Light – Part 5 of 6

What to buy

Well what do we need to consider?

  • Budget
  • Mount type
  • Colour consistent
  • Exposure accurate
  • Flash duration
  • Support
  • Power
  • Mains or Battery
  • TTL Support
  • High Speed Sync

Budget: well in many ways this is linked to the other points so we will skip this for now but, more money means more features, more support etc. Budget, midrange and high end all have their pros and cons.

Mount type: many systems have the Bowens S mount, the other common ones are the Elinchrom EL and the Profoto. Soft attachments like soft boxes can generally. be adapted or you can get third party adapter rings to fix your Profoto soft box on to say an Elinchrom flash head. It gets more difficult with hard accessories like beauty dishes. Think long and hard about where you want to go too.

Colour Consistent: This is one of those things linked to budget. The midrange and higher end flashes tend to drift no more then 300k in use. If your only taking a few pictures not too much of an issue, if your taking a lot of pictures with a lower end flash unit, keep taking a custom white balance as you go along. Taking a white balance reading and shooting for a couple of hours and then in post production noticing your colours are off after an hour in the session can cause issues when your editing and will slow down your work flow. Be aware or buy better lights.

Exposure accurate: There are two aspects to this. Consistent amount of power while you work, which is essential, and consistent when you turn up the power turn the power down, this is less important but can cause a bit of frustration if your wanting to go down one stop, set the flash one stop less and its only half a stop down in power. It slows you down a little, but is not really and issue if you meter well after each change, remember as well some of the cheaper lights may change colour temperature if you change power output, so white balance reading after a power change may be required.

Flash duration: Do you shoot sport, want to freeze water droplets, the flash duration is what freezes the action. For general use most flash is fast enough. For some specialised use then you can get special flash heads with very short duration to freeze action.

Support: Cheap and even some midrange flash units do not have good manufacture support, the units are considered consumables, if they die after three years then buy a new unit. Some high end flash companies support their old heads that are now over thirty years old and will cost-effectively repair and turn it around quickly. They have dealers locally that can lend you loan units and give quick turn around.

Power: Generally in small studio’s you do not need a lot of power, 250ws or 500ws (watt/seconds) is enough. The issue with cheaper flash units is often too much power, some high end 1000ws units will turn down 1ws, cheaper 250ws will only turn down to 30-50ws. This makes them less flexible. You may need to buy a 250ws and a 500/1000ws head as well to give you options. Also look at some reviews on YouTube. Some higher end flashes that are rated at 250ws when tested could nearly reach output of cheaper 500ws lights due to the more efficient head design and better reflectors.

Mains or Battery: This is linked to power. On location, wedding receptions, event photography then battery is the way to go, in the studio then go for mains. Depending on the amount of power I have needed on location I have either used small speed lights or my more powerful Elinchrom Quadra units. With newer technology and better batteries you can make the case for using battery in the studio. There are some units. now that are battery powered but can run on mains as well.

TTL Support: Studio flash scares a lot of photographers, in fact flash period scares people. TTL flash is generally what you get with small speed lights, but more and more studio flashes are supporting TTL. TTL – Through the Lens metering means your camera and lights work together to try and make the correct exposure. As long as the scene is not too dramatic it generally works well.

High Speed Sync: If you are mixing daylight and flash then you often find your flash sync speed in your camera becomes a limiting factor. This is why high end medium format cameras for fashion photographers can sync up to 1/2000 and some 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second. To over come the the limits of typical cameras slow sync speed the camera and light manufactures came up with HSS. The flash blasts lots of little flashes in the hope that some of the flashes correspond with the high shutter speed in use. It uses up a lot of power but can really help if you need it. If your looking at HSS then mains power or very powerful battery lights is the way to go.

Light – Part 4 of 6

Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm

Studio mains powered flash

This is where for most people it gets scared. How do you meter, using mutilple modifiers, just where do you start.

Well I would suggest watching a few YouTube videos as a start, then book a good local studio.

If you live in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, then I would suggest you book Worksop Photographic Studio. The above shot was taken there.

Book the studio for a couple of hours and the house model and get a lesson on lighting. Many studios offer courses and you will learn a lot.

The key thing is to learn how to meter, and about soft and hard light, and specular and defused light.

The bigger the light source in relation to the model the software the light. Things like soft boxes give you more defused light then something like a beauty dish which being more direct and specular light source.

Light – Part 3 of 6

Moving a small flash off camera

So how do we get small camera flash better, well we move it off camera and use a modifier.

This picture here made using a small flash on a stand and a white umbrella, to trigger it I had my other flash on camera but set to remote mode so not actually contributing to the overall exposure.

In this shot we are mixing daylight with flash. This time I have gone up a level from small flash to portable battery studio flash. In this shot I used a Elinchrom Quadra on a lightstand and a shoot through umbrella. The advantage of a portable studio flash solution is that it offers far more power.

When using flash outside there is a problem, and that is power and sync speed. Power is easily solved, buy a more powerful flash unit. Sync speed is more of an issue.

In this particular shot I wanted the daylight underexposed. The flash exposure is controlled by the aperture, this leaves the only option to control the ambient light being the shutter speed. Low end cameras will only sync to 1/60 of a second. Mid range cameras will go to 1/125 to 1/180 and higher end cameras to 1/250. A high end professional studio medium format camera will sync up to about 1/2000 or some 1/8000 of a second but these cost tens of thousand of pounds.

Light – Part 2 of 6

On camera flash

On camera flash gives the worst result but there are ways of improving it. I highly rate Nikon’s CCS system, I use a pair of SB800’s now quite old but work well.

In auto using a cameras modern TTL flash metering system you generally get reasonable results, but they become easily tricked by large dark or white areas.

You get a bounce card with the SB800’s that helps and a little modifier, you can also buy little soft boxes to fit on the flash to improve things.

I generally use one flash on camera on low power giving some fill, with a second SB800 on a stand to the side providing the main light. In this shot above of Holly above, I think it was a battery powered Quadra on a stand providing the light with a shoot through brolly.

Light – Part 1 of 6

People argue over what is the best camera, the best lens, Canon, Nikon SLR’ no it has to be mirrorless. Fuji gives the best colour, no one can beat Sony etc, etc ad nauseam.

The one thing that is actually the most important is actually hardly ever discussed, and that is light.

All the above shots were taken in available light, some indoor some high contrast summer sun.

Flower in midday sun shot with flash to over power the light.

Most photographers like to work with available light, its easy but your somewhat stuck with what you have. Maybe a reflector for fill can help but if you want to raise your game then flash is the answer.

Whether its overpowering the sun with flash to take a photo of a flower in the garden or studio light on a fashion shoot, this with modern cameras, a histogram or some knowledge with a light meter gives controllable light; light that you can sculpt and shape the scene and your subject.

Flash seems to scare many photographers but to be honest there is no reason to be afraid. The easiest and worst is on camera flash. All photographers at some point have tried it. Flash on camera, harsh direct light and often red-eye on the subject. Not pretty. The flash goes away never to be used again.

But move the flash off camera, start to understand the relationship between size of the light source and its affect on hard and soft light; and a understanding of defused and specular light sources and you can take control of the light around you.

So how do you learn this, well there are a lot of good educators on YouTube

I particularly like ‘Daniel Norton Photographer‘. If you want some out of the box thinking on flash, especially small flash the Strobist website is a good place to start.

Fitting new Heaters and Thermostats to Bertie the Boa’s Vivarium

Bertie the Boa, less then one year old

Bertie has quite a vivarium, one that I thought had enough redundancy to protect him. The substrate is a base of coarse and fine coco substrate and orchid bark giving a mix of textures and the ability to hold moisture and release it slowly without feeling wet.

On the power side, there are two independent power sockets each feeding a six way with surge protection.

There are three lighting systems, a high intensity UV that I run from midday to four in the afternoon, a daylight LED system on a timer giving eight hours in the winter and up to fourteen hours in high summer. There is also a coloured light for dusk. All these are on separate digital timers.

The vivarium has two 150 watt heaters, one in the middle on its own controller giving a background day temperature and a different background night temperature, plus one at the far end giving the hotspot.

The brown out earlier in the week had blown both controllers (I now know just the fuses), and one of the ceramic heaters. Despite my precautions of separate power and surge protection we had lost all the heating.

As a temporary measure I hooked up a 50 watt infra bulb and a spare controller and thermostat and set the room radiator to be permanently on instead of it timing mode. I ordered two new controllers and new heaters, and a set of fuses.

Replacing the controllers and thermostat probes was the easy part. The old controllers together with the extra heaters will act as spares.

The heating units were more of a challenge, I replaced both the ceramic holders and the ceramic heaters.

While all this was going on we removed the glass front to the vivarium so had the room radiators on high and we had the fire on. This made the room hot for us so we were working in tee shirts but Bertie was comfortable.

Temperature Data

Wild boas have been recorded active at temperatures as low as 62°F (17°C) and up to 104°F (40°C) between the hours of 7am and 7pm, although most of the data is clustered between 90°F (32°C) and 66°F (19°C). This temperature range contradicts what most keepers assert as “the best,” but proves that with correct husbandry, these animals are hardier than previously thought. Do you think that nature always stays at the perfect temperature? Of course not, and these animals are adapted to deal with the fluctuations of their region without getting sick. The key is to create a full temperature gradient so your snake can warm up and cool down as desired. The hottest areas will be closest to the heat source, and the coolest areas will be farthest from the heat source.

  • Chiaraviglio, Margarita, et al. “Intrapopulation variation in life history traits of Boa constrictor occidentalis in Argentina.” Amphibia-Reptilia 24.1 (2003): 65-74.
  • Waller, Tomas, et al. “Ecological correlates and patterns in the distribution of Neotropical boines (Serpentes: Boidae): a preliminary assessment.” Herpetological Natural History 3 (1995): 1.
  • McGinnis, Samuel M., and Robert G. Moore. “Thermoregulation in the boa constrictor Boa constrictor.” Herpetologica 25.1 (1969): 38-45.

Thanks to the ReptiFiles https://www.reptifiles.com/red-tailed-boa-care/boa-constrictor-temperatures/

Brownouts – the joys of rural living: cold snakes

During the COVID-19 shutdown we had a few brownouts and power cuts. This is a bit of an issue when your trying to work on line at home.

My computer equipment is all protected by a UPS and I have surge protectors on the control units and lighting equipment for our two big vivariums where Oz the Corn Snake and Bertie the Boa live.

I was horrified to find this week after a brown out that both control units and one of the heater elements had blown on Berties viv leaving him with no heat. We quickly ramped up the central heating and I had a quick run round of local pet shops to see which were open. In the end I managed to get a little infrared bulb together with an old thermostat in the attic, to rig up some heat. I am now waiting for my on line order to come through with new controllers and heaters (I’ll be getting spares as well).

Garden in Spring

So here in the United Kingdom we are entering the fourth week of shutdown. We are doing fine stuck at home, I am doing lots of IT work for the local government and assisting them with their lone working.

With spending eight hours a day stuck in my home office I took the opportunity to upgrade the my sound system and bought a better preamp and DAC for the office.

I am getting out each day for a walk with Ted the Greyhound. Photo options are a little limited but with spring now in full swing I have been taking a few snaps around the garden.

Photography is very much on the back burner for now, so I may have to think up a few indoor projects that I can do on my own.

Draft Music Streaming – Part 2 of 2: Streaming music round your home

Introduction

So you have a large music collection in iTunes, Media Monkey, etc, sat on you laptop, server, NAS – choose your poison.

How do you steam that round your home and integrate you Spotify into it.

Well, I had a bit of a mess, a mix of iTunes using Airplay to stream to old Apple Express units connected to systems via the 3.5 mm audio jack. Sonos in the kitchen and Sonos in the Lounge. Decent active speakers connected into the line out connection of my MacPro in the office.

So music all round the home and different apps to manage it.

My music library was iTunes, then moved to the Apple Music app. Not bad but not brilliant when you have various sources and different end points.

So is there a simple solution. Well if your starting from scratch you could just buy active speakers to place round you home that support Apple Airplay. Most hifi active speakers now support airplay and often their own proprietary solution. The Sonos system is hard to beat and there are many others.

But what if you are like me and have a mix of systems. I have three high quality budget hifi systems in the dinning room, my office and the music room, plus Sonos in the kitchen and the lounge. They were networked via my apple wireless network through the house but this was getting old and need replacing. I needed to bring it all together with something better that would work as a whole.

The Music Library

The music system starts with your library; according to a recent search of the internet the top budget players are:

Library software:

  1. MusicBee
  2. AIMP
  3. MediaMonkey
  4. foobar2000
  5. VLC Media Player

Many of these will work with iTunes or the inbuilt Windows alternative. The ones most often used are foobar, VLC and Media Monkey.

Systems like Sonos you can just point at your music library location and manage through the Sonos application. So manage the library in one app and play it through another.

Endpoints

Apple’s Airport Express, with a USB port for storage and a 3.5 mm audio socket were brilliant. AirPlay was lossy but they were convenient and gave you the ability to manage it all through iTunes and network your none streaming devices. They were also cheap.

Some wireless access points offer this but now if your a bit of a geek and want a cheap solution you can give high quality results with a Raspbery Pi, but how to manage it.

Bringing it all together

So far all this has been very bitty. The new Sonos devices now support airplay as do most speakers but we need a better solution.

So what is the answer: well there are two ways that come to mind. Standardise on a common system, Airplay, Sonos, Bluesound etc, or a software solution that supports the different types of hardware?

If your buying new then standardising is the way, but if your like me then finding a software server solution seemed the best option and one that supported the latest losses codecs.

The solution I picked was Roon. Many hardware devices are Roon ready, it supports Sonos, Bluesound, Airplay and can bring everything together. You can even make your own Raspberry Pi endpoints that are Roon capable to connect to your hifi midi systems and separate systems.

Currently I have the Roon core software on my MacPro but may later move it together with my video Plex server software to a new NAS, it pulls my media from my iTunes library and any other library and hard disk/storage device I have and my Tidal streaming service to present it as one logical view. The endpoint software I have on the MacPro and (MacBook Pro); for listening in the office, it supports the Sonos devices and I have the software on my phone, tablet and laptop so can listen where ever I am.

My Photo editing workstation (yes my office is still not decorated and the curtains are going), MacPro, G-Tech Storage, Epson Scanner, powered Ruark Audio MR1 speakers and a Schiit Preamp with Multibit USB import DAC

I intend to add the midi system and separates systems in soon as well as building a high end hifi headphone listening station into the mix.

There are other solutions but this works out the best for me with what I currently have.