Sunday, May 26, 2013

Canon 600 EX-RT - Equipment Review

600 EX-RT
600 EX-RT
The 600 EX-RT Is the flagship for the Canon Speedlite line up. This is a very reliable we'll constructed unit. This unit features a redesign in the flash control menus requiring a new learning curve, even if you are a veteran of the Speedlite line. Canon did this with the menus on the 430 EX-II and 580 EX-II models as well which can make mixing these unit together a little confusing if you do not use them all the time. The best way around the multiple menus is to use the flash controls from the back of your camera if you are using a camera that offers this option.

The real mark against the 600 EX-RT is that you can not use a radio transmitter in the mix if you are also using optical units like the 430 EX-IIs and 580 EX-IIs. The 600 EX-RT can control these units, but everything has to be fired optically so you cannot use the radio to fire units around a corner or in a soft box while using the other units in line of site. Everything either has to be radio triggered or optical triggered. Unless you have the budget to replace all of your older units you will still be locked into optical triggering for the unit.

The 600 EX-RT comes with to CTO gels and a gel holder, this is a nice addition to the flash unit as it makes it quick and easy to change gels. I suggest using one of the CTOs to make a template that can then be used to cut gels for the other colors you shoot with.

All in all I find this to be an exceptional unit, with the added benefit of a radio trigger which would ideally free you from the need to use Radio Poppers or some other radio triggering method. Unfortunately in this regard it does fall short in execution.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why you should control the exposure with light.

I touched on this a bit in The "Big 3", but a recent discussion has caused me to think a bit more about this. So let me start of by posing a question. In the very beginning of photography equipment was very limited and it was necessary for the subject to have to hold still, sometimes for several minutes to get proper exposure. This is why motion blur and bland expressions are the norm for photos from 150 years ago. About 100 years ago reliable flash became available and crisper images that could freeze action became possible, and we can look at a lot of grainy sports images from just after the turn of the last century. 50 years ago 35mm cameras were really coming into their own and photography as a hobby and a way to capture memories really began to take off. It is in this last period that the idea of The Big 3 really came into being. These are all examples of newer technology surpassing the previous technology, so my question is this. Why are photographers still thinking about exposure in terms of the technology of 50 years ago?

Fifty years ago exposure on 35mm was almost exclusively ruled by The Big 3, on camera flash is always limited and other lighting options were also very limited. This fact meant that creativity and expression always played second fiddle to exposure, but that should not be true today.

You may ask yourself, so if I stop thinking about exposure solely in terms of The Big 3 what does that do for me? 
  • It frees the shutter speed to be used solely for freezing or blurring action.
  • F/stop now only needs to control Depth of Field (how much of the images is in focus).
  • ISO can be used solely to control noise. 

Recently when I was talking about this, someone responded with something to the effect of "ISO controls camera sensitivity and that is good enough" as if to say that is the same as controlling light. But it is not, even if manufacturers get so good at controlling noise that cameras can function at ISO 1,000,000 that is not the same as controlling light. For one simple reason, it does not compensate for Dynamic Range (the difference from light to dark). Eventually cameras will be able to compensate for all of those things, if photographers are still think abut The Big 3 then they will be even further behind the tech, and truly be limiting what they could be doing.

For now it is important to think about light. This should be self evident, photography (light drawing), its all about the light. I think what it comes down to is a lot of photographers already feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the cameras, especially when you start talking about things like RAW and HDR and Styles and everything else manufacturers are adding to camera, that then learning light seems overwhelming, especially if you learned photography as a natural light photographer.

If you want to cross the threshold from being someone who takes pictures to being someone who creates photos learning to control light is essential, especially in a world where an iPhone can capture a correctly exposed image. Like all things this skill starts with small steps. Turn on an extra light when you are photographing in a dark room instead of cranking the ISO. Use the on camera flash as fill lighting when you are shooting in bright sun. Use a scrim or flags and bounces to narrow the dynamic range when shooting in areas with extremely bright light. The point is to differentiate yourself from what the technology can do by bringing a skill set and a vision that it does not have. If you think solely in terms of The Big 3 then the manufacturers have already passed you by, and clients will not have a reason to higher you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lens Flair

Lens flair occurs whenever bright light strikes the front of the camera lens. This is common with subjects that are backlit, and in these circumstances will greatly reduce contrast. However lens flair can also be used as a creative element in your photography.

A common occurrence of lens flair happens when a person is working indoors but there is an extremely bright light coming in through the window as is common with noonday sun on south facing windows. This is a common mistake for new photographers and usually happens in one of two ways. The first is that their eyes are easily able to adjust to the difference in interior light and the light coming in through the window and they don’t realize it will be an issue. The second is that they understand to get a silhouette of their subject they need a strong back light but again underestimate just how strong that light is. In both cases this happens because our eyes are much more adaptable to the lighting conditions then the camera. The quick fixes for these issues is the use of window shades, adding interior light, shooting pointing away from the window, or shooting at a time when the exterior light is not so intense. North facing rooms are favored in photography for this reason.

Midna with Lens Flair
Midna with Lens Flair
In many other cases lens flair will occur without the problem light source being visible in the viewfinder. This happens because while the light source is in front of the camera it would only be visible in the view finder with the use of an extremely wide angle lens. For this reason many photographers use lens hoods with their DSLR when they are shooting to help keep lens flair from occurring unexpectedly. This is generally a more common problem outdoors but can happen with any hard, bright light source. When this happens the bright light striking the lens gets refracted back to the sensor and appears as bright orb, or a line of bright orbs as the light strikes each element in the lens assembly. This effect was commonly used creatively in the film industry in the 70’s and 80’s to convey harsh bright sun conditions as are seen in desserts to the audience.

I have included a couple of creative examples of lens flair. The first was shot in studio using the hair light to create the flair. In most cases a hair light will be used with a diffuser, commonly a soft box, and will be placed above and slightly behind the subject shining straight down so that it just highlights the hair. In this case I used the light without any kind of modifier and placed it several feet behind the subject and directed it towards the ground just in front of the camera. The character portrayed in this image is Midna from The Legend of Zelda the Twilight Princess, this character is from the fairy world and has fairy lights as part of her headdress. Adding the fairy lights in post is one option, however the subject would not be properly lit for the effect to look natural. Hair lighting is needed and it needs to be the same color and have the directional quality of the fairy light. Just one of many examples of why it is better to do the manipulation in front of the camera in stead of in post.

Leaning Tower of Pisa with Lens Flair
Leaning Tower of Pisa with Lens Flair
The second example is using lens flair as an element of an architectural shot. In this example the loss of contrast is much more evident and is at the limit of my tolerance. This is an excellent example of where having a RAW shooting option would be a big help. In this case I was shooting with a little pocket camera and was limited to JPEG. RAW would have allowed the recovery of much more information and the image would have been able to retain a much higher level of contrast. Still it is quite a usable image and not a bad showing for the built in HDR settings on the camera.

Once a photographer understands what causes lens flair and the conditions in which it is likely to be present they can then take steps to eliminate it our control it for creative use. Unfortunately many photos are ruined because the photographer does not understand why it is being washed out or which light source is doing it. Frequently the flair does not appear as an obvious line of orbs but only makes itself known through a complete loss of contrast in the finished image. Once a photographer has enough experience to know what is causing the loss of contrast they

can then start experimenting with more creative ways to use the light.

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