Studio Flash with a Hotshoe Flashgun

Using your hotshoe flash in your camera hotshoe is about the worst way of using it.  Getting off camera is the best way, but how to do that.  Well if you happen to have a light-stand you can use the method I use.

I recently purchased a Lastolite Tilthead with hotshoe.  Its a way of getting studio quality light thats easy and portable.

This on top of a light-stand enables you to attach a normal camera flash gun.  It also allows you to attach a standard brolly.  With this simple setup you can get studio quality light with very little cost.  It certainly does not have the power of studio flash but can produce great results.

Camera Batteries

Batteries die or stop holding as much charge, its a fact of life.

While checking my batteries the other week to get ready for a shoot, I noticed that one of my batteries is no longer charging fully, so it was time to buy a new one.

In my lunch break I popped into the local camera shop, London Camera Exchange.  I got an excellent deal from London Camera Exchange, sometimes it pays to have a good relationship with your local camera shop.

Its always a good idea to check your batteries regularly, for example one of my batteries for my Nikon D200 developed a weird fault last year.

The symptoms were odd.  The battery showed full charge but when you used it, it would work fine for two to five frames and then the camera would hang.

On removing the batteries and then putting them back, the camera would again work for a few frames before again hanging.

A similarly odd battery problem occurred to a friend of mine.

He recently purchased a new battery for his Sony NX5, but it would not work, but when the battery was tested in thecamera shop it worked fine in there Sony NX5.  It turned out that he had to update his camera firmware to use the latest batteries.  On updating his firmware the battery worked fine.

Odd things batteries.  So, if you are having strange problems, try a different battery and if your a Sony NX5 user, check your firmware!

Sony NX-5
©Andrew Jordan

A weekend Photo shoot – final planning

I was hoping to get out for a landscape and wildlife shoot this weekend but the weather was not really up to it.

Next Saturday I have a location shoot planned.  The goal is to test a new location and try a few lighting ideas I have that involve in-door and out-door lighting.

I have emailed the model with details and a list of clothes required, the few outfits she does not have she is going to try and get this week, which is very nice of her.  Now I am just completing the prop list and finalising the shot list.

Heres hoping for good weather, as it is intended to be a mix of indoor and outdoor work.  The indoor work will be using full studio flash.  For the outdoor work I will be using fill-in flash.

Later in the week i’ll clean and check over my equipment, ensure the batteries are charged and ensure the location and model are still ready to go.

I am really looking forward to it.  If all goes well with the test, I have a number of plans for the location this summer, but I need a good summers day and may need also to practise my high speed fill in flash techniques.

Immersion in your local landscape

This evening I was catching up on a few blogs, when I came across some wonderful large format Landscapes by William Neill.  Spectacular photographs.  He made quite a interesting point:

“One of the keys to develop depth in your work is to observe, and photograph, a chosen landscape for an extended period. The best opportunity is to explore a local nature preserve that you can return to often, during different seasons and times of day.  Your sense of the place will grow.  The choices you make when photographing will be educated by your knowledge of the local weather, light and topography”

Very true but I have to admit, at least in my area, the local nature reserve while nice is not conductive to great landscape photography.

What made me really laugh out loud (LOL); I later read, he lives in Yellowstone Park!

Some local landscape!

Photographic Goals

Setting photographic goals are a useful exercise.  They encourage you, make you shoot more, and drive you forward, make you a better photographer.

A goal should be challenging, and even if you fail, hopefully you will learn something to make you a better photographer.

Over the last few years my goals have generally been relatively simple.

  • Shoot More Weddings
  • Shoot More Commercial Portraits
  • Shoot More Studio Work.
  • Shoot a Roll of 35mm film
  • Take one good picture a month
  • Take one good picture a day for one month
  • Photograph some wildlife

All very generic, and I think I accomplished all of these well; except for the last.  Have you ever tried to get one good shot a day for a month!  It was hard to get one good picture a month.  In fact 2010 I think was the only year I came close to this.  I got 11 out of 12.

Moose Peterson wrote an interesting piece recently for the BT Journal (The Biological and Technical journal for Wildlife Photographers) and also in his New Year post on his Blog.

This was more about planning for goals, and it made me think about my goals for this year.

Many are going to be the same.

  • Shoot More Studio Work.
  • Shoot a Roll of 35mm film
  • Take one good picture a month
  • Photograph some wildlife
  • Shoot more Medium Format

But again these are all very generic, I feel a bigger challenge coming on.  With that thought I considered some of the great shots I had admired by other photographers.

One in particular by Joe McNally is one I have particularly admired.  Its a Dancer  leaping on the beach.  So one of my main goals this year is to try and produce my own version of this shot.

Joe is a great inspiration, and I greatly admire his portrait photography.  He taught a seminar over here recently in London which unfortunately I was unable to make.  Please Joe, visit again, and not just London.

Star Gazing Live – BBC

This was a good week for astronomy.  The BBC had three nightly programs called Stargazing Live.

The second program was of course the highlight, covering the partial solar eclipse that occurred that morning.

I had the opportunity back in 1999 to witness the a total solar eclipse.  It meant getting up early and jumping on the motorcycle for a 300 plus mile ride to catch the eclipse.

They gave some good tips on capturing photographs of the night sky, well worth watching and showing the BBC at its best, entertaining and educational.

Luna Eclipse

I have done some astronomical photography in the past and will post some pictures and techniques in future blog entries.

Synchro Daylight or Fill in Flash

No work today, but I did want to do some experimentation with Synchro Daylight.  An old term but basically its when you mix flash and daylight together.  Most people have heard it described as fill in flash, it can also be used with great affect when the flash is the primary source and the sun as the fill-in.

Its something I have used in the past to great affect, and modern hot-shoe electronic flashguns to make it very easy.  But I wanted to have a play around with manual, and trying out the balance flash functionality in my light meter.

Sekonic L 758 Light Meter

I bought the L-758 for its spot meter feature when shooting medium and large format.  But it also has some advance flash features and can show the balance of daylight to flash.

So equipped with a Nikon D200, a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 and a SB-800 flashgun I ventured outdoors with my flash meter and volunteer model for the day, my very patient wife Caroline.

First a simple portrait with daylight, manual mode.  Easy.  Then the flash set to manual at relatively low power.  The light-meter held by my wife under her chin with the de-fusion dome pointing at the flash gun.

After several attempts and varying the flash power, the meter was only reading the flash component.

I had to commit the ultimate male sin, find the manual and give it a quick read.  Unlike previous meter’s I had set it to the Flash-C, but this actually meant Flash with a cord, not Flash and Continuous light.  The mode that had just the Flash symbol turned out to measure both flash and continuous light.

With the light meter now in the correct mode we tried again, varying the exposure and flash output and reading the balance of daylight to flash from the meter and comparing that to the results seeing what we liked.

It certainly makes judging your exposure when mixing flash and daylight easier and I hope to put it into good practice with a summer beach photo shoot I intend planning.  I just need to find a location, a suitable model and a bit of good weather.

Heres looking forward to summer.

Daylight and Fill in Flash – Model in the summer house

Happy New Year – and the end of an era

Happy New Year Everyone

The end of an era.

As many Photographers already know the great film Kodachrome was discontinued in 2009.  While manufacture ended, there were still a few places left where you could get it developed.

The last has been Dwayne’s Photo in Kansas.  This has been the last lab in the world that was able to process the film.

Well today is the end of an era.

Dwayne Steinle the owner, will today have the last every roll processed.

With no more places left to process the film today is the end.

I shot a few rolls of Kodachrome 25 myself back in the 1980’s, but my allegiances switched to that young upstart Fuji Velva 50.  It is a sad day.  With so few film sales now, not many films can survive but I am glad to see film has seen a bit of a revival this year.

Even I have shot more film this year then in the past six.  Most of it being Medium format and some Large Format, but I only shot one roll of 35mm.

I think we may see the end of the 35mm film, but medium and large format still seems to be going strong and sales even increasing.  Lets hope it continues.  I still feel there is a place for film in this very digital world we live.

Flash – Studio Lighting


No not Adobe’s flash, I am not getting into that argument.  I have an Apple iPhone and I fully accept its a better phone for not having flash, but then I am also a flash user and on my professional website I use flash for my photographic galleries!

No this post is about Photographic lighting.

Most photographers are used to the typical hot shoe flash.  The hot shoe flash is quite the modern electronic marvel.  I have a pair of Nikon SB-800’s and they are great.  Full TTL control; if you are scared of flash then just set them and your camera to full auto, and with appropriate flash head positioning you can get great results.

The key is not to use the flash in the camera’s hot shoe but use them off camera.  For fill in flash and the odd party I use hot shoe flash with great success.

For studio work, I always use professional mono-block mains powered studio lights.  That, with a good soft box produces results that are hard to beat any other way.

I usually hire a local studio with Elinchrom RX lights, and find I get good results far easier then with small hot shoe flashes.

Many photographers are intimidated by studio lighting.  It seems hard work.  The camera has to be set to manual.  You have to use a flash meter to calculate your exposure.  Then there are all the complicated accessories, softboxes, brollies, snoots, barn doors and honeycomb grids, to name just a few, to modify the light.

I have now started to think about getting some studio flash myself.  The very high end stuff is out of the question, far too expensive for the few times each month I would use it.  But it needs to be of good quality, robust for travel, have stable colour temperature and high speed flash duration to freeze action.

In the UK that leaves you with just Bowen’s and Elinchrom.  If your in the USA then Elinchrom and brands such as Alien Bee’s are popular.

I have spent quite some time now researching the brands and am still no nearer choosing what I want.

Bowen’s lower end models work with battery packs, so are easy to use away from mains power, there are a large array of accessories available, and you get good reports about customer service.  They are also a UK brand, and even the lower end models are very well built.

Elinchrom are what I am used to.  The Rotolux softboxes are the best, and the skyport remote system is excellent.  Most Pro’s I know use Elinchrom.

Once the brand is picked, where do you enter the system, go for the bottom of the range, cheap but will they take the abuse of travel.

I have to admit, after a lot of research, all I have managed to do is confuse myself more, and I am still none the wiser.

Checking out the forums has not helped, its nearly as bad as the Nikon and Canon arguments.

Any advice gratefully received.