighting to the mix to get the results you and your clients want. Simple as that. Then it is up to you to figure out a way that best serves that need – good lighting while retaining the look and feel of the place.

I’m hesitant to use multiple flashes in the corners of a venue – the cross-lighting can look wonderful when it works, but very often leads to weird cross shadows. I prefer predictable results. So for me, multiple light sources wouldn’t be a first choice.

I tried the Profoto B1 as a bounce flash into the area, but it wouldn’t give predicable results, or … it would mean that my assistant would have to scurry around and help match the direction that I am shooting in. This can get a little hectic.

I then did a few test shots with on-camera bounce flash to see if it was feasible. And at full manual power, and selectively bouncing, I could get pretty good light at high ISO settings and wider apertures!

The area behind me that I was bouncing my on-camera flash off. Dark wooden beams and stone and cement. This was an available-light shot at the same camera settings as the main photo at the top: 1/40  @  f/3.2  @  3200 ISO

A comparison photo without flash. This too was shot at 1/40  @  f/3.2  @  3200 ISO.

While we’re here, can we just dispel entirely with the idea that high ISO settings and fast glass can get you usable results every time. The light levels here were too low for any meaningful and useful camera settings. The light would’ve been too uneven as well to give clean open light on their faces.


camera settings and photo gear used (and equivalents)

  • 1/40  @  f/3.2  @  3200 ISO
  • on-camera bounce flash, full power in manual mode.
  • 1/2 CTS gel on the flash



high-ISO capable cameras

I’ve seen comments on photography forums and FB groups that amount to, “yes, but they use expensive DLSRs”. Or something to that effect, implying that certain techniques – such as in this case, bounce flash in seemingly impossible situations – is out of reach of someone with a non-pro camera. Perhaps true.

The counterpoint is that this is actually within the reach of someone with a more modest camera, and a fast prime lens. Using the wider apertures bring extreme bounce flash within your reach, if the shallower DoF doesn’t hamper the final image.

A slow general-purpose zoom is just not going to allow you the best results in challenging scenarios. Honestly, a 50mm lens or 85mm f/1.8 lens isn’t that expensive! It’s well within anyone’s reach. And really, at some level we need to get serious about our equipment if we want to do work at a certain level. This means either faster prime lenses, and / or high-ISO capable cameras. And it need not even be the $6,000 beasts either.

There are a few choices in both main camera brands, but these two cameras would be my recommendation at the moment for best image quality vs price:


video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then this video tutorial 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.


related articles

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