Monday, November 29, 2010

Flash Diffusion

I was recently asked what kind of diffuser I would recommend for a Speedlight.  Rather than just giving a quick answer, I thought I would give a bit of background information and instruction on the the subject.  And rather than just email my response back to the person asking, I thought perhaps it was better to post it here so that others may benefit from the information as well.

Here is my response in a Q & A format:

Q. Why do people think that flash is "harsh light"?  
A. Two reasons: 1) because of the "sharp shadows" it creates, and 2) often because of the location of those shadows - creating unflattering shadows on the subject due to the position of the flash on camera.

Q. What makes light harsh? (sharp shadows)
A. The "apparent size" of the source of light.  The smaller the source of light, the sharper the shadows.  I say apparent size because think of the sun. It is the largest source of light we have, yet it is harsh light because of how far away it is.  So distance matters.  The further away the light source is, the sharper it gets.  But in general, a 5' Softbox is softer light than a 2' softbox which is softer than a flash with no softbox.  (and, of course, a cloud covered sky is the largest softbox of all)

Q. Does the diffusion panel on the flash (or any other type of small diffusion accessory mounted on the flash)  make it less harsh? 
A. Not by itself, it does not!  It can however .... if diffusing the light causes it to bounce off of walls, ceiling, floor, etc, thus creating a "larger source of light".  But in wide open spaces (especially outdoors), a diffused light source that has nothing to bounce off of is still small and is nothing more than a weak, but still sharp, light source.

Q. So, does diffusing the light while it's on camera help?  
A. Maybe a little.  It's still coming from a bad angle.  But if it causes some extra light from nearby walls or ceiling to bounce into and fill in shadows it can be helpful (so let's just say "better than nothing, but not by much").

Q. Are there better ways to diffuse light?
A. Definitely!  Rotate the flash head and point it at the wall instead of at the person. The wall will turn the source of light into a much larger source of light.  And it will be side light rather than straight-from-the-camera.  And therefore will produce much more pleasing 3-dimensional shadows.

Q. Does a flash accessory such as the Gary Fong Lightsphere help? 
A. Yes, with caveats (see above).  Ignore their sales pitch. If you are outside it does absolutely nothing except waste light (and battery power!).  If you are inside with nearby walls or ceiling to bounce the light off of, then it can be helpful because the Lightsphere sends light in all directions and those nearby walls and ceiling can, indeed, create a larger source of light.  But ... consider the direction of your light.  And, consider that the walls and ceiling may be colored (thus affecting the color of the light on your subject).

Q. What would you recommend instead?
A. Get the flash off camera.  Have someone hold it or put it on a light stand.  This gives you a more pleasing direction of light.  Then use a softbox or umbrella to create a larger source of light. (for umbrellas, a shoot through umbrella is easier for me, but reflective works too)

Q. What is your favorite flash diffuser?
A. My current favorite flash accessory is the Lastolite Ezybox.  It comes in two sizes, a 24x24" softbox or a 15x15" softbox.

Q. Why do you prefer it over an umbrella?
A. Well, I have to admit that an umbrella can create a much larger source of light, and that umbrellas are ultimately very portable (and the two biggest reasons why I shot umbrellas for many years).  But the biggest problem with an umbrella is that it catches wind like no other.  The tiniest breeze can knock over a light stand.  I've broken dozens of umbrellas over the years.  And sadly, I've also had several speedlights break (usually the umbrella falls on itself and cushions the fall, but every now and then the crash is hard enough that the speedlight breaks, usually off the hotshoe connector).

The biggest reason I resisted going to a softbox for such a long time was time and portability.  It takes time to put together a softbox (all of the rods need to be inserted into the base and the diffusion panel put into place, etc).  Such a time consuming process (compared to simply opening a closed umbrella) that I rarely take my softboxes apart.  But a softbox that is assembled is generally not very portable (again, as compared to a folded umbrella, the assembled softbox occupies a lot more space and is harder to transport to an off site location).

Q. Why is the Lastolite Ezybox different?  
A. Because, just like the fold up reflectors that you probably already have in your camera bag, it folds down flat and pops-up in an instant!  No assembly required!!! You pop up the softbox and attach it to the mounting bracket (which I leave my flash attached to at all times) and violá, in mere seconds I'm up and running with a mini-studio regardless of location.

Q. Are there advantages to a softbox over an umbrella?  
A. There is generally less "wasted light" because all of the light is moving forward.  When using a shoot through umbrella, some of the light bounces out the back (I like this fact, and still use umbrellas in a room where the backward light can hit walls or ceiling and create a still larger source of light), but by having all of the light going forward the softbox can be more efficient, reducing recycle times and increasing battery life.

A softbox with internal diffusion is generally softer light than an umbrella which will still have a hot spot in the center.  I typically use the diffusion panel on my high end strobes, but don't use the diffusion panel for my speedlights because outdoors I generally need all the light I can get (and my strobes are only used indoors and are more powerful / faster to recycle anyway).  The Ezybox comes with the internal diffusion panel and you can choose to use it or not (I might use it if I'm indoors and not as concerned about recycle times).

Q. Are there any advantages that an umbrella might have?
A. Yes. The umbrella is much cheaper and, as mentioned above, can produce a much larger source of light.  But did I mention wind and broken umbrellas?  Yeah, the price difference will disappear quickly if you are shooting outdoors.

So I still use both - umbrellas and softbox.  But if I had to pick one over the other, I would pick the Lastolite Ezybox.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Proposal

Yesterday I had the honor of witnessing first-hand the marriage proposal between two good friends, Tyler Willey and Carolina Castillo.

But let's rewind the story a bit!

Back in August I needed a male model for a Trash the Dress photo shoot that I had scheduled with Carolina.  The scheduled male model had to cancel and so I asked Tyler if he would be willing to fill in.  And that is how he and Carolina met - all dressed up in Wedding Attire on their very first photo shoot!  And to think that they later started dating and fell in love, I've never been a match-maker before and this is just cool.

Tyler let me know in advance that he was thinking of marrying Carolina and he asked if I'd be willing to take pictures of the engagement.  But he wanted it to be a surprise and so he suggested that I present the idea to Carolina as a "modeling session" instead of an engagement session.

And so I did.  I told Carolina that I had this idea for a "romantic getaway" type of photo shoot and that I needed two models and wondered if she and Tyler would be willing to help me out.  She eagerly agreed and the hook was set.  The three of us then began brainstorming what the photo shoot would be like, where and how I wanted it to be like a story.

I suggested going up to my brother-in-law's cabin (Big Cottonwood Canyon) where we could shoot some scenes outdoors in the mountains leading up a scene in the cabin.  I figured the coldness of the mountain air would be conducive to the "closeness" that I wanted to see between them.  But even I didn't realize how cold or that there would be several inches of snow on the ground.  But the idea was to spend some time outdoors and then go into the cabin for a scene in front of the fireplace.

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - RingThe Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - RingThe Proposal - Winter Engagement - RingThe Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

Tyler and I set up some code words that we could use to inform each other whether he was ready to propose or whether I was set and ready to capture the event in pictures.  So after moving inside the cabin, I began setting up my equipment.

Trying something new... I set up one camera, a Canon 5D Mark II, on a tripod where I could use it to capture HD quality video.  Then I set up my lights so that I could use my other Canon 5D Mark II camera to capture stills.

Carolina is still thinking that this is a modeling session and so I am directing the events.  I had them over by a window where I told them to simply interact with each other.  We got some great expressions as they are very obviously in love with each other:

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

And the stage was set.  Tyler broke away for a moment, during which time I instructed Carolina to look at the window so that she wouldn't see what Tyler was doing (he was retrieving the box with the wedding ring in it). He returned to embrace her and she still hadn't seen it coming.  I told her to turn around and face him and that's when things got under way.

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

Tyler spoke lovingly to her for a moment... and then, to her surprise, he got down on one knee.  I was amazed at how quickly she realized what was happening.  I love her response.  You can see it captured in video here:

The sheer joy in her voice and the look on Tyler's face...  the video and this picture tear me up each time I see them:

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

When then finished the rest of the photo session that I had discussed with them - utilizing the fire place in the cabin to showcase their love and romance for each other.  Such genuine emotions, it was an honor to be there and to see them and take their pictures.

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

The Proposal - Winter Engagement - Ring

Here is a video slide show that I put together comprising the images and video from the photo session:

Congratulations Tyler and Carolina!  What an honor to be present at such a tender moment in your lives.  Thank you for inviting me.  I look forward to your wedding day when you two will be married and sealed in the Temple.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Canon 85mm f/1.2L Lens

Canon 85/1.2L how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

1) Creamy smooth backgrounds that are real! Often referred to by photographers as Bokeh

Have you ever seen the "fake" blur that some photographers Photoshop into their pictures? It's extremely annoying, especially around the edges of the main subject, or when distant objects are less blurry than those that are close to the main subject.

True, there are some Photoshop Plugins (such as Alien Skin's Bokeh 2) that do a better job than others. But they still suffer at the edges of subjects.

For example, It's hard to gets masks perfect (especially if fuzzy edges like hair are involved). So plugins will tend to blur the subject "into the background", which can't simply be edited out and kept looking real without a tremendous amount of work.

I like it real. I prefer not to edit my photos a whole lot. So if it can be done in camera, so much the better!

Some examples from my recent pictures - pay close attention to the sharpness of the subject and the creamy smooth backgrounds:

Canon 85mm f/1.2L
(Click to view large)

Canon 85mm f/1.2
(Click to view large)

2) Background lights turn into beautiful round orbs (again, Bokeh):

Canon 85mm f/1.2
(Click to view large)

3) Hiding defects.

I tell people that my 85/1.2L can make anyone look beautiful. Why? Because secretly I know that when I'm shooting very shallow DOF the only thing that will be in focus is their eyes (sometimes only one eye) and all of the 'defects' that they've learned to hate just blur away. Who needs skin smoothing software when you can capture it correct in camera?

One such example:

Canon 85mm f/1.2
(Click to view large)

4) Finally, the 85mm f/1.2L is easily the sharpest lens in my bag. So when I want perfect eyelashes or other details I pull out this lens.

In other words, I'm not obsessed with shooting wide open. Sometimes I want the sharpest image possible and this is my go-to lens for that sort of image.

Are there any downsides to this lens? Well yes...

1) Price. This lens is, by no means, a cheap lens.

2) Slow Focusing. I don't understand the physics of it, but I understand there are reasons why, even with Canon's USM focusing system, this lens still takes longer to focus than the vast majority of Canon's USM lenses. It means I don't use this lens out on the dance floor at a reception. I get that. But it doesn't stop me from using it for portraits.

So in spite of the slow focusing and high price, this is easily my most favorite lens. Ever.

It's not my most used lens. In part, because as a wedding photographer I am a slave to my zooms (I hate becoming a "moving distraction" at a wedding ceremony and so I prefer a good zoom lens over a prime for that reason). But when I want my very best pictures, this is the lens I pull out of the bag.

NOTE: All of the pictures featured here were taken with the Canon 5D Mark II Body. I need to point this out because the 5D II is a full frame camera which allows an 85mm lens to act like an 85mm lens (not 136mm as it would on a 1.6x crop-factor body). This is important to me because even at 85mm the lens feels a bit long at times. I like a long lens for portraits. But if it's too long, I feel like I have to stand too far away to interact with my subjects.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Haley Nord - Teen Model

The beautifully tall and slender teen model Haley Nord recently approached me asking if we could do a photo session. I invited her to my studio with the idea of trying out several different looks and styles and these are some of the results:

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Haley Nord by David Terry Photography

Check out some of the rest of the photo shoot here in this video slide show:

Be sure to watch the above video full screen (click [] and then click on HD for best quality).