responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

29 Cities, 13,000 Miles….

Jan 25

In Lighting, News, Rambling at 8:27am

Never had this much fun with pushpins, I tell ya. 29 cities, spread all over the U.S. Numnuts with his TTL high wire act jumping on a bus with Captain Manual, aka Strobist, aka St. David of Baltimore. We’re gonna converge on Seattle on March 11, pack a bunch of speed lights into the hold of a bus, and just roll from there. Go to this website for the straight skinny on the whole shebang.

David does manual. I do TTL. It was always gonna come to this, right? Packed on board the bus with us are Drew Gurian, Grippi, Cali, and of course, Jeff Snyder of Adorama, which is the major sponsor of the tour. Geez, I wonder if the bus runs on methane? Our saving grace will be road manager Karen Lenz. She will, I think, keep the bus from being a zoo on wheels.

Kidding aside, there’s gonna be a great day of teaching at each stop. David does the morning shift, showing manual flash, and creating buzz by adding and subtracting lights. He’s going to concentrate a bit on the “why” of light, which is something a lot of shooters don’t actually think about all that much in the midst of just doing light. I take over in the afternoon, go TTL, walk the plank, see if it works, push the system and fire lights from way far away. Both David and I have been on the beta team for the new Pocket Wizard Flex-Mini’s, and this tour is a big time rollout for them. The units rock, and the envelope of all small flash, TTL and otherwise, just got a whole bunch bigger with these puppies coming into their own.

So go to the site, www.theflashbus.com. I’ve been a bit of a cartoon my whole life. Now it’s official. More tk….

Pushpin photography by Mike Cali.

Air Canada, Part 2

Nov 17

In Lighting at 10:37am


When I wrote yesterday of Melissa leaping into the big Octa, that was what she was doing. I should have been more clear, ’cause there were a couple questions about the light. There is a backlight as well. Didn’t mention it ’cause it wasn’t the main, and I was so tired when I wrote that blog that my head was about to hit the keyboard. That would have been embarrassing. Might have even hit the publish button in that instance and the whole blog would have read…..zzzzzzzppppppppppppwwwwwwwww…


So, to be more precise, the backlight here is the big Rotilux strip light, also an indirect softbox, along the lines of the Octa, just long and skinny. To get more punch out of it, as it is firing from a good distance, we stripped the diffuser off of it, and simply used it undiffused, bouncing off of the interior skin of the box. That brightens the quality of the rear highlight off Mel. So effectively, she is bracketed by these two big light sources.

Also didn’t mean to suggest that the big Octa solves all your problems in the field. If there were a softbox like that, or even a pill like that, I would have taken it long ago. It’s just one of those lights, you know, that is so broad and so beautiful, that well, you put it up and most of the time your subject gets a ticket to dreamland.

Here’s another from the weekend.


We threw this together fairly quickly on stage. Will’s light is a strip light as well, but a small strip, about 1×2 foot, with an egg crate dropped over it, thus corralling the light pretty tightly. Background is an SB900 firing on SU-4 mode, and driving off the pop of the strip, which is has a Quadra head in it. Third light provides the glow on his hands, and that is another SB900 on SU-4 mode, just flicking lightly off a gold Tri-grip reflector laying on the floor to camera right. Wanted to go with gold in this instance to provide a little color vibration with the blue tones of the background.

The light shaper for the background is a wooden cargo pallet we found on the loading dock. We put it up on an angle, zoomed the 900 unit to 200mm (very punchy) and gelled it with a deep theatrical blue gel. Bang, the background gets a touch interesting.

Still in Canada. It was beautiful in Vancouver yesterday, but I’m shooting outside today, so it’s bound to be raining….more tk….

One Small Flash, Very Far Away….

Oct 13

In Lighting at 2:24pm


Shot this the other week in Tampa, of our wonderful model Hope, doing her best Lady GaGa on stage in front of adoring fans. We occasionally end our days teaching lighting for Kelby Seminars this way. One little light, way far away.

Been playing with line of sight forever, and am very involved in the beta versions of the coming Pocket Wizards for Nikon TTL. More on that soon, as the units evolve through testing phase.

But, right now, I am content to mess around, sometimes surprisingly, with how far I can trigger a light. This light is an SB900, zoomed to 200mm, at the back of the auditorium, probably 70′ from the stage. 1/250th at f2.8, ISO 400. The folks in the audience stood up and went gaga (ouch!) for Hope.

Which of course blocked my hot shoe flash commander from seeing the light in the back. D’oh! (I swear, sometimes I am Homer Simpson with a camera.) Drew and an SC29 cord to the rescue! He held the light up off camera and got the light to trigger. You can tell he’s doing that, cuz the cord shadow is right there on the seamless, in the lower left:-)

Okay, indoor trigger, controlled environment–doable. Outdoors, another story. Tried an experiment of late at the New Hampshire version of DLWS. The bridge must have been (being conservative here) 150′ away. Proceeding on the premise that the Lord looks after a fool, we first tried with Kevin Dobler holding an SB900, and me trying to trigger from the bridge with an SU800. Didn’t work, which figures, ’cause there is an IR shield on that unit, which has to sap the optical signal over distance.


Then, Drew Gurian, and Mike Grippi, both from my studio got out there, and I tried triggering with a hot shoe mounted SB900, no dome diffuser, zoomed to 200mm, and still no go.


Here’s where it got interesting. It was pretty dim conditions, lots of rain and mist, and the TTL transmission was not working, line of sight, over that difference. When the light sensor panel on an SB900 is in TTL remote mode, it is looking for a specific frequency of light from the master unit. In other words, there is a specific language being exchanged, if you will, where the master unit pulses with a signal that is bundled with information for the remote. As we have said many times, kind of a morse code for flash.

So, I let things loose, and Drew set up the remote flash as an SU-4, non-TTL, manually slaving flash unit. Over the years, I have always been impressed with how sensitive this mode of triggering actually is. Set up in SU-4, the remote flash is simply reacting to any sudden increase or pulse of light, and not looking for a specific signal to direct it how to behave. I’ve had SU-4 flashes, for instance, triggered in NYC by an emergency vehicle passing by a block away. So, now my master is firing in straight up manual flash mode, full power, M 1/1, still zoomed to max, 200mm.


Voila! Ze flash, it fire! Of course, it’s a dumb as a post manual unit now, and not a “smart” flash, driven by TTL signals originating back at camera. To change the power settings, I have to shout to Drew. That didn’t work, ’cause we were so far away, over a rushing stream, so, by golly, AT&T actually stepped up to the plate, and I was able to call his cell. More power!


Now, the camera’s in manual mode, and the flash is in manual mode, and I am just playing that time honored background/foreground game. Grippi is zapped with the light, and the scene is muted via the combo of shutter speed/f-stop. But, here’s the thing. The flash is neutral–white light. Tends to not actually blend in with the forest scene, yeah? Little bright, little white. Calls attention to the not particularly artful use of the flash.


So, I threw a gel on the flash to warm it. A full CTO does two things simultaneously–warm the flash, and cut the power. Now the ruggged Grippi looks a bit more appropriate to the scene, even though he’s much more comfortable in Bushwick, Brooklyn, than the woods of New Hampshire.

But then, a strange thing happened. Manual SU-4 triggering mode stopped working. Just gave up. I speculate that the light level had picked up at that point, so the light sensor on the remote flash was not longer picking up a differentiation in the levels of light. My commander flash would pulse, and I’d get nothing on the remote. Hmmmm…..

On a whim and a prayer, I went back to TTL. Damned if it didn’t start working again, and very consistently. Full TTL control, from here to there.


Back to aperture priority mode. Minus two at the camera EV. Pretty straight up, power wise, on the flash. Cool! One reason this worked was, typically, a suggestion from Moose. I keep my plastic filter holders on my flashes, just as a matter of convenience. He told me to try the commander, sans the filter holder. Sure enough, I put the filter holder to my eye, and the plastic is not completely clear. Has a bit of a plastic haze to it. So, in the brightening of the day, from 150′ plus, we had TTL, aperture priority exposure control. Go figure.


All images made with the new Nikkor 28-300 zoom, which actually worked very well for this.

On another note,  if you’re on the other side of the world, be sure to check out our 2011 Asian Tour website, hosted by Louis Pang, our good friend, and great shooter based in Malaysia.  We’re running some amazing deals right now that end on Monday, so if you’re thinking about going, now’s the time to sign up…click here for more info.


more tk….

An Eye Popping Photoshop World!

Sep 2

In Friends, Lighting at 6:53pm


I get notions, and they stay with me. One has been, for a while now, to come up with a decent portrait of Russell Brown, the wonderfully mad genius of Photoshop. Dr. Brown, as he is sometimes called, is a visual guru who combines the madcap energy of The Absent Minded Professor with an extraordinary ability to explain and teach the wilder, denser paths of that wonderfully woolly thicket known as Photoshop. The Senior Creative Director at Adobe Systems, he is also an Emmy winner for his instructional shows that explain Photoshop to the masses. When he’s in full cry, his knowledge of Photoshop and what it can do is so vast, to me, he might as well be speaking rapid fire Korean, so little of it do I understand.


Russell, whirling dervish that he is, could only hold still for a few portraits, but we managed to pull together a couple frames during my small flash seminar here at PSW in Vegas. I just really enjoy interesting faces, and the prospect of bringing appropriate light to them. This combo is a 24″ EzyBox Hot shoe soft box, with a silver Tri-grip reflector for a background rim. Two SB 900 units. 70-200mm lens. Worked the second one with a tiny bit of desaturation.

Great face, lots of fun. Having a blast at PSW. Great crowds, great people, and a wonderfully talented group of instructors. I wish that just by sitting in the instructors lounge I could somehow soak some of this stuff up by osmosis.

More tk….

Small Flash into Big Flash: Cheap and Easy

Aug 23

In Lighting at 4:19am

First off, to be square, I swiped this technique from Gilles Bensimon, the legendary fashion shooter. I was invited onto his set in Paris years ago, when I was shooting my first cover for National Geographic. It was an amazing adventure, a story on sight. Can you imagine? It was like being given a grant to simply go be a photographer. It took a year of my life, and I shot about 1500 rolls of Kodachrome.


I was all over the place, from the hi-tech halls of Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Clinic to the tribal villages of Africa, documenting eyesight, how it works, what can happen when things go wrong and how to fix it.




So what was I doing on a fashion set in Paris? Eye makeup. The beauty of the eye. Gilles was enormously gracious and totally easy about my presence on his set. He said, “You, you have ze best job, ze shooter for ze National Geographeec!” I looked over at him, easy in a director’s chair, sipping espresso and looking over portfolios, just generally awash in impossibly tall, angular fashion models, and I thought, “You, you have ze pretty nice job yourself!”

My pictures from that day never got published, but a much more important thing has stuck with me, as I observed him. He was working a cove type of studio. (Think of an egg, and then cut it in half. You’ve got a cove.) Most photogs place the subject in the cove. But he used the cove as his light source. First, he washed his lights off of V-flats. Their shape collected the flash and bounced it backwards into the continuous white curves of the cove, which then pushed it forward and deposited it on his model like a giant wave of light. Ping pong with light! Over the years, I’ve occasionally adapted a version of this for small flash lighting, with fairly happy results.




Here’s the thing–you, the shooter, are standing right in the path of all this light, but there is so much of it freight training towards your subject, it doesn’t notice you standing there at all. You don’t throw a shadow, or interrupt the light pattern. But you’re there, right in the middle of your subject’s eye.


It’s really nice light, done easily, either manually or TTL. The key is the foam core boards. Black on one side, white on the other.  You need 4 of ‘em, to make 2 V-flats. Strip the vertical edges of the boards together, and voila, you’ve got V-flats. They are incredibly versatile around the studio as cutters, flags, bounce boards, background lights, and, as light sources.

To do this type of light, you don’t need a cove, thankfully, ’cause I sure ain’t got one. All you need is a white wall. Here’s what the set looks like.


And another view.


I’ve got two small flashes into each V. (You can easily do it with one apiece.) Keep the flashes above your subject’s eye line. The light will look and feel more natural. Cool thing? See my commander flash hot-shoed to the camera? This is one of those rare instances I use the hot shoe master as both a master and a flash. It is pointing directly back at the wall with the others, commanding them, but also adding a bit of pop. (It tends to be a little punchier than the feel of the units in the v-flats, because it is only bounced once.) The other fillip you can introduce is what you see Mike Cali doing in both of the above production pix. He is holding another light (in another group) and bouncing it off the white seamless paper on the floor. This gives another, sort of fashion-y dimension to the light scheme. A little low fill. Just a spark.

Other things to look for? Don’t get your subject too far away from you. If the light has to travel a real long ways, it will get harder by the time it hits them. You can also do this with big flash. Same deal. In fact, at the recent workshops we interchanged this approach back and forth a fair amount, so I really lost track of what face was photographed with big light or small light, the quality is so similar.

So, to recap. The V-flats are oriented vertically, taped together at the edges. The V opens back onto a white wall, or seamless. Put one or two small flashes into the V. (And I mean into it. Not outside of it, you’ll get hard spill jumping around the set.) Run these as a main light source, for instance, Group A. On camera speed light is Group M, active as a flash, and a commander. The low floor bounce becomes Group B, if you choose to use it. You can dial the groups up or down as you see fit, depending on the feel of the light.

It works. It looks and feels like daylight, and a lot of it. The ricochet aspect of this light pattern allow the small flash to get big off the v-flat, and then get even bigger off the white wall. The multiple units create possibilities for healthy f-stop, though, as I said, you don’t need lots of speed lights to try this. It works well with minimal gear, and minimal f-stop. Below is Numnuts at work.


More tk…..