Photography On Location

Speedlight modeling light

August 26th, 2016

Loveland, CO. light painting

Loveland, CO. light painting


I was recently on a portrait shoot and was talking with my assistant about how convenient a modeling light is for portraits and landscape flash. If I want to make sure my flash is aimed perfectly at my model’s face, using a modeling light will show me where my flash will hit. The same can be said for using flash in landscape photography. If I add a snoot to my flash to narrow the beam to illuminate the one orange aspen leaf in a sea of yellow aspen leaves, a modeling light will give me a preview of where my flash will illuminate the scene. But here is the problem. To trigger the flash test button (or modeling light) on a speedlight, you need to hit the button on the flash. Not convenient when you are looking through your camera ten feet away and don’t have an assistant with you. But you can trigger the speedlight modeling light right at the camera.

Try this with pop-up flashes in commander mode or using a hotshot mounted wireless transmitter. Simply hit the depth of field preview button and presto! Your flash will fire the modeling flash for a few seconds, and you can preview where your flash is aimed. As simple as that….

The image above was shot a few days ago on a Dave Black light painting workshop. Dave is the master of light painting, and has taken this craft way beyond illuminating a building with a flashlight. Check out his images and workshop schedule here.

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D500 impressions

August 12th, 2016

Fairbanks, Alaska.

Fairbanks, Alaska.


I’ve been shooting the D500 all summer, and I thought I would share some impressions on this ‘mighty little camera’ from Nikon. I’ve shot thousands of images with this camera from Indonesia to Alaska. On one assignment in Alaska I shot over 4000 images using the D500 for variety of subjects from portraits to wildlife. What’s the verdict? Wow!
Palmer, Alaska.

Palmer, Alaska.


First off, let’s talk about autofocus performance. The D500 steals the same autofocus system as the flagship D5, but puts all those sensor points in a smaller frame to match the 1.5x sensor. What that means is you have more focus points, literally one side to the other side, in the D500. Better coverage than even the D5. If you want to track eagles in flight, you’ll love the D500. And at 10FPS and a buffer that never seems to fill up using fast SD cards, you will have more frames than you need.

Wasilla Alaska.

Wasilla Alaska.


Next, how about weight? This camera is small and lightweight, coming in at 1.14oz. Add the new 16-80mm (24-120 full frame equivalent), and the total package weighs 2.9 pounds. By comparison, the Fuji XT1 with 18-55mm (27-84mm full frame equivalent) weighs about 1.7 pounds, so the difference is around a pound, but the Fuji lens doesn’t have as much zoom as the 16-80mm. The Sony A7 with a comparable lens is about the same weight as the D500 with the 16-80mm. So with comparable lenses you have less than a pound difference between many mirrorless equivalent systems.

Talkeetna, Alaska.

Talkeetna, Alaska.


How many times do you thumb through your phone pictures or screens during the day? Just use your finger the same way on the touch LCD screen on the D500. At first I couldn’t stop using the thumb dial, but now all I do is rapidly scroll through my images using the touch screen. And I even found myself using the articulating screen to get a better look at my macro flower shots.

Probably the biggest concern I had was moving to a 1.5x sensor camera since I use D810s for all my shooting. There were a few times I wanted a wider angle than I could get using my standard 24-120mm F4 full frame lens. But on the flip side, I photographed Alaskan wildlife using the 300mm PF F4, which gave me an angle of view of 450mm. I’m seriously considering buying the DX format 16-80mm to use for travel and portrait photography.

The downsides? I am super excited to use Snapbridge to wirelessly transfer images from my D500 to my iPhone, but currently the IOS version isn’t available. Nikon says it should come out this month. With that released, the D500 is going to add another feature that makes this one powerful camera.

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SB5000 wireless compatibility

July 25th, 2016

wireless
I really enjoy getting questions from readers of my blog about topics I post. A photographer friend just sent me an email asking if it is possible to trigger an earlier speedlight such as the SB900/910 using the SB5000. The short answer is yes. Take a look at the photo above. The SB5000 is in commander mode in OPTICAL WIRELESS mode. You can tell the flash is in optical mode by the zigzag icon in the upper left next to the ‘S’ with an arrow on it. I have triggered my SB900s (in standard Remote mode) using my SB5000 in this mode (flashes set to TTL mode) and gotten great flash exposures with no compensation.

The beauty of the SB5000 is its ability to work seamlessly with earlier speed lights and cameras that can’t utilize the new radio wireless function. Another interesting question I received is can you trigger the SB5000 in radio wireless mode while at the same time triggering earlier speed lights in optical wireless mode. I don’t think this is possible. If you are using the new wireless transmitter (WR-R10) to trigger the SB5000, then the earlier speed lights won’t get this signal. However, you could put your earlier speed lights in SU-4 mode and they will fire every time the sensor sees a flash burst. The flashes work in manual using SU4 so you won’t have dedicated TTL.

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Two minute portrait

July 11th, 2016
Palmer, Alaska.

Palmer, Alaska.

I just returned from weeks shooting assignments in Alaska; over 13,000 images. One of my assignments was for a tourism bureau photographing a variety of activities, places and people. A typical day might start out at sunrise (4am in Alaska, ouch!) photographing moose, then onto some nice scenic mountain vistas. Next up is photographing a musk ox farm, and then onto a golf course shoot. And after shooting the fairways and putting greens, it’s off to a brew pub to photograph beer. Now I must admit it is hard to photograph a beer pub since I would rather be sampling the beers! But the real challenge on a shoot like this is working fast. Really fast, as in you might have 30 minutes to shoot the entire facility, interior, exterior, sampling room and create some nice portraits. The portrait above was shot in the brew pub in two minutes from start to finish. Here’s my technique to get a nice portrait on location when you only have a few minutes.

First up, the tools you need. For this shot I used my Nikon D810, a SB5000 and a SU800 to trigger the flash wirelessly. Next, to get that beautiful soft quality of light, I use a Lastolite 30″x30″ square Ezybox. This softbox pops open like a collapsible reflector, and can be set up in 30 seconds…I don’t know of another softbox that sets up faster. The box (retails for $156) has an interior and exterior baffle to create soft light. You can either mount the soft box on a stand, or in this case I had my assistant hold the box.

Here is my workflow. First, set up the soft box; 30 seconds. Next, I set my exposure using manual mode in my camera. I normally under expose my background by about 1/2 stop when shooting inside. This takes me about 30 seconds. That leaves 1 minute to take the shot. I use TTL mode for my flash exposure, which normally is just about right. Knowing where you want your subject to stand and what position for the light ahead of time will eliminate extra time you could use shooting the portrait. One big light shot wirelessly using TTL produces great results fast.

Practice at home or with friends. The faster you master the ‘two minute portrait’, the more images you can create. I often use this exact technique on travel photography trips. Gauchos in Patagonia or Balinese dancers may only have a few minutes to give you for their portrait. Make that time count!

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A good reason to use multiple exposure.

June 20th, 2016

Pullman, Washington. Palouse country.

Pullman, Washington. Palouse country.


I love multiple exposures. I used to figure out equations and exposure times back in the day with film cameras, but now all you do with a Nikon body is go to the shooting menu, choose multiple exposure, set the number of frames and shoot away. The camera figures out the exposure and seamlessly puts the images together. On workshops I often talk about creative effects using multiple exposure such as twisting the camera during a shot to get a really abstract image. But recently someone asked me is there a really good reason to use multiple exposure without creating wild abstract shots. My response; I use multiple exposure when I only have only speedlight to illuminate large scenes.

Take the image at top as an example. This old car just begged to have the interior cab lit using a speedlight. But if the interior was lit, the shot would look better if I used a flash on the exterior as well. Since I only had one speedlight, I did a double exposure. I set up my camera on a tripod, set the camera for a 2 shot multiple exposure, and took the first shot with the speedlight in the cab. Next, I went over and got my speedlight out of the cab and aimed it at the exterior for the second shot in the double exposure. The final image looks like it was lit by two speedlights at once, but really it was one light used twice in a double exposure. I have lit hotel interiors doing 3 and 4 shot multiple exposures, each time moving the speedlight during the multiple exposure. This technique works great on a tripod with static subjects. Moving subject or camera shake will cause ghosting in a multiple exposure. By the way, the new radio controlled SB5000 (with D500) allowed me to place it out of sight in the cab and still trigger it from the camera without any signal issues. Loving the new radio controlled SB5000!

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Nikon SB5000 review

June 3rd, 2016

Lander, Wyoming. rock climbing in Sinks Canyon.

Lander, Wyoming. rock climbing in Sinks Canyon.


Speedlights have been critical to my work as long as I have been shooting. The portability and power in such a small light is amazing, and fills a nice lighting niche before bumping up to more powerful studio lights. When Nikon introduced the SU800 in 2005, wireless flash took off. With the SU800 you could control three groups of speedlights wirelessly from the camera. The SU800 relied on an optical signal which required line of sight. This system worked well but limited the distance and placement of the speedlights.

Lander, Wyoming. rock climbing in Sinks Canyon.

Lander, Wyoming. rock climbing in Sinks Canyon.


Enter the SB5000. This new speedlight works wirelessly using a radio signal with better range and no line of sight needed. Currently the SB5000 works with a radio signal with the D500 and D5 (the flash does work optically with earlier camera models). I have been waiting for this flash system for a long time; radio signals just work better and the sun doesn’t interfere with the signal.

I just returned from an assignment using the D500 with SB5000, and here are my initial impressions.
-much lighter and smaller flash than the SB910, very similar to the older SB800 in size. Perfect, small is always better
-despite being smaller this flash has more power than the SB910 and faster recycling times
-flash has built-in cooling system to keep the flash from overheating, an issue with some earlier speedlights
-menu system is the best yet; with just a little use it becomes very straightforward
-radio wireless system works great (more on that below) with up to six different groups

When I first started using the SB5000, I realized I had to go back to the manual to learn some new features and icons on the LCD. Most of the new items were related to the wireless system. Also, the controls on this flash are different than older SB910/900s. After I started really using the flash, I came to like the new menu system more than earlier speed lights.

lcd
To set up the SB5000 for radio wireless operation, you need a WR-R10 wireless transmitter. I just bought the WR-R10 Wireless Remote Set which includes an adapter to connect to the 10 pin terminal on your camera and a wireless remote. In order to link up your flash with the WR-R10 the firmware on the transmitter has to be version 3. To check this attach the WR-R10 to your camera, go to the Firmware option in the Set Up menu, and see what the bottom ‘W’ setting is (see photo above). If it says 3 then you are good to go. If not you need to send the transmitter to Nikon to get a firmware upgrade. I just bought a WR-R10 remote set and mine came with version 3 firmware.

Lander, Wyoming. rock climbing in Sinks Canyon.

Lander, Wyoming. rock climbing in Sinks Canyon.


Pairing the SB5000 with the D500 was fairly straightforward after reading the instruction manual. Here is the good news. Once you get the devices paired, the next time you turn on your flash and camera they automatically link up and are ready to go. You control flash output from the shooting menu on the back of your camera. Initially I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of using a small transmitter attached to the 10 pin terminal on my camera. But the device seems secure even dangling off ropes photographing rock climbers. And it is nice not to have a bigger transmitter unit attached to the hotshot.

After a week of use I’ve decided to buy another SB5000 and sell all my old speedlights. The lighter weight, smaller size, faster recycling, auto cooling and amazing wireless performance of the SB5000 represent a whole new class of speedlight, not just a bump in features. I’m sold.

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D500 first test

May 27th, 2016

ytt
If you have been reading this blog, you know how excited I was about the D500. This camera offers a lot of what makes the D5 great including blazing fast autofocus at 10FPS with a huge buffer, LCD screen with touch controls like your phone (and it articulates as well), and the best Nikon camera for focus sensor point coverage.

camerass
I have been shooting my D500 with my 300mm PF ED with a 1.4x converter, giving me an angle of view of over 600mm. Look at the image above. The D500 with 300mm is on the left, the D810 with 70-200mm is on the right. The D500 with this lens makes an incredible walk around telephoto setup for shooting wildlife and sports. The picture at the top of this post was shot with this set up.

There have been reports of some problems with the D500 freezing up. I have not experienced any problems, and I am using a Sandisk SD card. I have assignments coming up this weekend where I will put this camera through some rough use, so I will report back with those findings. What I see now is the D500 is a durable, solid performer loaded with pro features, and at $2000, a great value for the sports and wildlife photographer. Stay tuned, more on this camera shortly!

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ND exposure calculations

May 26th, 2016

lexp
Here is a quick note about an item that will make your long exposures go smoothly. Download Long Exposure Calculator to your phone (it’s free) and you can figure out those super long shots. Here is how it works. You set your camera to the correct exposure with the setting you want to use. Then you add your 10 stop or 15 stop ND filter. Set your aperture and ND setting in Long Exposure Calculator, and it will tell you the correct exposure time. Better yet, it has a stop watch to count down the seconds while your exposure is happening. Handy free app to have on your phone…

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Nikon 300mm PF ED F4

May 24th, 2016

Columbia River Gorge,  Oregon.

Columbia River Gorge,
Oregon.


Just back from many days on the road, first in Bali, then in Oregon. I mentioned in an earlier post about how much I like the Nikon 300mm F4 PFED. After continued testing, I like it even more. Many reviews mention an issue with VR not working correctly around 1/125 of a second. I specifically shot around this shutter speed and didn’t experience a problem. Perhaps earlier versions of this lens had this issue.

cmop
As mentioned in my earlier post, the reason to love this lens is two fold. First, it is just tack sharp. I look at a lot of lenses for sharpness, both my own and ones I see on workshops. This lens is one of sharpness I’ve used. Second, and what really got my attention, is the size and weight. The image above shows the 24-70mm F2.8 on left, and the 300mm F4 on the right. The 300mm F4 is just slightly longer, but actually weighs a little less (1.6 pounds weight). Using a fixed bright F4 aperture, the lens focuses faster than the super zooms on the market such as the 80-400mm or 200-500mm. When I attach this lens on a D500, I have the equivalent angle of view of 450mm in a very light, compact system. I plan on using this combo for many of my wildlife and sports shoots where using my 500 F4 slows me down due to size and weight.

The 300mm F4 sells for $1996. If you shop the refurbished gear at Nikon USA, you can get the lens for a few hundred dollars cheaper. Bottom line; if you want a light telephoto lens with excellent performance, the 300mm PF ED F4 is the one.

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Hi-Sync shooting in Indonesia

May 17th, 2016

Bali Indonesia

Bali Indonesia


I just returned from a fantastic trip with friends to Bali, Indonesia. Bali is everything it is hyped up to be; peaceful, friendly, exotic, tropical and stunning. I was fascinated with the Balinese people, especial the Balinese dancers. Watching these performances was mesmerizing.

Bali Indonesia

Bali Indonesia


I love to shoot portraits when traveling, and had brought along my Elinchrom ELB400 and 5 foot octabank for interesting subjects. One day we hired a Balinese dancer to photograph, and once again I was reminded the value of being able to shoot at shutter speeds way past the normal sync speed of 1/250. Our dancer was available midday, which meant bright overhead sun. Since I wanted to shoot at 1.4 for these portraits, I knew I needed shutter speeds around 1/1000 and faster.

Bali Indonesia

Bali Indonesia


With the Elinchrom EL-Skyport, HS heads and ELB400, this was not a problem. I simply attached the transmitter and began firing away at 1/000. I only needed about 30 percent power with the ELB400 shooting through the 5 foot octabank to get the correct exposure. Some photographers have asked me why I would shoot in midday light and need fast shutter speeds using Hi-Sync. Time after time I find myself shooting when the opportunity arises such as this dancer shoot. But with Hi-Sync working seamlessly, I know I can always shoot at fast shutter speeds to use wide open apertures in bright daylight.

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