Friday, April 20, 2012

Off-camera vs On-camera flash

I recently got a flash that is compatible with my camera and will shoot ETTL mode. ETTL stands for "Evaluative-Through The Lens". For those of you reading who don't speak "lighting", this means that you can put the flash on your camera's hot shoe and forget it's up there.  The camera will communicate with the unit and adjust everything as you adjust settings in your camera and as it sees things through the lens.

If you change your zoom, the flash zoom changes with you.  If you close down your aperture, the flash reacts accordingly and knows to put out more power.  All of this is done with no effort and without you doing any extra work than what you'd normally do if there were no flash present.
If you shoot in Automatic of "P" mode, you basically turn your DSLR into a point and shoot with a flash that is 10x more powerful than any point and shoot camera.

Having the flash on the camera, however, puts the light on the axis of the lens and typically produces a very flat looking image, as well as some hard shadows unless you have some lighting modifiers attached to soften the light.

98% of the time I do not have a flash on my camera.  Primary reason being I don't typically like the way the light looks in an image with that kind of a lighting setup.  The secondary reason is that, up until recently, I didn't own a flash that would let me shoot that way.  I usually just rented one when I needed that ability - usually for a wedding I was shooting.

Since I got this flash that would do ETTL I thought I'd try it out on a shoot today.  So I shot with the flash on the camera for the first time in well over a year (maybe even up to 2 years).

I thought I'd post a shot of what the results were so you can understand why it's usually more visually appealing to get the flash off the camera.

While the subjects are different and the rooms are not the same - meaning it probably isn't the best way to compare - you can clearly see in the off-camera one that the light is coming directly from the left side of the image.  The light is filling the whole room and providing enough light to light the subject's face while providing a bit of lighting "drama" on one side for interest.

Whereas the on-camera photo is really pretty evenly lit across the entire image. The other thing that you'll notice is a slight green glow on the right of the face in the image shot with on-camera flash.  This is because when the camera senses the flash on the hot shoe it immediately slows the shutter to 1/60th of a second, which in this case was enough to let some of the room light into the shot.  The room was lit with fluorescent bulbs, which are tinted green.  So that is another thing to take into consideration when shooting with the flash on top.

I'm still very much a fan of getting the light off the camera whenever possible, but I think I may start playing around with on-camera flash a bit more for speed and convenience when the lighting quality might not be quite as crucial to the shot.  To get the light off the camera means setting up a light stand, and then you have to trigger said light at the same time as the camera shutter which means setting up wireless remotes.  So instead of a 10 second motion of sliding a flash in place on the camera and locking it down, you're looking at additional setup time of around 2-3 minutes per light you want set up.  Not a big deal, but when you think about moving around and shooting in different rooms, it means you also have to carry a light stand around, and sometimes fit it into awkward spaces.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Aquarium Shoot (Caution - Long post ahead)

About two years ago I was looking at pictures done by a photographer who was showing how to get some of those cool "underwater" and "splashing" effects on products. We've all see the photos of the shampoo bottle that looks like it just hit a wet counter and water is splashing everywhere. This photographer went through some of the basics on how he got some shots he had posted. I don't recall if he is a professional or not, but his photos certainly were good. I've looked through dozens of old bookmarks trying to find the original post, but I can't. I do remember it involved shooting upside-down for a lot of the images and letting water do its natural gravity thing. Some images were shot in an aquarium, and a lot of plastic covering and towels were involved. HA!

Not too terribly long after reading that post I found myself walking around downtown Dallas and to my amazement, there was an aquarium sitting on the curb next to a garbage can. It was filthy, and stank as only an old, uncleaned fish tank could. Nevertheless, I picked it up, and carried all the way back to my car. Finished my business downtown and took it home with me to see if I could clean it.

After a little while with bleach and water it was looking nearly good as new. And then I did something incredibly stupid. I put it in a closet, and left it there for two years. Every time I wanted to get photo equipment out of the closet it sat there, staring at me, begging me to get it out and use it. But I never pulled it out, unless it was to get to something else behind it.

Fast forward two years. I had done a shoot last weekend and, as usual, had to pull the aquarium out to get to stuff. During the week I was on Flickr and saw someone posting photos of their "water dropping" session and the bug bit me again. My mind started thinking through what I'd need to make a shoot happen with it, and what the subject matter could be.
I woke up on Saturday morning determined not to let another day go by without using it.
So I went to the store, bought some supplies and came home to set up a shot.
It took me nearly an hour to get everything set up and get the lighting right. The initial setup had the aquarium sitting on half a ping-pong table with plastic under it. In hindsight I probably should have put something black under the tank as the green showed through when light hit it. But that kind of turned out to my benefit later, so I was ok with it.

The longest task after that was filling the tank as it is pretty big. It probably took me 25-30 minutes of carrying buckets back and forth as I didn't want to mess with dragging a hose into the house (working alone has its down sides).
My first few shots, just to see what the tank was going to do at the exposure I wanted, left me with a very green background, even shooting at 1/250, ISO 100 and F/10 in a dim room. So I reached for the black seamless and used some pieces of it to cover the back and side of the aquarium.

I tried a few different lighting setups at first, but everything I did exposed the black paper and made the background grey. Then, remembering that I had read something about lights from the side being snooted. I decided to try that and it worked perfectly. After that I added another light from above to light the water splashes (also upon the recommendation of someone who had undertaken this challenge before me).

This gave me the total darkness that I needed. The next step was trying to get the exposure and focus dialed in. I couldn't really think of anything that I could stick in the water that would stay put long enough for me to play with lights and exposure, so I took and empty CD spindle, wrapped white gaffer tape around it (to create a point of contrast for the auto-focus) and weighed it down with some rocks so it would sink to the bottom.

Once the focus was dialed, and the lighting was good I was ready to rock and roll.
Here's a shot of the final setup:

The plastic bag was just a safety precaution, haha.
I have the camera on a tripod so I can have my hands free to drop things into the water. It is being fired with the
pocket wizard on top of it. The plan was to have the camera remote pocket wizard in my right hand, and to use my left to drop things into the water.

First test shot yielded this:

Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 | 1/250s | F/10 | ISO 100

And from there it was just a matter of time before I was in the car heading back to the grocery store to find more things to drop in the aquarium! haha!
I tried strawberries, lemons, mini sweet peppers and a bottle of Axe bodywash. The lemons were a total bust, but the other things turned out pretty great. You can see them all here.

Total spent on this project was a measly $14. So it's not like it is something that would break someone's pocketbook. The biggest expense (outside the equipment) was probably the aquarium. But if you go around to garage sales and some used clothing stores (like Goodwill) you can sometimes find them there. Or you could always try CraigsList.

I also shot this with speedlights, so you can see you don't need fancy and expensive studio lights.
The lights were: Nikon SB-28 at 1/32 power, Nikon SB-80DX at 1/32 power, and I ended up putting a snooted light (Yongnuo YN560) on the opposite side of the tank for a bit of fill.
They were all really low power (despite shooting at F/10) so that I could shoot bursts.

Sometimes I was lucky and got a great shot, other times the timing of the shots were off and I'd have to shoot again. All in all though, it was a huge success and I hope to do be using the aquarium again soon for a different kind of water shoot.

Thanks for reading! Now go make some images! ;-)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Know your rights

This was recently published on ACLU's website and I thought it would be good to repost for all you budding (and seasoned) photographers out there. It is always good to arm yourself before going out. You'd be surprised how many people will try to step on your rights in the name of "national security" after 9/11 happened.


Know Your Rights: Photographers

Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply. Learn more >>

Your rights as a photographer:

  • When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.
  • When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner's rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).
  • Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).
  • Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.
  • Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
  • Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:

  • Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
  • If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, "am I free to go?" If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
  • If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Special considerations when videotaping:

With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.

  • Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio "bugging" of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.
  • In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).
  • In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state's prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But that is the case in nearly all states, and no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation. The state of Illinois makes the recording illegal regardless of whether there is an expectation of privacy, but the ACLU of Illinois is challenging that statute in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
  • The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials' public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment. A summary of state wiretapping laws can be found here.

Photography at the airport

Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you're not interfering with the screening process. The agency does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.

The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.

The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.

(Quoted from

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Never Before Published

I was looking through some older photos again today, trying to put a small project together. I ran across an image that I shot about a few years ago. I wasn't really happy with the image at first. Ok... I hated it. Which is why it never has seen the light of day.
But as time goes by, and I look at it again, it grew on me a little bit.

Threw it in photoshop for a bit of exposure fixing and some color balancing as well as a new crop and this is what we have:

It is not a typical photo of John Madden, which I guess is both why I hated it at first, and now have warmed up to it a bit.
Everyone always has him in the commentator booth, or doing something football related. Which is possibly why I didn't immediately take to this one. But as I started thinking about it more, this is probably where he spends a lot of his time when he isn't watching football! This is just a comical assumption based on the size of the man, but an interesting thought.

The story behind this is that I am friends with the owner of two local delis in Coppell, and he is also one of my clients.
He makes a breakfast sandwich that John Madden absolutely LOVES. Every time he is in town he stops by for one, and I've heard he buys quite a few of them, freezes them, and takes them home with him. So when the owner found out he and Jerry Jones were stopping by his restaurant for some food, he called me and asked me to come shoot a photo of all of them together.
This was the day of, or before, the opening game at the new Cowboy Stadium.

If you want to have the sandwich John Madden is nuts a bout, go to Deliman's Grill in Coppell. Ask for the "Stubbs Special", and tell Jay that his friend Ray sent you.
Below is a photo of the sandwich I did:

Bacon, Sausage, Egg, Cheese on Texas Toast

Monday, May 2, 2011


I was playing around today with some older photos that I never did anything with. I had originally shot them thinking they might end up in my portfolio somewhere, but as of right now I just don't think they fit there.
So I picked two and played with them in photoshop for a bit and I'll throw them up on the ol' blog so at least they'll get to see the light of day.

So there you have it.

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