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Author Archive



As your understanding of light and color grows, how does it affect your daily shooting? Like most things that seem complex at first, color pretty quickly becomes a secondary thought process, just like tying your shoes.

I just had the above archive photo picked up by a nonprofit, to promote children's books. Looking at it, I'm reminded that creating a natural looking color need not be complicated at all.

This was a little more than a snapshot, done with on-camera flash, and no gels. And the thought process behind the light is a good example of how you'll start to see and control color, even if you're just grabbing a snapshot. Read more »
Abstract: A dynamic, 3-D scene and hundreds of sources—a talk with a theatrical lighting designer


Photo © Lucas Krech

Today in Lighting 103, a little side trip. Fair warning: we are taking a bit of a deep dive. For some of you this will make your eyes glaze over. But for others, it'll be a very cool look into the way live performance lighting designers think with respect to color.

No worries; we'll be back in the center of the bell curve in the next installment.


A Chat with Lucas Krech

New York-based Lucas Krech is a lighting designer who works with operas, dances, plays and performance pieces. He is also is a photographer, which is how we originally intersected via Twitter.

A ways back, I wrote to him to find out a little more about how people approach the process of lighting live performances. What I got back was basically a firehose/brain dump that gave me a fascinating look into how he thinks. Read more »


Strobist lighting kits are the modern day version of the basic speedlight-based setup I carried on my daily newspaper assigments for the better part of 20 years.

Over the past ten years, the recommended kit has gone through several evolutions. But recently there have been significant updates to several of the components (and a cool addition) making the kit better now than at any other time. I thought the updates merited a shoutout.

The kits are built around the idea of strong value with thoughtfully chosen components, many with unique features. All components carry best-in-class warranties, and can be expected to give you good service for years. If I was talking to myself as a 20-year-old, I'd advise me to get this before even buying a second lens.

The lighting kits come in several variations: Single with flash, single without flash, two-light version (two of everthing; but one remote) and add-a flash (one of everything, no remote).


Current components are as follows, with updates/additions noted:



Flash: LP180



The LumoPro LP180 is basically a bullet-proof (not literally, but relatively) manual flash that comes with the stuff you need, without the bells and whistles that you don't.

Notable features include four-way sync, 1/1 - 1/128 manual power, variable slave, selectable ready tone, smart thermal protection, power equal to or greater than OEM flagship flashes, 1/4"x20 side mount and built-in gel clips. (It also includes a gel kit that covers the most commonly used CC and theatrical colors.)

Build quality of the LP180 borders on ridiculous. (One was famously destroyed in the field by a leopard. It was replaced.)

Warranty: twice as long as OEM flagships.

Price: one-third of OEM flagships.


Remote: Phottix Ares Original Model



A legit remote trigger for not much more than the cost of a sync cord. Features include: AA-powered (no weird batteries to find) 8 channels, hot-shoe based mount and excellent reliability. Backed by a two-year warranty.

I have been teaching with (and using) these remotes for several years now. They are solid.


Stand: LP605S



Recently updated; best in class. The LP605S is the classic, 5-section compact stand — except beefier build, and with a couple of unique added features.

One, it comes with folding ground spikes that will add to stability when used outside. Un-sandbagged umbrellas are always a risk in wind. But you can at least spike this stand and use bare flashes outdoors in a stiff breeze.

Two, the LP605S come predrilled for a strap, and includes the strap. This is somethng I DIY'd for many years, and the idea has now found its way to what was already the best compact stand on the market.


Umbrella: LumoPro 3-in-1 Double Fold



Recently swapped; best in class. Functionally similar to my older Westcotts, but with better build quality, more durability and added features.

The LP version gives you the choice of the best umbrella surface for any given job. It converts from white shoot-thru, to white reflective (black-backed) and silver reflective.

Unlike most double-folds, LP 3-in-1 umbrellas do not feel like fragile little flowers right out of the box. They are more substantial, and have lasted far longer than other models in daily use.

They also come with a slip case the does not make it feel like your umbrella is trying to squeeze into skinny jeans every time you try to case it.


Swivel: LP679-v2



Recently updated; best in class.

Finally, someone has nailed the swivel. The 679-v2 has all of the things common sense dictates in a swivel: removable cold shoe, big arm/smooth hinge, and a cold shoe post lockdown that does not bump up against your flash.

The recent improvement that sets it apart is in the umbrella lockdown screw. It is big and knurled. God only knows why, but most every other swivel I have seen puts a tiny thumb-mangler lockdown nub there. Why?

The LP679-v2 is LumoPro listening to photographers' upstream suggestions. As a result it is much better in practical use, comparatively speaking, than other swivels.


Bonus: Lighting in Layers

Lighting in Layers was a 6-DVD, 8-hour video tutorial series that sold for $159.99 from 2011 to 2016. (Full info here.) After six printings, the idea of physical DVDs had run its course. And since those DVDs had been very good to our family, I wanted to pay it forward to the next generation of lighting photographers.

So, all versions of the Jumpstarter kits purchased directly from Midwest Photo now include SD or thumbdrive versions of the Lighting in Layers video series. This is especially cool because one of the Jumpstarter kit versions (single/no flash) actually sells for less than the original cost of the DVDs.

VERY IMPORTANT, PLEASE NOTE:

Jumpstarter kits are available both on Amazon (finally!) and directly from Midwest Photo. Only the kits purchased directly from Midwest Photo include the video series. So if the video is important to you, choose Midwest. If not, you can go the easy two-click route through Amazon.



And A Case



All Jumpstarter kits (except Add a Light kit, which presumes you already have a case) include a padded shoulder case that big enough to hold a two-light kit and various odds and ends.
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A Caveat for Sony Users

If you are a Sony user, your camera may have a non-standard hot shoe. Sigh. Thanks Sony. Which means that this flash and remote (and, sadly, many other lighting components) may not fit your camera.

Fortunately, there are workarounds. Sony shooters are advised to email Midwest Photo and they will step you through any adapters you may need.



Different Versions / Where to Buy

The Jumpstarter kits are now also available via Amazon, which makes for a super-easy (two clicks) way to order. If you go that route, understand that the Amazon versions do not come with the lighting videos. That is a Midwest Photo in-store exclusive. Other that that, they are identical to the Midwest versions.


• If you already own a flash, single version without flash:

Midwest Photo (includes Lighting in Layers video): $147.99

Amazon, DOES NOT INCLUDE VIDEO: $147.99


• Single version, includes LP180 flash:

Midwest Photo (includes Lighting in Layers video): $276.99

Amazon, DOES NOT INCLUDE VIDEO: $276.99


• Two-light kit (portable, wireless 2-light studio, professional quality, for less than the cost of a single Nikon or Canon flagship flash):

Midwest Photo (includes Lighting in Layers video): $479.99


• Single add-a-light kit (includes flash but no remote or case):

Midwest Photo (includes Lighting in Layers video): $203.00
Abstract: Think about the reasons behind the color of your lights, and your palette will often take care of itself.



When you are placing a light source, it's pretty normal to ask yourself, "What color should this light be?"

If you step back a moment and think, the answer will often present itself. A better question to ask is, "What color would this light be?" Read more »
UPDATE: There are currently just 2 spots remaining on this trip. -DH



This January I'm leading a small-group trip to Havana, Cuba. It will be the first in a series of X-Peditions for photographers.

The last time I was in Havana was 2013, teaching for Santa Fe Workshops. But that was someone else's curriculum. This time the program is ours to design, and we are planning a week of exploring, learning and lots of time behind the camera.
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An Immersive Week



This is not the typical photo tour group, which invariably ends up as some version of a photo walk with everyone getting versions of the same pictures. I'm partnering with Focus On The Story, a D.C.-based organization for photographers. The trip leaders are myself and fellow journalist Joe Newman, whom I've known for over 30 years.

X-Peditions have a maximum of 12 participants, and are very photo-centric. They include daily instruction, location shoots, and plenty of time to explore on your own or with a teammate.

Our goal with X-Peditions is to help you learn to travel closer to ground level, to travel more lightly, and to learn to see more more efficiently (and effectively) as photographers. We also hope to help you build the knowledge and experience to confidently choose more interesting destinations for your future travels.

And while we believe this approach is a better way to travel, it also allows us to keep our X-Peditions prices more affordable.


Photography and Learning

Please note that this is not a lighting class. In fact, I'm not even bringing a flash. That said, light itself will be a large part of our daily discussions.

We'll be out shooting at the edges of the day when the light is good, and at other times as dictated by the locations we have lined up. But during the harsh light of midday, we'll typically be in instructional mode. There will be daily talks that not only help prepare you for the day's experiences, but build on your general knowledge around the intersection of photography and travel.

You'll learn how to prioritize your day to become more efficient at producing higher quality photos. This will help you reserve the time to just be a traveler; to absorb the city and watch the world go by. That downtime is important for you (and for your family, when you travel with them.) It also makes you more receptive to the insights that lead to better photos.

We are traveling to Havana under a people-to-people license, which means you'll get interaction with locals throughout the week. We'll work both individually and as a group. We'll be editing, comparing notes, evaluating what we can do better and preparing to go out and do it again.

In the evenings we'll continue the conversation and share our day's experiences, perhaps over a mojito or a glass of Cuba's famous dark rum. This sort of thing is typical when photojournalists are working together (or competing) in a foreign city.


The X-Factor



The "X" in X-Pedition is a nod to Fuji's X series cameras. Small, light, quiet and unobtrusive, Fuji X series bodies are near-perfect tools for photojournalists. And they are ideal travel cameras. I took a leap of faith on my first trip to Havana, bringing only a Fuji X100s with its fixed 35mm equivalent lens. In retrospect, it was a great decision. And it has changed the way I approach travel photography ever since.

So if you are also a Fuji shooter, you can expect specific tips and advice on how to get the most out of your cameras. Or to even borrow a lens if you like.

Non-Fuji shooters are of course still welcome. And don't worry, we promise not to try to convert you. But we do strongly suggest that you travel very light with respect to photo gear. It's good travel photo advice in general, but also culturally respectful in a place like Cuba where the economic disparity is a factor to consider.


The Bigger Picture

Havana is a unique opportunity for photographers. It goes without saying that it is not going to stay unique for very long. The island is experiencing rapid change.

Our goal with this trip, and with future X-Peditions, is to help you grow as both travelers and photographers; to gain the skills and confidence to choose future destinations that are off the beaten path.

__________


The Havana trip has two spots remaining. For more information, or to inquire about coming, please visit Focus On The Story's X-Pedition Cuba page and submit your contact info.
Abstract: Don't just look to still photos for inspiration. Great inspiration also awaits you on your TV.



We may think we are getting a good feel for color as photographers. But you know who kicks still photographers' butts every day? Cinematographers, that's who.

Today, a look at some examples from 2010-era Dr. Who, which we have talked about on this blog before. These guys are near and dear to my heart, because they are unabashedly fearless when it comes to using color to manipulate light—and their viewers. Read more »
It can be scary to add a lot of color to your light. But it's easy to underestimate how much color it takes to transform a scene and set a mood. Don't be shy. Those gels won't bite.



This nighttime portrait of soprano Alexandra Rodrick was a big step for me. It was made about five years ago, when I was just starting to realize how color-fluid real light could be. I kinda knew it, but I still didn't have the nerve to actually do it.

So I took a deep breath and threw way more blue into the environment than I normally would. And not only did I come out alive on the other side, but I ended up pretty happy. Read more »
Abstract: When complementary-gelled lights are falling on the same plane, they can easily rob each other of color. So it is important to make sure your lights are hitting different areas, with minimal overlap.



Above is a two-speedlight portrait against a white wall. White walls are the natural enemy of a gel, and practically live to wash out your color. Especially when using two flashes with dense, complementary gels. Knowing how to keep your multi-colored lights operating on different planes will help you retain more saturated color.

Let's walk through the portrait above to get a better look at how our two lights are working separately—and together—in a variety of ways.Read more »
Abstract: So, did you do Greg's gels assignment? I did. Twice. Below are my results, and what I learned.



Reporting in from our last assignment, in which you were asked to shoot a portrait in three different ways: clean white light, warm/cool light, and warm/cool light with the shadows muddied up with a little green. I did this one along with you—twice—and learned a lot in the process.

Which brings up a valuable point. You can read about this stuff all you want. But until you actually get off your ass and do it, you're not going to learn it.

In other words, learning to use color in your lighting is just like anything else. Read more »
Abstract: The best way to get a better understanding of light and color is to just do it.



In the last part of our conversation with Greg Heisler, he gave what I think is a very good piece of advice about light and color:

"I think what you have to do to be able to see it, is to shoot it. And then shoot it.

Like, shoot it the clean way, with white light. Then the next way is to shoot it with a warm and a cool. And so you see that. And then muddy up the light a little bit, and then see it that way."

So that's exactly what we're gonna do. Read more »
The Swiss government last month issued a recall for ten models of Jinbei studio flash units. While the recall notice has made the rounds on message boards, I am frankly surprised that photo media outlets have not picked this up. Read more »
Abstract: Chromatically complex light adds much more realism to your lit photos.



Today’s Lighting 103 post features excerpts from a bar conversation with Greg Heisler. It's just as if we cornered him at a conference (which I did) and he agreed to have a drink and talk color (which he did).

This is roadmap stuff. It's above and beyond the specific info he includes with each of the assignments in his book, 50 Portraits, the companion text to L103.Read more »
Abstract: You can use your knowledge of color temperature and gels to improve the quality of light in your home.



So far, everything we have done has centered on gelling a single light to create a single desired color shift. But before we make the jump into using multiple colors and light sources, one quick hack for your home's lighting that will help you to improve the quality of light in compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Like the gawdawful green-tinged lamp above, for example. Read more »
Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complementary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.



In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.

The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights. Read more »
Abstract: You can alter your camera's white balance and gel your flash to "correct" nearly any ambient light color shift. But should you?


Read more »